Posts tagged ‘cantina tramin’
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.
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!
Winemaker Willi Stürz (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.
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.
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.
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.
Orlando Pecchenino, Dogliani, with a bottle of his 2010 Bricco Botti, one of 2013’s best Italian wines (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
January always means starting fresh as well as remembering what came before. So it’s time for my annual look at the best Italian wines of 2013, but instead of offering a complete list (that will be printed in the Spring issue of my Guide to Italian Wines, available to paid subscribers), I’m going to take a different approach and focus on just a few wine zones that were home to some pretty special wines, offerings that don’t get a lot of attention.
Dogliani – I adore Dolcetto and I’m on a constant crusade to tell wine lovers about this lovely wine; I know why it doesn’t sell as well as it should, but it doesn’t help that the major wine publications ignore this wine. In the small village of Dogliani, a bit south of the Barolo zone, a small band of dedicated producers specialize in the Dolceto grape and craft marvelous versions, wines that have more richness and age worthiness than examples of Dolcetto d’Alba or Diano d’Alba. That said, I visited several producers in Dogliani this past September and tasted four examples of Dogliani that were outstanding: the 2010 Pecchenino “Bricco Botti”a wine that has tremendous complexity and character; the 2012 Chionetti “San Luigi”, a wine of great varietal purity and focus and one of the most delicious red wines I tasted in all of Italy this past year; the 2009 Anna Maria Abbona “San Bernardo” from 65-year old vines that offers abundant floral aromas backed by tremendous persistence and finally the 2004 San Fereolo Dogliani Superiore from proprietor Nicoletta Bocca. Here is a current release – yes, a nine year-old (now almost ten) Dolcetto of superb breeding that will drink well for another 5-7 years. Wines such as this one and the others I mentioned are evidence that Dolcetto can be a first-rate wine; it’s a shame that more wine publications ignore this lovely grape.
Verdicchio (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi – Speaking of grapes that are largely ignored, Verdicchio is at or near the top of this list. Here is a grape grown in Marche that has uncommon complexity and can age – given the proper care at any particular cellar in the best vintages – for 7-10 years and even longer in some cases (I tried a 1991 Verdicchio from the excellent cooperative producer Colonnara a few months ago that was superb and still quite fresh). So why don’t you hear about this wine more often? Simply put, the major wine publications focus on red wines, especially in Italy, so Verdicchio is priority number 35 (or is it number 36?) for their editors.
The best new releases of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi I tasted were the 2012 Umani-Ronchi “Casal di Serra”, the 2010 “Vecchie Vigne” (old vines) version from this vineyard and the marvelous 2009 Umani-Ronchi “Plenio”, a Verdicchio of outstanding complexity with ideal balance.
Also, the 2009 Villa Bucci “Riserva” is one of the finest versions of this wine I have ever tasted; given the fame and outstanding track record of this producer, that’s saying something. With its heavenly orange blossom and hyacinth perfumes as well as pronounced minerality, this is a brilliant wine, easily one of the finest of the year. Look for this to be at its best in 5-7 years, although I may be a bit conservative in my estimate.
At Santa Barbara, the 2011 Stefano Antonucci “Riserva” is a heavyweight Verdicchio, a barrique-aged version that is lush and tasty with tremendous complexity; while I often prefer Verdicchio not aged in small barrels, here is an example that is perfectly balanced. A different approach can be found in the 2009 Stefano Antonucci “Tardivo ma non Tardivo” (loosely translated as “late but not too late” in reference to the late harvesting of the grapes); this is aged solely in steel. This is as singular a Verdicchio as I have ever tasted, given its exotic aromas of grapefruit, green tea and a note of honey, while the minerality and structure remind me of a Premier Cru or Grand Cru Chablis. Un vino bianco, ma che un vino!
Sabino Loffredo, Pietracupa (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Campania white wines - This is such a vibrant region these days for all of its wines, not just Taurasi, its most famous red, but also other distinctive wines such as Palagrello Nero and Casavecchia. Then there are the whites – wines of great varietal distinctiveness, minerality and structure. 2012 was a first-rate vintage for Campanian whites, as the wines have beautiful focus, lively acidity, excellent ripeness, lovely aromatics (thanks to a long growing season) and distinct minerality. I’ve loved these wines for years and it’s been such a pleasure to see the results from two superb vintages, such as 2010 and 2012.
There were so many gorgeous 2012 Campanian whites; I can’t list them all, so here are just a few of the best: Pietracupa Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino - from the brilliant producer Sabino Loffredo; Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo “Cutizzi”; Mastroberardino Fiano di Avellino “Radici”; Donnachiara Greco “Ostinato” and Villa Raiano Greco di Tufo “Contrada Marotta”. A wonderful collection of whites, drinkable now and over the next 5-7 years.
