Alto Adige MW Trip
Though somewhat ignorant of the Südtirol region before the trip, I knew the essence of it, where it lies geographically and that it presents itself as an amalgam of the best of two cultures: Austrian and Italian. What I wasn’t prepared for was the delightful epiphany that I was to experience.
The Dolomites came as a wonderful surprise. Great slabs of towering white rock shot up vertically all around us, many of them surmounted by implausibly situated trees and the looming skeletons of long-abandoned fortifications; ever-alert sentinels to the presence of any would-be invader. Fairy tale stuff then. So why on earth hadn’t I been before? I have to ask this question again given that every reasonably flat surface is smothered with vines. This nicely illustrates why land values are so high in this area. What little relatively horizontal surface that isn’t adorned with houses is nicely decorated with apple orchards and vineyards. Unbeknownst to me, this was to be a revelation and perhaps more than any other wine region I have visited to date. Alto Adige comes as a great big surprise that ejects any ambivalence one might previously have held concerning this wonderful, colourful and dynamic wine region.
Having built its reputation, albeit a domestic one, on high volume red wine, the region began to move away from mass production in the 1970s. White wines soon became the order of the day and generic quality gave way to authentic, high-quality production. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet-Sauvignon soon gained ground alongside native varieties such as Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Gewürztraminer, Sciava and Lagrein. In days of yore a small number of aristocratic families owned the majority of the land. Many of them still do. However, with the average land holding weighing-in at less than a hectare, cooperative producers now dominate wine production. Our trip coincided with the Südtirol wine summit, and we mingled freely on a number of occasions with trade members, wine writers and journalists from all over the world; some of them Members of our very own Institute. What struck us most was the consistently high base quality of wines. I don’t remember once tasting anything that wasn’t at least pleasant and palatable. Even in the cellars of our beautifully situated hotel Schloss Korb, I was also struck by a willingness to experiment, learn and improve. This was particularly evident at Kellerei St. Paul with Wolfgang Tratter’s Amphora wines, including a super skin-contact Sauvignon Blanc. The delightfully enthusiastic Karoline Walch presented a range of ‘Argentum Bonum’ Gewürztraminers that had been matured in small lots 3 kms inside a disused silver mine at some 2,000 metres. We also witnessed an enthusiasm for alternative closures and experimental equipment and also a quest for total terroir-expression displayed by the enigmatic Michael Göess-Enzenberg at the biodynamic Weingut Manincor. This estate grow and air-dry much of their own oak for barrels. They also operate the most comprehensive heat-exchanger that I have ever seen.
Ours was a small band, just eight of us, and we were extremely well looked after by the ever patient and attentive Paul Zandanel of IDM Südtirol/Alto Adige. As well as enlightening us with a variety of producer visits in surroundings ranging from vertiginous vineyards to centuries-old wine cellars, we were also treated to walk-around wine tastings courtesy of the summit. These provided an invaluable comparison between producers styles, inherent site quality, and grape varieties being produced in the region today. The trip wasn’t without its eccentricity either…following a cable car ascent and taxing hike, we were guests at a remarkably scenic tasting inside an open-sided tent atop a mountain meadow high in the Dolomites. This latter experience was gilded by three Loden-clad musicians playing Tyrolean long horns. Dinner in a lodge resembling Heidi’s house topped-off the day.
Though this is a short report, I hope it exudes the excitement and enthusiasm that greeted us and the wholehearted feelings of the same that we reciprocated. What a wonderful place. I shall definitely return. In short, though a little more detail might have been required of me, I might have distilled this article into four words: Go to Alto Adige.