Vineyards at Cantina Terlano, Alto Adige (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
When you think about the best red wines of Italy, you probably look to Piedmont and Tuscany or perhaps even Abruzzo, Umbria or Puglia. But when it comes to Alto Adige, white wine is most likely your strongest association with this far northern region. Yet, this area is home to several red varieties that are made into some of the country’s most expressive wines, offerings that are beautifully balanced, adapt perfectly with so many foods and best of all, are wonderfully expressive.
The variety of red wines in Alto Adige is quite amazing, ranging from the very delicate wines made from the Schiava variety with its pleasing cherry and currant fruit and extremely light tannins to Cabernet Sauvignon, which expresses the power and intensity you find from other regions around the world, along with higher acidity than many of its counterparts.
But for this post, I’d like to concentrate on two varieties that have become specialties in Alto Adige: Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) and Lagrein. Pinot Nero of course is the same variety that is grown in Burgundy as well as a few other areas around the world, from Central Otago in New Zealand to Casablanca Valley in Chile as well as the Willamette Valley in Oregon and several zones in California. Alto Adige is a natural spot for Pinot Nero (sometimes labeled with its German name Blauburgunder), as this is a cool climate wine region, espcially being so far north in Italy as well as being situated in the shadow of the Dolomite Mountains. Examples of Pinot Nero from Alto Adige range from the delicate, light tannin style you can chill for a bit to the more medium-full and full-bodied versions that receive small oak barrel aging and can be aged for 7-10 years or even longer.
Here are notes on a few impressive examples of Alto Adige Pinot Nero I’ve tasted recently:
2010 Cantina Tramin – This is the entry level Pinot Nero from this outstanding cooperative producer, located in the town of Tramin. Medium-bodied with pleasing aromas of bing cherry, dried strawberry and rhubarb, this has good varietal character with light tannins and a subtle touch of oregano in the finish. You could chill this for 15-20 minutes or so before serving; it’s best paired with lighter chicken and pork dishes (especially in a Thai restaurant) or with a light preparation of tuna. ($19)
2009 Caldaro “Saltner” – This is richer and riper than the above wine, displaying aromas of red cherry, red currant and thyme. Medium-full, this is a nicely structured wine with distinct notes of paprika and turmeric; the acidity is quite good and the oak is nicely integrated. This can stand up to foods such as roast pork, veal or yellowfin tuna. Enjoy this over the next 2-3 years. ($28)
Martin Foradori, J. Hofstatter (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
2008 J. Hofstatter “Vigna S. Urbano Barthenau”
Martin Foradori, proprietor and winemaker at the J. Hofstatter estate, calls this wine the “flagship” of his production; to me, this is evidence of how great Pinot Noir can be in Alto Adige. The vines in the vineyard are 65 years old, which naturally produces a small yield as well as remarkably concentrated fruit. Full-bodied, this has aromas of tart cherry and strawberry along with lovely notes of coriander and marjoram. Here is a Pinot Nero with outstanding complexity, ideal balance and the structure to age for 15-20 years. Pair this with everything from duck with cherry or orange sauce, pork medallions, salmon or tuna steaks. ($80 – note that this wine is extremely limited. If you find another vintage such as 2007 or 2006, go for it!)
And, two recommendations of Lagrein:
2009 Valle Isarco – I truly believe Lagrein can be a great success in America as the wines made from this variety have deep color, good ripe black and red fruit and moderate tannins- as a rule, these are drinkable upon release. Here’s a very good example, one with bright ruby red color and beautiful aromas of black plum, licorice, tar and tobacco. Medium-bodied with good acidity and moderate tannins, this has pleasing notes of bitter chocolate in the finish. Enjoy this over the next 2-3 years with most red meats, especially a lighter cut of beef or with eggplant parmigiana. ($20)
2007 Cantina Terlano “Gries Riserva”
Bright purple with aromas of black plum, iodine and black raspberry. Medium-full, this has very good ripeness, elegant middle-weight tannins, good acidity, subtle wood and a touch of bitter chocolate in the finish (a nice touch found in many examples of this wine). This is approachable now, but will be even better in 2-3 years as it round out. Pair this with lighter game, most red meats or hearty stews. ($30)