I just got back from what may have been one of the highest blind tastings I have done in a while. I was on top of a mountain overlooking the town of Merano in the wine region of Alto Adige. I came up for a few days with my two children to hang out with friends as well as check out some new wines that my friend and sommelier Marco Unterhauser was raving about. He knows that I am a huge fan of the whites of Alto Adige, which I believe on a whole is the best white wine region of Italy. I try to make it up to his workplace, the Romantik Hotel Oberwirt, at least once or twice a year to check out the wine scene and chill with him and owner Joseph Waldner.
I had to hike for an hour and a half before I arrived at Marco’s tasting location in the mountain. It was in a tiny hunting lodge overlooking Merano and the valley below. He had the various Pinot Biancos, Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Grigios, Rieslings and others perfectly chilled with their labels hidden. Honestly, a cold beer sounded better than tasting through a few dozen whites after the mountain walk. But the sun was out, the air clean and my head fresh. My dog Archie was rolling around in the grass in front of the tasting room.
There are so many good producers in Alto Adige, from small, single-vineyard estates to large cooperatives of hundreds of tiny vine growers. And the prices are excellent. You can find 90-point bottles for less than $20 a bottle. They are aromatic, fresh and full of character. Some of my favorites are the base wines of the cooperative of Terlano as well as entry wines such as Pinot Grigio from Tiefenbrunner.
A great illustration is the range of Sauvignon Blancs that I tasted today. I had one that was a dead ringer for a Sancere with its minerally, fennel seed and lemon character, while another was like a New Zealand version, with the cat's pee and celery overtones. Meanwhile, a range of Rieslings brought me to the Pfalz in Germany as well as Alsace. What diversity and dynamism in a region. Some of the new names that turned me on included Castel Juval, Gumphof, Peter Solva & Sohne and Kofererhof. Full notes are on the way.
Do yourself a favor and check out wines from the Alto Adige. You won’t be disappointed and many of the recent and very good 2008 vintage wines are now on the market. Their fresh, crisp and characterful style is perfect for the summer.