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Wines and Foods from Piemonte – my next book

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Vineyards in Serralunga d’Alba looking towards the snow-covered Alps (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Exciting news- my next book will be about the wines and foods of Piemonte. I’ll be heading there next week for a ten day visit and will be doing some research – tasting, reporting, taking photos, and of course, eating! Then I’ll be working on the book throughout the summer.

I have enjoyed very fine success with my first book Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines, which was released in February 2013 and is still selling well. That was a self-published book, but for this project, I believe it is time to upgrade. So this will be a hardcover book complete with 24-28 full color photos. I’ll also be working with one of the finest academic publishers in the nation, the University of Nebraska Press.

Clearly this will be a much more expensive project to undertake, so to make this work, I am asking my friends and colleagues to help me out with a financial contribution. I have begun a campaign on indiegogo.com (click here), which explains more about this book as well as the various perks offered for contributing, from photos to a signed book.

I do realize that today’s economic climate is difficult, but I hope that enough of you will be able to contribute even on a small basis. I’m confident that my goal will be reached with your help.

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The classic tajarin pasta of the Langhe – this with vegetables and seafood (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Besides interviews with winemakers from various areas of Piemonte, I will also be writing about the classic foods of the region, from tajarin to coniglio (rabbit). I’ll include interviews from chefs as well as thoughts from them (along with winemakers) about the best wine and food pairings of the area. There are many books on food and a few on wine, but very few that deal with both aspects of one region, so I’m excited to write this book.

The fundraising campaign for the book has just begun and will run through June 6. I hope you can help!

The Wines and Foods of Piemonte

By Tom Hyland, University of Nebraska Press

Fundraising campaign at Indiegogo.com 

April 30, 2014 at 10:57 am 2 comments

Custoza – One of the Best Italian Whites you probably don’t know


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Silvio Piona, Az. Agr. Albino Piona (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

So many excellent whites from Italy, so little time…

Recently, I was in the western reaches of the Veneto region near Lake Garda, tasting new releases of Bardolino. A bonus of this event was an additional tasting of a lovely white from the area known as Custoza, named for the small local town. I had tasted a handful of these wines over the years and had enjoyed them, but had never studied the wine in great detail. I’m glad I’ve had this experience, as Custoza is a white that offers beautiful complexity, is ageworthy and has become one of my favorite Italian whites; this is a wine that certainly deserves to better known.

Custoza is also known as Bianco di Custoza, but you don’t see that designation much anymore, as the producers most certainly wished to make the name of this town and wine forefront. It’s a blend of a few grapes, as few as three, as many as six or seven. The principal variety (as much as 40%) is Garganega, which is the same grape that is the backbone of Soave, another beautiful Venetian white. Other varieties include Trebbiano Toscano, Trebbianello (a local clone of Tai or Friulano), Bianca Fernanda (a new one for me, I must admit; this is a local clone of Cortese, the same grape used in the production of Gavi from Piemonte); there are also small amounts of Chardonnay, Malvasia, Pinot Bianco, Incrocio Manzoni and Riesling Italico allowed in the blend. With a makeup like that, you can imagine how varied the styles of Custoza are from the area’s producers.

Most examples see only steel aging; this of course, helps preserve the engaging perfumes of Garganega as well as Malvasia and some of the other varieties. While Garganega helps give this wine its charm, it is the other varieties such as Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia that are important as far as acidity, which assures aging potential.

Custoza is rarely a “big” wine, so perhaps that’s why it isn’t more familiar to wine lovers; it’s also a bit in the shadow of Soave, which is quite well known. Add the fact that it is a blended white, a type most consumers have not yet embraced and you see the problem with marketing this wine.

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Marico Bonomo, Monte del Fra (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

One of the premier producers of Custoza is Marica Bonomo at Monte del Fra, in the town of Custoza. She sources her grapes from her own estate and makes two versions, the signature bottling called Ca’ del Magro, which is one of the most famous – as well as most highly rated – examples of Custoza. I’ve tried both the 2011 and 2012 versions in the area and loved both wines. Offering perfumes of lemon zest, mangnolia and chamomile, this has very good acidity along with notable persistence. Again, this is not a powerful wine, but what a charming wine, one with ideal balance and a nice sense of finesse. It’s especially lovely at the table and I love it with tortellini, risotto and more delicate seafood. Both wines will drink well for another 3-5 years, with the 2012 a candidate for an extra two to three years.

Another top Custoza estate is Albino Piona, where Silvio Piona performs winemaking duties. A pleasant, subdued individual, he clearly fits the bill of someone who lets his wines do the talking. His 2013 classic Custoza is excellent, offering lovely floral (peony) and fruit (melon) aromas backed by very good concentration, excellent persistence and beautiful structure. Enjoy this over the next 3-5 years.

Piona also produces a special bottling called “Campo del Selese”; a truly excellent wine. Here there are subtle differences in respect to the classic bottling, as the Selese has a bit more richness in the mid-palate as well as a longer finish. The Custoza I really enjoyed from Piona that week however, was his 2008 classic bottling. Deep yellow with aromas of lemon peel, grapefruit rind and dried apples, this was quite rich with excellent complexity. A beautiful wine, one that is quite stylish from the excellent 2008 vintage (a sorely underrated year for whites and reds in Veneto and many other Italian regions), this was drinking beautifully after five plus years and should offer pleasure for another three to five years. Tasted at lunch after my visit to the cellars, this was particularly wonderful with tortellini stuffed with pumpkin, a classic dish at Ristorante alla Borsa in the town of Valeggio. (Note – this is tortellini heaven – you must have lunch or dinner at this restaurant – I guarantee you will love it!)

