Alto Adige: Italian Wines at their Peak
The Alto Adige region of Italy produces great wines.
The Portland Art Museum provided the setting for an introduction to some of the better known varieties of wines produced in the Alto Adige Region of northeast Italy. If you get out your map, you will see this region is located immediately north of Venice and Verona, and bordered by the Italian Alps and Austria and Switzerland to the north. It’s truly a beautiful place to produce superior wines.
The day’s events kicked off with an in-depth Tasting Seminar, featuring 10 different varieties of white and red wines. The seminar featured five wine professionals from the Alto Adige region and was moderated by Wolfgang Weber, Senior Editor of Wine & Spirits Magazine. Each guest panelist introduced two flights of wine to sample and contemplate. Our introduction to the different varieties was followed by an afternoon of networking and tasting the wines produced by 18 additional wineries.
In addition to Weber, Wolfgang Klotz, the Marketing Director of Tramin winery, introduced his elegant wines. These wines have earned numerous awards for their Gewurztraminer grapes, including 21 Tre Bicchieri, the highest honor from Gambero Rosso.
Next came Judith Unterholzner of Cantina Terlano. She was followed by Tobias Zingerle representing Kellerie Kaltern Caldaro as Marketing Director. And next on the panel was Martin Hofstatter, owner of Tenuta J. Hofstatter and, finally, Patricia Sparer of Cantina Bolzano.
Alto Adige Region
The Alto Adige Region is bounded by Lake Garda on the south and, on the north, by the incredible Italian Alps. The Adige River flows through the valley. This fertile valley was carved over thousands of years by water, wind, and glaciers. Alto Adige is also known as the South Tyrol and was part of Austria before World War I, a fact that’s reflected in the area’s cuisine.
The main red varieties of the Alto Adige Region include: Schiava, Lagrein, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The main white varieties are Pinot Grigio, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Muller Thurgau, Sylvaner, Kerner, Riesling, and Veltliner. Schiava, and Lagrein. Gewurztraminer originated in the South Tyrol and is the most widely cultivated. There are 136 producing wineries in the region.
Climate, altitude, and terroir provide a tremendous diversity of microclimates in this wine growing region. Vineyard altitudes range from 600 to 3,300 feet. The Adige Valley has an extremely warm climate, which lends a long ripening season. This is especially beneficial to the heat loving reds like Lagrein and Cabernet Sauvignon.
White grapes produce wonderful results at the higher altitudes. While the warm microclimates and higher altitudes add to the intensity of aroma and flavors, the glacial deposits from the Dolomites add with notes of limestone and sand and gravel. The Schiava is characterized by a dark ruby red r color with notes of almond, cherry, and soft tannins. It pairs very well with speck, aged cheese and smoked venison sausage.
Terlani, located west of Bolzano, is quite proud of its granite soils which blesses the Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, and Merlots with their great flavor. The Isarco Valley, situated northwest of Bolzano near the monastery of novacella, grows some of the finest white wine in all of Italy: Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Kerner, Veltliner, and Gewurztraminer. These varieties are typified by a good balance between fruit and minerals. If you love wine, you should plan a trip to the Christmas markets of the snow covered Dolomites.
The Tasting Seminar
The afternoon Wine Tasting presented a wealth of delightful wines from 22 wineries. The red wines paired especially well with the duck breast and salumi. The minerally fresh and clearly structured white wines stand at the pinnacle of Italian winegrowing.
Here are 10 wines I sampled and my thoughts on each. If any of these intrigue you (and they should), go to your local wine shop and ask for them by name and year. You won’t be disappointed.
Wine #1 Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio 2011 Warm days and cold nights at an elevation of 800 to 2,000 feet produced a pale, straw color wine with crisp fruity notes of green apple and peach and pear , nice legs, and a refreshing palate with a lingering finish. This is wine priced at $15.99.
Wine #2 Tramin Pinot Grigio Unterebner 2010 Presents a nice apple note with a smooth palate and a long satisfying finish. Grown at higher altitude like the Pinot Grigio, this wine is held in wooden casks. It’s priced at $29.99
Wine #3 Colterenzio Pinot Bianco Weisshaus Praedium 2010 Presents a nice fruity nose and a clean straw color with rich, buttery notes of peach and grasses with a soft, tart palate that shows traces of lime and gravel. It’s followed by a long refreshing finish. Priced at $ 19.50
Wine #4 Cantina Terlano Pinot Bianco Vorberg Riserva 2006 Notes of fresh apple, buttery almond, and spicy citrus palate that are followed by a pleasing long finish. This wine is produced at a lower elevation and is priced at at $39.99
Wine #5 Abbazia di Novacella Valle Isarco Gewurztraminer 2010 This dry, drinkable, citrusy Gewurztraminer is produced at an Augustinian Monastery near the town of Tramin. Priced at $23.00
Wine #6 Tenuta J. Hoffstatter Gewurztraminer Kolbenhof 2010 Strong apple notes with spice and lime with a full palate and refreshing finish. Priced at $55.00
Wine #7 Manincor Kaltereresee Keil Lago di Caldero Classico 2010 Produced from indigenous Schiava grapes with a big rich drinkable mouthfeel and a luscious ruby red color. Priced at $20.00
Wine #8 Cantina Bolzano Santa Maddelena Huck am Bach 2010 This ruby red wine has a rich cherry smoky, spicy palate. Priced at $16.00
Wine #9 Kellerei Kaltern Caldaro Lagrein Spigal 2010 Indigenous variety similar to Shiraz, this wine offers a deep black cherry fruity palate with notes of chocolate and a luscious long finish. Priced at $29.00
Wine #10 Tenuta H. Lensch Lagrein Morus 2006. A rich spicy dark cherry colored wine, this one pairs with well game and red meat. It has a spicy, warm finish. Priced at $24.99
For many years, Alto Adige winegrowers have been limiting their yields to increase the quality of their grapes. They have placed great value on environmentally friendly methods of cultivation. Much of the work at Alto Adige vineyards is done by hand by winegrowers committed to preserving the area’s unique terroir. Their wine production remains Old World authentic which allows each wine to exhibit its own natural character. More than 98 percent of all the vineyards in the province are under DOC protection. The DOC or Denominazione di origine controllata means “controlled designation of origin” and it’s the quality assurance label for wine and food products in the region.
– by John Morrison, RFT Contributor