Chianti Classico - Every year, more and more of these wines taste the same to me. There are exceptions of course, those wines from producers that still craft offerings that reflect a sense of place, rather than just producing bottles aimed at a large audience. The two best I tried in 2012 were both Riserva wines from the very underrated 2008 vintage. The first was the Felsina “Rancia”, a wine of great strength with very good acidity and notable structure. The second was the Bibbiano “Vigna Capannino”, also a beautifully structured wine that represented to me what a top Chianti Classico Riserva should be, a wine with richness of fruit, not just a higher percentage of oak; of course there is admirable Sangiovese character, but there is also very good acidity, meaning this is a wine that will age gracefully, with peak in 10-12 years. The Felsina is a more powerful wine, while the Bibbiano is more delicate, but both are first-rate versions of what this wine type should represent.
Looking south from Appiano at vineyards in Alto Adige (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Alto Adige whites – Alto Adige, being a cool climate region, is of course known for its white wines, but I wonder how often wine lovers think about how special these wines truly are. The regular bottlings are quite nice, with very good acidity and balance; the wines are also quite clean, beautifully made with excellent varietal character. Then there are dozens – no make that hundreds – of vibrant Alto Adige whites that have excellent depth of fruit, distinct minerality and gorgeous complexity. A few of the best from include the 2012 Cantina Tramin “Stoan”, a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Bianco that is as complex and as satisfying as any Italian white (or a white from just about anywhere); the 2012 Gewurztraminer “Nussbaumer” also from Cantina Tramin (this is one of Italy’s top 50 producers, in my opinion), a wine of heavenly grapefruit, lychee, yellow rose and honeysuckle aromas backed by excellent concentration and subtle spice; the 2012 St. Michael-Eppan Sauvignon “Sanct Valentin”, with great varietal character – what a lovely wine for vegetable risotto or most seafood; the 2010 Cantina Terlano Pinot Bianco “Vorberg” Riserva, one of Italy’s most distinctive white wines, and finally, the 2012 Girlan Gewurztraminer “Flora”, a version of this wine that is not as explosive as the Tramin “Nussbaumer”, but one that is just as attractive and varietally pure.
Estate vineyards of Ferrari near the town of Trento (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Trento Metodo Classico – You could be forgiven if you weren’t very familiar with classically-produced sparkling wines from Trentino. After all, Prosecco is much-more famous as an Italian bubbly and the great wines of Franciacorta in Lombardia generally receive more attention. Still, the cool area near the town of Trento is ideal for beautifully structured sparkling wines, especially when made by the firms of Ferrari and Maso Martis.
There has been so much written about Ferrari- what marvelous sparkling wines they produce! The finest I tasted this year were the 2006 Perlé Nero, a 100% Blanc de Noirs with excellent concentration and beautiful complexity and then for a rare treat, the 1994 Giulio Ferrari “Riserve del Fondatore”; this latter wine was a special, extremely limited wine that was disgorged in 2011, meaning it spent 17 years on its yeasts – an unheard of length of time for almost any sparkling wine. Words can’t do this cuvée justice – this is simply an ethereal sparkling wine, one of tremendous length, with exotic flavors of orange, truffle and even a hint of cream – just amazing!
It may be difficult to compete – if that’s the proper term – with Ferrari, but the husband and wife team of Roberta and Antonio Stelzer do their best. Try their wines and you’ll see what I mean, as these sparklers are so beautifully balanced and such a joy to consume. Everything here is excellent, particularly the full-bodied 2007 Brut Riserva Millesimato and the stunning 2003 Madame Martis, with its appealing honey, cream and apple tart aromas and oustanding persistence.
My next post will feature the best wines I tasted during my recent 18-day trip to Italy that covered six regions. I will write about several outstanding 2012 whites from Campania, Alto Adige and Marche as well as some notable examples of Dogliani along with an excellent Alta Langa as well as several other wines.
But for this post, I am singling out the very best wine I tasted during my trip, the 2010 Cantina Tramin Gewürztraminer Late Harvest “Terminum.” The reason I am writing about this wine separately is simple – this is a wine that is perfect in every respect. I say that with all seriousness, as I don’t like to use the word “great” very often, as it is overused these days. So you can imagine how rarely I use the word “perfect” to describe a wine. But this wine clearly earns that praise!