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Luciano Piona, Cavalchina (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

A few other examples of Custoza I thoroughly enjoyed were from Cantina di CustozaLe Vigne di San Pietro and Enzo Faccioli; this last one, particularly well done with its attractive floral perfumes, bright fruit and excellent persistence. One final wine I wanted to single out is the marvelous 2012 Custoza Superiore “Amadeo” from Cavalchina. This is a textbook Custoza, with engaging aromas of pineapple, golden apple, spearmint and lillies. Medium-full, this has excellent persistence and complexity and is truly a lovely wine! This is just now being released and should drink well for 5-7 years, given its ideal structure and balance. I’d love this with risotto primavera, while it’s rich enough to stand up to tuna.

An added bonus regarding Custoza is the price, as you can find classic bottlings from the best estates on retail shelves in America for $12 or so, with the special bottlings coming in around $16-$20, which are excellent values. So what are you waiting for?

April 23, 2014 at 9:31 am Leave a comment

Older Barolo – Terroir, Breeding and Class

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 (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

In a few short weeks, I will be in Alba for a special tasting called Nebbiolo Prima, an anteprima (preview) tasting of hundreds of new releases of wines produced exclusively from Nebbiolo. There will be releases of Roero Rosso from the 2011 vintage as well as similar wines from Barbaresco.

But the highlight of this five-day event will be sampling more than 200 examples of Barolo from the 2010 vintage. This vintage is already being spoken of as a modern-day classic, wines that have the potential to age for as much as 40 or 50 years. In case you believe this is typical wine industry hype for the latest releases, think again. When I attended this event three years ago, when the 2007 Barolos were featured (a very impressive group of wines, in its own right), several producers told me that while they thought I would like their 2007s very much, “wait until you try my 2010s in a few years.” They knew they had something special right from the start and were excited about these wines even in their initial stages, years before release. (I have tasted a handful of these wines – some of them tank samples – so while it’s too early to tell, yes, these wines should be something very special.)

I’ll report on these wines next month, but whenever you taste a new vintage of Barolo, you find yourself comparing it with other vintages, especially ones that are similar in style. Then of course, you size up the vintage for its aging potential. Even in an ordinary year, a well-made Barolo can age for 12-15 years and in most vintages, 15-20 years is the norm. Then you have a few outstanding vintages when the finest examples of Barolo are candidates for 25-40, perhaps even 50 years of aging potential.

Last year, I wanted to try some older Barolos and see how they were tasting after a number of years in the bottle. So with fellow American journalists Tom Maresca and Kerin O’Keefe, we visited nine great Barolo producers and tasted older wines at their cellars. We requested four wines from each producer; the years would cover several decades, ranging from the 1970s and 1980s and well as the 1990s and up to the decade of the 2000s. Each producer had at least four wines for us to taste, some even graciously poured an extra one or two wines; we did not refuse!

Nebbiolo grapes in vineyard in Serralunga d'Alba for production of Barolo (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Nebbiolo grapes in vineyard in Serralunga d’Alba for production of Barolo (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

We sought out an array of great Barolo producers, with a selection that would represent various communes in the Barolo zone. These were the nine cellars we visited: Massolino (Serralunga d’Alba); Giacomo Fenocchio (Monforte d’Alba); Elio Grasso (Monforte d’Alba); Pio Cesare (Alba); Ceretto (Alba); Marcarini (La Morra); Oddero (La Morra); Renato Ratti (La Morra) and Prunotto (Alba). Before Tom and Kerin arrived in the area, I also visited a tenth cellar – Borgogno in the town of Barolo – to taste older examples of their Barolos as well.

A few points about the Barolos we tasted and how these wines have changed over the years. We were able to taste a few examples from 1978, a great vintage that is finally starting to show its best, after more than 35 years. Certainly the winemaking was different in the 1970s, especially in terms of technical approach, but also a philosophical view, as the typical Barolo made some 40-50 years ago was a wine that was rather closed and even a bit backwards upon release. That may or may not be a good thing depending on your view; certainly with the proliferation of powerful wines from California, Australia and other corners of the globe, wines that display forward fruit are the ones that attract the attention of today’s wine media, at least in terms of high scores and important ratings. So some Barolo producers, in order to garner greater attention for their wines, have followed suit to some extent, as examples of this iconic wine from the 1990s and on are more forward and not as tightly wound upon release as in the past. Is this an improvement? Again, this depends on your point of view, but it is a reality.

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Pio Boffa, Pio Cesare Winery (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Another form of reality is climate change; anyone who denies this condition as part of the equation in the Barolo zone is simply overlooking the truth. Each of the producers I spoke with commented on ever warmer temperatures in the area; the only disagreement was when it first occurred. At the Giacomo Fenocchio estate, Claudio Fenocchio said that 1990 was the first vintage he noticed this condition, while for Pio Boffa at the Pio Cesare estate, 1982 was the first year of climate change.

This has resulted in earlier harvests; where Nebbiolo for Barolo had traditionally been picked in mid-late October – and sometimes even early November in some extreme years, those days are pretty much long gone. Harvest these days is often in early October and rarely later then the 2nd or 3rd week of that month. “The biggest change in the Barolos today is the climate,” comments Mariacristina Oddero.


Here are notes on a few of the best wines I tried that week:

2006 – This was a classic Barolo year, one that offered powerful wines meant for the long haul. Beautifully structured wines with very good acidity; the finest should age for 25-35 years.

Oddero “Brunate” Deep garnet; meaty aromas – orange peel and Asian spice. Medium-full with very good concentration. Big mid-palate, though not as concentrated as some of the ’06 Barolos. Very good acidity, subtle wood notes and excellent persistence. Best in 15-20 years – perhaps longer.  ****

Elio Grasso “Gavarini Chiniera” - Deep garnet; aromas of red cherry, marmalade and caraway seed. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Lovely mid-palate, big fruit flavors, perfectly balanced. Very good acidity, subdued wood notes, outstanding persistence. Powerful wine of great breeding and ideal structure. Peak in 25-35 years.  *****


2004 – A brilliant year for Barolo. Wines of amazing aromatic complexities – I recall being as impressed as I had ever been with the perfumes of these wines when I tasted them upon their release – and remarkable elegance. Ideal ripeness along with very good acidity, these are Barolos of grace and finesse. Yet these are not less accomplished than the 2006s, merely less forceful; still, the finest examples of 2004 Barolos will age for 25-40 years.

