Tremendous Value in Alto Adige
I love wines from Alto Adige. Lodged between the rest of Italy and Austria - with a sliver of its borders against Switzerland, the region’s producers craft wines with Italian exuberance and Austrian precision. Moreover, the dynamics of the Alpine duo of chilly temperatures and sunshine taste delicious in the glass.
In the US, we most often see the whites of Alto Adige. However, 40% of the region is planted to red varieties. So, I was eager to taste when I recently had the chance to sit down with a few reds and a token white. None of them should be missed, especially if you are value shopping.
Abbazia di Novacella 2016 St. Magdalener 12.5% $17
Bright and crunchy with zippy acidity yet smooth with ripe red fruits, this 90% Schiava (locally called Vernatsch) and 10% Lagrein bottling has amazing energy! It tastes of dried cranberries and red currants. Its aromas offer a touch of woodsiness, but nothing seems rustic at all. Rather, there is a decided precision of fruit purity and balance. Every element is so perfectly aligned, it’s incredibly easy to enjoy. This unoaked bottling is an excellent wine for casual moments with lighter cuisine or for warmer months. ("*" indicates a favorite wine!)
(Kellerei Schreckbichl) Colterenzio 2016 St. Magdalener 12.5% $14
This is 95% Schiava (a.k.a. Vernatsch) and 5% Lagrein. Is it the 5% Lagrein or the winery’s style that makes the difference here? It is a brooding wine in comparison to the Abbazia di Novacella’s wine with 10% Lagrein. This one is packed with underbrush and damp forest floor aromas competing with black cherries and licorice. It takes a few minutes once opened for the wine to start unleashing its layers. The fruits taste of tart cherries, dried cranberries and pomegranate arils. There’s a big mid-palate of smooth fruit accompanied by creamy tannins and zippy acidity. It’s absolutely astonishing that mountain-grown fruit can come in a package this inexpensive! This definitely over-delivers in the quality-for-value category.
Erste + Neue 2015 Kalterersee-Lago di Caldaro Classico Superiore 12.5% $19
This 100% Schiava is limpid and understated. It is so pale that it almost looks like a dark rosato! Serving it at cellar temperature emphasizes its delicate notes, particularly the floral and lavender tones. The blueberry fruit on the palate is almost fragile; it is so pure and gentle. The tannins are subtle and almost hidden until the finish, when they come bursting out to firm up and lightly dry the palate. This is a “quiet” wine with both structure and grace. It seems a bit tight straight out of the bottle, so I would give it an hour of decanting or let it sit in bottle another six months.
St. Pauls 2016 Sauvignon Gfill 13.5% $13
Sauvignon (Blanc) was introduced in South Tyrol at end of 19thcentury, and its expression is distinctly different in these high altitudes. (That is true of all Alto Adige whites. They have plenty of body, lots of acidity and expansive aromas.) Not surprisingly, this palate is DYNAMIC with oodles of yellow grapefruit zest, vigorous white pepper spice and lightly earthy lentil inflections. Medium-plus in body, the firm palate has a lovely, pithy grip that focuses the wine along with its bright acidity. The lingering finish offers nuances of wet river rock and savory chicken, likely a result of its five to seven months of lees aging. I assumed this was a $20-24 wine when I tasted it, so I was happily stunned to see the wine’s retail price. Buy! Buy! Buy!