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The Grape Glossary: A guide to hip varietals

There appears to be an obsession among grape groupies about where teroldego's curious name came from. Is it, as the prevailing theory goes, a riff on the German dialect for "gold of Tirol?" (Tirol is a commune in northern Italy's South Tyrol; yes, different spellings – Tirol and Tyrol.) Was it derived from tirelle, or wire harnesses, along which the vine was traditionally strung? I'd put my money on another theory forwarded by the authoritative book Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz. They place their bet on a northern Italian place called Alle Teroldege, where the vine was mentioned as far back as the 15th century. There's just one letter's difference, after all.

Teroldego's sketchy etymology notwithstanding, there seems to be no question as to where the grape's reputation is headed: up. To call it popular would be a stretch, if only because there's still not much teroldego around. But the red variety certainly has experienced a revival. Recently discovered to be an aunt (or uncle) of peppery syrah thanks to genetic testing, the grape is darkly coloured and usually firm with astringent tannins and bright with acidity. The wine can also be earthy and appetizingly bitter. If a platter of juicy beef brisket could speak, I suspect it would ask to make teroldego's acquaintance.

The hero at the heart of the grape's revival is Elisabetta Foradori. In the mid-1980s, she took over her family's estate in the Trentino region of northeastern Italy upon her father's death. Soon she realized that teroldego had been handicapped by modern farming practices aimed at quantity over quality. The economically strapped locals had isolated vine clones that produced big crop yields versus smaller loads of more concentrated fruit. So she worked to restore genetic diversity, not only with various teroldego clones but also with hedges among the vine rows, animals to graze and fertilize soils, and grasses to retain moisture and promote beneficial insects to keep every clone healthy and happy.

Foradori's teroldegos are among the finest, available from time to time in various provinces, either by the names Teroldego Rotaliano or Granato. Others to consider: Marco Donati, Poggio Al Casone and Marion. Even a few Californian and Australian producers have begun cultivating the grape with some success.

Another important thing to note about that name: Teroldego is pronounced with an accent on the second vowel – teh-ROHL-deh-goh. If you stress the "e" in the second-last syllable, you could be pronouncing a racist epithet that I suffered through more than once as a kid growing up Italian.

The Flavour Principle by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol recently took home top prize for best general English cookbook at the Taste Canada Food Writing Awards. Published by HarperCollins.

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Wine & Spirits newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.

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