Posts tagged ‘pinot bianco’
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.
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”
White variety from Abruzzo and Marche. Generally aged in stainless steel, though some vinters barrel age it, achieving a creaminess. Pear and apple aromas.
Lovely red variety of Campania, literally meaning “red feet,” a descriptor for the birds that sit on the vines when they eat the ripe berries. High acid, light tannins and charming fruit flavors of raspberry, cranberry and black cherry. Primarily used as a blending varietal; in small percentages (less than 15%), it cuts the aggressive tannic bite of Aglianico in the great Campanian red, Taurasi. It is also the primary variety in the medium-bodied Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso.
One of Liguria’s most important white varieties with flavors of pineapple and pear with notes of herbs (often rosemary).
Red variety of Friuli with big tannins and deep color and flavors of black fruits. Used only by a few producers and often in blends.
The most widely planted white variety in Alto Adige, this has flavors of apples with a touch of spice. Examples vary from light, crisp and refreshing to more serious bottlings with deep fruit concentration and distinct minerality (such as the top examples from producers such as Cantina Terlano, Cantina Tramin and Alois Lageder.)
Wildy popular white variety grown in several regions of Italy, with the finest bottlings coming from the cool northern regions of Alto Adige and Friuli. Flavors of apple, pear and dried flowers with most examples being quite light and simple. A few producers make single vineyard or special selection bottlings that are more complex. (Known as Pinot Gris in France and other countries.)
Known almost everwhere else in the world as Pinot Noir, this is a red variety with moderate tanins, cherry/strawberry fruit and high acidity. A few examples from Piemonte and Tuscany, but the best in Italy are from Alto Adige.
Red variety of Puglia, with deep color, black fruits and plenty of spice. Generally found in southern Pugila and often bottled on its own. DNA related to Zinfandel of California.
White variety from Veneto and Friuli used in the production of the sparkling wine of the same name. Flavors of white peach and lemon, aged in steel tanks.
The name for Sangiovese in the town of Montepulciano (used in the wine Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.)
The complete name of this variety is Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso – or “Refosco with a red stalk.” Yields wines of big spice, red fruit and distinctive tannins.
Charming white variety of Friuli that produces light to medium-bodied wines with high acidity and flavors of pear, lemon, chamomile and dried flowers.
One of the major red varieties of the Valpolicella district with deep color and good fruit (red cherry) intensity and moderate tannins.
Rarely seen red variety grown near Asti in Piemonte that makes a lightly spicy, high acid red.
Red variety of Umbria, grown only in the Montefalco area. Known for its intense tannins, Sagrantino is even more tannic than Nebbiolo. Cherry fruit and distinct spiciness as well. Sagrantino is made in both a dry and sweet (passito) version.
One of Italy’s most famous and widely planted red varieties, this is best known for its use in three famous Tuscan reds: Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino. High acid, garnet color and fresh red cherry fruit along with notes of cedar; today some modernists have tweaked Sangiovese to deepen the color and add spice and vanilla from small oak barrels. Sangiovese is also planted in Umbria, Marche and Emilia Romagna.
Known as Sauvignon Blanc throughout the rest of the world, this white variety is found most famously in Friuli and Alto Adige, where it produces assertive wines with bracing acidity and flavors of asparagus, pea and freshly mown hay. Also grown along the coasts of Tuscany.
Red variety from Friuli that produces lighter reds with cherry, currant fruit, high acidity and light tannins. Also known as Vernatsch.
Red variety of Friuli with big tannins and spice. Only a few producers work with this grape.
Red variety of Campania with lively acidity, dark berry fruit and moderate tannins. Usually a blending variety, but also used to make a lightly sparkling red wine.
Red variety of Puglia with deep purple color and big tannins. Usually part of a blend, but sometimes bottled on its own. Interestingly, the name of the grape is loosely transalted as “the back of a donkey,” perhaps because of its productivity in the vineyard.
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.