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High on Alto Adige

Posted: Jul 29, 2009 1:12pm ET

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.

Chris A Elerick
Orlando, FL —  July 29, 2009 4:51pm ET
cat's pee??? i've never heard nz sb described as smelling like cat's pee!! :)
Jim Mccusker
Okemos, MI —  July 29, 2009 4:55pm ET
James - My wife and I became huge fans of the whites from Alto Adige during a 4-month stay in Florence last year. On the whole they were just terrific (particularly the pinot biancos - a 2006 from Terlano stands out in my mind - but also some cool little wines whose names I can't recall that we sampled at Le Volpe e l'uva just south of the Ponte Vecchio). They're really unlike anything that I've tried from any other region (in Italy or elsewhere). Great stuff!
Tom J Wilson
Canada —  July 29, 2009 5:16pm ET
James;Thank you for the advice.What about the reds, what do you think ?I do like their Lagrein and Pinot Nero.Is there a recomended producer ?
Filippo Recchi
Florence, Italy —  July 30, 2009 9:20am ET
Tom, I am a big fan of the Tiefenbrunner Lagrein reserve (but hey, you can't go wrong with Tiefenbrunner). On the other hand I have been disappointed with the Hofstatter Pinot Noirs: I found their basic Riserva Mazon to be somewhat unispiring and even their famed St Urbano Cru did not completely impress me. Another great red is San Leonardo, but it's from Trentino, not Alto Adige. But still great elegant brodeaux blend. One last note on Tiefenbrunner: I recently had their 99 Chardonnay Linticlarus.....a real stunner! And a bargain too.
James R Biddle
Dayton, OH —  July 30, 2009 9:31am ET
I totally agree with James and Jim. The wines of Alto Adige (especially from Terlano) consistently hit the sweet spot of higher quality and lower prices--something hard to find in many Italian wines these days. And Jim--having spent 4-5 days a week for the previous two summers at Le Volpe e l'uva, I would add that anyone wanting an informative education in great Italian wines (and a few French thrown in for fun) from small producers should plan to spent their afternoons at this enoteca. My only regret is that most of these wines aren't available in the USA.chin-chin and ciao!
James Suckling
 —  July 30, 2009 10:23am ET
I have been a big fan of Terlano and J. Hofstatter Lagreins. The 2003 and 2004 are super!
Roberto A Rojas
Costa Rica —  July 30, 2009 11:06am ET
James that sounds like my kind of hike!!!! nice....
Adam Krieger
July 30, 2009 12:32pm ET
James, I used to work in the wine business in Vail Colorado and was often surprised by the comments of wine producers when they would taste their wines there. They often said that their wines had never tasted so good and many attributed the heightened flavor quality to the altitude. Have you found this to be the case. Also, having looked at a bottle of Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio 2008 recently I was surprised to see the Venezia Giulia ? designation on the label. Are the grapes no longer coming from the Alto Adige?Cheers
Jim Mccusker
Okemos, MI —  July 30, 2009 2:34pm ET
I'd like to echo James Biddle's recommendation: for any readers planning a trip to Florence, Le Volpe e l'uva is a terrific place to stop in. They typically have about 10 different whites and another 10 or so reds that you can have by the glass, ranging in price from 3-7 euros. One of our favorite discoveries there were the wines of Emilio Bulfon (Della Venezia, I believe), who has made it his quest to resurrect near-extinct Italian varietals like sciaglin (white) and picolit neri (red). I'd also recommend Enoteca Ponte Vecchio (just south of Santa Croce cathedral but still on the north side of the Arno River). The owner Tony Sasa loves having people come in to try some of the small production artisnal wines that he tracks down from all over Italy. Tony is very knowledgeable, speaks fluent english, and is a great host!
Tom J Wilson
Canada —  July 30, 2009 3:44pm ET
James;Yes, I do remember very well the 2001 Lagrein Riserva Porphyr from Terlano, what a excellent wine it was !@Filippo;For very good Pinot Nero, you should get some Bruno Gottardi, the Biondi Santi of Alto Adige...
Joseph Wilde
TX —  July 30, 2009 3:56pm ET
James, Thanks for your report on this region. I am also lucky enough to be living in Italy and visit the region on a regular basis. I try to buy an assortment of whites / reds every trip. The scenery is also absolutely fantastic. Just tonight I opened a bottle of Manni Nossing (Bressanone/Brixen) 2007 Kerner. It has such lovely melon fruit and fresh acidity. A great summer wine. I'm looking forward to seeing the tasting notes. Cheers!Joe Lumignano (VI), Veneto
Albert Jochems
The Netherlands —  July 31, 2009 3:01pm ET
I'm also a great fan of the whites from this region. My favourite producers are Cantino Terlano and Cantina Produttori San Michele Appiano.

It strikes me that in Northern Italy some cooperative producers are doing such a great job. An other producer that comes to mind is Produttori del Barbaresco in Piemonte.

James, do you have an oppinion on this? Is this a cultural thing?
Filippo Recchi
Florence, Italy —  August 3, 2009 12:12pm ET
Thanks Tom! I'll look for it.

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