Posts tagged ‘sauvignon’
The Story of a Great Day in Alto Adige
Text and Photos ©Tom Hyland
Sundial at J. Hofstatter Winery, Tramin
I’m fortunate enough to travel to Italy three or four times per year; thankfully, I never tire of it. Thus every day in la bella Italia, even if it’s cold and/or rainy, is a special one. In fact, I can recall virtually every day I’ve spent in Italy over the past twelve years and almost every one has been pretty special. Then there was one great Friday I recently spent in Alto Adige.
The day started with my host Martin Foradori Hofstatter driving me to his winery in Tramin for a special tasting of Alto Adige Pinot Nero from three vintages. The tasting was organized by the editors of Fine magazine in Germany; Martin mentioned the tasting and asked if I would like to attend, as I was in the area. I appreciate his hospitality as well as the kindness of the magazine editors for allowing me to sit in on the tasting. (Before the tasting, by the way, I stopped at a local bar for a croissant and apple juice – believe me, there is no better place in Italy – or perhaps all of Europe – for apple juice!).
The tasting featured wines from the 2009, 2005 and 2002 vintages, each of them excellent. The 2005s were arguably the best performing wines in terms of balance and structure, although 2002 was not far behind, while the 2009s were a bit fleshier, though no less accomplished. Producers included Girlan, Abbazia di Novacella, Colterenzio (Schreckbichl), St. Michael-Eppan and of course, J. Hofstatter; winemakers from several of those estates also took present in this tasting. While Pinot Nero is not one of the varieties most people associate with Italy, these examples displayed impressive complexity and were first-rate evidence of the foundation this grape has in the cool climes of Alto Adige.
Martin Foradori Hofstatter
After a brief lunch at the Barthenau estate of Hofstatter, it was off to my appointment at Abbazia di Novacella, northeast of Bolzano, not far from the Austrian border. Accompanying me as driver and interested spectator was Hannes Waldmüller, who recently became director for the Alto Adige consorzio. Waldmüller is a fountain of information on seemingly every business in the region, from wine to apples and just about anything else and that knowledge combined with his passion for the region makes him a great spokesperson for Südtirol.
I had tried wines from Abbazia on several occasions in the past and had always been delighted with the high quality and the impressive varietal focus of their wines, especially with varieties such as Kerner, Sylvaner and Pinot Nero. So here was a chance to try the new releases as well as tour the facility. Actually the word facility is not an apt descriptor here, as this is an amazing location that is part winery and a bigger part, an abbey with an stunning church (one of the most beautiful I have ever visited), an amazing library that contained hand-drawn manuscripts from the resident monks of the 14th century as well as a school for middle grades. This is quite an experience and one that should be part of your required itinerary on your next visit to Alto Adige.
Detail of ceiling of the church at Abbazia di Novacella
The tasting itself, conducted by Costanza Maag, who recently joined the winery, was excellent. Every wine tasted out beautifully, especially the Müller-Thurgau, Sylvaner and Sauvignon as well as all the “Praepositus” releases (these are the selezioni of the winery; the term Praepositus means “the chosen” or “elevated” – a perfect descriptor). I have included the Praepositus Kerner and Pinot Nero in my upcoming book on Italy’s most distinctive wines; if I had room, I’d include a few more, including the Praepositus Sauvignon (wonderful aromas of yellow apples and green tea!), Sylvaner (the 2011 is outstanding) and the Gewurztraminer, with its gorgeous lychee, grapefruit and lanolin aromas. What marvelous wines and while I also love the Pinot Nero, this is a winery – as with dozens of others in the region – that shows the world how routinely great – and occasionally brilliant – the white wines of Alto Adige are, year in and year out!
After our lengthy visit, it was dark outside and we were headed to one more appointment. Hannes made his way to Weingut Niklas in Kaltern, about an hour’s south; he pointed out as we entered the autostrada that if we headed north, we would be in Innsbruck, Austria, sooner than our next winery visit. It was a tempting proposal, but we proceeded to our business at hand.
Dieter Sölva, proprietor, Weingut Niklas
Our visit to Weingut Niklas was an impromptu one, as two other producers not far from Abbazia that I wanted to visit were out of town. I mentioned to Hannes that I knew the importer of Niklas in America (Oliver McCrum in the Bay Area) and that I had enjoyed the wines. Hannes called Dieter Sölva at the winery, who agreed to meet us. Unfortunately, his winery is in a small town, hidden behind a number of small streets, so Hannes had to get on his cel phone and have Dieter walk him through this. It was quite dark and rather cool and we were getting a bit tired by this time (around 7:30), but we managed to finally locate this small winery.
