White wines from Alto Adige win the challenge of time

White wines from Alto Adige win the challenge of time

White wines from Alto Adige stand out mainly for their freshness, fineness, elegance and balance, but what is most striking is to find these characteristics still intact and unaltered through time in wines 10-15 years old or more, right up to a Pinot Blanc from far-off 1959, a great wine that looks good for its 56 years of age. During our journey to discover the development potential of great whites from Alto Adige, we went to Hofstätter, Tramin and Elena Walch (in Termeno), Kellerei Terlan (in Terlano), St. Michael Eppan (in Appiano), Colterenzio (in Cornaiano), St. Paulus (in San Paolo), Nals Margreid (in Nalles) and Tiefenbrunner (in Niclara). Two intense days, 22nd-23rd April, during which we tasted 90 wines. The varieties that the wineries expect the most from (and the ones they are investing the most in, to age wines well through time) are Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Gewürztraminer. We share this impression with the producers, but we also tasted some very interesting outsiders, from Pinot Gris and Müller Thurgau grapes. But let’s start from the beginning.

HosftatterGewürztraminer in Termeno

Our journey begins in Termeno, with the Hofstätter winery , owned by the Foradori family, located in the main square of the town. It is one of the few private wineries in Alto Adige that has vineyards on both the eastern and western slopes of the Val d’Adige, with 50 privately-owned hectares (plus 75 hectares with grape growers) divided up into six estates, between 250 and 800 metres above sea level. “Therefore the microclimate is extremely varied and fascinating,” says Martin Foradori. We experienced this firsthand, driving with him in a four by four to get to the Kolbenhof Alpine farmhouse near Sella, where Gewürztraminer is grown between 320 and 530 metres above sea level. Whereas, once back in the cellar, we admired the concrete truncated-cones, where all the stages from fermentation to ageing take place, and tasted the Barthenau Vigna S. Michele Pinot bianco and the Kolbenhof Gewürztraminer (2013, 2004, 1999, 1994), where you can really taste the origin of the land. There is another Gewürztraminer, which differs from the Kolbenhof because it is the result of a selection of the best grapes from the Sella area, where you can perceive on the palate the specific quality of the territory it comes from: the Nussbaumer from the Tramin winery. We are in the same area, but the set-up is completely different: a wine cooperative with 117 years of history under its belt, 250 hectares divided up among 300 owners and production of 1,800,000 bottles a year. “In 2014 we made an important decision about ageing our wines,” says Willi Stürz, winemaker and technical director, “i.e. to release all the key whites from 2014, in January 2016, thus deferring sales for six months. A real turning point!” Work in progress for Elena Walch, also at Termeno, who manages 45 hectares, 35 of which privately owned. Here the owner is building an underground cellar and storeroom covered by a tree-lined meadow that should be ready in autumn. Before tasting different vintages of Sauvignon Castel Ringberg and Gewürztraminer Kastelaz, we have time to visit the vineyard of this latter, just behind Termeno. “The plants are 25 years old in the steeper parts of the vineyard (63%),” explains Elena Walch. “The work is completely manual, pruning is done by Preparatori Simonit e Sirch vine pruning technicians and leguminous plants grow between rows.”

Terlano

Terlano

Pinot Blanc but only where it gives its best

It is twilight by the time we get to the Cantina Terlano: 250 hectares, 220 members (including those in Andriano acquired with the merger in 2008) and 1,800,000 bottles a year. Here there is a well-supplied and fascinating historic wine cellar. “It was founded in 1893,” says winemaker Rudi Kofler, “and the first bottles set aside for the winery, a few collectors and some very lucky journalists passing by (like us) date back to the 1920s. Since 1954 all the vintages have been stored.” Here they have understood the ageing potential of whites for over 60 years, and since 1979 they have released a rarity (a particular line) every year to bear witness to this. This year it was the turn of a Chardonnay 2003 that spent 10 years on the lees. Then we tasted the abovementioned Pinot Blanc 1959. Pinot Blanc is the wine the winery is focussing on for products to age. The next morning, we started with the St. Michael Eppan winery in Appiano: 380 hectares, 340 members and 2 million bottles a year, 70% whites. “In the 1950s, when a lot of bulk wine and Schiava was produced,” says winemaker Hans Terzer, “some, such as Professor Italo Cosmo, of what was then the Experimental Viticulture and Winemaking Station in Conegliano, said “Get it into your heads that this is a land for white wines!” In the cellar there are over 500 barriques of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon and Gewürztraminer. “Each of these varieties needs to be planted in the area with the most suitable climate if they are to give their best,” continues Terzer, “colder for Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon; warmer for Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer.”

Tramin

Tramin

French and New Zealand inspired Sauvignon

Colterenzio, set up in 1960, is the youngest winery and today it numbers 300 members, 300 hectares and produces 1,600,000 bottles a year. It has a futuristic structure and, since 2009, investments have been made to make it self-sufficient in terms of energy consumption (today they have reached 40%). “In the 1990s we developed a project to vinify Sauvignon in an original way compared to the Alto Adige style,” says winemaker Martin Lemayr. “We took inspiration from the French Sauvignon in the Loire region. But our area also boasts a long tradition of Chardonnay.” At St. Pauls, founded in 1907 and today numbering 170 hectares, 200 members and producing 1,200,000 bottles a year, they have done huge renovation works since 2000, restoring the hundred-year-old cellar, replanting varieties in the most suitable areas and carrying out integrated viticulture. “We are mainly investing in Pinot Blanc,” says Wolfgang Tratter, technical manager, “for which we also have an original project underway: a Riserva fermented and vinified in amphorae from a cru with plants between 80 and 110 years old. It will be released by the end of this year. But ours is a microclimate similar to New Zealand. This is why we have decided to invest also in Sauvignon, a variety that has been in the area since the end of the 1980s.”

