Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Alto Adige Wines Come To Portland

I recently attended a tasting of wines from the Italian region of Alto Adige. This place, tucked away in the far north-east reaches of Italy's boot, has a long wine making tradition yet remains relatively unknown here in the United States. The goal of the tasting and seminar was to change that by exposing wine buyers, retailers, sommeliers, media, and other influential people to the diversity of styles found in Alto Adige.

Unlike the rest of Italy, if you visit Alto Adige you're just as likely to encounter a German-speaking resident as you are an Italian speaker. Historically this alpine corner was part of Austria-Hungary before being annexed by Italy after the First World War, and the culture is a fascinating mix of Germanic and Italian characteristics.

Alto Adige might be one of the most beautiful growing regions in the world, with vineyards terraced against picturesque mountains and quintessential European mountain villages. The location of the vineyards, on those steep hillsides, was repeatedly stressed throughout the seminar. On the valley floors you'll find apple orchards and other non-grape crops growing. Along Adige Valley, where the soil type is mostly poryphyric, vines bask in warm temperatures, cooled by breezes, for 300 days a year. That's a lot of sunny days, and apparently Portland sees 300 rainy days a year. Kind of puts things into perspective.

The combination of warm weather and sun, offset by altitude and wind, helps the grapes reach a state of ripeness that manifests as vibrant flavors tempered by pure acidic lift. In short, the wines are chock-full of refreshing flavors that make them perfectly suited for everyday drinking.

Within Alto Adige there are well known grape varieties like pinot blanc, pinot noir, gewurztraminer, and pinot grigio. There are also more unique grapes planted there, like sylvaner, kerner, and schiava. This tasting was my introduction to Italian pinot noir (called pinot nero), sylvaner, and schiava. I came away with a new appreciation of these non-traditional varieties.

Here are some selected highlights from the tasting:

2006 Cantina Terlano Vorberg Riserva Pinot Bianco: A perfumed nose of sweet stone fruit, pears, and lightly roasted nuts. Good structure, lots of pear and mandarin orange flavors that carry through to a soft, smooth finish. $39.99 srp. 13.5% abv. Imported by Banville & Jones Wine Merchants.

2010 Manincor Kalterersee Keil Schiava: Bright fruit notes, smoke, and savory aromas make up the bouquet. On the palate it's light, with dried black fruit, pepper, and a crisp finish. Practically begs for food and is a great introduction to the grape. $16.00 srp. 13.0% abv. Imported by Estelle Imports LLC.

2010 Kellerei Kaltern-Caldaro Lagrein: The bouquet is redolent of dark flavors; lots of smoke and savory meat, black currant, and intriguing minerality. Tannic on the palate, but a very textural wine. Shows more dark fruit and savory flavors along with a finish of earth and baking chocolate. $29.00 srp. 13.5% abv. Imported by Enotec Imports/Mitchell Wines.

2008 Cantina Andriano Lagrein: Another dark, brooding lagrein. More plummy and fruit-focused than the Kellerei example though, while retaining the woodsmoke element too. On the palate, a bit more polished tannin leads to black fruit and spices. Pleasing finish. $21.99 srp. Imported by Banville & Jones Wine Merchants.

2009 Cantina Bolzano Pinot Nero Riserva: Dusty earth and red berries rush up out of the glass. Subtle spices go hand in hand with the strawberry and cranberry flavors on the palate. Impressive balance and a finish that combines black tea and something akin to mint leaf. Outstanding wine, one that begs to be paired with salmon. $25.00 srp. Imported by Estelle Imports LLC.

2011 Erste + Neue Muller-Thurgau: Green apples and green figs lead the charge, along with citrus and limestone notes. The acidity is outstanding, creating a light, fresh white wine. More of the citrus shows through on the palate, along with a bracing finish of apple and wet rock. It's one of the most interesting, fun white wines I've tasted in 2012. $15.99 srp. Distributed by Corridor No. 5.

2010 Tenute Lentsch Fuchslahn Gewurztraminer: Freshly sliced ginger, flower petals, and a warm baking spice element work to create a delicious-smelling bouquet. On the palate the wine is dry and delicate, with sutble flavors of ginger, dried lemon, sweet pear, and a subtle spicy kick. Great balance and texture, a wine that would pair beautifully with grilled mahi-mahi or chicken stir-fry. $27.99 srp. Imported by Vinum Wine Importing.

I liked every wine I tasted at the Wines of Alto Adige tasting, which is a testament to the quality of the area. When Becky and I left, I wondered aloud why more people don't drink wines from Alto Adige, but was unable to come up with an answer.

The more I thought about this problem, the more I have become convinced that there are multiple reasons for the relative lack of exposure here in the United States. The first reason is simply a numbers game, with so many thousands of wines to choose from here, we're often overwhelmed. Another reason is the hesitation of most wine drinkers to try new things, especially with odd-sounding names, a phenomenon I ran into while working for Trader Joe's. Third, the lack of Alto Adige wines in many supermarkets makes it hard for the casual wine drinker to gain any exposure to these wines. Finally, the wines of Alto Adige need to be talked about, especially by influential wine personalities.

We all have to collectively demand these wines when we go out to our favorite restaurants and wine shops, then share our new discoveries with fellow wine drinkers. By doing that, some of the strangeness of a wine that says "Pinot Bianco di Alto Adige" will be lost, hopefully replaced with a big smile after a few sips.

Thanks to Vinum Importing and Cornerstone Communications for inviting me to this outstanding tasting.
For more information on the wines of Alto Adige visit the website and Facebook Page.

Beau Carufel

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