Posts tagged ‘alto adige’
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.
Here is part three of my list of the Top Italian Wine Producers from the first decade of the millennium:
One of the most thoughtful and considerate men I have ever met, Alois Lageder has been producing wines of wonderful varietal purity and clarity for the past two decades. His “Benefizium” Pinot Grigio is one of the two or three finest examples of this variety in Italy, while his “Cor Romigberg” is a stunning cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon. This past decade, Lageder increased his efforts with organically produced wines. Individuals such as Alois Lageder are rare – his wines reflect his thoughtful nature.
Elena Walch and her husband Werner continue to dazzle with their lineup of wines, especially with the “Kastelaz” Gewurztraminer, the “Castel Ringberg” Sauvignon and the superb blended white, “Beyond the Clouds.” Consistent excellence is what this estate is all about!
Winemaker Willi Sturz quietly continues his brilliant work at this great cooperative winery. The “Nussbaumer” Gewurztraminer is one of Italy’s best white wines, while the blended white “Stoan” is another exceptional offering. Also highly recommended are the “Urban” Lagrein and the “Montan” Sauvignon. These wines represent the heart and soul of Alto Adige.
Under the leadership of Sandro Boscaini, this estate continues to be one of the leaders of Amarone. The regular bottling known as “Costasera” is beautifully balanced, while the cru bottlings, “Campolongo di Torbe” and “Mazzano” are more powerful, yet still quite refined.
It’s a bit of a broken record, but Roerto Anselmi continues to dazzle with his Garganega-based whites, especially the simple “San Vicenzo” and the “Capitel Foscarino.” Then there is the gorgeous dessert offering “I Capitelli.” A benchmark producer, to be sure.
Modern style Amarone, but with nicely integrated oak, unlike some of his competitors. The “Acinatico” bottling is first-rate and ages beautifully, while the “Il Fornetto” made in the finest vintages, is a classic. Also look for his superb Recioto della Valpolicella.
How nice to know that Leonildo Pieropan still makes one of the classic bottlings of Soave Classico and prices it for everyday consumption! His top bottlings of Soave, “La Rocca” and “Calvarino” are exotic, deeply concentrated and ageworthy.
Ca’ La Bionda
Pietro and Alessandro Castellani produce traditionally styled, elegant, sumptuous bottlings of Amarone that are a sheer pleasure to consume. The “Ravazzol” bottling is outstanding, while the regular bottling of Amarone is excellent. Also worth seeking out are his bottlings of Valpolicella (no Ripasso here).
Under the winemaking talent of Michele Tessari, Ca’ Rugate has become one of the leading producers of Soave. There’s so much here to love, from the stainless steel-aged “San Michele” (a wonderful value) to the oak-aged “Monte Alto” to the lush; lightly sweet “La Perlara”, one of the finest bottlings of Recioto di Soave, this is a model for other Soave producers. Lately, reds have become a major part of this estates as well including a delicious Valpolicella and a delightful Amarone.
Beautiful, traditionally made bottlings of Sagrantino di Montefalco, a rich, complex red wine that is one of Italy’s finest and unfortuntely, most underrated. The Montefalco Rosso is also worth seeking out, as is the velvety Passito.
Always a very good producer, this has become an excellent one, thanks in part to the winemaking talent of Stefano Chioccoli. Round, ripe and flavorful, these are modern offerings, but maintain the character of the Sagrantino grape. The Passito is delicious!
Another in my series of the Top 100 producers of Italian wine
Throughout Italy, co-operative producers represent a way of making wine that speaks of the true soul of the land. These companies produce wines from fruit contributed by member/growers in the area; co-operatives vary in size from a few dozen members to several hundred.
As you might imagine, quality varies from pleasant to extraordinary. While these companies dot the landscape throughout Italy, it is in Alto Adige where the concept of co-operative producers has risen to the highest levels, as many of the most famous bottlings from this region are indeed products of co-ops.
Cantina Tramin (also known as Produttori Termeno – this is a bi-lingual region) is a superb co-operative producer, one that releases some of the finest bottlings of Gewurztraminer, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon and Lagrein that Alto Adige has to offer. Founded in 1898, the winery is located in the town of Tramin, in the southern heart of this region. The wines are made by Willi Sturz, a quiet, rather shy man, who is a brilliant enologist. His wines have remarkable structure and balance as well as beautiful varietal purity. These are wines that are crafted to reflect the local terroir and not the pulse of the market place; thankfully, enough important journalists have recognized the outstanding quality of the wines from Cantina Tramin.
