Let's take a wine-tasting tour today to a German-speaking part of the world where most people don't expect to find German spoken: Alto Adige ("AHL-toe AH-dee-jay"), where the northeastern edge of Italy meets Austria.
Known in German as the Sudtirol ("South Tyrol"), Alto Adige - not unlike Alsace where Germany meets France - has bounced back and forth between Italy and Austria as a prize of war, ending up today as a place that's distinctly Italian yet shows Germanic influences in everything from family names to the language to the occasional unexpectedly blond-haired inhabitant ... not to mention the cuckoo-clock architecture of its Alpine villages.
And, of course, its wines. Very much like Austria, Germany and Alsace (and neighboring Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Italy), the predominant wine color is white. By regulation, the region's whites are made from blends of grapes that producers select as if ordering from a Chinese restaurant menu: One (or more) from Column A, which offers Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and/or Pinot Bianco, blended with a selection from Column B, which includes Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Silvaner, Gewürztraminer, Kerner and, in the Terlano subdistrict, Riesling Italico (Welschriesling) and the German-varietal cross Müller-Thurgau.
For today's tasting I sampled two Alto Adige whites in the relatively modest $10 range. A white Terlano blend from Kellerei Terlan, the regional cooperative, really rang my chimes: Rich and complex, with velvety fruit cloaking steely acidity, it presents an Italian translation of a quality Austrian white (and wouldn't be altogether out of place in a lineup of top Alsatians).
The second wine, a Müller-Thurgau from Cantina Gries in Bolzano, was chosen primarily for academic interest, and provided about as much tasting pleasure as you might expect from this Riesling-Silvaner cross, a grape that doesn't demand, or get, much respect. I can't improve on Jancis Robinson's delicious deconstruction of the variety: "[A] decidedly mediocre but gruesomely popular German crossing developed in 1882 for entirely expedient reasons." Müller-Thurgau gets some play among industrial producers because it yields heavily and ripens early, making it a good cash-flow crop. But the wine it makes, in my experience, is forgettable, and this one offers no argument to the contrary.
Enjoy Alto Adige. But stick with the traditional varieties.
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Terlan 2001 Alto Adige Terlano Classico ($10.99)
This rich and complex white is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc and Riesling Italico (which is not the true Riesling but Welschriesling, a Central European variety that resembles the real thing in name only). A bright, clear straw color, it offers fresh melon and citrus scents on the first sniff, opening up to intriguing aromas of mineral and "wool." Full and ripe in flavor, it brings together juicy white fruit, tart acidity and a rich minerality in good balance. U.S. importer: Dufour & Co., Ltd., North Bergen, N.J. (Sept. 11, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: The wine's richness and complexity made it an unusually good partner with a thick meatless cream soup of celeriac and leeks.
VALUE: Very good value.
WHEN TO DRINK: Probably best drunk up while it's young and fresh.
WEB LINK: Kellerei Terlan, the Terlano cooperative of wine producers, has its Website in German, Italian and English. For the English pages, click
Gries 2001 Alto Adige Müller-Thurgau ($9.99)
Pale greenish-gold. Faint citrus struggles to emerge in a clean but slight but aroma. Crisp and fresh in flavor, neutral white fruit. Good with food, no real flaws, but unassuming at best. U.S. importer: Summa Vitis LLC, Matthew Fioretta Selections, Sonoma, Calif. (Sept. 11, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Its crisp freshness makes it a quenching quaff with just about any food. We served it with a rich vegetarian soup of celeriac and leeks.
VALUE: Simple and neutral, it would be a better value for a few dollars less.
WHEN TO DRINK: Not for aging. No rush, but it will never be better than it is now.
WEB LINK: Here is the importer's Website:
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Friday, Sept. 12, 2003