Posts tagged ‘alto adige’
In one of my recent posts about Alto Adige, I mentioned how much I loved the Cantina Tramin Gewürztraminer “Nussbaumer” 2012. For anyone that has been reading my prose on Italian wines for the past several years knows, this hardly comes as a surprise. I’ve admired this wine for years and believe it to be one of Italy’s greatest wines – white or red.
The Nussbaumer is made from a few select vineyards above the town of Tramin; planted to both the traditional pergola system as well as the modern Guyot system, the oldest of these vineyards are more than ninety years of age. The grapes are of amazing quality, but it’s quite fitting that this great wine originates from Tramin, as the grape itself is named for the town, its birthplace. The word gewürz in German means “spicy” and of course, traminer is the word used to describe something or someone from Tramin; hence Gewürztraminer is the “spicy wine (or grape) from Tramin.”
As with the best examples of this wine, the aromas are memorable, with notes of lychee, grapefruit and yellow roses. But what makes the Cantina Tramin “Nussbaumer” so special is its texture – the mid-palate is rich and multi-layered. There is always excellent persistence, as the finish is quite long; acidity is lively and there is distinct spice. In other words, this is a textbook Gewürztraminer.
The recently released 2012 is a terrific example of this wine, as was the 2010, 2009 and 2008. I have reviewed numerous vintages of this wine over the years and my estimate on aging potential would generally be three to five years or perhaps as long as seven years for the finest examples. That to me is typical of an excellent white from Alto Adige, as fruit concentration and structure (thanks to excellent acidity) come together to yield a wine that drinks well at five to seven years of age.
Well, you’re always learning things in this game, so what a thrill it was for me when I visited Cantina Tramin last October and winemaker Willi Stürz poured several older bottlings of this famous wine. This wine can age several years beyond my best estimates, as you will read in these tasting notes from that day:
2012 – Bright/deep yellow with golden tints; heavenly aromas of lychee, grapefruit, yellow roses, honeysuckle, Anjou pear and lilacs. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Rich mid-palate, beautiful complexity. Great persistence and beautiful typicity. Classic wine! Best in 5-7 years.
2009 – Deep golden yellow; aromas of pineapple, mango and magnolia. Rich mid-palate, excellent persistence and fresness. Very good acidity and impressive balance. Best in 3-5 years.
2006 – Bright golden yellow; aromas of honey, lychee and yellow peach. Medium-full, this is quite powerful with excellent complexity and very good acidity and persistence. Best in 2-3 years.
2005 – Light golden yellow; aromas of dried pear and saffron. Medium-full, this is quite elegant with a lovely note of minerality in the finish along with a distinct note of yellow spices. Long finish, very good acidity. Best in 5-7 years. Outstanding
2000 – Light yellow; aromas of dried pear, elder flowers and a hint of banana. Medium-full with very good concentration. Very good complexity and balance. Nearing peak, but still with 2-3 years of drinking pleasure ahead.
Note that the 2000, a 14 year-old wine when tasted that day, was still in good shape, while the 2005, a nine-year-old wine at the time, should be drinking well for another 5-7 years, meaning the Nussbaumer in the best vintages can age for 12-15 years.
Few people talk about the aging potential of Gewürztraminer, but certainly this tasting was an eye-opener. Of course, it’s rare to find older bottlings of Alto Adige Gewürztraminer at all, but if you do locate older examples of the Cantina Tramin Nussbaumer, give them a try! A great wine, sourced from great vineyards, made by a great winemaker. Bravo, Willi!
Winemaker Willi Stürz (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Orlando Pecchenino, Dogliani, with a bottle of his 2010 Bricco Botti, one of 2013’s best Italian wines (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
January always means starting fresh as well as remembering what came before. So it’s time for my annual look at the best Italian wines of 2013, but instead of offering a complete list (that will be printed in the Spring issue of my Guide to Italian Wines, available to paid subscribers), I’m going to take a different approach and focus on just a few wine zones that were home to some pretty special wines, offerings that don’t get a lot of attention.
Dogliani – I adore Dolcetto and I’m on a constant crusade to tell wine lovers about this lovely wine; I know why it doesn’t sell as well as it should, but it doesn’t help that the major wine publications ignore this wine. In the small village of Dogliani, a bit south of the Barolo zone, a small band of dedicated producers specialize in the Dolceto grape and craft marvelous versions, wines that have more richness and age worthiness than examples of Dolcetto d’Alba or Diano d’Alba. That said, I visited several producers in Dogliani this past September and tasted four examples of Dogliani that were outstanding: the 2010 Pecchenino “Bricco Botti”a wine that has tremendous complexity and character; the 2012 Chionetti “San Luigi”, a wine of great varietal purity and focus and one of the most delicious red wines I tasted in all of Italy this past year; the 2009 Anna Maria Abbona “San Bernardo” from 65-year old vines that offers abundant floral aromas backed by tremendous persistence and finally the 2004 San Fereolo Dogliani Superiore from proprietor Nicoletta Bocca. Here is a current release – yes, a nine year-old (now almost ten) Dolcetto of superb breeding that will drink well for another 5-7 years. Wines such as this one and the others I mentioned are evidence that Dolcetto can be a first-rate wine; it’s a shame that more wine publications ignore this lovely grape.