There are so many wonderful wines worth your time and I highly recommend a visit to this winery, as you can purchase very good bottlings of Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio and other local specialites for 5-7 Euro a bottle. These are very well made with fine varietal character and are worth more than their asking price. Try these and then move on to the remarkable single vineyard and selezione bottlings that represent the best of this region; I don’t have space to list all of my favorite wines, so I’ll just mention a few.
The most famous wine here is the “Nussbaumer” Gewurztraminer, a selection of the best grapes from a small vineyard near the winery. Interestingly, the sections of this vineyard are planted with different regimes; the oldest part is in the pergola (overhead) system, while the newest plantings are with the guyot system. The wine offers amazing aromatics of lychee, grapefruit and rose petals along with a bit of tropical fruit thrown in for good measure and is deeply concentrated with vibrant acidity. Aged solely in stainless steel that enriches the aromatics and lovely varietal character, this is a stellar bottling and in my opinion, one of the top 10 white wines produced in Italy.
Another great wine is a white blend known as Stoan, a melange of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Pinot Bianco and Geuwurztraminer. Full-bodied with complex aromatics and distinct spice, this wine receives aging in large casks – no small oak barrels here – and is a beautiful wine that can acompany a variety of dishes from seafood to risotto to pork.
There are so many other wines from Cantina Tramin that rate special notices; these include the “Urban” Lagrein, a seductive red; the “Tauris” Pinot Bianco that simply bursts with varietal fruit; the “Montan” Sauvignon, an intense, yet elegant offering of this variety and the sumptuous late-harvest Gewurztraminer “Termimum”, clearly one of Italy’s most exceptional dessert wines.
Honestly, I would list Cantina Tramin as a Top 100 producer if only for the “Nussbaumer” Gewurztraminer (let’s face it, several of my Top 100 producers are known for only one wine), but this producer is responsible for at least a half-dozen great wines each year. Cantina Tramin is undoubtedly one of Italy’s greatest wineries.
Among the finest wines of Cantina Tramin are:
- Gewurztraminer “Nussbaumer”
- “Stoan” (Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Pinot Bianco, Gewurztraminer)
- Pinot Bianco “Tauris”
- Sauvignon “Montan”
- Lagrein “Urban”
- Pinot Grigio “Unterebner”
- Gewurztraminer “Terminum Vendemmia Tardiva”
In my last post, I discussed the superb whites of Alto Adige; in this post I will deal with this region’s unique red wines.
Most people will be surprised to know that red varieties account for more plantings than white in Alto Adige. The numbers used to be higher, as much of the red plantings were the Schiava grape, which produces lighter, high acid, low tannic reds. This grape is still seen in good numbers, but it is far less important today. Still, a lightly chilled Schiava is a pleasant wine for lighter fare.
PINOT NERO and LAGREIN
The two most important red varities of Alto Adige then are Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) and Lagrein; these are two very different grapes.
Few people think about Pinot Nero in Italy, but there are some excellent examples produced in the cool climes of Alto Adige. Many are medium-bodied with pleasant red cherry fruit, high acidity and soft tannins; there wines are meant for comsumption within 2-3 years of the vintage date. But there are a few examples that are from single vineyards (crus) or special selections that have greater depth of fruit, more pronounced aromatics and are more complex in general. These top offerings of Alto Adige Pinot Nero are in the vein of a Burgundy from the Cotes du Beaune and can be enjoyed anywhere from 5-10 years after the vintage.
A few of the best bottlings of Pinot Nero from Alto Adige include:
- J. Hofstatter “Barthenau Vigna S. Urbano”
- Colterenzio “Cornell”
- Alois Lageder “Krafuss”
- Cantina Tramin “Riserva”
- Abbazia di Novacella “Praepositus Riserva”
Lagrein is one of Alto Adige’s most unique red varieties, offering rich purple color, ripe black fruit flavors and moderate tannins. Most examples of Lagrein are quite delicious upon release and as the acidity is not too high, they are quite enjoyable on their own, although most work better paired with a variety of red meats. Some examples are medium-bodied and meant for short-term consumption (2-3 years), although many producers also make a richer, riper, more serious version (often aged in small oak barrels) that have more tannin and can age for as long as a decade.
Among the best bottlings of Lagrein in Alto Adige are:
- Cantina Terlano “Porphyr”
- Elena Walch “Castel Ringberg Riserva”
- Cantina Tramin “Urban”
- Muri-Gries “Abtei-Muri Riserva”
- Alois Lageder “Lindenburg”
- J. Hofstatter “Steinraffler”
- Cantina Bolzano “Taber Riserva”
- Abbazia di Novacella “Praepositus Riserva”
A few producers also work with Cabernet Sauvignon; the cool climate here preserves acidity and brings out some of the herbal components of the variety. These are not flashy examples of Caberent Sauvignon, but are well made and tend to age well. Arguably the finest is the “Cor Romigberg” from Alois Lageder, which drink well at 10-12 years after the vintage.
