In this report top chef and Buyer contributing editor Roger Jones explores the white wines of the Alto Adige region with a special focus on Gewürztraminer – so often tasting of ‘granny’s face powder’ but here in the most Northern part of Italy produced in a dry style wine with a delicate fragrance of lychees, crisp Turkish Delight, pink grapefruit, very fine perfume with a lovely fresh acidity. Jones also highlights wineries that had exceptional white wine and those making wines made from unusual varieties such as Solaris.
Jones recently visited South Tyrol as a guest of The Consortium of Alto Adige Wines [Südtirol Wein], for the bi annual Alto Adige Wine Summit. Keen to learn more about this region, Jones was suitably impressed by all aspects of the region – but, in particular, it was the white wines that stood out for him.
A short flight to Verona from Gatwick then a rather speedy 90-minute classic Italian ride in a bright yellow minibus brings us to Bolzano. Very quickly my six words of Italian were useless as this community speaks a German dialect, not quite Bavarian, although some of the dress code is. They are similar to Alsace when it comes to football where Alsace is divided between France and Germany – here it’s a straight battle between Italy and Germany for their support.
There was a real buzz as we were entertained on the first evening at the Maretsch Castle, with top chefs brought in to help us all celebrate the local food and drink. Over 100 global wine journalists, MWs and educators attended the three-day summit.
One often gets ear bashed with the term terroir, whether this relates to geography, geology, climate, and cultural or social factors.
Here it can be clearly defined by looking at the landscape; the breathtaking mountain and valley scenes, where the cold snap of the Alps meets the colourful Italian Mediterranean climate. Snow covered peaks overlook citrus trees, sunny skies and ice-cold winds.
The culture, a mix of Austria, Germany and Italy giving a lovely breadth to the style of wine; socially it’s all about food and glorious food with wine and music (it was an added bonus to some of us wine journalists who welcomed the late night music bands outside our hotel, to others it was not).
It was fascinating hiking high up the mountainous valleys and seeing the variety of soil type, slope and style of growing conditions. This gave a far better impression of the region as a whole rather than the forum held during the conference on one of the mornings, which at times was more akin to a House of Commons debate – some strong views being expressed without a combined team marketing plan or (dare I say?) listening to the audience questions.
There were still arguments on what to call the region – South Tyrol, Alto Adige, Sudtirol or Trentino. There were also discussions on extending (or not) the grape verities. But despite these little political disruptions I was very impressed with what this region can produce and its amazing hospitality.
Another hugely important aspect of this region is the quality of their cooperatives, which produce world class wine that is no mean thing when dealing with so many growers.
98% of wines produced here are DOC level, which is unique in Italy. 62% of production is white, with Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay showcasing well.
Gewürztraminer is pretty special here and the Alto Adige winegrowing village of Tramin (Termeno in Italian, or Traminer in German) seems to have lent its name to this charismatic wine grape, according to the locals.
Gewürztraminer is far more than the poor imitations that we sometimes get that can taste of ‘granny’s face powder’, this is a style that is superb not only as an aperitif but fabulous with all types of fine food.
Can we compare these Gewürztraminers to the ones from Alsace? Yes, in that there are marked differences in my mind, firstly the classification here in Alto Adige only goes up to Reserve so no Grand Cru, the majority of ageing is in stainless steel or neutral oak, hence they are best drinking younger with a capacity to shine up to five years old. However, there is a new format that some are experimenting with and that is ageing in old silver mines for up to six years. On the whole it’s the drier style they produced with a delicate fragrance; lychees, crisp Turkish Delight, pink grapefruit, very fine perfume with a lovely fresh acidity.
Tasting of Gewürztraminer
I was lucky enough to be taken on a bespoke Gewürztraminer mini-tour of vineyards and to meet some of the leading winemakers over lunch; here are some of the many highlights:
Kellerei Kurtatsch, Sudtirol Gewürztraminer 2018
This to me gives a complete outlook for Alto Adige and their style, fresh and vibrant, clean precision, bright purity, lovely harmony from mountain herbaceous floral tones to delicate exotic fruit base with that crisp alpine finishes. I would drink this anytime, with or without food with or without company, it is just that perfect glass brimming with confidence but restrained in its expression.
Kellerei Kurtatsch, Sudtirol Gewürztraminer Riserva Brenntal 2016
Complete contrast to the youthful 2018 this wine was richly textured with yellow plums, lovely complexity and depth searching out for that saffron risotto. Rich on he mid palate but the finish has a lovely moreish acidity, which enhances the experience especially with food.
Weingut Ritterhof, Sudtirol Gewürztraminer Auratus 2018
Auratus means gold, and this wine had a golden expression, it was fresh focussed and clean, a balance between lychees and yellow mountain flowers and herbs. It is full flavoured but the freshness from the acidity cleans the finish.
Tiefenbrunner – Schlosskellerei Turmhof, Sudtirol Gewürztraminer Selida 2017
Focused, some minerality, smart clean and bright. This has a lovely balance between retrained spices and elegant stone fruit, there is a complexity and lift to this wine that elevates it.
