Guide to Italian Wines
Konrad Matha
Konrad Matha, the proprietor of Andrianer Kellerei.
Alto Adige
© by Tom Hyland

If you live in Chicago, as I do, you prepare yourself for several months of cold weather starting in November. So if I am going to leave home during these months, it's probably going to be for someplace warm, which means that Alto Adige in far northern Italy is presumably out of the question. But when the Italian Trade Commission asked me if I would like to visit this region in November, I didn't have to think about it for too long - of course, I said yes!

Unless you have been to Alto Adige, you won't believe it is part of Italy. Even after you've visited, you still may not believe you have been spending time in Italy! After all, 68 percent of the population here speaks German, and certain villages look a lot like Bavaria.

But Alto Adige - also known as Sudtirol - is part of Italy and the German influence comes from the fact that before World War I, this region belonged to the Austria-Hungary empire. Alto Adige is now part of Italy and is usually written about as part of the Trentino-Alto Adige region, although the citizens of Alto Adige are fiercely proud of their land. The natives are not fond of the fact that "Trentino" precedes "Alto Adige" in the name of the region.

Besides the initial amazement of the look and feel of the region, there are other surprises regarding the wines of this region. Being this far north (not far from the Swiss border), you would expect a high percentage of white wine in this cool climate. But the opposite is true, as 70 per cent of the production is red versus 30 per cent white. That number is starting to change in favor of a bit more white wine, but reds still are the leading wine types produced here. The native reds here are represented by two major varieties: SCHIAVA (also known as VERNATSCH) and LAGREIN. The former grape makes a wine that is quite light in tannin and is rather tame with high acidity, while the Lagrein is quite dark in color with big tannins. Some winemakers are blending Merlot with Lagrein and the results are quite good.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also produced and they are often first-rate. These wines have more acidity than their counterparts from California or Australia, but some of these wines have the same ripe, black fruit character you find in the New World. Whether that is a good sign, I'm not sure, but they are impressive wines and they are receiving critical attention.

The white wines are what you would expect - Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon and Gewurztraminer. The local village of Traminer is the home of this grape and as "gewurz" means spicy, this is the home of the "spicy traminer" and the versions here are something special.

While a few producers from Alto Adige, such as Hofstatter and Tiefenbrunner have been successful in the United States, many fine producers are not known outside the region. Part of this is their limited production; part of it is the Old World business deals of selling their wines to Austria, Germany, Switzerland and a few parts of Italy. Let's hope that the producers here look to other markets so more wine drinkers can become familiar with these lovely wines!

Here are notes on some of the more notable wines from Alto Adige that I recently tasted. A few of them are imported into the United States and are noted. The others are listed with their price at the winery listed in Euros, should you find yourself in this lovely region soon!

KELLEREI TRAMIN • TERMENO

2001 PINOT GRIGIO Straw color with a touch of spritz. Green apple, dried flower and honeyed aroma. Medium-body with good concentration. This is a straightforward, well-made version of Pinot Grigio that is tasty now, but is ultimately a bit simple. Drink now or the next 12-15 months. ($14) **

2001 CHARDONNAY Straw color with an aroma of quince, pear and a touch of honey. Medium-full with very good concentration. This is a flavorful Chardonnay that emphasizes lovely pear fruit backed by tart acidity. While this is not an intense wine, it is extremely well made and will offer pleasure over the next 1-2 years. ($14) ***

Imported by Winebow, New York, NY

WEINGUT KELLEREI KALTERN • CALDARO

2001 PINOT GRIGIO Straw color with an aroma of apples and dried flowers. Medium-full with very good concentration. This wine has a great intensity of ripe fruit backed by very high acidity. Drink over the next 2-3 years. (7 Euros -winery) ****

2001 GEWURZTRAMINER "CAMPANER" Light yellow with a lovely nose of lanolin and rose petals. Medium-full with excellent concentration. This is a lovely wine with a sleek mouthfeel, very good intensity of fruit and lively acidity. (10 Euros) ****

1999 GOLDMUSKATELLER (MOSCATO GIALLO) PASSITO "SERENADE" Light golden color with a beautiful aroma of apricots, honey and musk oil. Medium-full to full-bodied with excellent concentration. Long finish with ripe, lush, spicy fruit. A lovely dessert wine to be enjoyed now or over the next 5-7 years. (14 Euros) ****

WEINGUT ANDRIANER KELLEREI • ANDRIANO This mid-sized cooperative has some of the finest wines in Alto Adige- red and white- at various price points. The Sonnegut wines are from a specific district, while the "Tor di Lupo" wines are barrique aged.