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Franco Massolino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Franco Massolino comments on the 2004 growing season. “In 2004, the weather was simply perfect. It was a wet spring followed by a summer that was not too hot. 2004 is a wine I really like, a combination of power and elegance.”

Claudio Fenocchio labeled the 2004 vintage as “bellissima. It is traditional with great elegance.”

Renato Ratti “Rocche” – Deep garnet; aromas of kirsch, tar and red roses – just beautiful! Excellent concentration with a rich mid-palate. Great fruit persistence with notes of orange peel in the finish. Excellent persistence. Long, long finish; the tannins are remarkably fine. 25 years plus.  *****

Marcarini “Brunate” – Deep garnet; aromas of Oriental spice, dried cherry, orange peel and tar. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Excellent complexity, this has a meaty character to it. Long, finish, great structure, rich, polished tannins, very good acidity, outstanding persistence. 25 years plus.  *****

Massolino “Vigna Rionda” – Lovely pale garnet color, aromas of red cherry, red roses and carnation. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Silky tannins, precise acidity and a long, long, finish. Beautiful harmony of all components and superb varietal purity. 15-20 years -perhaps longer.  ****


1999 - An outstanding Barolo vintage; wines of power and elegance. The 1999s, as well as any vintage in the last twenty years, are beautiful wines that truly reflect their origins.

Aldo Conterno “Romirasco” - Deep garnet; aromas of mocha, mint, red poppies and brown herbs. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Silky tannins, beautiful acidity and fruit – perfectly ripe. Gorgeous balance and outstanding persistence. 25-35 years.  *****

Ceretto “Bricco Rocche” - Deep garnet/light edge; aromas of leather, tar and strawberry jam. Medium-full with very good to excellent concentration. Long finish with supple tannins, excellent complexity and very good acidity. Best in 15-20 years – perhaps longer.  *****


1996 – Another classic year, resulting in wines of great power and varietal purity. Fenocchio, comparing 1996 with 1990, which received brilliant reviews, said “1996 is difficult to describe now. When you compare 1990 and 1996, no one will remember the 1990 ten years from now, but the 1996 will be drinking beautifully.”

Giacomo Fenocchio “Villero” - Deep garnet; aromas of leather, truffle, balsamic, dried cherry and myrtle. Medium-full with very good concentration. Excellent ripeness – sweet fruit – good acidity and rich tannins. Very good acidity with impressive persistence. 25 years plus.  *****

Borgogno Riserva – Deep garnet; aromas of truffle, dried orange peel, dried cherry and a hint of tobacco. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Excellent persistence, still rich, firm tannins. Excellent complexity – lovely wine! Best in 15-20 years.  ****


1989 - A great Barolo vintage, somewhat overshadowed for some years now by the more powerful 1990, but given some time, most of the 1989s are now showing their brilliance. Tremendous depth of fruit with superb structure.

Prunotto (classic Barolo) – Deep garnet/light brown edge; aromas of herbal tea, dried cherry, truffle and tar. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Rich tannins, big persistence, very fine acidity. Excellent balance and still very young. 12-15 years.  ****

Renato Ratti “Conca” - Deep garnet/light edge; aromas of balsamic, tea leaf and licorice. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Huge mid-palate, very powerful wine. Big tannins, very good acidity; outstanding persistence and complexity. Touch of savoury quality. Notes of oregano and sage in the finish. Slightly austere finish, thanks to the amount of tannins. 20-25 years to peak – perhaps longer. Great wine! *****


1978

Pio Cesare - Deep garnet with a light brown edge; aromas of balsamic, dried cherry and cedar. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Rich persistence, lovely balance, very good acidity. Best in 12-15 years.  ****


Ratings –  ***** Outstanding / **** Excellent


I’ve listed just a few of the wines I tasted over the course of a magnificent week in the Barolo zone. Here is the complete list of older Barolos I tasted during that time.

Borgogno – 1998 Riserva, 1996 Riserva, 1982 Riserva

Ceretto – 2004 Bricco Rocche; 1999 Bricco Rocche; 1993 Bricco Rocche; 1989 Bricco Rocche

Pio Cesare – 2000 Barolo; 1996 Barolo; 1989 Barolo, 1978 Barolo

Aldo Conterno – 2005 Gran Bussia Riserva, 2004 Romirasco, 1999 Colonello

Giacomo Fenocchio – 2004 Bussia Riserva; 1996 Villero; 1990 Bussia Riserva; 1978 Barolo Riserva

Elio Grasso - 2006 Gavarini Chiniera; 2004 Gavarini Chiniera; 2001 Ginestra Casa Maté; 1996 Runcot

Marcarini – 2004 Brunate, 1996 Brunate; 1990 Brunate; 1978 Brunate

Massolino – 2004 Vigna Rionda; 1996 Vigna Rionda Riserva “X Anni”; 1989 Vigna Rionda; 1978 Barolo Riserva

Oddero – 2006 Brunate; 2004 Vigna Mondoca Bussia Soprana; 2001 Vigna Mondoca Bussia Soprana; 1998 Vigna Rionda; 1978 Barolo (classic)

Prunotto – 2004 Bussia; 1996 Bussia; 1989 Barolo (classic); 1985 Bussia; 1982 Riserva Bussia; 1978 Riserva Bussia

Renato Ratti - 2008 Rocche; 2004 Rocche; 1999 Rocche Marcenasco; 1998 Rocche Marcenasco; 1990 Marcenasco; 1989 Conca


 

If you would like to read my reviews of all 41 wines as well as reviews of more than 100 Barolos from 2006, 2004 and 2001, as well as reviews of wines from other recent vintages such as the best from 2009, 2007 and 2008, please contact me, as I will be releasing a special issue of my Guide to Italian Wines. This will be published in a pdf file and will be sent to those that pay a small fee. More information can be found by emailing me (click on this link for my email).

