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The Latest from Alto Adige – Excellence Defined (Part Two)

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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.

 

 

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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.

March 31, 2014 at 8:53 am Leave a comment

The Latest from Alto Adige – Excellence Defined (Part One)

 

_IGP3306 Pfitscher Gewürztraminer “Caldiff” – an Alto Adige gem! (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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

March 27, 2014 at 9:10 am Leave a comment


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