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Friday, March 5, 2010

Alto Adige - When are Austrians really Italian?

It became part of Italy in 1919, its official languages are both German and Italian, and it had Gewurztraminer growing there 1,000 years ago. Give up? Ok, it really is Alto Adige. The Export Organization of Alto Adige made an extremely nice presentation March 2nd in San Francisco, featuring a brief seminar followed by a tasting. Though the suits were not as nice as those worn at the Tre Bicchieri tasting, the Germanic organization skills were far superior. Also of note: three of five panelists were named "Wolfgang". Surely a good omen.

Wine wise, Alto Adige has several things going for it. Its grape-growing areas have good altitude, a surprising amount of sunlight with moderate rain and weather, and a good mix of soil types amenable to quality vines. Most likely it is Lagrein, the surprisingly dark red varietal possibly indigenous to the area that most wine aficionados are familiar. It is rumored to be possibly related to Syrah, and there is something to the fuzzy, robust and violet purple tannin that seems a kindred spirit. But, if you appreciate whites, and you know you should, here is a little secret: the best Pinot Blanc/Biancos in possibly the whole world are found here. In fact, as a closet Pinot Blanc whore, these are some of the best. The Gewurztraminer sings, as well as much Sauvignon Blanc.

Alto Adige whites have a strong similarity with Alsatian whites. But, the Alsatians tend toward greater richness, and maybe a bit more residual sugar, while the Adigians have an added mineral dimension much of the time and a little less on the body front. Aging regimens are similar with fermentations in stainless, then aging in large oak on the less for added body. One Pinot Bianco tasted could have been mistaken for a turbo-charged Viognier with a full tropical honey glycerol booyah palate. The majority though maintain an appealing lean-ness with a medium-plus mid palate that somehow works and is well integrated. The acid levels are perhaps a touch light at times, but usually the balance is such that acid is never questioned; neither too low or too high, but integrated. The Sauvignon Blancs sit on a surprisingly ripe aromatic spectrum, with some of the nose of our own Lake County whites. Of particular notes was Tramin's Gewurztraminer Nussbaumer 2008; the most incredible nose ever.

The reds focused on Pinot Nero and Lagrein, and Schiava's conspicuous absence indicated that this varietal, though occasionally enjoyable, is on its way out. The Pinot tends toward the austere side with a strong mineral finish. Lagrein is a bit of an enigma as a noble variety. It holds its acid and is tannic, ripeness is important and moderate oak use is involved in working with the potential astringency, though it seems a more lax grape that some Sangiovese. The curiosity of Lagrein is that for all of its rich skin and dark purple phenolics, the lacking flesh produces a hollowness in the wines, as if the juice has been too heavily saigneed off, resulting in too much skin to flesh, sometimes leaving a big hole right down the middle - something that oak can help to close. It has nice fruit and spice, but it can lack backbone in a very interesting way. It can be off kilter in a very interesting way though, and interesting trumps most other qualities any day.

As for winery updates, pruning is largely finished, and if you have read this far, maybe you can help with another question: would you like to see Fiano or Vermentino from us? Either is possible.
Some wines will get first rackings and we need to start prepping for the Negro Amaro that is soon to arrive. The year old vines are ready for their first pruning, meaning that the roots have a year on them and we hope that a dominant cane will push up and become the trunk for to-be trained vines

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