Posts tagged ‘alto adige’
The Story of a Great Day in Alto Adige
Text and Photos ©Tom Hyland
Sundial at J. Hofstatter Winery, Tramin
I’m fortunate enough to travel to Italy three or four times per year; thankfully, I never tire of it. Thus every day in la bella Italia, even if it’s cold and/or rainy, is a special one. In fact, I can recall virtually every day I’ve spent in Italy over the past twelve years and almost every one has been pretty special. Then there was one great Friday I recently spent in Alto Adige.
The day started with my host Martin Foradori Hofstatter driving me to his winery in Tramin for a special tasting of Alto Adige Pinot Nero from three vintages. The tasting was organized by the editors of Fine magazine in Germany; Martin mentioned the tasting and asked if I would like to attend, as I was in the area. I appreciate his hospitality as well as the kindness of the magazine editors for allowing me to sit in on the tasting. (Before the tasting, by the way, I stopped at a local bar for a croissant and apple juice – believe me, there is no better place in Italy – or perhaps all of Europe – for apple juice!).
The tasting featured wines from the 2009, 2005 and 2002 vintages, each of them excellent. The 2005s were arguably the best performing wines in terms of balance and structure, although 2002 was not far behind, while the 2009s were a bit fleshier, though no less accomplished. Producers included Girlan, Abbazia di Novacella, Colterenzio (Schreckbichl), St. Michael-Eppan and of course, J. Hofstatter; winemakers from several of those estates also took present in this tasting. While Pinot Nero is not one of the varieties most people associate with Italy, these examples displayed impressive complexity and were first-rate evidence of the foundation this grape has in the cool climes of Alto Adige.
Martin Foradori Hofstatter
After a brief lunch at the Barthenau estate of Hofstatter, it was off to my appointment at Abbazia di Novacella, northeast of Bolzano, not far from the Austrian border. Accompanying me as driver and interested spectator was Hannes Waldmüller, who recently became director for the Alto Adige consorzio. Waldmüller is a fountain of information on seemingly every business in the region, from wine to apples and just about anything else and that knowledge combined with his passion for the region makes him a great spokesperson for Südtirol.
I had tried wines from Abbazia on several occasions in the past and had always been delighted with the high quality and the impressive varietal focus of their wines, especially with varieties such as Kerner, Sylvaner and Pinot Nero. So here was a chance to try the new releases as well as tour the facility. Actually the word facility is not an apt descriptor here, as this is an amazing location that is part winery and a bigger part, an abbey with an stunning church (one of the most beautiful I have ever visited), an amazing library that contained hand-drawn manuscripts from the resident monks of the 14th century as well as a school for middle grades. This is quite an experience and one that should be part of your required itinerary on your next visit to Alto Adige.
Detail of ceiling of the church at Abbazia di Novacella
The tasting itself, conducted by Costanza Maag, who recently joined the winery, was excellent. Every wine tasted out beautifully, especially the Müller-Thurgau, Sylvaner and Sauvignon as well as all the “Praepositus” releases (these are the selezioni of the winery; the term Praepositus means “the chosen” or “elevated” – a perfect descriptor). I have included the Praepositus Kerner and Pinot Nero in my upcoming book on Italy’s most distinctive wines; if I had room, I’d include a few more, including the Praepositus Sauvignon (wonderful aromas of yellow apples and green tea!), Sylvaner (the 2011 is outstanding) and the Gewurztraminer, with its gorgeous lychee, grapefruit and lanolin aromas. What marvelous wines and while I also love the Pinot Nero, this is a winery – as with dozens of others in the region – that shows the world how routinely great – and occasionally brilliant – the white wines of Alto Adige are, year in and year out!
After our lengthy visit, it was dark outside and we were headed to one more appointment. Hannes made his way to Weingut Niklas in Kaltern, about an hour’s south; he pointed out as we entered the autostrada that if we headed north, we would be in Innsbruck, Austria, sooner than our next winery visit. It was a tempting proposal, but we proceeded to our business at hand.