Verdicchio (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi – Speaking of grapes that are largely ignored, Verdicchio is at or near the top of this list. Here is a grape grown in Marche that has uncommon complexity and can age – given the proper care at any particular cellar in the best vintages – for 7-10 years and even longer in some cases (I tried a 1991 Verdicchio from the excellent cooperative producer Colonnara a few months ago that was superb and still quite fresh). So why don’t you hear about this wine more often? Simply put, the major wine publications focus on red wines, especially in Italy, so Verdicchio is priority number 35 (or is it number 36?) for their editors.
The best new releases of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi I tasted were the 2012 Umani-Ronchi “Casal di Serra”, the 2010 “Vecchie Vigne” (old vines) version from this vineyard and the marvelous 2009 Umani-Ronchi “Plenio”, a Verdicchio of outstanding complexity with ideal balance.
Also, the 2009 Villa Bucci “Riserva” is one of the finest versions of this wine I have ever tasted; given the fame and outstanding track record of this producer, that’s saying something. With its heavenly orange blossom and hyacinth perfumes as well as pronounced minerality, this is a brilliant wine, easily one of the finest of the year. Look for this to be at its best in 5-7 years, although I may be a bit conservative in my estimate.
At Santa Barbara, the 2011 Stefano Antonucci “Riserva” is a heavyweight Verdicchio, a barrique-aged version that is lush and tasty with tremendous complexity; while I often prefer Verdicchio not aged in small barrels, here is an example that is perfectly balanced. A different approach can be found in the 2009 Stefano Antonucci “Tardivo ma non Tardivo” (loosely translated as “late but not too late” in reference to the late harvesting of the grapes); this is aged solely in steel. This is as singular a Verdicchio as I have ever tasted, given its exotic aromas of grapefruit, green tea and a note of honey, while the minerality and structure remind me of a Premier Cru or Grand Cru Chablis. Un vino bianco, ma che un vino!
Sabino Loffredo, Pietracupa (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Campania white wines - This is such a vibrant region these days for all of its wines, not just Taurasi, its most famous red, but also other distinctive wines such as Palagrello Nero and Casavecchia. Then there are the whites – wines of great varietal distinctiveness, minerality and structure. 2012 was a first-rate vintage for Campanian whites, as the wines have beautiful focus, lively acidity, excellent ripeness, lovely aromatics (thanks to a long growing season) and distinct minerality. I’ve loved these wines for years and it’s been such a pleasure to see the results from two superb vintages, such as 2010 and 2012.
There were so many gorgeous 2012 Campanian whites; I can’t list them all, so here are just a few of the best: Pietracupa Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino - from the brilliant producer Sabino Loffredo; Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo “Cutizzi”; Mastroberardino Fiano di Avellino “Radici”; Donnachiara Greco “Ostinato” and Villa Raiano Greco di Tufo “Contrada Marotta”. A wonderful collection of whites, drinkable now and over the next 5-7 years.
Chianti Classico - Every year, more and more of these wines taste the same to me. There are exceptions of course, those wines from producers that still craft offerings that reflect a sense of place, rather than just producing bottles aimed at a large audience. The two best I tried in 2012 were both Riserva wines from the very underrated 2008 vintage. The first was the Felsina “Rancia”, a wine of great strength with very good acidity and notable structure. The second was the Bibbiano “Vigna Capannino”, also a beautifully structured wine that represented to me what a top Chianti Classico Riserva should be, a wine with richness of fruit, not just a higher percentage of oak; of course there is admirable Sangiovese character, but there is also very good acidity, meaning this is a wine that will age gracefully, with peak in 10-12 years. The Felsina is a more powerful wine, while the Bibbiano is more delicate, but both are first-rate versions of what this wine type should represent.
