Posts tagged ‘elena walch’
Ca’ del Bosco winery, Erbusco, Franciacorta (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
It’s time to reveal a partial list of some of the year’s best Italian producers in my opinion. In this post, I’ll include a mix of estates from various regions, producing an array of wines from sparkling to white to red. The complete list of the year’s best Italian producers and wines will be published in the Spring issue of my Guide to Italian Wines, which will be sent to paid subscribers at the end of March.
CA’ DEL BOSCO – This esteemed producer, under the guidance of Maurizio Zanella, has been among the very finest Franciacorta houses for many years. 2012 and early 2013 saw the release of the 2008 vintage-dated wines; the Satén is first-rate and among the most complex examples of this wine I have ever tasted. This past year also saw the second release of the Anna Maria Clementi Rosé – this from the 2004 vintage, which spent seven years on its yeasts! This is an explosive wine, one of the world’s greatest sparkling rosés. (US importer, Banville and Jones)
FERGHETTINA – Managed by the Gatti family, this is another accomplished Franciacorta producer. Their Extra Brut – 2006 is the current vintage – has become their most celebrated wine; a blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Nero that was aged for six years before release, is full-bodied and very dry with a long, flavorful finish and beautiful structure. As good or perhaps even better is their 2004 Pas Dosé (meaning no dosage) “Riserva 33″, so named as it is a blend of one-third of their Satén, one-third Milledi (a 100% Chardonnay sparkler from older vineyards) and one-third Extra Brut. This blend, aged for seven years on its yeasts, is a lovely wine of outstanding quality. In case you haven’t noticed, Franciacorta producers such as Ferghettina and Ca’ del Bosco – as well as several dozen others – have been refining their offerings each year, crafting products that are among the finest sparkling wines in the world. (US importer, Empson, USA)
Elena Walch (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
ELENA WALCH – Actually, the way it’s been going as of late, I could name the Elena Walch estate in Tramin, Alto Adige as one of the best producers every year in Italy. This year saw the release of her 2011 estate whites and they are all lovely. Especially notable this year are the Sauvignon “Castel Ringberg” with its spot-on notes of spearmint, rosemary and basil; the Pinot Grigio “Castel Ringberg” with its luscious fresh apple and dried yellow flower notes and the Gewurztraminer “Kastelaz,” always one of the best of its type in Italy. (Various US importers)
VILLA RAIANO - This Campanian estate has reinvented itself over the past two years and the results are extremely impressive! The regular examples of Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino from 2011 are nicely balanced with notable varietal purity, while the selezioni versions of these wines are first-rate, especially the 2010 and 2011 “Contrada Marotta” Greco di Tufo, which is one of the top ten examples of this wine, in my opinion. The 2008 Taurasi, produced in a traditional manner to emphasize the gorgeous Aglianico fruit, is a 5-star (outstanding) wine! (US importer, Siena Imports)
Alessandro Castellani, Ca’ La Bionda (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
CA’ LA BIONDA- Quite simply, this is one of the premier producers in the Valpolicella district. The Castellani family crafts wines in a traditional manner - maturing in large casks – that render wines that display the true anima of this territory – these are wines that offer a sense of place. Two outstanding releases over the past fifteen months are prime evidence of the greatness of this producer: the 2001 “Casal Vegri” Valpolicella Superiore and the 2005 Amarone Riserva “Ravazzol.” The latter is a sumptuous, remarkably elegant Amarone with tremendous finesse as well as impressive depth of fruit, while the former is a Valpolicella that was aged for 10 years before release; this wine shows the true potential of Valpolicella, a wine type that too often gets lost next to Amarone. Both wines are outstanding. (Various US Importers, including Connoisseur, Niles, IL)
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!
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.