A few producers also make a varietal Merlot or blend Merlot with Lagrein.
All in all, the red wines from Alto Adige may not reach the same heights as the region’s whites, but they are of high quality and are quite distinct.
Some of Italy’s finest white wines – and a few wonderful reds -are produced in the region of Alto Adige. In reality, Alto Adige is the northern part of the Trentino-Alto Adige region, but as Alto Adige is so different in nature from Trentino – as well as the rest of Italy – I will discuss Alto Adige separately.
There are several things that make Alto Adige so distinct. First is the situation of dual languages used here, both Italian and German. Alto Adige until the end of World War l was part of the Austria-Hungary empire, so the German influence is still quite strong. Menus in restaurants, road signs and even names of cities are bilingual – for example, the town of Termeno is also known as Tramin, while the region’s largest city of Bolzano is also known by its German name of Bozen (Alto Adige itself is also known as Südtirol, or South Tyrol.)
This is one of Italy’s most gorgeous wine zones, as vineyards have been squeezed in every possible inch amidst valleys below the Dolomite Mountains as well as on steep hillsides. The northern border of Alto Adige abuts Austria, so this is a cool climate, best suited for white wines. Thanks to moderate temperatures and cold air from the mountains, the local whites have vibrant acidity, one of the signatures of Alto Adige whites.
The leading variety planted in Alto Adige is Pinot Bianco; versions vary from simple, crisp dry whites to more medium-full efforts with a light spiciness. PInot Grigio is also popular here and as these wines have excellent acidity, they are among the very best examples of this variety produced in Italy.
The two finest varieties are Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon (known as Sauvignon Blanc outside of Italy). Gewurztraminer comes from the German word gewurz, meainng spicy. This is one of the most beautiful aromatic varieties grown anywhere and it is in the town of Tramin (thus Gewurztraminer means roughly, “spicy from Tramin” that it reaches it heights. There are three superior bottlings of Gewurztraminer from Tramin: the “Kastelaz” from Elena Walch, the “Kolbenhof” from J. Hofstatter and the “Nussbaumer” from Cantina Tramin. Each of these three is a full-bodied, tremendously complex Gewurztraminer with exotic aromas of lychee, grapefruit and yellow roses along with rich spiciness in the finish. All have beautiful texture (the Hofstatter has almost an oily feel on the palate) and age well for 3-5 years and sometimes longer. These wines are ideal with Thai food, although Martin Foradori told me it is a pity that there are no Thai restaurants in Tramin!
As for Sauvignon, the best versions in Alto Adige combine intense varietal aromatics of bell pepper, pear and asparagus with bracing acidity – these are not the simple, fresh, melon-tinged versions of this variety you would find in a warmer climate. Rather these are intense with plenty of herbal character to them, so pair these with seafood with herbal sauces or accompaniments. Among the best bottlings of Alto Adige Sauvignon are the “Montan” from Cantina Tramin,” the “Castel Ringberg” from Elena Walch, the “Sanct Valentin” from St. Michael-Eppan, the “Quartz” from Cantina Terlano and the “Lafoa” from Colterenzio. Each of these wines is outstanding; in my opinion, the “Lafoa” is a brilliantly realized Sauvignon and is one of the finest white wines produced today in all of Italy!
Among the best producers of white wines in Italy today are the following producers:
- Abbazia di Novacella
- Cantina Terlano
- J. Hofstatter
- Alois Lageder
- St. Michal-Eppan
- Cantina Tramin
- Elena Walch
Most regions in Italy have large co-operative wineries where grower members sell their grapes. This is a long-standing tradition in Alto Adige and it is here that there are more great co-operative producers than anywhere else in Italy. Among the best are Cantina Tramin, Cantina Terlano, St. Michal-Eppan and Colterenzio.
Coopertive producers have the great advantage of purchasing some of the finest grapes in all of Alto Adige and as they have so many grower members (most usually have more than 100), prices can be kept at reasonable levels.
Alto Adige is becoming one of the top regions in Italy for wines made from organically grown grapes as well as wines made according to biodynamic procedures. Several producers are working with these practices, none more highly regarded than Alois Lageder. A courteous, reflective individual, Lageder has been producing organic wines for some years now and recently released a Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio blend under the “beta delta” moniker (the 2008 is stunning!). A toast to Alois Lageder and other Alto Adige producers for their work with organic and biodynamic wines!
In a future post, I will deal with the unique reds of Alto Adige, from the sensual Pinot Nero to the ripe, forward, purple-hued Lagrein.