Dieter is a charming man, someone who gives you his attention and is open and direct – there’s no hidden agenda with him. That’s great, because I could relax around him and be honest about my opinions of his wines; not that he had anything to worry about, as I loved both his 2011 Kerner and especially his 2011 Sauvignon with enticing yellow pepper and elderberry aromas; here was a lovely Sauvignon with plenty of fruit, yet only a trace of the assertive herbal notes that often dominate other examples of this variety in cool climates. The wine has lively acidity and beautiful structure and is one of my favorite examples of Sauvignon from Italy – highly recommended!
Finally, it was off to a quick dinner and some pizza and pasta. We found a comfortable place with excellent food and by this time, a beer was in order – an Austrian beer, as Hannes said that’s what he recommended, so I went with it. But I just can’t help myself when I’m in a restaurant in wine country – I have to see the wine list. I noticed that the Peter Sölva Gewurztraminer was on the list, so I ordered a glass. Now I didn’t have pizza, as I opted for pasta and I can’t say that the wine was an ideal partner for my food, but at this point, it certainly tasted great. I love Alto Adige Gewurztraminer and this one was excellent, especially as this had proper structure to back up the lovely aromatics. A great way to finish my wine tasting that Friday!
Hannes then drove me back to my guesthouse, promising me another day of touring wine estates the next time I’m in Alto Adige. This is why I love the Italian people – after all this man did for me that afternoon and evening, he was making sure I knew that he would be happy to show me around his region again. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but the Italians are among – perhaps the – most gracious people in the world!
P.S. I can tell you that many residents of Alto Adige, still clinging to their Austrian/German heritage (Südtirol was part of the Austrian empire until the end of the First World War), don’t believe they are Italians. On more than one occasion lately, there have been discussions about the Südtirol becoming an autonomous state, separate from Italy. In fact, many of the local residents talk of Alto Adige and then refer to Italy as being “down there.” True enough, but for this post and for the sake of argument, I’m including these wonderful denizens as Italian – their graciousness certainly fits the part!
Carlo Schiopetto (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
The hillsides of the Collio district (the word Collio means “hill”), are the home of some of the most vibrant white wines in the world. Here, varieties such as Friulano, Sauvignon (Blanc), Ribolla Gialla, Pinot Bianco and Ribolla Gialla are farmed to small yields, resulting in deeply concentrated wines that define the soul of this lovely territory in far northeastern Italy. There are certainly several producers from Collio that are among the finest in all of Italy; given their long track record of success as well as their contribution of local wine tradition, Schiopetto is a logical place to start when listing the great Collio wine estates.
When Mario Schiopetto established his Collio estate in 1965, white wines from this area – and from Italy in general – were rather simple products at best and at worse, dull, slightly oxidized offerings that faded away in just a few years. Schipoetto wanted to produce more complex, more vibrant whites, so traveled first to Germany and France to learn how vintners there made their white wines. Combining these practices, he utilized new technology in his cellars, being among the very first in Italy to use temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks to preserve varietal aromatics as well as freshness and color.
Mario passed away in 2003, leaving his three children – twin brothers Carlo and Giorgio and sister Maria Angela – to continue his work. They have carried on brilliantly, as the Schiopetto white wines (there are also two reds produced) are wines of superb complexity, richness on the palate, brilliant varietal purity and notable structure. These are wines that drink beautifully upon release, but improve with 3-7 years in the bottle, depending on the variety as well as the particular vintage.
I recently tasted four of the Schiopetto 2010 whites and found that each wine offered complexity and tremendous style. The Pinot Bianco has lovely quince and apple aromas along with distinct spice; there is very good acidity and persistence and I’d expect this wine to drink well for another 3-7 years. The Blanc de Rosis, a blend of Friulano, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon, Malvasia and Pinot Grigio has inviting Anjou pear and tea leaf aromas, excellent persistence and a light nuttiness in the finish. This is an expressive, complex wine that should peak in another 5-7 years.