 

You won’t want to miss this special Guide to Italian Wines, a complete guide to Barolo in general and the best wines over the past decade.

April 14, 2014 at 9:55 am 2 comments

Nussbaumer Now – Nussbaumer Forever!


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In one of my recent posts about Alto Adige, I mentioned how much I loved the Cantina Tramin Gewürztraminer “Nussbaumer” 2012. For anyone that has been reading my prose on Italian wines for the past several years knows, this hardly comes as a surprise. I’ve admired this wine for years and believe it to be one of Italy’s greatest wines – white or red.

The Nussbaumer is made from a few select vineyards above the town of Tramin; planted to both the traditional pergola system as well as the modern Guyot system, the oldest of these vineyards are more than ninety years of age. The grapes are of amazing quality, but it’s quite fitting that this great wine originates from Tramin, as the grape itself is named for the town, its birthplace. The word gewürz in German means “spicy” and of course, traminer is the word used to describe something or someone from Tramin; hence Gewürztraminer is the “spicy wine (or grape) from Tramin.”

As with the best examples of this wine, the aromas are memorable, with notes of lychee, grapefruit and yellow roses. But what makes the Cantina Tramin “Nussbaumer” so special is its texture – the mid-palate is rich and multi-layered. There is always excellent persistence, as the finish is quite long; acidity is lively and there is distinct spice. In other words, this is a textbook Gewürztraminer.

 

_IGP2256 Ripe Gewürztraminer grapes used by Cantina Tramin (Photo© Tom Hyland)

 

The recently released 2012 is a terrific example of this wine, as was the 2010, 2009 and 2008. I have reviewed numerous vintages of this wine over the years and my estimate on aging potential would generally be three to five years or perhaps as long as seven years for the finest examples. That to me is typical of an excellent white from Alto Adige, as fruit concentration and structure (thanks to excellent acidity) come together to yield a wine that drinks well at five to seven years of age.

 

Well, you’re always learning things in this game, so what a thrill it was for me when I visited Cantina Tramin last October and winemaker Willi Stürz poured several older bottlings of this famous wine. This wine can age several years beyond my best estimates, as you will read in these tasting notes from that day:

 

2012 – Bright/deep yellow with golden tints; heavenly aromas of lychee, grapefruit, yellow roses, honeysuckle, Anjou pear and lilacs. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Rich mid-palate, beautiful complexity. Great persistence and beautiful typicity. Classic wine! Best in 5-7 years.

2009 – Deep golden yellow; aromas of pineapple, mango and magnolia. Rich mid-palate, excellent persistence and fresness. Very good acidity and impressive balance. Best in 3-5 years.

2006 – Bright golden yellow; aromas of honey, lychee and yellow peach. Medium-full, this is quite powerful with excellent complexity and very good acidity and persistence. Best in 2-3 years.

2005 – Light golden yellow; aromas of dried pear and saffron. Medium-full, this is quite elegant with a lovely note of minerality in the finish along with a distinct note of yellow spices. Long finish, very good acidity. Best in 5-7 years. Outstanding

2000 – Light yellow; aromas of dried pear, elder flowers and a hint of banana. Medium-full with very good concentration. Very good complexity and balance. Nearing peak, but still with 2-3 years of drinking pleasure ahead.

 

 

Note that the 2000, a 14 year-old wine when tasted that day, was still in good shape, while the 2005, a nine-year-old wine at the time, should be drinking well for another 5-7 years, meaning the Nussbaumer in the best vintages can age for 12-15 years.

Few people talk about the aging potential of Gewürztraminer, but certainly this tasting was an eye-opener. Of course, it’s rare to find older bottlings of Alto Adige Gewürztraminer at all, but if you do locate older examples of the Cantina Tramin Nussbaumer, give them a try! A great wine, sourced from great vineyards, made by a great winemaker. Bravo, Willi!

 

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Winemaker Willi Stürz (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

 

 

 

 

April 1, 2014 at 9:20 am 2 comments

The Latest from Alto Adige – Excellence Defined (Part Two)

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Vineyards in the St. Magdalener district, Alto Adige (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

My last post dealt with the best whites wines I sampled at the recent Bozner Weinkost tasting in Bolzano in mid-March; for this post, I will write about the top reds as well as a few rosés and dessert wines.

Most people are surprised to learn that a majority of the grapes planted in Alto Adige are red, not white. This is largely because of an indigenous variety known as Schiava or Vernatsch. The total acreage for this variety was once quite large, but has decreased over the past few decades, as more white varieties are being planted. Still this variety is an important one in Alto Adige; lightly colored, is is quite light in tannins and is produced a light to medium-bodied red that can often be served chilled.

The grape is cultivated throughout Alto Adige and in many cases is labeled as Vernatsch. However there are a few zones where Schiava is the basis of a particular district wine, such as Kalterer See (Auslese); this is from the Lago di Caldaro zone. Another is the St. Magdalener (aka Santa Maddalena) district, located farther north, not far from Bolzano.

Two other red varieties that perform well in Alto Adige are Lagrein and Pinot Nero. Lagrein is grown in many sections of the regions, with the Gries sub-zone of Bolzano being quite famous. Wines made from Lagrein are deep purple in appearance with heady, fruit-dominated aromas of black plum, black raspberry and tar. Medium-full, these are wines that tend to need a few years to settle down. There are also some excellent rosés made from Lagrein.