Dieter Sölva, proprietor, Weingut Niklas
Our visit to Weingut Niklas was an impromptu one, as two other producers not far from Abbazia that I wanted to visit were out of town. I mentioned to Hannes that I knew the importer of Niklas in America (Oliver McCrum in the Bay Area) and that I had enjoyed the wines. Hannes called Dieter Sölva at the winery, who agreed to meet us. Unfortunately, his winery is in a small town, hidden behind a number of small streets, so Hannes had to get on his cel phone and have Dieter walk him through this. It was quite dark and rather cool and we were getting a bit tired by this time (around 7:30), but we managed to finally locate this small winery.
Dieter is a charming man, someone who gives you his attention and is open and direct – there’s no hidden agenda with him. That’s great, because I could relax around him and be honest about my opinions of his wines; not that he had anything to worry about, as I loved both his 2011 Kerner and especially his 2011 Sauvignon with enticing yellow pepper and elderberry aromas; here was a lovely Sauvignon with plenty of fruit, yet only a trace of the assertive herbal notes that often dominate other examples of this variety in cool climates. The wine has lively acidity and beautiful structure and is one of my favorite examples of Sauvignon from Italy – highly recommended!
Finally, it was off to a quick dinner and some pizza and pasta. We found a comfortable place with excellent food and by this time, a beer was in order – an Austrian beer, as Hannes said that’s what he recommended, so I went with it. But I just can’t help myself when I’m in a restaurant in wine country – I have to see the wine list. I noticed that the Peter Sölva Gewurztraminer was on the list, so I ordered a glass. Now I didn’t have pizza, as I opted for pasta and I can’t say that the wine was an ideal partner for my food, but at this point, it certainly tasted great. I love Alto Adige Gewurztraminer and this one was excellent, especially as this had proper structure to back up the lovely aromatics. A great way to finish my wine tasting that Friday!
Hannes then drove me back to my guesthouse, promising me another day of touring wine estates the next time I’m in Alto Adige. This is why I love the Italian people – after all this man did for me that afternoon and evening, he was making sure I knew that he would be happy to show me around his region again. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but the Italians are among – perhaps the – most gracious people in the world!
P.S. I can tell you that many residents of Alto Adige, still clinging to their Austrian/German heritage (Südtirol was part of the Austrian empire until the end of the First World War), don’t believe they are Italians. On more than one occasion lately, there have been discussions about the Südtirol becoming an autonomous state, separate from Italy. In fact, many of the local residents talk of Alto Adige and then refer to Italy as being “down there.” True enough, but for this post and for the sake of argument, I’m including these wonderful denizens as Italian – their graciousness certainly fits the part!
I love the endless challenge that the Italian wine scene presents. There are always new varieties, wine districts or producers to be discovered. How can you not love the opportunity to constantly taste new wines?
Kerner is a variety that is a specialty of one small zone, that of the Valle d’Isarco in northeastern Alto Adige, not far from the Austrian border. The best known producer is probably Abbazia di Novacella, as they craft two lovely dry versions as well as a passito bottling. I tasted these wines during a recent visit to the winery and then for my next appointment that day, I stopped at Weingut Niklas, where Dieter Sölva renders a delicious example with bright fruit and lively acidity. I’ve also tasted a very nice example from Strasserhof, also from Valle d’Isarco.
I was told by a local producer that Nössing was a producer to search for if I wanted to taste an excellent version of Kerner. On my way back to my accommodations one night in Alto Adige, I stopped at a local enoteca and found the Nössing wine, but this was the vendemmia tardiva (late harvest) offering, not the dry one (vintage 2010). That was fine as I love dessert wines and was curious to see what this producer could do with this variety.
Am I glad I purchased this wine! Displaying a light, bright yellow color, the aromas of apricot, yellow peach, papaya and honey are haunting – face it, don’t you want to try a wine that smells like that? Medium-full with excellent concentration, this is ultra clean with lively acidity, excellent persistence, impeccable balance and just a hint of sweetness. It’s only 11% alcohol, so it is delicate in the finish and not overly sweet or lush. It’s absolutely delicious and the fruit flavors stay with you long after you’ve finished the wine. I tasted this with a producer of red wines in the Veneto who was absolutely blown away with the flavors and quality of this wine.
