From the snow-capped peaks of the Dolomites and the Alps, water trickles off glaciers down into steep-walled fertile alpine valleys where small villages and their vineyards beg to be photographed against the stunning backdrop of one of the world's most impressive mountain ranges. Snug between Austria and Switzerland, the northernmost part of Italy hosts some of the most stunning vineyard landscapes in the world. With an official name of Trentino-Alto Adige/Sudtirol, but usually shortened to Alto Adige (also the name of its best known DOC wine region), this region of both German and Italian speaking residents is primarily known for its bright, crisp or aromatic white wines, though its red wines are gradually also becoming better known.
For me Alto Adige remains the one place in Italy I expect to get good Gewurztraminer and Pinot Grigio. The former is grown few other places, and the latter achieves a minerality and purity there that puts to shame the often flabby renditions from farther south. And while I love the whites, I am also enamored of the local red grape Schiava, which can make quite pretty, if perhaps a little uncomplicated, red wines that have a charming brisk berry quality to them as well as a bit of stony minerality. Alto Adige has long been a producer of Pinot Noir, and while not everyone does a good job with the grape there are a few producers who are making excellent Pinot there, perhaps chief among them, J. Hofstatter.
Like many wine regions around the world, the Alto Adige wine region has learned the benefit of marketing itself as a region, and regularly tours the world under the banner of its latest campaign "Discover Italian Wines at their Peak." Last week about forty producers from the region made a stop in San Francisco to pour their wines for the press and the trade, and I stopped by for a while to do some tasting.
While there were some wines I wasn't particularly impressed with, in general the quality of the wines was quite high, and very few of the wines, even those that were merely ordinary, suffered from excessive oak usage or excessive extract.
Less well known than most regions of Italy, and lacking the really robust red wines many consumers expect from the country, Alto Adige can be a source of excellent bargains for lovers of white wine. I am in the habit of tasting wines, taking my notes, and then asking for prices after the fact, and I was constantly surprised to hear some wines I really enjoyed come in under $20.
Below you'll find all the wines I tasted (I didn't get to every wine in the room as I didn't have as much time as I would like), and some notes on my favorites. Prices quoted were as provided by the wineries or their representatives.
WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2010 Abbazia di Novacella Gewurztraminer $28
Light gold in the glass, this wine has an exceptionally beautiful nose of rose petal, orange peel and wet stone aromas. In the mouth those floral and orange zest flavors continue, with a more complex note of wet rocks and wet leaves underneath. Fantastically balanced, with etched delicate acidity, the wine has a great presence. Dry. click to buy.
2010 Abbazia di Novacella "Praepositus" Kerner $28
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of pink grapefruit, and in the mouth it is just a pink grapefruit explosion. Bright, gorgeous, tangy grapefruit flavors mix with pomelo zest, and juice, and the raw fruit itself, all underlaid by a bright mineral note. Balanced and beautiful. Dry. click to buy.
WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2010 Abbazia di Novacella "Praepositus " Sylvaner $28
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine has a zippy citrusy aroma. In the mouth bright lemon and lime flavors mix with hints of orange peel, wet stones and a wonderful crisp salinity that is quite disarming. Delicious. Wonderful balance, excellent acidity. click to buy.
2009 Cantina Terlano "Vorberg Riserva" Pinot Bianco $40
Palest of gold in the glass, this wine has a crisp mineral and lemon zest nose, which is echoed in flavors, combined with a lovely floral essence that comes through in the finish. Nice acidity. Very pretty wine. click to buy.
2011 Castelfeder "Raif" Sauvignon $18
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of cucumber and cut green grass. In the mouth gooseberry and cucumber flavors mix with great acidity and an ever-so-faintly-sweet herbal note that lingers in the finish.
2009 J. Hofstatter "Barthenau Vigna S. Michele" Pinot Bianco $46
Pale gold in the glass this wine smells of wet stones, lemon zest, and a grassy greenness. In the mouth crisp lemon and wet stone flavors have a zingy, tangy brightness to them, livened by excellent acidity. Refreshing and delicious.
2010 J. Hofstatter "Kolbenhof" Gew├╝rztraminer $50
Pale gold in the glass with green highlights, this wine smells of orange peel and rose petals. In the mouth wet stone and waxy floral and orange peel flavors swirl in a bright, zingy body. Great acidity and wonderful length. click to buy.
2006 Cantina Terlano "Vorberg Riserva" Pinot Bianco $40
2009 Cantina Terlano "Quarz " Sauvignon Blanc $60. click to buy.
2008 Cantina Terlano "Nova Domus " White Blend $60. click to buy.
2007 Cantina Terlano "Lunare " Gew├╝rztraminer $60.
2011 Castelfeder "Lahn" Kerner $18.
2011 J. Hofstatter Pinot Bianco $19. click to buy.
2009 San Michele Appiano "Sanct Valentin" Pinot Grigio $47. click to buy.
2010 Tramin "Stoan" White Blend $35.
2009 Valle Isarco "Aristos" Kerner, Eisacktaler $30.
WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2010 Colterenzio "Prail Praedium" Sauvignon Blanc $24
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine has a wonderful floral quality. In the mouth flavors of green apple, wet stones, and white flowers mix in a well balanced package. Nice acidity. click to buy.
