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Teran, Terrano, Refosk, Refosco... What's in a name?

Part of the fun of wine (for me anyway) is navigating the labyrinth of different grape varieties - their synonyms, relatives and homelands. For instance, how different does a Tannat wine taste from Brazil compared to Uruguay? Or Pinot Noir from Sankt Laurent, for so long thought to be basically the same grape? Or even Zweigelt from its parents Sankt Laurent and Blaufrankisch, itself also known as Lemberger or Kekfrankos?

DNA studies have been invaluable for codifying the wine's genetic foundations, but by lifting the veil they have removed some of wine's intrinsic magic. So what if Pigato truly is just Vermentino (or Rolle)? Vermentino from Cinque Terre or Riviera Ligure di Ponente, where it is called Pigato, is a materially different wine to Vermentino from Tuscany, and poles apart from the Vermentino of Sardinia. Allowing variety in terminology means the survival of local mores.

For the European Union, standardisation is de rigeur. In the world of food and drinks, this can be an important safeguard for genuinely local and iconic products, such as the traditional Cumberland sausage. Yet where good intentions and bureaucrats collide, there are bound to be some bad outcomes.

The latest concerns the indigenous Istrian red grape variety, Teran, which also goes by a number of metonyms such as Terrano, Refosk, Refosco, Refosco d'Istria and so on. I was alerted by James Waddell at Croatian Fine Wines Ltd that Slovenian authorities are barring Croatian winemakers from selling 'Teran' wines when their country becomes an EU member state on 1st July, because Slovenia owns the grape's protected status. Producers of passito style Croatian prosek are also about to be stung by the EU because their product is too similar to Prosecco - even though the two drinks are like chalk and cheese.

Legally speaking, this is all legit; and Croatia has been woeful at registering its own food and drinks products for similar status despite spending eight years negotiating EU accession. According to the West Australian, Croatia has only managed to to register twelve products.

Sensibly speaking, however, this is complete tosh. The many grapes in the greater Refosco family are used throughout northern Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. The Italians in Carso, such as Benjamin Zidarich, even call their version 'Terrano', which being the same grape variety is stepping on more Teran toes than the pother over prosek and Prosecco.

Part of the confusion seems to stem from the belief in Slovenian quarters that theirs is a different grape, and the Istrians are expropriating the name. Here is where DNA research becomes useful, because it has proven that - like Primitivo and Zinfandel, or Grenache and Cannonau - Terrano, Teran and Refosco are genetically the same grape but over time have developed slightly different clones in different regions.

When you've got a distinction as clear-cut as Parmesan versus Stilton, for example, protecting food produce is reasonably straightforward. It is a unique foodstuff or beverage historically or traditionally grown or made in a specific area or areas. When you've got exactly the same raw ingredient being made in a slightly different way under the same name, it becomes murkier. However, for me the Teran debate is like arguing over people making slightly different loaves of bread out of the same species of wheat in two different countries.

In a very back-of-the-envelope bit of brainstorming over wine with friends last night (okay, I lie, we didn't even have an envelope), the consensus was that the whole thing was nonsense and the Croatian winemakers would win any subsequent court case. Certainly, I'm told Oliver Arman is confident.

As the matter stands though, our award-winning Istrian Teran looks like becoming contraband within a matter of weeks. We have a handful of bottles left of the 2007 and 2008 vintages, so grab it while you can. If the EU gets its way, you might even have a quirk of winemaking history on your hands too.X

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