To the best of my knowledge, this is not imported in America. Given that Manni Nössing only produces a total of about 1800 cases of wine in total – divided up among this offering as well as a traditional dry Kerner, Sylvaner, Gruner Veltliner and Gewurztraminer – there just isn’t much of this wine to go around. But the next time you’re in Alto Adige and can find this in an enoteca (17.50 Euro for a 500 ml – well worth it), do yourself a favor and purchase a bottle so you can experience one of Italy’s least known yet finest dessert wines!
Manni Nössing, Bressanone (Brixen)
I was told by a friend in Italy that the phrase “unexpected brilliance” really doesn’t translate very well, so I’d be better off using the words una sopresa magnifica – “a magnificent surprise” to describe a marvelous Alto Adige red wine I recently tasted.
The wine – the 2009 Campill – is from a small producer Weingut Pranzegg, located in Bolzano in northern Alto Adige. The grower and winemaker of this wine is young Martin Gojer, an artisan producer who also makes an excellent Lagrein and Lagrein rosato along with a lovely blended white from local vineyards. The Campill, named for the site where the winery is located, is 95% Schiava, with the remaining 5% a mix of Lagrein and Barbera.
The very fact that I am strongly recommending a Schiava will probably come as surprise to most readers. I would imagine that many have never even heard of this variety (it is also known as Vernatsch), while those familiar with it know it as one that yields a very light red, one with high acidity and very light tannins. It’s the type of red that normally must be comsumed within a year or two and it is often served slightly chilled as it can be quite refreshing that way.
Now while I do enjoy the typical style of Schiava, I have discovered a few examples that represent more than just a pleasant offering. This is a remarkable wine and the main factor for that – as with most first-rate wines – can be found in the vineyard, as Gojer is working with vines that have an average age of 45 years; a few of the vines are 30 years of age, but several are 80 years old! Clearly these old vines limit yield and deliver a wine of great complexity and structure.
My notes list the “sensual” aromas of carnation, red roses and strawberry; medium-full with excellent depth of fruit, there are silky tannins, very good acidity and a lengthy finish with notes of Asian spice and nutmeg. This has excellent balance, lovely finesse and amazing complexity! It is drinking beautifully now and should be in fine shape for another four or five years. I’d love to try this with a pork dish, especially in a Thai or Oriental cuisine, although roast pork or roast chicken with mushrooms would also be an ideal partner.
Currently, the wines of Weingut Pranzegg are not available in America, so here’s hoping some smart importer brings these products in soon. For now, you’ll have to head to Alto Adige and pay 13.90 Euro a bottle, which may be one of the wisest decisions you’ll ever make for a bottle of wine!
Bravo, Martin for making such an extraordinary wine from a variety most commonly associated with ordinary wines!
Vineyards at Cantina Terlano, Alto Adige (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
When you think about the best red wines of Italy, you probably look to Piedmont and Tuscany or perhaps even Abruzzo, Umbria or Puglia. But when it comes to Alto Adige, white wine is most likely your strongest association with this far northern region. Yet, this area is home to several red varieties that are made into some of the country’s most expressive wines, offerings that are beautifully balanced, adapt perfectly with so many foods and best of all, are wonderfully expressive.
The variety of red wines in Alto Adige is quite amazing, ranging from the very delicate wines made from the Schiava variety with its pleasing cherry and currant fruit and extremely light tannins to Cabernet Sauvignon, which expresses the power and intensity you find from other regions around the world, along with higher acidity than many of its counterparts.
But for this post, I’d like to concentrate on two varieties that have become specialties in Alto Adige: Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) and Lagrein. Pinot Nero of course is the same variety that is grown in Burgundy as well as a few other areas around the world, from Central Otago in New Zealand to Casablanca Valley in Chile as well as the Willamette Valley in Oregon and several zones in California. Alto Adige is a natural spot for Pinot Nero (sometimes labeled with its German name Blauburgunder), as this is a cool climate wine region, espcially being so far north in Italy as well as being situated in the shadow of the Dolomite Mountains. Examples of Pinot Nero from Alto Adige range from the delicate, light tannin style you can chill for a bit to the more medium-full and full-bodied versions that receive small oak barrel aging and can be aged for 7-10 years or even longer.
