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.