Looking south from Appiano at vineyards in Alto Adige (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Alto Adige whites – Alto Adige, being a cool climate region, is of course known for its white wines, but I wonder how often wine lovers think about how special these wines truly are. The regular bottlings are quite nice, with very good acidity and balance; the wines are also quite clean, beautifully made with excellent varietal character. Then there are dozens – no make that hundreds – of vibrant Alto Adige whites that have excellent depth of fruit, distinct minerality and gorgeous complexity. A few of the best from include the 2012 Cantina Tramin “Stoan”, a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Bianco that is as complex and as satisfying as any Italian white (or a white from just about anywhere); the 2012 Gewurztraminer “Nussbaumer” also from Cantina Tramin (this is one of Italy’s top 50 producers, in my opinion), a wine of heavenly grapefruit, lychee, yellow rose and honeysuckle aromas backed by excellent concentration and subtle spice; the 2012 St. Michael-Eppan Sauvignon “Sanct Valentin”, with great varietal character – what a lovely wine for vegetable risotto or most seafood; the 2010 Cantina Terlano Pinot Bianco “Vorberg” Riserva, one of Italy’s most distinctive white wines, and finally, the 2012 Girlan Gewurztraminer “Flora”, a version of this wine that is not as explosive as the Tramin “Nussbaumer”, but one that is just as attractive and varietally pure.
Estate vineyards of Ferrari near the town of Trento (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Trento Metodo Classico – You could be forgiven if you weren’t very familiar with classically-produced sparkling wines from Trentino. After all, Prosecco is much-more famous as an Italian bubbly and the great wines of Franciacorta in Lombardia generally receive more attention. Still, the cool area near the town of Trento is ideal for beautifully structured sparkling wines, especially when made by the firms of Ferrari and Maso Martis.
There has been so much written about Ferrari- what marvelous sparkling wines they produce! The finest I tasted this year were the 2006 Perlé Nero, a 100% Blanc de Noirs with excellent concentration and beautiful complexity and then for a rare treat, the 1994 Giulio Ferrari “Riserve del Fondatore”; this latter wine was a special, extremely limited wine that was disgorged in 2011, meaning it spent 17 years on its yeasts – an unheard of length of time for almost any sparkling wine. Words can’t do this cuvée justice – this is simply an ethereal sparkling wine, one of tremendous length, with exotic flavors of orange, truffle and even a hint of cream – just amazing!
It may be difficult to compete – if that’s the proper term – with Ferrari, but the husband and wife team of Roberta and Antonio Stelzer do their best. Try their wines and you’ll see what I mean, as these sparklers are so beautifully balanced and such a joy to consume. Everything here is excellent, particularly the full-bodied 2007 Brut Riserva Millesimato and the stunning 2003 Madame Martis, with its appealing honey, cream and apple tart aromas and oustanding persistence.
My next post will feature the best wines I tasted during my recent 18-day trip to Italy that covered six regions. I will write about several outstanding 2012 whites from Campania, Alto Adige and Marche as well as some notable examples of Dogliani along with an excellent Alta Langa as well as several other wines.
But for this post, I am singling out the very best wine I tasted during my trip, the 2010 Cantina Tramin Gewürztraminer Late Harvest “Terminum.” The reason I am writing about this wine separately is simple – this is a wine that is perfect in every respect. I say that with all seriousness, as I don’t like to use the word “great” very often, as it is overused these days. So you can imagine how rarely I use the word “perfect” to describe a wine. But this wine clearly earns that praise!
Cantina Tramin is a cooperative winery in Alto Adige, arguably the finest; for me, I know of virtually no other producer in all of Italy that has as varied a lineup of wines with such high quality. Of course, their “Nussbaumer” Gewürztraminer is one of Italy’s greatest whites every year, as is their blended white “Stoan” (a melange of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Bianco), but I also give extremely high marks to their “Unterebner” Pinot Grigio (about as good as this variety gets in Italy), “Maglen” Pinot Nero, “Urban” Lagrein and even their “Fresinger” Schiava; this last wine a must-try, as you won’t believe a Schiava can be so delicious!
Gewürztraminer grapes in Solva that will be used by Cantina Tramin (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
The grapes used for this wine are at elevations between 1300 and 1700 feet above sea level in the frazione of Solva, high above the town of Tramin. This is a late harvest wine; clusters are picked in mid-December, while the wine is fermented and aged in French oak barrels. 2010 was an excellent vintage in this area, not too warm (as with several recent vintages), so the grapes maintained their natural acidity and the resulting wine has expressive aromatics.
My tasting notes: Deep golden yellow/amber; aromas of apricot, honey, golden poppies and a hint of custard. Medium-full with excellent concentration, this is lush with a rich mid-palate, while the finish with quite long with a touch of sweetness, which is tempered by the excellent acidity. There is outstanding persistence, beautiful complexity and amazing varietal purity. The finish just goes on forever- this is a great, great wine! Best in 7-10 years.
