The wines of the Alto Adige are already exciting, but this renewed focus on the vineyards promises even better things to come. For a region that is not particularly large, with vineyards that are not particularly inexpensive to farm, it’s surprising that so many wines can be made at such a high quality. As I mentioned before, this has to do mostly with the topography, which allows for riverbench vineyards, hillside vineyards and even hilltop vineyards in some cases, each with different soils and exposition. This allows for remarkable flexibility when it comes to planting vines for fine wines.
The wineries tend to be cooperatives, a legacy of the situation these peasant farmers faced at the turn of the last century and not necessarily a detriment. While the co-ops do tend to produce middle of the road wines, other than their super cuvees that tend to be more internationally styled, they also seem to move slowly when changing styles, allowing some of the most abrupt and disruptive innovations in the winemaking to bypass them until they are fine tuned.
All this means that the co-ops do continue to improve their wines but at a slower pace than some private cellars, which is not a bad thing. Private cellars are a bit of a rare thing in the Alto Adige, though each passing year sees an increase in the number of folks going it alone. I recently visited the Alto Adige and was able to taste through the cellars of a few of these co-ops and some private wineries, as well. I was quite impressed with most of the wines I tasted, some of which are not imported to the U.S. or imported only sporadically.
I hope that changes and we get to see more of these wines in the states. I’ve listed the wines that I feel are important in the Alto Adige below, but I want to give special recognition to what are arguably the three most important wines to my mind.
The first is Tiefenbrunner’s Muller-Thurgau Feldmarschall, which comes from vines planted at over 1000 meters of elevation. The result is a white wine built of cool temperatures yet high sunlight hours. Precision, minerality and cool fruit are the hallmarks of this wine, and while Muller-Thurgau might not be the most important grape variety out there, this is a compelling wine and certainly the finest example of it. The best part is the price, about $30 a bottle for a unique, benchmark quality wine. That is the Alto Adige.
The second is Schiava, the workman-like grape that was the region’s most popular until recently with good reason. While Schiava often resembles a rosé with its light body, sapid acidity and gentle tannins, there is something almost addictive about its strawberry and herb-tinged flavors. At its best, and truth be known there isn’t that much really compelling Schiava, the grape can produce complexity and elegance that resembles a fine bottle of Burgundy. Girlan’s Gschleier Schiava from vines between 80 and 100 years old grown at 450 meter elevation is just such a wine. This is the benchmark example for the variety. Price? While rarely imported into the U.S., I recently found it for $22 a bottle. That is the Alto Adige.