Examining the Age Worthiness of White Wines from Alto Adige

Last week I attended a tasting in Manhattan featuring the wines of Alto Adige. This region sits in the Italian Alps. Both red and white varieties are grown with white taking the lead at 55% of planted acreage. This two-part tasting included a walk around portion that featured tons of exciting new releases from a host of producers. Both red and white wines were showcased. That was the second part of the day; I’m going to focus on the first part. That initial piece was a 90 minute, sit-down seminar during which eight white wines were presented. The mission statement of the seminar was to illustrate the overall age-ability of white wines from Alto Adige. There are few regions in the world that produce white wines with the ability or intent of aging. The ones that have that capability however can often be transcendent. I was pretty curious to see how these wines would taste and if they really did have the as advertised potential for above average longevity. What follows are some brief thoughts about each of the eight wines we tasted. Nals Margreid 2007 Pinot Grigio Punggl DOC Alto Adige. This single vineyard wine is 100% Pinot Grigio. Half of the grapes for this wine were fermented and aged in large oak barrels, the other half in stainless steel tanks. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $24. The 2009 is the current vintage of this particular wine. The 2007 features lots of yellow fruit flavors throughout a round and sweet but well balanced palate. It shows off the juicy flavors that are prevalent with relatively small production Pinot Grigio treated with care; as opposed to the vast array of anonymous Pinot Grigio that hits US shelves by the boatload.

Franz Haas 2004 Cuvee Manna. This wine is a blend of Riesling, Chardonnay, Traminer Aromatico and Sauvignon Blanc. The fruit was sourced from four vineyards at altitudes of 350 to 850 meters. Each lot was picked and fermented separately. The Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc saw time in Barrique while the Riesling and Traminer Aromatico were fermented in steel. The blend was assembled at final fermentation and spent 10 months on yeasts prior to bottling. 50,000 bottles of this wine were made and at release it had a retail price of $40. The stated goal of this wine is the ability to pair with as wide an array of foods as possible. Apricots, and white cling peach characteristics are dominant on this wine which is driven by intense, fresh fruit flavors. There is a bit of honey on the finish. Ultimately this offering is layered with loads of complexity. For me this was one of the most interesting wines of the day.

San Michele Appiano 2006 Pinot Grigio Sanct Valentin DOC Alto Adige. This wine was sourced from vines with 25-40 years of age on them. The vineyards selected sit approximately 450 meters above sea level. This wine was aged in a combination of new (40%) and used (60%) barriques. This offering spent 11 months on yeast. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $35.99. Lilac, peach and a hint of petrol are all present in the nose of this wine. Apricots are prominent on the palate along with spices that carry through the finish along with minerals. This wine has terrific concentration of fruit and persistent, lingering and rather impressive length.

Caldro Castell Giovanelli 2007 Sauvignon DOC Alto Adige. The vines the fruit for this selection were sourced from average 5-10 years of age. This offering is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Fermentation and aging took place in oak casks. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $48. This wine is incredibly aromatic with citrus and melon fruit just exploding from the nose. The palate shows continued citrus in droves. Minerals are the story on the crisp, clean finish. This wine has racy, slightly zingy acidity.

Terlan Nova Domus 2005 Terlaner Riserva DOC Alto Adige. This wine is a blend of Pinot Blanc (60%), Chardonnay (30%), and Sauvignon Blanc (10%). The fruit was sourced from vineyards sitting between 350 and 500 meters above sea level. Fermentation took place in large oak casks (50%) and 500 Liter Tonneaux. The wine spent a year on the yeast. At release this offering had a suggested retail price of $55. Citrus and spice notes are both prominent on the finish of this wine. Stone fruits dominate the palate. The finish of this selection just goes on and on. For a 5 + year old white blend the fruit on this wine is incredibly fresh and vital. It just keeps beckoning you back for more.

Alois Lageder 2002 Chardonnay Lowengang DOC Alto Adige. The fruit for this wine was selected from vines with 40 to 60 years of age on them grown at vineyard sites sitting 260-450 meters above sea level. This was fermented using native yeasts. It was aged in a combination of new (50%) and used (50%) barriques. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $40. Apple, limestone and minerals are all present on this wine. Its overall style in many ways brings to mind aged Burgundy. The purity of fruit and length of finish are both impressive. 

Peter Zemmer 2006 Gewürztraminer Reserve DOC Alto Adige. This wine is 100% Gewürztraminer, Fermentation took place with pure strains of yeast in temperature controlled tanks. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $29. This wine is gloriously aromatic with spice and dried fruit and flower aromas emerging from the glass in droves. The palate of this wine is rich and layered with flavor; it's also impeccably balanced and incredibly in focus. The finish has prodigious length that features a particularly impressive spice component.

Tramin 2004 Gewürztraminer Nussbaumer DOC Alto Adige.  The Nussbaumer Estate Vineyards sit between 350 and 500 meters above sea level. This wine is 100% Gewürztraminer. Fruit for this wine was hand picked. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $35. Nectarine, lychee and hazelnuts fill the nose of this wine. Through the palate apricot and both white and yellow peach flavors are present in droves. This wine has a rich, layered and honeyed finish that lingers persistently. This wine has incredibly appealing flavors and you’ll be hard pressed to stop drinking this once you start.

The bottom line is that each of these selections was impressive in its own right. Taken as a group they were an impressive lineup that achieved the mission statement of showcasing the eminent age worthiness of well made white wines from the Alto Adige region of Italy. Each of them was drinking well and featured fresh flavors that belied their ages. As a group they also had more life ahead of them. Given the complexity, drinkability and obvious longevity these particular wines as well as the current vintages are well worth your time, effort and money.