Here are notes on a few impressive examples of Alto Adige Pinot Nero I’ve tasted recently:
2010 Cantina Tramin - This is the entry level Pinot Nero from this outstanding cooperative producer, located in the town of Tramin. Medium-bodied with pleasing aromas of bing cherry, dried strawberry and rhubarb, this has good varietal character with light tannins and a subtle touch of oregano in the finish. You could chill this for 15-20 minutes or so before serving; it’s best paired with lighter chicken and pork dishes (especially in a Thai restaurant) or with a light preparation of tuna. ($19)
2009 Caldaro “Saltner” - This is richer and riper than the above wine, displaying aromas of red cherry, red currant and thyme. Medium-full, this is a nicely structured wine with distinct notes of paprika and turmeric; the acidity is quite good and the oak is nicely integrated. This can stand up to foods such as roast pork, veal or yellowfin tuna. Enjoy this over the next 2-3 years. ($28)
Martin Foradori, J. Hofstatter (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
2008 J. Hofstatter “Vigna S. Urbano Barthenau”
Martin Foradori, proprietor and winemaker at the J. Hofstatter estate, calls this wine the “flagship” of his production; to me, this is evidence of how great Pinot Noir can be in Alto Adige. The vines in the vineyard are 65 years old, which naturally produces a small yield as well as remarkably concentrated fruit. Full-bodied, this has aromas of tart cherry and strawberry along with lovely notes of coriander and marjoram. Here is a Pinot Nero with outstanding complexity, ideal balance and the structure to age for 15-20 years. Pair this with everything from duck with cherry or orange sauce, pork medallions, salmon or tuna steaks. ($80 – note that this wine is extremely limited. If you find another vintage such as 2007 or 2006, go for it!)
And, two recommendations of Lagrein:
2009 Valle Isarco - I truly believe Lagrein can be a great success in America as the wines made from this variety have deep color, good ripe black and red fruit and moderate tannins- as a rule, these are drinkable upon release. Here’s a very good example, one with bright ruby red color and beautiful aromas of black plum, licorice, tar and tobacco. Medium-bodied with good acidity and moderate tannins, this has pleasing notes of bitter chocolate in the finish. Enjoy this over the next 2-3 years with most red meats, especially a lighter cut of beef or with eggplant parmigiana. ($20)
2007 Cantina Terlano “Gries Riserva”
Bright purple with aromas of black plum, iodine and black raspberry. Medium-full, this has very good ripeness, elegant middle-weight tannins, good acidity, subtle wood and a touch of bitter chocolate in the finish (a nice touch found in many examples of this wine). This is approachable now, but will be even better in 2-3 years as it round out. Pair this with lighter game, most red meats or hearty stews. ($30)
Whenever the topic of the finest Italian white wines comes up, the regions of Friuli and Alto Adige almost always come immediately to the forefront. I’d also add Campania to the list, as the finest examples from this southern region display beautiful complexity, minerality and ageworthiness.
But for now, let’s talk about the two neighboring regions of Friuli and Alto Adige. There are dozens of producers in the former that craft multi-layered blends, consisting of several varieties such as Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Picolit, Sauvignon and Chardonnay. For some critics, the argument of which region produces the most renowned whites from Italy ends with Friuli.
I’d like to offer some evidence from Alto Adige as well. Most of the wines here are monovarietal – everything from Pinot Bianco (the region’s most widely planted grape) to Pinot Grigio, Moscato Giallo, Sauvignon and of course, Gewurztraminer. The best examples of these wines – from small estates to large cooperative producers – are laser-focused in their varietal purity and display gorgeous aromatics as well as beautiful structure.
But there are also a handful of blended whites from Alto Adige that rival the most famous counterparts from Friuli. One of the finest I’ve tried in some time is the 2008 Cantina Tramin Stoan. This is a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 22% Sauvignon, 11% Pinot Bianco and 7% Gewurztraminer. My notes on this wine characterize the layers of flavor in this wine – the mid-palate is very impressive – as well as the striking aromatics with notes of chamomile, lilacs and mango – this last emerging, no doubt from the Gewurztraminer.
Winemaker Willi Sturz, who has previously been awarded the title of the year’s best winemaker from Gambero Rosso, the Italian wine bible, ages the wine in large wooden casks of 4000 liters, most of which are anywhere from 2-8 years old. The size of the barrels as well as their age mean minimal wood interference, allowing the aromatics and varietal character to emerge, while also adding a bit of texture to the wine. (For comparison, the small oak barrels known as barriques are 225 liters in size, meaning their wood influence is quite strong, especially with white wines).