Tiefenbrunner – Schlosskellerei Turmhof, Sudtirol Gewürztraminer Tardus Spatlese 2015
Wow this was pretty special, golden colour, textured and luscious, deep depth of flavours. Lychees, white flowers, crisp fresh acidity at the end to produce a pretty complete wine. Yes the grapes are ripe but this layered wine carries them well and would sit well on any fine dining table.
Kellerei Tramin, Sudtirol Gewürztraminer Selida 2018
Focused, nutty, dry aromatics, fresh and good minerals. Multi flavoured with roses, spiced herbs & flowers, passion fruit and rich on the palate with delicate spices and acidity.
Kellerei Tramin, Sudtirol Gewürztraminer Nussbaumer 2017
Rose petals, mango, passion fruit, lychees, ginger and saffron all combine to give a rich textured wine that has that alpine freshness to balance and produce such a gold star wine.
Kellerei Tramin, Sudtirol Gewürztraminer Epokale 2012 & 2013
I was lucky to try this wine quite a few times on the trip and look at 2 vintages. This had been aged for 6 years in the old Ridanna Monteneve silver mine in constant 11% temperature, 90% humidity at 2,000 m altitude. Richly textured, layers of fruit and spice, mellow, silky and lingering.
Elena Walch, Sudtirol Gewürztraminer Vigna Kastelaz Argentum Bonum 2013
Another wine aged in the silver mine, with the classic restrained elegance, golden colour, rich yellow plums balanced with minerals and delicate floral tones, this has aged well.
Weingut Loacker, Mitterberg Gewürztraminer Atagis 2018
Clean, spritz, fresh and lively, gentle aromatics and soft tropical fruits, easy drinking
Eisackteler Kellerei, Gewürztraminer Aristos 2018
Aromatic, fresh clove and vanilla. This is spiced focused and vibrant.
Cantina Girlan, Gewürztraminer Flora 2018
Quite and outstanding wine with a touch of stem ginger, dried rose buds, ripe fruit with an intense but clean purity.
Unusual grape verities – Solaris
This was new to me, but gaining popularity in the UK and other cool climate regions, easy ripening and needs less sun than most grapes.
Weinberg Dolomiten Solaris Sichlburg 2018
This was super expressive, touch of Riesling flavour but great focus and minerals, wet stone and that piercing freshness.
This was an outstanding century old winery, and over dinner with the wine maker and family member Anton Von Longo I tried many of his wines both white and red, very special.
Bergkellerei Passeier, Weibwein Giovo 2017
This was a blend of Solaris with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, split 3 ways, it was textured and layered whilst the Solaris gave it that forward drive he chardonnay texture and Sauvignon spice and fruit.
Specific Wineries with exceptional white wines
Alois Lageder, Pinot Grigio Porer 2018
Wow this is a pretty serious grown up Pinot Grigio, focused clean and that perfect minerality, that clean fresh mountain spring water across wet stones. Some skin contact and whole bunch gives it that serious outlook, tangerine hits lush peaches with restraint.
Top and exciting young Cooperative and under their prestige Aristoslabel there are 9 wine bottling’s ranging from a peachy Muscat style Kerner with hints of apricot ice cream, to a aromatic spiced and floral Gruner Veltliner, to a vivacious Sylvanerwith mineral notes and sweet perfume.
Wine maker Andrea Huber, cultivates, presses and markets these wines, all white verities coming from Eisack Valley. They have a distinct minerality to them with a lovely fruit balance.
Gump Hof, Markus Prackwieser
Superb spiced Pinot Blanc Renaissance Reserve 2016, focused, deep intensity of ripe fruit, that lingers an age but in beautiful balance whilst the Sauvignon Reserve Renaissance 2016 is very much in the Pouilly Fume camp, that lingering delicate palate and superb beautifully feminine style.
The Reserve Flora 2017 with a trio of grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon – was textured, with bright lively stone fruit and a finish that was quite luxurious. The straight Sauvignon 2018 was akin to a Menetou Salon. The superb Gewürztraminer is already noted above.
Erste + Neue
The Pinot Blanc Puntay 2018 had some stem on he nose, and was quite funky, good acidity and lemon curd, zest, lots happening with a nice minerality, this will evolve beautifully. Whilst the Chardonnay was retrained and elegant the Sauvignon Puntay 2018 was a big, wild ferment type wine with stone fruit and tropical nuances, very New World.
New World style Sauvignon Stein 2018, lychees and tropical with a mineral finish, New World meets Old World. The Riesling Athos 2018 was the best Riesling I had over the three days – focused with a lovely purity, saline and savoury, excellent.
Weinberg Dolomiten Chardonnay Ateyon 2011
Seven years on lees, full malo, this was a star. Stunning, elegant Chardonnay, layers and layers of fruit and texture, delicate stone fruit, that classic wet river stone, touch of flint, lingers an age on the palate.
In conclusion a region of extreme powerful mountainous beauty, quite exceptional food, wines with great precision and clarity and wonderful generous hosts.