As I sampled this wine with a colleague from Alto Adige as well as winemaker Willi Stürz, my friend and I looked at each other at the same moment we tasted our first sip. We each had a look in our eyes and without saying anything, we knew what the look meant – we had found perfection!
You must do what you can to find a bottle, as this is an unforgettable wine! (Imported by Winebow)
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!
I love the endless challenge that the Italian wine scene presents. There are always new varieties, wine districts or producers to be discovered. How can you not love the opportunity to constantly taste new wines?
Kerner is a variety that is a specialty of one small zone, that of the Valle d’Isarco in northeastern Alto Adige, not far from the Austrian border. The best known producer is probably Abbazia di Novacella, as they craft two lovely dry versions as well as a passito bottling. I tasted these wines during a recent visit to the winery and then for my next appointment that day, I stopped at Weingut Niklas, where Dieter Sölva renders a delicious example with bright fruit and lively acidity. I’ve also tasted a very nice example from Strasserhof, also from Valle d’Isarco.
I was told by a local producer that Nössing was a producer to search for if I wanted to taste an excellent version of Kerner. On my way back to my accommodations one night in Alto Adige, I stopped at a local enoteca and found the Nössing wine, but this was the vendemmia tardiva (late harvest) offering, not the dry one (vintage 2010). That was fine as I love dessert wines and was curious to see what this producer could do with this variety.
Am I glad I purchased this wine! Displaying a light, bright yellow color, the aromas of apricot, yellow peach, papaya and honey are haunting – face it, don’t you want to try a wine that smells like that? Medium-full with excellent concentration, this is ultra clean with lively acidity, excellent persistence, impeccable balance and just a hint of sweetness. It’s only 11% alcohol, so it is delicate in the finish and not overly sweet or lush. It’s absolutely delicious and the fruit flavors stay with you long after you’ve finished the wine. I tasted this with a producer of red wines in the Veneto who was absolutely blown away with the flavors and quality of this wine.
To the best of my knowledge, this is not imported in America. Given that Manni Nössing only produces a total of about 1800 cases of wine in total – divided up among this offering as well as a traditional dry Kerner, Sylvaner, Gruner Veltliner and Gewurztraminer – there just isn’t much of this wine to go around. But the next time you’re in Alto Adige and can find this in an enoteca (17.50 Euro for a 500 ml – well worth it), do yourself a favor and purchase a bottle so you can experience one of Italy’s least known yet finest dessert wines!
Manni Nössing, Bressanone (Brixen)
I was told by a friend in Italy that the phrase “unexpected brilliance” really doesn’t translate very well, so I’d be better off using the words una sopresa magnifica – “a magnificent surprise” to describe a marvelous Alto Adige red wine I recently tasted.
The wine – the 2009 Campill – is from a small producer Weingut Pranzegg, located in Bolzano in northern Alto Adige. The grower and winemaker of this wine is young Martin Gojer, an artisan producer who also makes an excellent Lagrein and Lagrein rosato along with a lovely blended white from local vineyards. The Campill, named for the site where the winery is located, is 95% Schiava, with the remaining 5% a mix of Lagrein and Barbera.
The very fact that I am strongly recommending a Schiava will probably come as surprise to most readers. I would imagine that many have never even heard of this variety (it is also known as Vernatsch), while those familiar with it know it as one that yields a very light red, one with high acidity and very light tannins. It’s the type of red that normally must be comsumed within a year or two and it is often served slightly chilled as it can be quite refreshing that way.
Now while I do enjoy the typical style of Schiava, I have discovered a few examples that represent more than just a pleasant offering. This is a remarkable wine and the main factor for that – as with most first-rate wines – can be found in the vineyard, as Gojer is working with vines that have an average age of 45 years; a few of the vines are 30 years of age, but several are 80 years old! Clearly these old vines limit yield and deliver a wine of great complexity and structure.
My notes list the “sensual” aromas of carnation, red roses and strawberry; medium-full with excellent depth of fruit, there are silky tannins, very good acidity and a lengthy finish with notes of Asian spice and nutmeg. This has excellent balance, lovely finesse and amazing complexity! It is drinking beautifully now and should be in fine shape for another four or five years. I’d love to try this with a pork dish, especially in a Thai or Oriental cuisine, although roast pork or roast chicken with mushrooms would also be an ideal partner.
Currently, the wines of Weingut Pranzegg are not available in America, so here’s hoping some smart importer brings these products in soon. For now, you’ll have to head to Alto Adige and pay 13.90 Euro a bottle, which may be one of the wisest decisions you’ll ever make for a bottle of wine!
Bravo, Martin for making such an extraordinary wine from a variety most commonly associated with ordinary wines!
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)