Posts tagged ‘gewurztraminer’
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.
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”
A red variety grown in Piemonte that literally means, “little sweet one.” Light tannins, balanced acidity and juicy fruit flavors of raspberry, mulberry and cranberry. Dolcetto produces a wine that is very charming and easy to drink in its youth.
White variety grown in north central Piemonte; the most famous example is Erbaluce di Caluso. High acidity and lemon fruit; versions range from a light dry white to a refreshing sparkling style.
Beautiful white variety of Campania, grown in various areas of that region. Very high acidity and fruit flavors ranging from apple and pear in the most simple bottlings to quince and kiwi in the best offerings. Generally not oak-aged, though a few producers do barrel age the wine.
White variety grown along the coast of Campania; very high acidity and flavors of citrus and pear. Usually part of a blend, along with varieties such as Biancolella and Ginestra.
Another beautiful white variety, most famously grown in Campania, though a few producers in Sicily work with it as well. Medium-full to full-bodied, this has fruit flavors of pear and citrus along with distinct notes of honey. Some versions are meant for consumption within 2-3 years, while the most concentrated offerings from the best producers can drink well for 5-7 years, thanks in part to the grape’s excellent natural acidity.
A red variety used in the production of Cerasuolo di Vittoria in Sicily. Cherry, berry fruit and very soft tannins. There are a few producers that bottle Frappato on its own.
Formerly known as Tocai Friulano, the name was changed to avoid confusion with the Hungarian wine Tokay (this was also done in accordance with European Community regulations concerning protected names of wines). One of Friuli’s great white varieties, with complex aromas of pear, apricot and dried flowers. Lively acidity and a light minerality.
Red variety of Calabria that is the principal grape of Ciro rosso. Raspberry and strawberry fruit with light tannins.
The primary grape of Soave. An underrated white variety with aromas of yellow flowers and melon with very good acidity. This grape is as misprounced as any – the correct pronunciation is gar-gan-ah-guh.
One of Italy’s great white varieties, grown primarily in Alto Adige. Gewurz means “spicy” in German – this then is the spicy Traminer. Gorgeous aromatics of grapefruit, lychee and rose petals with lively acidity and distinct notes of white spice. The best versions are quite rich, with some having an oiliness on the palate.
White variety grown along the coasts of Campania- especially in the Costa d’Amalfi DOC. High acidity and fruit flavors of pear and lemon. Usually part of a blended white of the area.
One of the major white varieties of Campania; flavors of lemon, pear and dried flowers with very good natural acidity and often a note of almond. Medium-full, this generally is not as full as Fiano, but is quite complex. Most famous example is Greco di Tufo, from the province of Avellino.
Beautiful red variety from Piemonte; almost no tannins, with refreshing cherry and strawberry fruit and very good natural acidity. Meant for consumption within 2-3 years of the vintage date.
White variety from Sicily; most versions are simple with pleasant acidity and flavors of pear and citrus. Grillo is produced both as a stand-alone variety and also as part of a blended white.
Red variety of Marche; most famously as Lacrima di Morro d’Alba. Medium-bodied with cherry, berry fruit, moderate tannins and good acidity. Produced both as a refreshing style for early consumption and a fuller style with more tannins and longevity.
One of Alto Adige’s most wonderful red varieties with intense color (often deep purple), youthful, but not overly aggressive tannins and very good acidity. Fruit flavors of black plum, black cherry and raspberry. Fruit forward and despite its richness, often quite approachable upon release.
Red variety most famously grown in Emilia-Romagna. Produces a lighter red wth cherry-berry fruit, zippy acidity and very light tannins. Best known in its slightly sparkling (frizzante) offerings.
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.