The Alto Adige
Driving north passed the city of Bolzano, the countryside started to look more German than Italian. Road signs were in two different languages: German and Italian. When we reached the Alois Lageder winery, we were greeted by Urs Vetter the export manager who gave us a tour of the winery and a wine tasting. When it was time for lunch, he said that he knew an excellent restaurant not far away. He called the restaurant and spoke in German. When he looked up and saw the surprised look on our faces he simply said that in the Alto Adige, German is the first language.
Located at the foot of the Alps and the Dolomites, the region borders on Austria and Switzerland. The Alps protect it from inclement weather from the North and the Atlantic, while the Dolomites protect the vineyards from the cold, damaging winds from the east. Along with its proximity to the Mediterranean and Lake Garda, this makes it an excellent region to grow grapes. It is interesting to note that in the summer, the temperature in Bolzano is higher than in Palermo in Sicily. The people that live here call their region the Sud Tirol and themselves Tyroleans. The food is decidedly Austrian with only a hint of Italy. Ham is called Speck and they have a cheese called Weinkase Lagrein and bread called Schuttelbrot.
Recently in NYC I was invited to attend a seminar followed by a tasting of the wines of the Alto Adige moderated by Mary Ewing Mulligan, MW (the first American Woman Master of Wine). The seminar was entitled “Distinctive White Wines of the Alto Adige” and included eight wines in the tasting.
Mary began with a few remarks regarding the enormous range in vineyard altitude and temperature between the southern and northern areas of the Alto Adige which results in a huge diversity of microclimates. She also went on to say that the most important grapes from the area for the American market were: Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir and Lagrein.
Pinot Grigio “Punggi” (single vineyard) 2007 DOC Alto Adige Nals Margreid 100% Pinot Grigio. The vinification of the grapes and the wine’s storage are carried out half in large oak barrels and half in stainless steel. The speaker for this wine was Klaus Gasser, sales director of the Cantina Terlano cooperative. He said that Pinot Grigio grows better in the southern half of the Alto Adige where there is less elevation and higher temperatures. It is also grown in the north but as he put it “in the south it is the right grape in the right place”. He described the wine as balanced, fresh with crisp acidity, minerality and nice fruit. Mary asked him how long the wine would age, he said this was not his wine but he knew it well and his answer was 10 years. Klaus also said that to make a great wine the vines must be at least 15 years old. He also added that while they still were training the vines using the Pergola Trellis, most were switching over to Guyot. $24
Manna 2004 IGT Dolomiti Franz Hazz made from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Reisling and Traminer Aromatico. Because of the different maturing times, the grapes are harvested and worked separately. The Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are fermented in barriques, the Reisling and Traminer Aromatico in stainless steel. The wine does not go through malolatic fermentation. The Traminer Aromatico is late harvest and there is only a small percentage of Sauvignon Blanc .The wines are then blended together and rest on the lees for 10 months and remain in the bottle a few months before release. The speaker for this wine was Tobias Zingerle.
He is the General Manager of the Kaltern-Caldaro cooperative. Mr. Zingerle said that it was interesting to note that the four vineyards are in the municipalities of Montagna, Egna and Aldino, all very close to each other. The altitude is between 350/800 meters. The sites however are very different from each other, are of Dolomite origin, prophyric, sandy and marly, with a south-west exposure. This was not Mr. Zingerle’s wine but the winemaker told him that he blended these grapes together so that this wine would go with all types of food. The wine was big and complex with hints of spice, honey and a surprising fresh fruit finish and after taste. However it lacked acidity which I believe is necessary to make it a good food wine. $40
Pinot Grigio “Sanc Valentin” 2006 DOC Alto Adige San Michele Appiano 100% Pinot Grigio. This winey is also a cooperative. The grapes come from selected vineyards in the Appiano Monte at an altitude of 450 meters and the wines are 25/40 years old. 40% of the wine is fermented in new barriques and 60% in used ones, where the wine stays on the yeast for 11 months. The speaker for this wine was Wolfgang Klotz. Mr. Klotz is the marketing and sales director. He said that 2006 was the driest vintage in the last ten years and that the berries were very small and concentrated. The wine had a very distinctive aroma that I could not quite place. On the palate it was very mineral. Over all it had more oak and vanilla then I expect from this producer.
Sudtiroler Sauvignon Castel Giovanelli 2007 DOC Alto Adige Caldaro 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Castel Giovanelli is 2.5 hectares of vineyards which are bio-dynamically cultivated. There is extreme prolonged pressing of the grapes in their entirety, spontaneous fermentation of the unfiltered juice in 500 liter oak casks. The wine is aged in wood for 12 months, then a light filteration and bottled in August 2008. The speaker for the wine was Tobias Zingerle. He said that the vineyard was an east facing slope of 500 mt above sea level. The soil is loamy, chalky gravel with porphyry and weathered granite, providing a prominent mineral character to the site. This was the most vegetative of the wines with a lot of citrus fruit which I found to be a strange combination. Mr. Zingerle found it less vegetative. Mary commented that this was more of a winemakers wine than a natural fresh wine but did not find it “over worked.” I did.
