Whenever the topic of the finest Italian white wines comes up, the regions of Friuli and Alto Adige almost always come immediately to the forefront. I’d also add Campania to the list, as the finest examples from this southern region display beautiful complexity, minerality and ageworthiness.
But for now, let’s talk about the two neighboring regions of Friuli and Alto Adige. There are dozens of producers in the former that craft multi-layered blends, consisting of several varieties such as Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Picolit, Sauvignon and Chardonnay. For some critics, the argument of which region produces the most renowned whites from Italy ends with Friuli.
I’d like to offer some evidence from Alto Adige as well. Most of the wines here are monovarietal – everything from Pinot Bianco (the region’s most widely planted grape) to Pinot Grigio, Moscato Giallo, Sauvignon and of course, Gewurztraminer. The best examples of these wines – from small estates to large cooperative producers – are laser-focused in their varietal purity and display gorgeous aromatics as well as beautiful structure.
But there are also a handful of blended whites from Alto Adige that rival the most famous counterparts from Friuli. One of the finest I’ve tried in some time is the 2008 Cantina Tramin Stoan. This is a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 22% Sauvignon, 11% Pinot Bianco and 7% Gewurztraminer. My notes on this wine characterize the layers of flavor in this wine – the mid-palate is very impressive – as well as the striking aromatics with notes of chamomile, lilacs and mango – this last emerging, no doubt from the Gewurztraminer.
Winemaker Willi Sturz, who has previously been awarded the title of the year’s best winemaker from Gambero Rosso, the Italian wine bible, ages the wine in large wooden casks of 4000 liters, most of which are anywhere from 2-8 years old. The size of the barrels as well as their age mean minimal wood interference, allowing the aromatics and varietal character to emerge, while also adding a bit of texture to the wine. (For comparison, the small oak barrels known as barriques are 225 liters in size, meaning their wood influence is quite strong, especially with white wines).
What I love about the wines from Cantina Tramin are their varietal character, cleanliness and immaculate balance. Sturz is a genius at taking the finest fruit from more than 275 growers who are members of this cooperative (this is a common practice in the region) and crafting wines that are immediately drinkable upon release, yet often improve after 3-5 years in the bottle. While the Stoan as well as the Nussbaumer Gewurztraminer (arguably the finest in Italy over the past decade) are the most famous, you sense the care Sturz takes in even the basic bottlings of Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco and Gewurztraminer (as well as a few lovely red wines).
2008 was a lovely vintage in Alto Adige (and throughout much of Italy, especially for white wines). This was cooler than the highly rated 2007 vintage, so the wines are not as fat on the palate, yet as this was a long growing season, the wines ripened beautifully. The aromatics as well as the vibrant acidity are the keys to the 2008 whites from Alto Adige. Look for this wine to drink well for another 3-5 years. Best of all, this wine has the complexity and structure to accompany a wide variety of foods, from Oriental cuisine (chicken or pork) to veal to lighter game. While it wouldn’t necessarily be my first choice with most seafood, as it would probably out muscle the fish, I do think that it works well with some lightly aged cheeses such as Nostrano, Lagundo or Puzzone di Moena, all made from cow’s milk.
The price for this wine is $33, which I feel is quite fair, especially with other top Italian blended whites selling in the $45-$75 price range. This wine can truly stand with the best of them! I’ve tasted this wine from previous vintages and by now it’s become one of my top ten whites from Italy; when you consider how great the best Italian whites are – and how much I love these wines – that’s saying something on my part.
The national importer is Winebow.