Posts tagged ‘südtirol’
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!
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.