2000 CHARDONNAY "TOR DI LUPO" Medium yellow color with a lovely nose of ripe fruit that includes pineapple, baked apples, a touch of honey and oak. Medium-full with excellent concentration. This is a nicely balanced wine that has layers of ripe fruit, nicely integrated oak and solid acidity. Drink over the next 2-3 years. (14 Euros-winery) ****

2001 GEWURZTRAMINER "SONNENGUT" Straw color with an aroma of lanolin and grapefruit. Medium-bodied with excellent concentration. There is a very good depth of ripe, spicy fruit on the palate and the acidity keeps things in balance. A lovely food wine - think pork or Thai food. Drink over the next 2-3 years. (13 Euros) ***

1999 MERLOT "SONNEGUT" Deep ruby red-light purple with an aroma of black cherry, plum and thyme. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Ripe black fruits, good acid and firm, but balanced tannins make this wine very appealing. Drink over the next 5-7 years. (12 Euros) ****

1999 CABERNET "TOR DI LUPO" Pretty ruby red-light violet with an aroma of blackcurrant, tar and sweet oak. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Ripe with firm tannins and excellent acidity. Flavorwise, this has many similarities to a Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon. Drink over the next 7-10 years. (15 Euros) ****

1999 LAGREIN RISERVA "SONNEGUT" Light purple with an aroma of black cherries, tobacco and plum. Medium-full to full-bodied with excellent concentration. Big, firm tannins, lively acidity and ripe fruit all combine to produce a stylish wine that needs time to lose some of its youthful bitterness. Drink over the next 3-5 years. (12 Euros) ****

2000 LAGREIN "TOR DI LUPO" Bright purple with an intense aroma of plum, black cherry and sweet oak. Medium-full to full-bodied with excellent concentration. This wine features layers of ripe, fat, lush fruit with firm, but balanced tannins and lively acidity. Extremely impressive in a forward, full-bodied style. This will benefit from a year or two to shed some of its tannins, and will be at its best over the next 7-10 years. (17 Euros) *****

ELENA WALCH • TERMENO

2001 KALTERER SEE AUSLESE CLASSICO SUPERIORE This is a red wine made from the Vernatsch grape. Seeing Auslese on the label may lead you to think this is a sweet wine, but auslese actually means, "selected picking." Light garnet color with an aroma of cherry and a touch of eucalyptus. Medium-body with good concentration. Silky smooth with a touch of tangerine fruit on the palate. The tannins are soft and there is lively acidity. This is elegant and very finesseful and has a longer finish and more subtleties than most other examples of Vernatsch. Drink over the next 2-3 years. (12 Euros-winery) ****

2000 BEYOND THE CLOUDS This is a spectacular blend of Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and small amounts of Sauvignon and Riesling. Light yellow with an intense aroma of pure fruit - lanolin, pear, grapefruit, golden apples and vanilla. Medium-full to full-bodied with superb concentration. There are layers of flavor on the palate with lively acidity and perfectly integrated oak. The finish is extremely long and it offers a tremendous amount of pleasure. This will pair beautifully with any seafood or poultry. THIS IS THE FINEST ITALIAN WHITE WINE I HAVE TRIED THIS YEAR! Drink now or over the next 3-5 years. (30 Euros - and worth it!) *****

TIEFENBRUNNER • CORTACCIA

2001 CHARDONNAY Straw color with a touch of spritz and an aroma of pear, lemon rind and quince. Medium-full with good concentration. Elegantly styled with a long, delicate finish and moderate acidity. This would be a lovely aperitif or a partner with lighter chicken dishes. Drink now or the next 1-2 years. ($14) ***

2001 PINOT GRIGIO Bright straw color with an aroma of freshly picked apples with a subtle note of lime. Medium-full with very good concentration. Long finish with plenty of plump, ripe apple fruit and tart acidity. Nicely styled for drinking now and over the next 1-2 years. ($14) ***

2000 TIEFENBRUNNER FELDMARSCHALL VON FENNER ZU FENNBERG This mouthful is a long way of saying this is a special bottling (with the old Field Marshall on the label, naturally) of Muller Thurgau. Straw color with a touch of spritz. Pear, green apple and dried flower aromas. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Long, elegant finish with a touch of cinnamon and beautifully balanced finish. Rich enough for lighter seafood or enjoy in its own - this wine is delicious! Drink over the next 1-2 years. ($18) ****

Imported by Winebow, New York, NY

KOSSLER • APPIANO

2001 PINOT GRIGIO Light yellow with a hint of copper. Lovely nose of ripe, just picked apples. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Lots of ripe, juicy fruit is backed by brisk acidity. A lovely, extremely flavorful Pinot Grigio. Consume over the next 1-2 years. (3.72 Euros at the winery) ****

1999 LAGREIN DUNKEL The term "Dunkel" means dark, and is sometimes used as the name of the Lagrein grape. Light purple with an aroma of blackberry and plum. Medium body with very good concentration. High acid and moderate tannins to go with tasty, ripe, forward fruit. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years. (6 Euros - winery) ***

2000 LAGREIN MERLOT A blend of 65 per cent Lagrein, 30 per cent Merlot and 5 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon. Bright purple with a lovely nose of strawberry, plum, myrtle and thyme. Medium-full with very good concentration. Supple and very well structured, this wine has very good depth of flavor. Drink over the next 5-7 years. (8 Euros - winery) ****

***** Outstanding **** Excellent *** Very good **Good

January 2003

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