Pinot Nero is of course, Pinot Noir and Alto Adige is clearly the finest region in Italy for this variety. The cool climate is ideal for long growing seasons in most years that yield wines with dazzling aromatics as well as beautiful acidity. and Theses are ageworthy wines and the finest examples in my mind, rank with some of the world’s most renowned.

Here are notes on some of the best examples of these I tasted at the event in Bolzano:

 

Vernatsch – J. Hofstatter is famous for its Gewurztraminer and Pinot Nero, but the 2013 Vernatsch “Kolbenhofer” is also excellent; with its cranberry, leather and nutmeg aromas, this medium-bodied red makes for irresistible drinking over the next 2-3 years. The 2013 Cantina Tramin Schiava (Schiava is a synonym for Vernatsch) “Fresinger” is a lovely wine with cinnamon and strawberry flavors and very light tannins; enjoy over the next 2-3 years.

As for examples of Santa Maddalena I enjoyed, there were several including the Cantina Bolzano “Huck am Bach 2013, with its damson plum and thyme notes along with the Franz Gojer “Rondell” 2012, a lovely wine with impressive complexity and notable persistence.

Even better were the Tenuta Waldgries 2013 and the A. Egger-Ramer “Reisseger” 2012. The former has intriguing notes of tobacco and thyme and is quite elegant- this is a wine that displays lovely finesse! The latter has beautiful perfumes of cherry, cranberry and red poppies, offers very good acidity with bright fruit and is beautifully balanced. This has a bit more weight to it than many other examples of Santa Maddalena; this will drink well for 3-5 years.

 

 

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Vineyards situated just outside the city of Bolzano (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Pinot Nero - I love this variety and there are so many wonderful examples from Alto Adige, as evidenced again at this event. The Elena Walch “Ludwig” 2011 is a delight, with notes of red cherry, cardamom and a hint of bacon in the aromas. Nicely balanced, this is a pleasure to enjoy now or over the next 3-5 years. Two examples from Girlan, the “Trattmann” and the “Sandbichler” (both 2011) are medium-full with expressive varietal fruit aromas and distinct spicy notes on the palate and in the finish.

Among the very best were the J. Hofstatter “Barthenau Vigna S. Urbano” 2011 and the Marinushof 2011. The former has been one of the finest examples of Alto Adige Pinot Nero for years now; medium-full with abundant red cherry and plum fruit, this has excellent complexity and will be at iys best in 7-10 years, perhaps longer. The Marinushof is notable for its floral aromas, very good acidity and remarkable elegance; this will drink well for 5-7 years.

Finally, the Manincor “Mason di Mason” 2011 is one of the most refined of all Alto Adige Pinot Nero. This is the top selection of Pinot Nero for this producer and is only made in the best years; very Cotes-de-Beaune like, this has a long finish, very good acidity and excellent persistence and complexity. This has at least 7-10 years of drinking pleasure ahead of it.

Lagrein – Now for my notes on Lagrein. I described the characteristics of this variety above; it’s quite different from Schiava and Pinot Nero. I’d have to say it’s not my favorite, as I prefer a more delicate wine, but there are a good number of examples of Lagrein that I did enjoy at this event. Among these were two releases from A. Egger-Ramer, specifically the “Weingut Kristan” 2012 and 2011. Deep purple with aromas of black plum, tar and licorice, both of these wines have very good acidity to balance the tannins; the 2012 is a bit more refined, but both are well made wines that offer mid-term pleasure (5-7 years).

I also liked two wines from Fliederhof, the 2012 and the 2011 Riserva. These are big, lush, extremely ripe styles of Lagrein; on paper, I might not think I’d care for these wines. Yet along with their abundant fruit, they are nicely balanced wines and are quite tasty. You’d need some rich meats to pair with these wines, but for this style of Lagrein, they are well made.

Lagrein Rosé – I love rosé wines and thankfully, there are a good number of Alto Adige producers who do as well. The finest rosés here are made from Lagrein; this grapes assures a deep color for the rosé as well as a lot of character. I enjoyed just about every example I tasted at this event, in particular the A. Egger 2013, a delicious, remarkanle elegant wine; the Schmid Oberrautner 2013, a rich, “serious” rosé with excellent persistence and the Larcherhof 2012 with its cherry/berry aromas and very good acidity. All of these examples are quite dry and can be paired at the dinner table with many types of food. They’re also quite delicious on their own!

Finally, two examples of Moscato Rosa. You may be familiar with Moscato from other part of Italy (especially Moscato d’Asti from Piemonte), but you owe it to yourself to try Moscato Rosa. This grape yields a dessert wine that usually has only a trace of sweetness; there is almost always very good acidity for balance; add to that the heavenly aromas of plum, cherry and red flowers (poppies, carnations) and you have a very seductive wine! Two examples were offered at this event – the Abbazia di Novacella “Praepositus” 2011 and the Tenuta Waldgries 2010 - and both were wonderful wines with excellent complexity and a beautiful delicate feel on the palate.The tend to drink well at 5-7 years of age, although these may be in fine shape a decade from now.

Given the amazing array of wines at this event – white, red, sparkling, rosé and dessert, I’d rank this as just about my favorite wine tasting in Italy. I will certainly return!

Thank you to Thomas Augscholl for his assistance regarding this event as well as my entire stay in Alto Adige.

March 31, 2014 at 8:53 am Leave a comment

The Latest from Alto Adige – Excellence Defined (Part One)

 

_IGP3306 Pfitscher Gewürztraminer “Caldiff” – an Alto Adige gem! (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

When people ask me which Italian regions are my favorite, Alto Adige is always in my top five; some days, it’s in my top three. It’s a remarkably beautiful area, especially when you view the northern sections where vineyards are tucked in among the dramatic landscapes of the Dolomites.

