• Wine and Climate Change: Winemaking in a New World
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  • Great Wine Tours of the World
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    De juiste wijn bij het juiste gerecht
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  • Good Food, Fine Wine: A Practical Guide to Finding the Perfect Match
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Alto Adige tasting, London 2010

Alto Adige:  Who needs France?


Crisp, personal, solid Pinot Blancs… Chardonnays with the muscle and salty earthiness of a top Meursault… aromatic Gewürztraminers that toy between the sharp and the sensual… and Sauvignons that are explosively fruity and complex …  You would forgive me for thinking that I was in France. But no, I am in Alto Adige.  And there is another surprise to come: the Pinot Neros (Pinot Noir). They are divine, and devoid of that medicinal, metallic retro-olfactive with which so many basic red Burgundies can be marked.  These are fresh, elegant, and ooze a velvety smoothness of plums and warm earth.


Alto Adige, or Südtirol, is one of Italy’s smallest regions (only providing .7% of Italy’s total production) and can boast the fact that 98% of its wines are of the DOC quality category. There is archaeological evidence of viticulture here that pre-dates the Romans and today there are 12,500 acres of vineyards. Almost 75% of these are owned by cooperatives, in which, typically, each of the hundreds of members might cultivate a plot of less than 2.5 acres. Cooperatives often have a negative connotation in the wine world, but not here. Here, the concept works as it is meant to and produces high quality, terroir-driven wines.


Nestled in the slopes of the snow-covered Southern Alps, Alto Adige has been home to the noble Bordeaux and Burgundy grapes for over a hundred years. The diverse soils and altitudes welcomed them a place alongside their already established Sylvaner, Müller-Thurgau, Veltliner, Riesling and their famously gorgeous native red grape, Lagrein. Protected by the Dolomites, the vineyards’ altitudes range from 750 – 3250 ft above sea level and the rich soils are a geographical rainbow of dolomitic rock, fluvial deposits, porphyry, moraine debris, volcanic deposits and slate-primitive rock.


Couple this unique climate and exposition with the quality wine-making techniques these producers embrace, and we are presented with consistent and powerfully elegant, grown-up wines that rival the French greats at half the price.  I, for one, shall be stocking my cellars with some Pinot Nero. Unlike Burgundy, where quality can be a bit hit-and-miss for even the “experts” and quality seems to only be assured by paying exorbitant prices, the Pinot Nero seems to have found the opportunity to express the best facets of  its unique and elegant personality, here in the Alto Adige.  As one of the charming producers quipped to me as I swooned over his Sauvignon: “Who needs France?”


Some favourites:


1. Pinot Bianco 2009, Cantina Andriano

From Astrum Wine Cellars,


Cantino Andriano was founded in 1893 and is the oldest wine producing cooperative in the region. Situated in one of the cooler areas of Alto Adige, yet protected to the West by Mount Gantkofel, they produce elegant, well-built wines made for cellaring. The Pinot Bianco is unoaked, with an approachable, fruity nose. The mouth is well-balanced with solid extracts and a fresh and lively acidity, leading to a persistent and elegant finish. Beautifully made.


2. Terlano Sauvignon Quartz 2008, Cantina Terlano

From Astrum (see above)


Cantina Terlano has been producing wines since 1893 and their wines owe their distinction to the high mineral content of the soils: the vineyards lie on a red porphyry base of volcanic rock with large mineral crystal deposits. This Sauvignon is true to its name (quartz!). It has a steely, mineral freshness carrying a lush, fleshy body of apricots. It is not a ubiquitous caricature of the sauvignon grape: there is no fake vegetal edge or superficial herbiness to it, screaming, “I am Sauvignon” as do some of the New World models. There is just straightforward, solid fruit and structure: Sauvignon as it is meant to be. Their Lagrein Riserva Porphyr 2007 is also unmissable.


3. Gewürtztraminer 2009, Erste + Neue

From New Generation Wines Ltd.,


A long-running cooperative with a tradition of single-vineyard expertise, this Gewürztraminer is an elegant and original expression of this grape: a good balance between crisp minerality and unctuous floral and spicy elegance. It has all of the hallmarks of the traditional Alsatian version of the grape, yet at the same time imparts another dimension to the model – a distinctly Alto Adige-dimension – quite cheeky and personable.


4. Pinot Nero Mezzan 2008, Erste + Neue

From New Generation Wines Ltd (as above)


The Pinot Noir from this cooperative was a real find. It is approachable without being sweet or boring: there is definite power and structure here, but very fluidly and elegantly expressed. A violet nose takes you into velvety textured body and a good finish. The tannins are well integrated and the overall effect is that one is drinking a very expensive red Burgundy – a Volnay …


5. Pinot Nero Barthenau Vigna S. Urbano 2007, Tenuta J. Hofstätter

From FortyFive 10°


This family-owned estate was founded in 1907. The family is quick to point out that the nearest town is Bolzano, which lies on the same line of latitude as Mâcon in Burgundy and that they have made Pinot Nero their specialty. They have two Pinot Neros, their Pinot Nero Meczan, whose 2009 was round, peppery and powerful, and the Barthenau, which was simply stunning. The nose was so perfumed and yet the mouth was restrained, direct, fresh and tightly made… saving itself for the even better times to come… to cellar.


6. Pinot Nero Ludwig 2007, Elena Walch from Bancroft Wine Ltd.,


Elena Walch, an ex-architect, married into a prominent wine-producing family in Tramin/Termeno and turned to wine-making in 1985. Her wines have earned several of the coveted Three Glassses awards from the Gambero Rosso. Her Pinot Nero Ludwig is gorgeously well-made.  Aged for 14 months in half new oak and half old oak, its power is discreetly brought to the surface by subtle tannins and lively acidity. Perfumed, complex, elegant, it is drinkable now, but worth cellaring.


7. Pinot Nero Precios 2007, Josef Niedermayr Estate

From Passione Vino,


Stunning. It opens with an earthy mineral-ness evoking the vineyard’s chalky soils. The nose is intense with dark berries, spice and violets. The body is textured and complex and the finish is fresh and long. Everything is here, from start to finish. This is a cooperative situated near Girlan, which is has been a family business since 1852: they manage their own vineyards as well as monitor and work with other winegrowers.



















There are quite a few Alto Adige producers who are looking for agents in the UK, and some of them are serious competition for the ones currently on the market. It is a bit of pot-luck as to who gets an agent – it not always an indication of the “deserved” order of merit. Keep your eyes open for the producers below, and pray they get to our shores!






K. Martini & Sohn


St. Paul’s Winery

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