Nova Domus 2005 Riserva DOC Alto Adige Terlaner The wine is made from 60% Pinot Bianco 30% Chardonnay and 10% Sauvignon Blanc. Fermentation: 50% in large oak casks and 50% in Tonneaux (500 liters). Maturation and aging for 12 months on fine yeast in large oak barrels. This was said to be in keeping with tradition. The assemblage took place in March 2007 and bottled in August 2007. The panel member speaking was Klaus Gasser. The producer feels that the wine can age and the 2005 is the current release in magnums. He said that the 2007 would be available in 750’s and went on to say that 2005 was a warmer vintage while 2007 was cooler and made a more elegant wine. Even thou there is only 10% of Sauvignon Blanc in the blend it was the dominant aroma and taste along with a mineral character in the mouth. It is an interesting wine. $N/A
Chardonnay Lowengang 2002 DOC Alto Adige Alois Lageder 100% Chardonnay The grapes come from selected vineyard sites in the Magre and Salorno area. Using natural yeasts, the wine is aged for 11 months on the lees in barriques made of Alliers, Nevers, Troncais, and Vosges of which one half are new. The vines are between 45/60 years old and are at an altitude of 260/450 meters. The soil is sandy and gravelly with high limestone content. It is a warm mesoclimate with vast contrasts between warm days and cool nights. The harvest was the 19/20 of September. This was the oldest wine that we tasted. The speaker was Urs Vetter, our old friend now the VP for the Alois Lageder winery and their director of sales and marketing. He said that all their wines go through malolatic fermentation. Urs also said 2002 was a very good year for Chardonnay and the secret to making great Chardonnay was the age of the vineyard. The wine was an interesting combination of citrus fruit, vanilla and oak. In the mouth the sensation was very strange; the oak, vanilla and citrus were all there but you tasted them separately! The current release is the 2006. $N/A
Gewurztraminer Reserve 2006 DOC Alto Adige Peter Zemmer 100% Gewurztraminer. The vines are grafted on slow-growing rootstock and trained on traditional trellises (Guyot), the grapes are grown in the best vineyard zones in the valley floor around the center of Cortina. Before the grapes are pressed 6/8 hour long cold maceration takes place. The grapes are gently pressed and the stems are removed in the pneumatic tank press. The wine is clarified through the natural setting of sediments. The alcoholic fermentation is carried out with pure strains of yeast at a controlled temperature. The speaker for this wine was Urs and he said the Gewürztraminer was the most typical white wine of the Alto Adige. $ N/A
Nussbaumer Gewurztraminer 2004 DOC Alto Adige Cantina Tramin. 100% Gewurztraminer The speaker was Wolfgang Klotz from the Tramin winery and Urs introduced him as a Gewurztraminer expert. He said that Gewurz means spice in German and Tramin being a village in the South of Alto Adige where the grape originated. Others believe that it is Germanic in origin. The Nussbauner estate is located in Sella, a small village above Tramin. The vineyards are between 350/550 meters on the slopes below the Roen mountains. Dry winds blow from Lake Garda during the entire growing season. The soil is clay and gravel with a limestone layer from 20-100cm and porphyry subsoil. The grapes were harvested in small bins, gently crushed and left to macerate with their juices for a brief period. Mr. Klotz said this was done to capture the characteristic aromatics of the grape. After pressing the grapes are fermented at a controlled temperature in stainless steel tanks. This wine was balanced, complex elegant and subtle all at the same time. It was one of the best examples of Gewürztraminer that I have ever tasted. $40
Mary said that the cooperatives in the region were quality-focused and overall the region has the best cooperatives in Italy. A typical cooperative will have several hundred members cultivating a plot that is on average less than 2.5 acres. Fifteen cooperatives produce almost 70% of the regions wine. The remaining 30% is produced by wine estates and independent winegrowers.
There was a brief discussion on how well the white wines of the Alto Adige age. Mary said that she was surprised that the panel members did not chose a Pinot Bianco as part of the seminar. She agreed that the white wines do age but believed that the Pinot Bianco aged the best. She went on the give examples of Pinot Biancos that she had in the past that were 20 and 30 years old and in great condition. This was why she believed that the best place to grow Pinot Bianco was in the Alto Adige.
In the walk around tasting here are some of the wines which I found interesting and show the great variety of wines produced in the Alto Adige:Abbazia di Novacella – Kerner 2009, Cantina Bolanzo- Santa Magdalena Pinot Grigio 2010, Franz Hass Moscato Rosso 2009, Alois Lageder Muller Thurgau 2010, St Michele Appiano Sauvignon Sanct Valentine 2009, Elena Walch Beyond the Clouds 2008 and Schiava 2009, Peter Zimmer Lagrein 2009 , Manincor Moscato Giallo 2009 Tiefenbrunner Pinot Nero Turmhof 2009 and the Pinot Bianco 2009 and the Nussbaumer Gewurztraminer 2009 from Tramin.