Then there’s the food, which is totally different from the rest of Italy (schlutzkrapfen, anyone?); you expect this, given as Südtirol – as Alto Adige is also known in German – is a region defined by its bi-cultural heritage of Austrian/German and Italian. A quick look at the signs identifying towns will tell you that, as each identifies a particular town in both German and Italian. So you can visit Tramin or Termeno or perhaps you’d like to see Bozen or as most people know it, Bolzano.

As Südtirol was once part of Austria (it was ceded over to Italy after World War l), you’ll find Austrian and German surnames, names such as Lageder, Zuech, Schraffl, Haas and Gojer, just to name a few. But whether the producer’s ancestry is German, Austrian or Italian, the wines from Alto Adige are equally brilliant.

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Vineyards near Eppan (Appiano) (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I recently attended a special tasting of Alto Adige wines in the thriving city of Bolzano; this event known as Bozner Weinkost has been held since the late 1800s. More than 350 wines were available to taste; these included virtually every type of wine from Alto Adige, from sparkling to several different types of whites – Pinot Bianco, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, et al – to numerous red wines types such as Lagrein, Vernatsch and Pinot Nero to finally a few dessert wines such as Moscato Rosa. In between wine appointments, I only had one long session (six hours) to taste at this event and I managed to sample 100 wines. (Note to all tasters out there: as there were so many styles of wines, I decided to move back and forth between various types, starting with Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio and then going to lighter reds such as Vernatsch and Santa Maddalena and then going to rosés and then back to whites such as Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon before finishing up with Pinot Nero and then Lagrein. It’s a great way to ensure your palate doesn’t get tired and to me, it’s just more enjoyable to taste in such a freewheeling manner.)

The tasting was held in a beautifully renovated castle just steps from the center of Bolzano; the day was lovely and the natural sunlight provided a perfect atmosphere in which to taste. When I started tasting at 3:00 in the afternoon, there were perhaps ten other people at the event; by nine in the evening when I finally finished, there were several hundred. This was certainly a great sign in how popular this event has become.

So without further ado, here are notes on some of my favorite wines taste that day:

Sparkling – Although sparkling wine is not a big industry in the area (a shame, as this cool climate is ideal for beautifully structured bubblies), there are a few notable producers. Most impressive is Arunda, which happens to have the highest elevation of any sparkling wine firm in Europe. The two best wines from this producer are the 2008 Riserva, a wine of very good complexity and excellent persistence and the Rosé, a delicious wine of finesse and notable varietal character. Both are drinking well now and should continue to do so for another two to three years.

Pinot Bianco – The most widely planted white variety in Alto Adige, Pinot Bianco is made in versions ranging from simple quaffers to ones of great intensity that will cellar for more than a decade. So many excellent wines in this category; I’ll start with the 2013 Cantina Tramin “Moriz”, one wine in the remarkably strong lineup of this great producer (clearly one of the four or five best in the area). This is a wine with more than simple apple and yellow flower aromas; this has subtle perfumes of green tea and chamomile and has lovely varietal purity and very good persistence; enjoy this over the next 2-3 years.

The 2013 Tenuta Kornell “Eich” and the 2011 Cantina Terlano “Vorberg” Riserva are two brilliant renditions of this variety. The former is quite rich with a multi-layered mid-palate, excellent to outstanding persistence and excellent complexity. This is a stylish wine that will drink well for 3-5 years. The latter is a classic Pinot Bianco and routinely one of Italy’s finest white wines (I included a writeup in my book Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines) and the 2011 is the latest great example. Given a bit of time to mature in wood (which adds texture), this sports aromas of dried pear and beeswax, is medium-full with a layered mid-palate and has outstanding complexity. This has the structure and stuffing to age for at least five to seven years, although I may be a bit conservative in my estimate.

Another excellent Pinot Bianco is the 2012 Manincor “Eichhorn.” Count Michael Goess-Enzenberg is a stellar producer, farming biodynamically at his lovely estate in Caldaro. This single site Pinot Bianco has a brilliant appearance with aromas of golden apples, Anjou pear and a note of honey. Medium-full with a rich mid-palate, this has excellent persistence and very good acidity along with beautiful varietal focus; enjoy this over the next 5-7 years.

A few other notable examples of Pinot Bianco; the 2011 St. Pauls (San Paolo) “Passion”, a Pinot Bianco with excellent balance and varietal character and distinct minerality; the 2013 Colterenzio “Weisshaus”, a delicious, textbook rendering of this variety and the 2012 Meran Burggrafler Tyrol”, which displays beautiful perfumes of apple, spiced pear and jasmine backed by impressive persistence. This cooperative is not as well-known as others in the area, but the locals know quite well how special this producer is across the board.

Finally, a note on two versions of Pinot Bianco from Cantina Nals Margreid. I tasted their 2012 “Sirmian” and the 2013 “Penon.” The former is a beautifully made wine with excellent vareital character and focus; this has received numerous awards from some of Italy’s most famous wine publications. I gave that wine high marks as well, but I actually preferred the latter, with its excellent persistence and light minerality; Enjoy both wines over the next 2-3 years.

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Ripe Gewürztraminer grapes in an Alto Adige vineyard in early October (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Gewürztraminer - Now on to my favorite variety – white or red – in Alto Adige. I have a passion – no, make that an obsession with Gewürztraminer. And why not? In a country where so many distinctive wines are made, Gewürztraminer is arguably the most distinctive. Those beautiful pink/rose colored grapes in the vineyards are turned into dry, intensely favored wines with unmistakable perfumes of lychee, grapefruit, yellow roses and lanolin. This year in a few examples, I also found notes of clove, especially in wines from far northern Alto Adige (Val Venosta). Alto Adige is the home of this variety – no matter what the Alsatians say (there was a court settlement on the origin dispute) – gewürz in German means “spicy’, and Traminer is the word for someone or something from Tramin, the lovely town in Alto Adige where so many great examples of this wine are produced. So Gewürztraminer is the “spicy wine from Tramin” – there you have it!