Cantina Tramin is a cooperative winery in Alto Adige, arguably the finest; for me, I know of virtually no other producer in all of Italy that has as varied a lineup of wines with such high quality. Of course, their “Nussbaumer” Gewürztraminer is one of Italy’s greatest whites every year, as is their blended white “Stoan” (a melange of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Bianco), but I also give extremely high marks to their “Unterebner” Pinot Grigio (about as good as this variety gets in Italy), “Maglen” Pinot Nero, “Urban” Lagrein and even their “Fresinger” Schiava; this last wine a must-try, as you won’t believe a Schiava can be so delicious!
Gewürztraminer grapes in Solva that will be used by Cantina Tramin (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
The grapes used for this wine are at elevations between 1300 and 1700 feet above sea level in the frazione of Solva, high above the town of Tramin. This is a late harvest wine; clusters are picked in mid-December, while the wine is fermented and aged in French oak barrels. 2010 was an excellent vintage in this area, not too warm (as with several recent vintages), so the grapes maintained their natural acidity and the resulting wine has expressive aromatics.
My tasting notes: Deep golden yellow/amber; aromas of apricot, honey, golden poppies and a hint of custard. Medium-full with excellent concentration, this is lush with a rich mid-palate, while the finish with quite long with a touch of sweetness, which is tempered by the excellent acidity. There is outstanding persistence, beautiful complexity and amazing varietal purity. The finish just goes on forever- this is a great, great wine! Best in 7-10 years.
As I sampled this wine with a colleague from Alto Adige as well as winemaker Willi Stürz, my friend and I looked at each other at the same moment we tasted our first sip. We each had a look in our eyes and without saying anything, we knew what the look meant – we had found perfection!
You must do what you can to find a bottle, as this is an unforgettable wine! (Imported by Winebow)
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)
Without further ado, here is a partial list of my choices as the best Italian whites wines of the year. A full list (along with the best reds of the year and a list of the best producers) can be found in the next issue of my Guide to Italian Wines. For subscription information, click here.
2008 CANTINA TRAMIN STOAN
This cooperative is one of Alto Adige’s finest producers, with excellent quality from the most simple whites to the most full-bodied bottlings. Stoan, named for the local stony soil, is a marvelous blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon (Blanc) and Gewurztraminer that displays gorgeous aromatics, rich concentration and vibrant acidity along with great structure and backbone. This was my favorite white wine of the year (from anywhere, not just Italy) and it is a perfect partner for a variety of foods, especially cracked crab.
2008 LIVIO FELLUGA TERRE ALTE
It begins to sound like a broken record, but each year this blend of Friulano, Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon from this esteemed Friulian producer is among the finest Italian whites. The 2008 is not as full-bodied as in some vintages (2007, e.g.), but it more than makes up for that with its gorgeous perfumes of chamomile, pear, almond and rose petals. This should offer drinking enjoyment for 7-10 years and perhaps longer.
2009 EDI KEBER COLLIO BIANCO
This blend of Friulano, Malvasia and Ribolla Gialla has in just a few short years, become one of the benchmark whites of Friuli. This is not as powerful as the Felluga wine above, but it offers as much complexity and varietal character. The vibrant acidity gives this wine backbone and structure – enjoy over the next 5-7 years, especially with shellfish.
2009 ZUANI COLLIO BIANCO “VIGNE”
Here is another gorgeous Collio blend, this comprising 25% each of Friulano, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon. The aromas jump out of the glass and the wine is all about pleasure and finesse. Try this over the next 3-5 years with a wide ranges of dishes, from risotto to shellfish.
2008 BASTIANICH VESPA BIANCO
This blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Picolit has been a favorite for years, not only for its complexity, but also its longevity, as ten-year old bottlings shine. The 2008 is not as rich as some vintages, but it is still quite lush and features gorgeous aromatics and vibrant acidity, which should preserve the wonderful freshness of this wine for many years.
2009 COLLI DI LAPIO FIANO DI AVELLINO
There’s really no mystery as to why this wine is among the finest in Campania every year; it’s a simple matter of excellent terroir combined with careful farming and winemaking. Medium-full, this has a big finish with lively acidity and a big streak of minerality. Look for this 2009 to drink well for at least 3-5 years, perhaps longer.
2009 MARISA CUOMO FIORDUVA
This Amalfi Coast white has become legendary over the past decade. A blend of the local varieties Ripoli, Fenile and Ginestra, this is a more powerful white than the typical offering from Campania. Fermented and aged in small oak barrels, the wine has pronounced aromatics of fruit (grapefruit, mango) and herb (fennel, chamomile) and a generous mid-palate with a beautifully structured finish. This should drink welll for 5-7 years and is big enough for veal or poultry, though I love it with lobster or swordfish.
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.