Many years ago I owned a wine store in Brooklyn. One of the wine salesmen who came in regularly introduced me to the wines of Elena Walch in the Alto Adige and I really liked them and ordered them for the store. That summer Michele and I were visiting Northern Italy and decided to stop at the Elena Walch Winery. We had a memorable visit and tasted a number of wines along with the local food.
The Alto Adige (Südtirol) Region, which borders on Austria and Switzerland, is at the foot of the Alps and the Dolomites. It is Italy’s northern-most wine region. 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. 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.
The Elena Walch Winery
This is a family owned and operated winery, led by Elena Walch and her two daughters, Julia and Karolina. There are 136 acres and there are two excellent single vineyards on the estate: Castel Ringberg in Kaltern which is 49 acres and the largest single vineyard in the Alto Adige, and Kastelaz in Tramin which is 15 acres. The philosophy of the estate is that the wines must be the individual expression of the soil, climate and cultivation in the vineyard.
Pinot Grigio Alto Adige DOC 2015 made from 100% Pinot Grigio from small vineyards around the villages of Tramin and Caldero. After the harvest the grapes are crushed and pressed. The fresh must is clarified at low temperatures then gently fermented at a controlled temperature (18C) in stainless steel tanks. The young wine matures in stainless steel tanks for several months on the lees. The wine has hints of pears, white pepper and a touch of sage with nice minerality. $17
Pinot Grigio “Castel Ringberg” Alto Adige DOC 2014 100% Pinot Grigio from the Castel Ringberg vineyard (1,150 ft.) which is located on the south-facing hillside above Lake Caldaro where the soil is glacial in origin with chalk and clay. Training system is guyot. The grapes are gently pressed and clarified, and then 85% of the must ferments in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. The remainder of the must ferments in new, secon and third usage French oak barriques. The blending occurs shortly before bottling the following spring. It has ripe aromas of pear, sage and spice. The wine is full bodied and creamy with good acidity and minerality. $23
Pinot Bianco “Kastelaz” Alto Adige DOC 2014 100% Pinot Bianco from the Kastelaz vineyard situated on a very steep hill above Tramin at 980 ft. The soil is sand and clay and the training system is guyot. After pressing, the juice is clarified by refrigeration and natural sedimentation. Two-thirds of the must undergoes temperature fermentation at 18C in stainless steel tanks with extended yeast contact. The remaining third of the must ferments and matures in new 225-liter French oak barriques. Blending takes place the following spring. The wine has aromas of fresh green apples and a hint of white pepper. There are mineral notes and the wine has a long finish. $22
Gewürztraminer Alto Adige DOC 2014 made from 100% Gewurztraminer from small vineyards around the villages if Tramin and Caldero. After harvest, the grapes are crushed and pressed. The fresh must is clarified at low temperatures then gently fermented at a controlled temperature of 20°C in stainless steel tanks. The wine matures in stainless steel tanks for several months on its fine lees. The wine has hints of white flowers and spice with a nice long finish. $20
Gewurtztraminer “Kastelaz” Alto Adige DOC 2013 made from 100% Gewurztraminer from the Kastelaz vineyard. It is a classic site, situated on a very steep hillside above Tramin, the birthplace of Gewurtztraminer. The vineyard is at 980 ft, training system is guyot and the soil is chalk and clay. The grapes are very carefully selected for ripeness during two harvests. Before pressing, the crushed berries are cold macerated for 6 hours, after which the juice is clarified. Temperature-controlled fermentation begins in stainless steel tanks with select, inoculated yeasts. The wine remains on its lees, with lees stirring, until bottling the following spring. This is an aromatic and full wine with hints of lychee, dried fruit and a touch of honey. $32
Schiava Alto Adige DOC 2015 made from 100% Schiava from high side vineyards above Lake Caldaro at 1,312 ft. The soil is limestone and dandy clay. There is temperature-controlled fermentation at 27°C in stainless steel tanks for 7 days of skin contact. Malolactic fermentation and maturation take place in traditional 8,000-liter Slovenian oak casks. This is a fruity red wine with hints of cherry and a nice bitter almond touch on the finish. $16
Lagrein Riserva “Castel Ringbere” Alto Adige 2011 made from 100% Lagrein, which is indigenous to the Alto Adige, grown in the Castel Ringberg vineyard, at 1,500ft which is located on the south facing hill side above Lake Caldaro. The soil is glacial in origin with chalk and clay and the training system is guyot. The must is fermented for about 10 days in stainless steel tanks, followed by malolatic fermentation. The wine is then aged for 20 months in new French oak barriques. The wine is aged in bottle for several months before release.It has hints of spicy red berries, plums, and dry figs with a touch of smoke. $45
Kermesse Vino d’Italia 2010 made from Lagrein, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Grapes come from Plon and extremely steep vineyard above the winery in Tramin and the two single vineyards Castel Ringberg and Kastelaz. The training system is guyot. All of the grapes except the Cabernet Sauvignon are harvested on the same day and crushed together. The must ferments for about 20 days in stainless steel tanks, followed by malolactic fermentation and maturation for 18 months in French oak barriques, almost all of which are new. The wine is aged for several months in bottle before it is release. This is a big wine with hints of spice, tobacco, pepper, wild berries and figs. $70