Posts tagged ‘j. hofstatter’
Vineyards in the St. Magdalener district, Alto Adige (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
My last post dealt with the best whites wines I sampled at the recent Bozner Weinkost tasting in Bolzano in mid-March; for this post, I will write about the top reds as well as a few rosés and dessert wines.
Most people are surprised to learn that a majority of the grapes planted in Alto Adige are red, not white. This is largely because of an indigenous variety known as Schiava or Vernatsch. The total acreage for this variety was once quite large, but has decreased over the past few decades, as more white varieties are being planted. Still this variety is an important one in Alto Adige; lightly colored, is is quite light in tannins and is produced a light to medium-bodied red that can often be served chilled.
The grape is cultivated throughout Alto Adige and in many cases is labeled as Vernatsch. However there are a few zones where Schiava is the basis of a particular district wine, such as Kalterer See (Auslese); this is from the Lago di Caldaro zone. Another is the St. Magdalener (aka Santa Maddalena) district, located farther north, not far from Bolzano.
Two other red varieties that perform well in Alto Adige are Lagrein and Pinot Nero. Lagrein is grown in many sections of the regions, with the Gries sub-zone of Bolzano being quite famous. Wines made from Lagrein are deep purple in appearance with heady, fruit-dominated aromas of black plum, black raspberry and tar. Medium-full, these are wines that tend to need a few years to settle down. There are also some excellent rosés made from Lagrein.
Pinot Nero is of course, Pinot Noir and Alto Adige is clearly the finest region in Italy for this variety. The cool climate is ideal for long growing seasons in most years that yield wines with dazzling aromatics as well as beautiful acidity. and Theses are ageworthy wines and the finest examples in my mind, rank with some of the world’s most renowned.
Here are notes on some of the best examples of these I tasted at the event in Bolzano:
Vernatsch – J. Hofstatter is famous for its Gewurztraminer and Pinot Nero, but the 2013 Vernatsch “Kolbenhofer” is also excellent; with its cranberry, leather and nutmeg aromas, this medium-bodied red makes for irresistible drinking over the next 2-3 years. The 2013 Cantina Tramin Schiava (Schiava is a synonym for Vernatsch) “Fresinger” is a lovely wine with cinnamon and strawberry flavors and very light tannins; enjoy over the next 2-3 years.
As for examples of Santa Maddalena I enjoyed, there were several including the Cantina Bolzano “Huck am Bach 2013, with its damson plum and thyme notes along with the Franz Gojer “Rondell” 2012, a lovely wine with impressive complexity and notable persistence.
Even better were the Tenuta Waldgries 2013 and the A. Egger-Ramer “Reisseger” 2012. The former has intriguing notes of tobacco and thyme and is quite elegant- this is a wine that displays lovely finesse! The latter has beautiful perfumes of cherry, cranberry and red poppies, offers very good acidity with bright fruit and is beautifully balanced. This has a bit more weight to it than many other examples of Santa Maddalena; this will drink well for 3-5 years.
Vineyards situated just outside the city of Bolzano (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Pinot Nero - I love this variety and there are so many wonderful examples from Alto Adige, as evidenced again at this event. The Elena Walch “Ludwig” 2011 is a delight, with notes of red cherry, cardamom and a hint of bacon in the aromas. Nicely balanced, this is a pleasure to enjoy now or over the next 3-5 years. Two examples from Girlan, the “Trattmann” and the “Sandbichler” (both 2011) are medium-full with expressive varietal fruit aromas and distinct spicy notes on the palate and in the finish.
Among the very best were the J. Hofstatter “Barthenau Vigna S. Urbano” 2011 and the Marinushof 2011. The former has been one of the finest examples of Alto Adige Pinot Nero for years now; medium-full with abundant red cherry and plum fruit, this has excellent complexity and will be at iys best in 7-10 years, perhaps longer. The Marinushof is notable for its floral aromas, very good acidity and remarkable elegance; this will drink well for 5-7 years.
Finally, the Manincor “Mason di Mason” 2011 is one of the most refined of all Alto Adige Pinot Nero. This is the top selection of Pinot Nero for this producer and is only made in the best years; very Cotes-de-Beaune like, this has a long finish, very good acidity and excellent persistence and complexity. This has at least 7-10 years of drinking pleasure ahead of it.
Lagrein – Now for my notes on Lagrein. I described the characteristics of this variety above; it’s quite different from Schiava and Pinot Nero. I’d have to say it’s not my favorite, as I prefer a more delicate wine, but there are a good number of examples of Lagrein that I did enjoy at this event. Among these were two releases from A. Egger-Ramer, specifically the “Weingut Kristan” 2012 and 2011. Deep purple with aromas of black plum, tar and licorice, both of these wines have very good acidity to balance the tannins; the 2012 is a bit more refined, but both are well made wines that offer mid-term pleasure (5-7 years).
I also liked two wines from Fliederhof, the 2012 and the 2011 Riserva. These are big, lush, extremely ripe styles of Lagrein; on paper, I might not think I’d care for these wines. Yet along with their abundant fruit, they are nicely balanced wines and are quite tasty. You’d need some rich meats to pair with these wines, but for this style of Lagrein, they are well made.
Lagrein Rosé – I love rosé wines and thankfully, there are a good number of Alto Adige producers who do as well. The finest rosés here are made from Lagrein; this grapes assures a deep color for the rosé as well as a lot of character. I enjoyed just about every example I tasted at this event, in particular the A. Egger 2013, a delicious, remarkanle elegant wine; the Schmid Oberrautner 2013, a rich, “serious” rosé with excellent persistence and the Larcherhof 2012 with its cherry/berry aromas and very good acidity. All of these examples are quite dry and can be paired at the dinner table with many types of food. They’re also quite delicious on their own!
Finally, two examples of Moscato Rosa. You may be familiar with Moscato from other part of Italy (especially Moscato d’Asti from Piemonte), but you owe it to yourself to try Moscato Rosa. This grape yields a dessert wine that usually has only a trace of sweetness; there is almost always very good acidity for balance; add to that the heavenly aromas of plum, cherry and red flowers (poppies, carnations) and you have a very seductive wine! Two examples were offered at this event – the Abbazia di Novacella “Praepositus” 2011 and the Tenuta Waldgries 2010 - and both were wonderful wines with excellent complexity and a beautiful delicate feel on the palate.The tend to drink well at 5-7 years of age, although these may be in fine shape a decade from now.
Given the amazing array of wines at this event – white, red, sparkling, rosé and dessert, I’d rank this as just about my favorite wine tasting in Italy. I will certainly return!
Thank you to Thomas Augscholl for his assistance regarding this event as well as my entire stay in Alto Adige.
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.
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)
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.