Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Exciting Indigenous Red Grapes of Alto Adige

Trentino/Alto Adige is high on my list of bucket list wine regions to visit. This autonomous region in northeastern Italy seems like a unique crossroads, and it fascinates me with its mix of Italian and Germanic cultures and dynamic terrain. With vines planted in varied soils at elevations between 600 and 3,300 feet, indigenous and international varieties that thrive here, and the wines are something special. 

I recent read and
reviewed Jason Wilson’s book “Godforsaken Grapes,” and he spends a good amount of time exploring Alto Adige (also called Südtirol or South Tyrol). I was reading the book as I was tasting through some Alto Adige wines made from the indigenous Schiava (also called Vernatsch) and Lagrein grapes, and was shouting “Amen!” to myself as he ranted about the excitement available from these wines.

Vineyards in Alto Adige. Photo Credit: Florian Andergassen.
The region is relatively small (producing less than 4 million cases of wine a year) and perhaps a bit confusing for some consumers. The names of the winegrowing zones and grapes sound a bit odd, and everything seems to be called by at least two names. That said, if you’re up for exploration, there is a ton of delicious and exceptional wine coming out of Alto Adige.

While whites make up 60% of the wine grown here (led by Pinot Grigio, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay), I recently jumped on the chance to taste some reds from Alto Adige. Schiava is such a cool grape, making lighter-styled wines with juicy red fruits and delicious spicy, earthy notes. Lagrein makes more velvety, cherry-driven wines with cool black tea, leathery, clove elements. Both delight me with their food-friendly appeal and drinkability, and I use that term in the best sense of the word. And, considering these wines aren’t exactly big collector’s items, the prices can be very reasonable.

Below are my notes on a few Alto Adige reds, which I received as samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Abbazia di Novacella Schiava - Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige, Valle Isarco/Eisacktaler
SRP: $17
Gorgeous light strawberry color. Nose boasts red apple, raspberries, with rhubarb, rose petals, this is bright and crunchy and spicy. Medium/light-bodied with crisp, lip-smacking acidity and a pure and bright aesthetic. Strawberries, raspberries, red apple peel, the fruit is tangy and bright and laced with cranberry spiced jam, tobacco smoke and an interesting earthy-mushroom note. Lovely, brisk, bright, Schiava (also known as Trollinger and Vernatsch) is such a damned fun grape! All stainless steel. (90 points)

2015 Franz Gojer - Glögglhof Rondell - Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige, St. Magdalener
SRP: $26
Medium ruby color. Aromas of roses, violets, rhubarb and clove topped in juicy black cherries and ripe raspberries. A delightfully sour wine with dusty tannins and bright acidity, almost reminds me of a framoise lambic beer. Sour raspberries and cherries mix with spiced tea, rose hips, rhubarb, bay leaf and ginger notes. So delightful and fresh, this is so “drinkable” in the best sense of the word but it also has some structure. Mostly Schiava with some Lagrein blended in. Stainless steel fermentation, aged in large, old oak. (89 points)

2015 Castelfeder Lagrein Rieder - Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige, Südtirol
SRP: $18
Light purple color. Nose explodes with tart currants, black cherries, lots of lavender, grilled herbs, black pepper, a smoky-leathery note, too. Mediu-bodied, medium tannins, refreshing acidity, this wine is wrapped together nicely with juicy red and black cherries and plums. Lots of spicy, herbal tea notes (black pepper, bay leaf, black tea) with some campfire smoke and leather. Could age for a few or benefit from a decant, but this is a very pretty, delicious Lagrein. (89 points)

2016 Muri-Gries Lagrein - Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige, Südtirol
SRP: $17
Light purple color. Peppery burst on the nose with anise, grilled herbs and dry rub spices on top of black cherries and violets. Medium-bodied, balanced nicely with a light dose of tannins and medium acidity. Pure black cherry, tart plum, lots of pepper and clove, leather and smoke, campfire and coffee grounds. Very nice, delicious, complex stuff, this is great now but could actually age for a few years, too. (89 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

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