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The Wines of Alto Adige

August 10th, 2010

I was invited to go to Alto Adige by the Italian Trade Commission in May. The wines there can be wonderful. I arrived there aware only of Tiefenbrunner, Hofstätter, and Lagader wines here in the US. I was surprised: even the wines from the co-ops show finesse and quality (typical of Italy for that matter; coops are generally very well-respected).  Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer (the town of Traminer lies in Alto Adige), Lagrein, Schiava and a bit of Pinot noir all show great appeal.  And a whopping 98 percent of all the wines are DOC.  Most wines are exported to the US.

But these wines come from a region with a mixed identity.  Are they Italian wines?  Or Austrian wines?

Alto Adige has had a confused history. Right now it is the most northern winegrowing region in Italy.  Its identity is mostly Austrian, as historically this region was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and identified as Austrian.  The primary language is still a German dialect, and they also claim to be the oldest German-speaking wine region with over 3,000 years of wine history.

The History

Even before the end of the Second World War and immediately afterwards, South Tyrolese representatives and the provisional government of Austria began working to see that at the coming peace negotiations South Tyrol would be returned to Austria. The Allies already rejected such claims in the autumn of 1945 and, despite further massive attempts by the South Tyrolese and Austria, a final negative decision was made in April 1946. The only way left open was for Austria and Italy to negotiate directly so that South Tyrol should obtain some form of self-government.

The “Paris Agreement” on 5 September 1946 was signed by the Italian Prime Minister and the Austrian Foreign Minister, and annexed to the peace treaty with Italy, so that the South Tyrol “question” was thereby given international standing.

This agreement provided, amongst other things, for Italy to give the Province of South Tyrol an autonomous legislative and executive power. After much protest and upheaval, little by little a whole package of measures to put the self-government into effect was agreed, and this was approved by a narrow majority of the South Tyrolese People’s Party at its Congress in 1969 and thereafter by the Italian and Austrian governments.

South Tyrol received addition special provisions regarding the use of the mother tongue, schools, culture, bilingualism, and ethnic proportions in employment, etc.

The Provincial Government of South Tyrol has been given a “dynamic autonomy”.

In 2001, a final series of important reforms on the constitutional level went into effect.  The two provinces (of South Tyrol and Trentino) were given the power of electoral legislation and free choice of the government form (for example the direct election of the president of the regional government).

The Mixed Identity

This mixed identity comes through in the wine marketing as well.  While being represented by the Italian Trade Board, the primary language is German, and the food more Austrian: no pasta, lots of lovely dumplings and sauerkraut. Menus are in German. Winery signs are in German. Wine labels are usually in German in situ. But exports to the US have English (and Italian) labels.  The people typically speak German dialect as a first language, learn Italian in school and then add another language later.

All of this makes Alto Adige a fascinating place.  It doesn’t really feel Italian, nor really look Italian.  The region lies within a ring of mountains, creating a dramatic bowl-like effect.  Flying into Bolzano is gorgeous, with the Dolomites showing off their majesty.

But being in Alto Adige seems like being in Austria. And that’s just what they want you to think.

The Best Wines

Laimburg Research Center wines
Pinot Bianco Classico Estate 2009

A steely wine with notes of pineapple, apple and minerals.  Good depth of flavor, strong acidity, and nicely balanced with some length.

Pinot Bianco “Rayèt” 2007

Muted apple nose; palate shows high acidity balanced with broad apple and mineral flavors in a slightly broad, oxidative style. Good length.

Riesling 2008

Classic Riesling nose filled with floral notes, schist, and peach.  Lots of acidity, apricot and peach flavors showing good depth, and nice length.

A restrained nose of earth, a bit of oak and cherry; a focused palate of cherries, bright acidity and length.  A complex, very attractive wine.

Col de Rey 2005

A blend of Tannat, Lagrein and Petit Verdot that shows an earthy, black fruited nose; black fruits supported by acidity, with fine tannins and very long length.

Erste & Neue  coop
Puntay Lagrein Riserva 2007

A pretty, earthy and cherries nose; palate shows a depth of cherry flavor, a strong backbone of acidity, and very good integration.

Tiefenbrunner
Mueller-Thurgau 2009

Aromas of mineral, lemon and white peach; high acid supports a good depth of creamy lemon and peach, nice minerality, and a very long finish.

Lagrein 2008

Minerals and black fruit on the nose; lots of black fruit supported by bright acidity; chocolate; sweet fine tannins and lots of length.

Lagrein Riserva “Linticlarus” 2007

A big wine!  Loads of concentrated black fruit and supporting acidity; focused, complex wine.  Also present are fine dense tannins, integrated oak and amazing long length.

St. Michael-Eppen (also known as St. Michele-Appiano) coop
Pinot Bianco Selection 2009

This single vineyards wine showed a creamy apple and mineral nose with a creamy palate of apple and minerals, with good length.

St. Valentin 2009 Sauvignon Blanc

The nose offered a mineral-based expression with a bit of pyrazine, with a palate that showed a good depth of grassy flavors backed by acid, some complexity and long length.

J. Hofstätter
Pinot Nero Barthenau 1993

A complex, slightly evolved nose of red fruit, with some earthiness and leafiness; bright acidity, a good depth of evolved red fruit, silky texture and long length.

Pinot Nero Barthenau 2007

The nose was a bit muted, but offered earthy red fruit; firm acid supported a good concentration of tightly wound, earthy red fruit ; silky texture;  long length.  Very serious wine.

Gewürztraminer Kolbenhof 1993

A honeyed gold color showing aromas of honey, honeysuckle, and lots of complexity; moderate acid supported a very floral and mineral palate with a slight butterscotch flavor, apricots, and long length.

Gewürztraminer Kolbenhof 2008

Very floral nose; a floral palate that is very round, a broad palate that offers complex peach and mineral flavors.  Long length.  Lovely!

Manincor
Moscato Giallo 2009

An orange blossom, nutmeg and mineral nose; a fresh, bright palate offering nutmeg, floral notes, and a lovely long finish tinged with mineral.

Mason Pinot Nero 2008

A light expression of the grape, with a muted nose; the palate offered bright cherry fruit supported by moderate acid; fine dense tannins; some complexity and long length.

Lagrein Rubatsch 2008

The nose offered muted earthy black fruit; the palate showed firm acidity supporting a good depth of blackberry and licorice flavors, and very long length.  The wine was slightly green but that did not detract from its charm.

Castel Campan 2005

A blend of merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot; this wine was a lovely expression of red and black fruit, spice and leather notes; firm tannins. Red fruit and supporting acid were well integrated on the palate.  The wine showed a long length, if slightly marred by high alcohol on the finish.

Le Petit 2008

A Petit  Mensang dessert wine that showed apricot and mango character, high acid balanced by a rich broad palate with apricot and mango flavors, and long length.  The wine shows a lot of elegance.

Terlano Coop
Chardonnay 1994

This wine saw 10 year on its lies; 1 in botti and in stainless for 9 years.  The gold color smelled a bit of oak.  The palate was round and very creamy, with a moderate depth of flavor, and a bit of length.  It was very interesting wine.

Alto Adige, Austria, Italy