2010 Cantina Terlano "Terlaner Classico" White Blend $17
2009 Cantina Terlano "Vorberg Riserva" Pinot Bianco $40
2011 Castelfeder "Vom Lehm" Gew├╝rztraminer $22
2011 Erste + Neue M├╝ller Thurgau $16
2011 Erste + Neue Sauvignon Blanc $17
2011 J. Hofstatter Pinot Grigio $19
2009 Kurtatsch-Cortaccia "Brenntal Riserva " Gew├╝rztraminer $21
2010 Manincor "Sophie" Chardonnay, Terlano $32
2010 Peter Zemmer " Cortinie" White Blend $20
2010 San Michele Appiano Pinot Bianco $20
2010 San Michele Appiano "Sanct Valentin" Sauvignon $47
2010 Valle Isarco Kerner, Eisacktaler $22
2010 Valle Isarco "Aristos" Sylvaner, Eisacktaler $28
WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2010 Abbazia di Novacella Sylvaner $20
2010 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner $20
2010 Cantina Andriano Pinot Bianco $19
2011 Cantina Terlano Pinot Grigio $22
2010 Cantina Terlano "Winkl" Sauvignon Blanc $30
2011 Erste + Neue Weissburgunder $16
2010 H. Lentsch Goldmuskateller, S├╝dtirol $19
2010 Lahnhof Pinot Bianco, S├╝dtirol $19
2010 Lahnhof Sauvignon, S├╝dtirol $22
2010 Manincor "R├ęserve della Contessa" White Blend, Terlano $22
2010 Manincor "di Lieben Aich" Sauvignon, Terlano $32
2011 Peter Zemmer Pinot Bianco $17
2010 San Michele Appiano "Montiggl" Riesling $27
2009 San Michele Appiano " Sanct Valentin" Chardonnay $47
2010 Tramin "Unterebner" Pinot Grigio $30
2010 Tramin Pinot Bianco $15
2010 Tramin Sauvignon $18
2010 Tramin Gew├╝rztraminer $21
2010 Valle Isarco "Aristos" Pinot Grigio, Eisacktaler $27
WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2010 Abbazia di Novacella Pinot Grigio $20
2007 Arunda Sparkling Winery "BdB" $35
2010 Cantina Andriano Pinot Grigio $20
2008 Castelfeder "Burgum Novum Riserva" Chardonnay $35
2009 Colterenzio "Weisshaus Praedium " Pinot Bianco $27
2007 Colterenzio "Formigar Cornell " Chardonnay $41
2010 H. Lentsch "Fuchslahn" Gew├╝rtztraminer, S├╝dtirol $28
2010 Lahnhof " Eisacktal " Kerner, Valle Isarco DOC
2010 Lahnhof Gew├╝rztraminer, S├╝dtirol
2010 San Michele Appiano Pinot Grigio $20
2010 Tiefenbrunner "Kirchleiten " Sauvignon $30
2010 Tiefenbrunner Gew├╝rztraminer $22
2011 Tramin Pinot Grigio $15
WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
NV Arunda Sparkling Winery "Arunda Brut" $27
2010 Cantina Andriano "Floreado " Sauvignon Blanc $23
2008 Cantina Andriano "Movado" Gew├╝rztraminer $47
2010 Colterenzio Pinot Grigio $17
2010 H. Lentsch "Eichberg" Veltliner, S├╝dtirol $28
2011 Kurtatsch-Cortaccia Pinot Grigio $10
2011 Kurtatsch-Cortaccia Pinot Bianco $10
2010 Manincor Moscato Giallo, Terlano $22
2011 Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio $16
2011 Peter Zemmer Riesling $17
2010 Tiefenbrunner Pinot Bianco $16
2010 Tiefenbrunner Chardonnay $15
2010 Valle Isarco Pinot Grigio, Eisacktaler $20
WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8
2010 Cantina Andriano "Somereto " Chardonnay $19
2011 Castel Sallegg Moscato Giallo $17
WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 7.5 AND 8
2011 Kurtatsch-Cortaccia Sauvignon $12
WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 7.5
2011 Castel Sallegg Pinot Grigio $18
2010 Tiefenbrunner "Feldmarschall " Muller Thurgau $35
RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2011 Castel Sallegg "Lago di Caldaro Scelto Classico " Sciava, Bischofsleiten DOC $15
Pale ruby in the glass, this wine smells of bright, sweet berries -- strawberry and cherry. In the mouth that brightness continues, with juicy acid-driven strawberry flavors tinged with cherry, and a nice wet stone/wet earth undertone that adds complexity, though not too much. This is a joyous wine, bright and happy.Faint tannins linger through a moderate finish.
2009 Castel Sallegg "Riserva" Lagrein $27
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of cherries and a hint of strawberries. In the mouth, cherry and sour cherry fruit mixes with other berry flavors amidst powdery tannins that linger with strawberry notes in the finish. click to buy.
RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2010 Abbazia di Novacella "Kalterersee" Schiava $15
Pale garnet in color, this wine smells of bright red berries. In the mouth raspberry and cherry flavors mix with strawberry notes and soft tannins that float over a stonier quality that lingers in the finish. click to buy.
2010 Abbazia di Novacella Pinot Nero $24
2009 Cantina Terlano "Montigl Riserva" Pinot Noir $40
2009 J. Hofstatter "Barthenau Vigna S. Urbano " Pinot Nero $71
2010 Peter Zemmer "Reserve" Lagrein $25
RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2010 Abbazia di Novacella Lagrein $20
2009 H. Lentsch "Bachgart" Blauburgunder, S├╝dtirol $28
2010 J. Hofstatter "Meczan " Pinot Nero $20
2010 Tramin Pinot Nero $20
2010 Valle Isarco Pinot Nero, Eisacktaler $23
RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2010 Peter Zemmer Pinot Noir $19
2010 Peter Zemmer Lagrein $19
2009 San Michele Appiano Pinot Nero $22
RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
2009 Manincor " R├ęserve del Conte " Red Blend, Terlano $25
NV Arunda Sparkling Winery "Arunda Rose" $27
RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8
2009 Manincor "Mason" Pinot Nero, Terlano $35
2010 Tiefenbrunner "Turmhof " Pinot Nero $25