My two favorites Schiopetto whites are the Sauvignon and the Friulano. Sauvignon from Friuli is at its most interesting when it is a vigorous, almost assertive wine and in that respect, the 2010 Schiopetto succeeds marvelously. Brilliant light yellow with aromas of spearmint and Anjou pear, this is medium-full on the palate with wonderful texture and bright fruit. This receives no oak maturation, but is given 8 months of lees aging before bottling. There is vibrant acidity and excellent persistence. This is an excellent Sauvignon which will drink beautifully for the next 5-7 years.
My favorite of the Schiopetto whites from 2010 (and often my favorite every year, as it is a toss up between this and the Sauvignon) is the Friulano. Friulano is somewhat of a chameleon grape in this region, as local terroir is a key characteristic of this variety; I have tasted examples that are more fruit-driven, while others tend to feature more of a minerality. This has beautiful aromas of golden apple, Anjou pear, quince and chamomile; there is excellent persistence and vibrant acidity along with outstanding complexity. This is an outstanding wine and among the two or three very best examples of Friulano produced each year, a statement I make without any doubt and one that confirms the brilliance of the wines of this great winemaking family in Collio.
The wines of Schiopetto are imported in the US by Vintus, Pleasantville, NY.
Two lovely wines to discuss today from one of the world’s most beautiful wine regions, Alto Adige. This stunning area, in northern Italy, bordering Austria, is famous for its bilingual use of Italian and German (the region is also known as Südtirol); in fact, in the early part of the twentieth century, Alto Adige was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire (it was annexed by Italy following the end of the First World War).
Being situated so far north, Alto Adige is quite cool, which makes this an ideal region for the production of white wines along with reds that are better suited to a moderate climate, such as Pinot Noir (known as Pinot Nero in Italy). While Pinot Noir is not common throughout Italy, it is a featured variety in Alto Adige and there are several producers, both large and small, that consistently craft excellent bottlings.
I recently tasted the just released 2009 Pinot Nero from Cantina Terlano (also known as Kellerei Terlan in German), one of Alto Adige’s finest producers. This is their regular bottling of Pinot Nero, the other is a Riserva bottling known as Montigl) and while I look forward to that special wine, I am in love with this regular bottling!
2009 was a superb vintage for whites throughout Alto Adige and much of Italy (it may even turn out to be a spectacular one), as the wines have impressive concentration, lovely texture, ideal acidity and remarkable structure. Thus it should be no surprise that a cool-climate, early ripening variety such as Pinot Nero should also be a notable success in Italy in 2009. My notes for this wine are as follows:
Pale garnet with aromas of bing cherry, strawberry candy and carnation. Medium-bodied, this is a delicious Pinot Noir with tasty fresh red cherry fruit, tart acidity and moderate tannins. Elegantly styled with just a touch of red spice in the finish. Approachable now, this is a real treat and is styled for so many types of foods, from poultry and lighter game to lighter tuna preparations. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years, best fresh.
I rate this wine as excellent; what I love most about this bottling is its varietal purity and instant satisfaction from the inviting aromas to the delicious flavors on the palate. This is an excellent value at $25 and has more character than most California or Oregon Pinot Noirs at twice the price! (Note: the wine is labeled as Pinot Noir on the front and Pinot Nero on the back- this is for the American market).
The second wine I am recommending is the 2008 Sauvignon “Andrius” from Cantina Andriano (in Italy, Sauvignon is Sauvignon Blanc). Sauvignon from this cool climate always has beautiful structure as well as very good acidity and in a excellent year such as 2008, beautiful perfumes as well. My notes on this wine:
Bright yellow with aromas of yellow pepper, gooseberry and golden poppies. Medium-full with good to very good concentration. Elegant entry on the palate and a lengthy finish with good acidity and persistence. Nicely styled for many types of food. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years.
This is a rich, lush, almost muscular Sauvignon that I would pair with foods ranging from risotto with shrimp or scallops all the way to veal medallions. I’m very impressed by the wine, though I’d like to see this priced at a bit less than $44, but this is a limited wine and thus an expensive category.
These are two of the most notable releases I’ve tried from Alto Adige as of late; I look forward to trying more new wines over the next few months. What I love best about the wines from Alto Adige are their balance and suitability with food. I’ve never been a fan of wines that have been styled to receive a high score in a magazine; rather, give me a wine that marries well with a variety of foods – that’s what Alto Adige does best!
(Note: In 2008, Cantina Terlano purchased Cantina Andriano. The wines are vinified separately because of each estate’s history an terroir.)
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.
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.