St-Michael-Eppan

St. Michael Eppan

Some confirmation and an outsider

“Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc are our strong points,” says winemaker Harald Schraffl of Nals Margreid (www.kellerei. it), 150 hectares, 140 members from Merano to Magrè (Salorno) and 1 million bottles a year. Here in the modern structure extended and modernised in 2009, which includes the old Alpine farmhouse from 1764, we tasted the historic Sirmian Pinot Blanc, made from grapes grown on the hill of the same name near Nalles at 550-700 metres above sea level, vinified since 1971; and the Baron Salvadori Chardonnay, fresh, elegant and perfect even from the 1991 vintage. The final leg is the Tiefenbrunner castle-cum-winery, a place almost outside of time and space, scattered with fountains and magical creatures, renovated by the grandfather of the current owner and winemaker, Christof Tiefenbrunner. There are 70 hectares, 25 of which privately owned, reaching 1000 metres, where the Müller Thurgau is grown to produce the Feldmarschall von Fenner, one of the most interesting outsiders encountered along our route. “When we realised its ageing potential,” says Christof, “we deferred its release by a year from the 2011 vintage onwards.”

At least two masterpieces in every winery

by Alessandro Torcoli

A pilgrimage to Alto Adige is a must in order to overcome prejudices about international varieties. Such is the quality of the white wines we tasted (enough to convince the most sceptical) when a Chardonnay or a Sauvignon express certain levels, that it’s an academic question. If you are really looking for a distinction, we have jotted down some enthusiastic comments also on Pinot Blanc and Müller Thurgau. Here are our tasting notes for the best two wines in each winery.

Hofstätter
Kolbenhof Gewürztraminer 1999 exotic, very ample bouquet, notes of orange peel and yellow rose. It wins over the palate with its creamy finish (95/100)
Barthenau Vigna S. Michele Pinot bianco 1998 the version made only in steel (there is a later version made in a large barrel); nose of incense, acacia, chestnut honey, striking freshness on the palate (92/100)

Tramin
Unterebner Pinot grigio 2010 the notes of flint and rock appear to express the Dolomitic origin of the soil. Williams pear, white pepper and liquorice; balanced and fresh on the palate (97/100)
Nussbaumer Gewürztraminer 2005 still tropical and opulent on the nose, with notes of liquorice. Creamy and fresh on the palate (92/100)

Elena Walch
Kastelaz Gewürztraminer 2010 first roses emerge, followed by mango and papaya; playing on softness with 8 g/l of residual sugar (90/100)
Castel Ringberg Sauvignon 2013 the ripest grapes are vinified in barriques, the rest in steel. Peach, grapefruit and sage on the nose, good length on the palate (89/100)

Cantina Terlano
Vorberg Pinot bianco 2002 walnuts, herbs, coffee beans. Balanced on the palate, with alcohol evened up by fresh minerality (99/100)
Rarità Chardonnay 1998 complexity on the nose, without reflecting the aromatic spectrum of Burgundy; perfect balance on the palate (99/100)
Pinot bianco 1959 56 years old! Hors concours… notes of marzipan, pine nuts, rich and oily on the palate, recalls a great Sherry (99/100)

St. Michael Eppan
Sanct Valentin Sauvignon 2001 notes of sage and grapefruit. Balanced, lingering, mineral on the palate (95/100)
Sanct Valentin Pinot grigio 2008 after 7 years the wine is still vivid and mineral. It has extraordinary density on the palate and a plush finish (90/100)

Colterenzio
Lafóa Sauvignon 1994 ample bouquet, nuts, maintaining notes of herbs and a very plush palate. At the time it was vinified as a Chardonnay, making it woody initially, but now it is excellent (95/100)
Cuvée LR Riserva 2011 65% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Blanc, 5% Sauvignon, 5% Gewürztraminer, 3,000 bottles. Immense bouquet of citrus fruit, rose, tropical, herbs, meaty and rich on the palate (95/100)

St. Pauls
Passion Pinot bianco Riserva 2007 notes of lime blossom, dandelion and mint. On the palate elegant, plush, mineral, subtle and solid at the same time (92/100)
Egg Leiten Pinot grigio 2009 (no longer produced) nose of milk and mint, rich on the palate, very long (90/100)

Nals Margreid
Sirmian Pinot bianco 2007 the nose is almost tropical, butter and mint; rich on the palate with a sweet finish, reminiscent of marzipan (94/100)
Baron Salvadori Chardonnay Riserva 2011 elegance on the nose and pure butter, peach and melon on the palate, fresh and lingering (94/100)

Tiefenbrunner
Feldmarschall von Fenner Müller Thurgau 2007 mineral notes of stone and dust. Fresh, elegant palate, lingering (98/100)
Linticlarus Chardonnay 2006 opulent, tropical and balsamic aroma. Plush, caressing and buttery on the palate (98/100)

 

This article is published in Italian Wine Chronicle magazine 03/2015. Read all the magazine for free!

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