There were a number of excellent examples of Gewürztraminer at this tasting. I loved so many, but I’ll only mention the absolute best. The 2012 Meran Burggrafler “Graf” offers such lovely aromatics with notes of lychee and yellow roses and that note of clove I mentioned. There is excellent persistence and very good acidity (a signature of the 2012 vintage and of course, the cool climate as well); this is a delicious and very distinctive wine; enjoy over the next 3-5 years.

The 2012 Abbazia di Novacella “Praepositus” is simply, a textbook Gewürztraminer with its beautiful varietal aromas – these include a pleasing note of ginger – as well as some distinctive spice notes in the finish. There is excellent persistence; enjoy over the next 3-5 years.

I mentioned the town of Tramin being the home of this variety; two of the best from here – and the entire region – are the “Nussbaumer” from Cantina Tramin and the “Kolbenhof” from J. Hofstatter. I tasted the 2012 version of both wines at this event; the “Nussbaumer” is a legendary wine, one of the top 50 wines in Italy in my opinion (as well as the opinion of many others); sourced from very old vines above Tramin planted in both the traditional pergola system as well as more modern systems, this is a wine of great varietal character and focus. The 2012 is another in a long string of great examples of this wine (I tasted multiple vintages with winemaker Willi Sturz at the winery during my visit last October. I will write about these wines in a future post); Medium-full with excellent concentration, the aromas of lychee, yellow roses and lanolin are so pure, but what makes this wine stand out is its sublime balance and amazing persistence. This is a wine of breeding and class and is truly a great wine! The 2012 is tantalizing now and should drink well for another 5-7 years – and perhaps even longer.

The “Kolbenhof” from J. Hofstatter is another legendary Gewürztraminer from Tramin; proprietor Martin Foradori Hofstatter always crafts a remarkably flavorful wine from these grapes. In fact, his version of Gewürztraminer is as rich as you will find in the area; while the Tramin “Nussbaumer” is amazing for its elegance and balance, the “Kolbenhof” is a different wine, one that is fat, almost oily on the palate. The 2012 version has lovely yellow rose, chamomile and grapefruit aromas, excellent persistence and vibrant acidity. I would describe this wine as a pitch-perfect Gewürztraminer. It’s not necessarily a better wine than the “Nussbaumer”, it’s just a different style and to me it’s important to note that difference (pay attention out there, all of you who look to points to determine the quality of a wine). Given the richness of this wine, this is a white that demands time; while you may be impressed with this wine upon release, it is clearly a better wine three to five years down the road, as its complexities are revealed with age (akin to a beautiful woman). This 2012 “Kolbenhof” should be drinking well in 2018-2020. Complimenti, Martin!

The biggest surprise for me was the 2012 Tenuta Pfitscher Gewürztraminer “Caldiff”; I say that, not as I was surprised to taste a beautifully made wine from this estate, but because I had not ever seen this wine on any lists as one of Alto Adige’s finest Gewürztraminers. Well, based on this bottling, it is! Offering subtle aromas of lychee and clove, this is extremely elegant with vibrant acidity. Sourced from a vineyard in the southern zone of Alto Adige, this is all about purity and finesse; it’s not the most powerful version of Alto Adige Gewürztraminer, but it is one of the most elegant. This 2012 is a joy to drink now and will be in fine shape for another three to five years.

Finally, the 2012 Klaus Lentsch Gewürztraminer “Fuchslan”, from a vineyard in the Isarco Valley in northeast Alto Adige, is a delight. Offering expressive aromas of pink grapefruit, hyacinth and lanolin, this has light spice notes in the finish, very good acidity and balance; enjoy this over the next two to three years.

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Colterenzio Vineyards (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Sauvignon - Sauvignon (known as Sauvignon Blanc elsewhere in the world) is another love of mine; especially versions from Alto Adige that are quite assertive, emphasizing the herbal edge of this variety. I mentioned above that I only had six hours to taste all the wines; sadly, I didn’t try as many examples of Sauvignon that I wanted to, but I did find a few that I enjoyed.

The Colterenzio “Prail” 2013 and the Weingut Pfitscher “Saxum” 2013 were impressive wines; the former offering notes of dried pear and freshly cut hay in its aromas, while the latter featured more intriguing notes of snap pea and nettle. Both wines are medium-bodied with good structure and are meant for consumption within the next two to three years.

More full-bodied versions included the Manincor “Tannenberg” 2012 and the Malojer (Gummerhof) 2013. The former wine is a lighter version of this producer’s renowned “Lieben Aich” Sauvignon, an exceptional wine and easily one of Alto Adige’s most accomplished. Yet, the Tannenberg is quite special in its own right, with green tea and basil aromas backed by excellent persistence and a light minerality.

The Malojer 2013 Sauvignon is a gem, sporting aromas of freshly cut hay, spearmint and yellow flowers. Medium-full with very good acidity and a lengthy finish, this has excellent complexity; pair this with many types of seafood or veal over the next two to three years.

Other whites that impressed me in this tasting:

Pinot Grigio – Colterenzio “Puiten” 2013, Marinushof 2013

Kerner – Franz Gojer “Karneid” 2013, Cantina Valle Isarco “Sabiona” 2012, Abbazia di Novacella “Prepositus” 2012

Riesling – Cantina Valle Isarco “Aristos” 2012, Abbazia di Novacella “Praepositus” 2011, Marinushof 2013

Moscato Giallo – Manincor 2013, Meran Burggafler “Graf Von Meran” 2013

Based on what I tasted and from what a few producers told me, 2013 is an excellent vintage in Alto Adige for white wines. The acidity is there as are the perfumes; we shall see how these wines develop over the next 6-8 months.

