29 Mar 2012

Italian generosity (Alto Adige, Italy - Day Two)

For I think the first day since I arrived in Europe, today I was able to go outside not wearing my jacket, as the weather was sunny and warm(ish). Alto Adige actually gets over 300 days of sunshine each year, which not helps for the ripening of the grapes, but also gives everyone here a sunny outlook. One of my hosts on the previous day actually asked me if I had brought the rain and fog with me from Germany. Part and parcel of this sunny outlook is their love of simple pleasures, such as good food and wine. On my first two days in the region, two wineries gave me lunch, and another offered to put me up for a night nearby. When you have been travelling for six months with another 10 to go, watching money steadily drain out of your accounts, these simple gestures have the biggest resonance. It also puts me in a really positive mood, and lets me overlook any difficulties I may be having with my travel. The great news is that I have some work organised in Germany and my visa is not far away, the problem is that I have to return to Germany to collect it in person. Ce la vie!

My first prosciutto crudo in Italy
The first visit for the day was to visit icon of the region and Italy, Elena Walch. Elena married into one of the most important wine families in the region with significant vineyard holdings and a fully operating winery to boot. She enthusiastically took the opportunity to get involved with the business, particularly considering that the vineyards are in some of the most sought after parts of the region, in Castel Ringberg and Kastelatz. As the winery is located in Tramin, the unofficial home of gewurztraminer, it is this variety which has brought the winery the most acclaim, with the Kastelaz Gewurztraminer receiving the prestigious 3 glasses from Gambero Rosso on several occasions. More recently the red wines have garnered much attention, possibly due to changes in climate, and bordeaux and rhone varieties are being grown and blended along with the local lagrein grape. Amazingly, one of Elena's two daughters is now in Adelaide studying the Masters of Wine Business course that I completed last July, although she is an internal student. Small world.

Cellars under Elena Walch
Accompanied with some wonderful antipasti, I tasted through a selection of the Elena Walch wines across numerous varieties. In the Selezione and Single Vineyard range, the wines show a purity, balance and freshness that is a hallmark of good Alto Adige wines. The Castel Ringberg Pinot Grigio 2010 had a slightly creamy orchard fruit richness on the nose, with finesse and a hint of sweet spice on the palate. The Selezione Gewurztraminer 2011 had a talcy classic gwt nose with some rose petal and turkish delight, and had great balance between opulence and freshness on the palate. The Selezione Lagrein 2010 had juicy and intense black fruit and spice notes, had very bold tannins on the front palate but clean and fresh on the back. In the higher quality range the wines were significantly more intense and complex, but several of them were a little heavy and sweet on the new oak, such as the Castel Ringberg Riserva Chardonnay 2009 and the Castel Ringberg Riserva Lagrein 2007. The Kermesse 2007, a blend of 20% of each of syrah, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and lagrein, is robust in oak character but it is much better integrated with the fuller fruit and tannin elements.

Me with Elena Walch
After an accidental detour up above the vineyards, I found my next appointment in Magre, just five kilometres north of the border with Trentino. Alois Lageder is a pioneer in the Alto Adige region, although his estate dates back to 1823. The original home of the family was in Bolzano, the centre of the viticultural part of Alto Adige, but the move to Magre was much more recent. When the opportunity to expand the estate came up in the 1991 to purchase one of the most historic estates in the region in the town of Magre, which was established by a very rich family back in the 17th Century. This increased the estate vineyard holdings to almost 60 hectares, and also provided a renaissance mansion where the Paradeis wine tasting centre is now housed, amongst other functions. A new and modern winemaking facility was completed in 1995, and is the most efficient, functional, sustainable and precise I have seen since Chile. The design of the winery stems from the sustainable philosophy of Alois, who was one of the first to convert to biodynamic principles in the vineyards and winery, and become Demeter certified. There are two ranges produced; the Tenutae Lageder is the higher quality, 100% estate grown wines; and the Alois Lageder range made also from contract grown fruit.

Bach being played to the barrels in the Alois Lageder cellars
On a tight schedule the Sales Manager Klaus and I had to rush through a tasting of wines. The focus is on white wines, with at least 70% of production dedicated to them. The Alois Lageder range of wines are all very pure, precise and balanced wines, highlighting the cool climate, rich soils and varietal integrity. Moving into the Tenutae Lageder range shows more depth, complexity, intensity and minerality. The Gaun Chardonnay 2011 is very flinty and fresh, with exceptional balance on the palate, you wouldn't know that it had 100% malolactic fermentation. The Porer Pinot Grigio 2011 had an earthy and red berry concentration, and was softer and deeper than its equivalent in the Alois Lageder range. I found there was not enough difference at this stage between the gewurztraminers, as they were both subtle and textural with a clean finish. The Krafuss Pinot Noir 2008 was very elegant and light, with fantastic structure and personality, as was the Lindenberg Lagrein 2008.

The recently acquired but very historic castle with the Dolomites looming overhead
The final visit for the day was to another German named winery - Hofstatter - which I had to return to Tramin for. The origins of the building where the winery is housed go back to the 16th Century, and for many years it was an important coach post, between Italy and Austria. It was Josef Hofstatter who made wine in the cellars, that was sold to guests of the inn, or traded locally. The wines were generally made from purchased fruit, and sold in and from large casks. Josef's nephew Konrad Oberhofer took over the estate in 1942 and it was then that single vineyards were seperately vinified and sold as superior wine. When Paolo Foradori married Konrad's daughter Sieglinde in 1959 he brought with him vineyards in key sites on the opposite side of the valley, and thus new areas to grow varieties such as pinot nero. The principles of the winery are very simple; respectful and sustainable practices both in the vineyards and winery, minimal intervention of the wines, experimentation and attention.

From the Tramin vineyards looking across the valley
The Kolbenhoff Gewurztraminer 2010 had a nice subtle and earthy density, quite bold and textural without sweetness or overt viscosity. The Barthenau Vigna Ste. Michelle Pinot Bianco 2009 showed very clean pure and fresh citrus notes on the nose, but with very intense crunchy acids and concentration of fruit and textyre on the palate. The Kolbenhofer Vernatsch/Schiava 2010 had a very light closed nose, soft light tannins and fruit, and is a wine that would go great with tomato based dishes. The Barthenau Pinot Nero 2007 had a reductive red cherry tightness on the nose, depth and solid fruit, but at the moment the alcohol and oak are a little strong. The Steinraffler Lagrein 2008 was soft and mellow, with powerful yet supple tannins, but was a little simple and lacked depth and personality.

Wine bar at Hofstatter in Tramin - worth a visit
Click here to see more photos from Day Two in Alto Adige.

No comments:

Post a Comment