What I love about the wines from Cantina Tramin are their varietal character, cleanliness and immaculate balance. Sturz is a genius at taking the finest fruit from more than 275 growers who are members of this cooperative (this is a common practice in the region) and crafting wines that are immediately drinkable upon release, yet often improve after 3-5 years in the bottle. While the Stoan as well as the Nussbaumer Gewurztraminer (arguably the finest in Italy over the past decade) are the most famous, you sense the care Sturz takes in even the basic bottlings of Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco and Gewurztraminer (as well as a few lovely red wines).
2008 was a lovely vintage in Alto Adige (and throughout much of Italy, especially for white wines). This was cooler than the highly rated 2007 vintage, so the wines are not as fat on the palate, yet as this was a long growing season, the wines ripened beautifully. The aromatics as well as the vibrant acidity are the keys to the 2008 whites from Alto Adige. Look for this wine to drink well for another 3-5 years. Best of all, this wine has the complexity and structure to accompany a wide variety of foods, from Oriental cuisine (chicken or pork) to veal to lighter game. While it wouldn’t necessarily be my first choice with most seafood, as it would probably out muscle the fish, I do think that it works well with some lightly aged cheeses such as Nostrano, Lagundo or Puzzone di Moena, all made from cow’s milk.
The price for this wine is $33, which I feel is quite fair, especially with other top Italian blended whites selling in the $45-$75 price range. This wine can truly stand with the best of them! I’ve tasted this wine from previous vintages and by now it’s become one of my top ten whites from Italy; when you consider how great the best Italian whites are – and how much I love these wines – that’s saying something on my part.
The national importer is Winebow.
The region of Alto Adige, which straddles the border of Austria, is one of Italy’s most distinguished wine territories. Of the several zones, my favorite is situated in and around the town of Tramin in the southern reaches of the region. Known best for Gewurztraminer, – gewurz in German manes “spicy”; thus Gewurztraminer is the “spicy” grape from Tramin – this commune is also home to vineyards planted to such varieties as Sauvignon (Blanc), Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Elena Walch (pronounced valk) and her husband Werner manage the great property named for her; established in 1988, the winery’s output today is about 30,000 cases per year. Several wines are routinely among the best of their type in Alto Adige, especially the “Kastelaz” Geurztraminer and the “Castel Ringberg” Sauvignon (the wines are named for the estate vineyard where the grapes originate).
The estate vineyards have ideal exposure and are beautifully farmed; two key reasons why the wines from these sites are so distinctive. The “Kastelaz” Gewurztraminer is a gorgeous rendition of this variety, with sumptuous notes of lychee and yellow roses in the aromatics. Medium-full on the palate, the wine is quite rich and offers a brash spiciness in the finish. This wine benefits from a few years in the bottle; upon release, it is ripe and forward, but with time, it settles down and becomes a wonderful food wine, especially with Oriental cuisine.
The “Ringberg” Sauvignon is typical for this area with its intense aromas of spearmint, freshly cut grass and sweet pea; the vibrant acidity and excellent fruit concentration ensure 3-5 years of enjoyment for this wine in the best vintages, such as 2004, 2007 and 2008. Two other extremely flavorful and well made wines are the “Kastelaz” Pinot Bianco and the spicy “Kastelaz” Merlot Riserva.
One truly special wine is Beyond the Clouds, made primarily from Chardonnay (along with small percentages of local varieties) and aged in small oak barrels. While this is an atypical wine for this area, we have to thank Elena and Werner for creating this blend; rich, lush and delicious, this is subtle in its oak presentation and of course, features the excellent natural acidity you expect from this area.
Elena and Werner are a great couple; both are easy-going and very personable and are wonderful ambassadors for their wines and for the wines of Alto Adige. I highly recommend their wines, especially if you can visit Tramin and have dinner at the restaurant at Castel Ringberg. It’s set in a lovely spot amidst the mountains of Alto Adige and it’s quite an experience to enjoy Elena’s wines paired with the local cuisine. The best wines of Alto Adige – much like the finest offerings from many other Italian regions – are all about varietal purity and uniqueness; these are not international wines, but rather wines that speak of their origins.