In part two of this report, I will write about the best reds I had at this event, along with a few excellent rosés and dessert wines.

March 27, 2014 at 9:10 am Leave a comment

Bardolino – Variety, Value and Charm

_IGP3437Silvio Piona, Az. Agr. Albino Piona (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I wonder how many Italian wine lovers pay much attention to Bardolino. I know I don’t try as much of it as I’d like to. There isn’t much attention paid to this wine and that’s a shame, as it’s quite charming as well as being very affordable, but it’s also a wine that can age for 5-7 years or even longer when it comes to the best producers and the finest vintages.

I recently attended an anteprima (preview) tasting in Bardolino; the purpose here was for journalists to sample the soon-to-be-released bottlings from the 2013 vintage. I am fortunate enough to attend several of these tastings each year in Italy, but it’s usually for a more powerful red wine, such as Barolo, Brunello, Taurasi or Amarone, so I looked forward to trying more of a medium-bodied red; I also wanted to discover the various styles of Bardolino available, as I was only familiar with a handful of the area’s producers.

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Along with Bardolino, the tasting also featured two other wines made in the zone: Bardolino Chiaretto, the famous local rosato, and Bardolino Chiaretto spumante, the sparkling version of the rosato. (This tasting also featured the 2013 versions of Custoza, a local white also made by many Bardolino producers. I will deal with this in another post quite soon).

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I’ll start with the Bardolino Chiaretto spumante. I had literally only tasted fewer than a half-dozen examples before this event, so as I am a sparkling wine lover, I wanted to get a grasp on this wine. Any Bardolino is primarily made from two grapes, Corvina and Rondinella, while a small percentage of Molinara is also part of the blend from some producers (these are the same grapes used in the Valpolicella district to the east). So the Chiaretto spumante is the sparkling rosato version of Bardolino; the wines vary in color from bright pink to deep copper and sweetness levels range from off-dry to medium-sweet.

Maybe it was the warm weather in the beautiful town of Lasize where this tasting was held, but I enjoyed these wines very much. Actually, I would have loved these wines even if the day was cold and rainy – the wines were quite enjoyable. I just love being able to sample such fun wines such as this! You don’t think about Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante – you just drink it! How nice is that, given how serious many of us get at times when we rhapsodize about the wines we come across?

While there were a few examples that were a little too sweet for me, I was impressed by the majority of these spumanti. Most were quite good and there were a few examples that had a bit more depth of fruit and complexity and were drier than the standard version. The finest for me were the bottlings from Corte Gioliare, Monte del Fra “La Picia” and especially the Le Tende “Volutte” (pictured above). This last wine is absolutely delicious and it’s also dry with excellent complexity and persistence. While most of these wines are meant for consumption within 12-15 months, the Le Tende version actually has the structure to drink well for as long as two years from now. Maybe it’s the fact that proprietor Mauro Fortuna has a friend in the Valdobbiadene area in northern Veneto where the finest examples of Prosecco are from, produce this wine. Whatever the case, this is a marvelous wine to be enjoyed on its own before dinner or with an outdoors lunch or even with sushi, tuna or salumi.

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Now on to the traditional Bardolino Chiaretto, the non-sparkling wine. This has long been a calling card for the area’s producers, as this rosato is one of the most well-known in all of Italy. Delicate and fruit-filled, this is a delight with a wide range of foods such as risotto, tortellini and pizza.

I did like some of these Chiaretti - I’ll mention those in a bit – but I was somewhat disappointed in the overall quality of the wines I tasted that day. Too many were candied in nature, while a few were a bit cloyingly sweet; I compared some of these examples to white zinfandel, a wine I largely dislike, so that’s not a good thing.

The best were from top producers such as Le FragheLe TendeAlbino Piona and Costadoro. Here were rosati that were medium-bodied with pleasing perfumes of strawberry, cherry, pear and red poppies. These were dry or off-dry and were nicely balanced with good acidity. These were a pleasure to taste; I just wish there were more examples like these.

_IGP3410Carlo Nerozzi, Le Vigne di San Pietro (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

As for Bardolino itself, I was pleased with the overall quality of the wines. While you may think most examples of Bardolino are pretty much the same, given its image as a lighter red, that’s not the case. There are some meant for immediate consumption over the first 12-15 months, but there are many others that are much better with two to three – or even five – years down the road.

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Matilde Poggi, Le Fraghe (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

The finest examples of 2013 Bardolino I tasted at this event were from Le Tende (this producer is certainly one of Bardolino’s shining stars), Le Fraghe (proprietor Matilde Poggi never fails at crafting a lovely Bardolino of great typicity), Le Vigne di San Pietro and Albino Piona (as with the above names, the Piona estate is on the short list of the area’s finest producers).

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Giovanna Tantini (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I would also like to make an important point about aging Bardolino; while you may think it’s meant for lunch or dinner tonight, it does drink well after a few years. The 2009 bottling from Albino Piona is a delight at present, while the 2009 from Giovanna Tantini is also quite impressive. The Piona bottling is so delightful, with its dried cherry and rose petal notes (along with a hint of pepper); there is excellent complexity and the acidity is quite good, giving this wine a lovely balance. When I speak of Bardolino being a charming wine, here is a textbook example.

The Tantini has more tannins; her style of crafting Bardolino is to let these wines age for 3-5 years (or longer) to let the tannins subside, while the wine gains in complexity, both in the nose and on the palate. This wine at almost five years old, still displays a lovely youthful garnet color and has enticing aromas of a freshly baked cherry pie. This is a lovely wine, one with the stuffing and structure to age for another 5-7 years. That’s not what you expect from Bardolino, so take note – Bardolino can age well. Brava, Giovanna!

March 23, 2014 at 11:50 am 2 comments

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