Coooooool climate wines?
Where better to look than Italy’s Alto Adige (Suditirol), the country’s most isolated, northernmost wine-growing region whose borders touch Austria and Switzerland?
Yes, the winters are cold and snowy near the Italian Swiss Alps and Dolomite mountains.
Yet, most of the year there’s plenty of bright sunshine (300 days) to stimulate vines. Plus the average temperature during the April-to-September growing season is 64 degrees.
Conditions are ideal for white and red grapes that thrive in vineyards planted on hilltops (Alto Adige’s terrain is 85 percent mountainous) and in diverse, mineral soils.
FAST FACT: Alto Adige is Italy’s smallest wine-producing region by volume, generating 1 percent of the country’s total output. However, from a quality standpoint the region is incomparable: DOC-regulated wines make up 98% of production, the highest percentage in all of Italy.
In a region where refreshing white wines dominate annual production (62%), the region’s reds earn high praise respect for their precise, fruit-driven wines that offer wonderful minerality.
Recently, I tasted two red wines that reflect Alto Adige’s impressive sense of place. They are Alois Lageder’s Krafuss Pinot Nero/Noir from San Michele Appiano in Oltradige and Peter Zemmer’s Lagrein Riserva Furggl from Ora in the Bassa Atesina.
Note: Alto Adige’s 13,500-acre, seven-zone wine-growing region is shaped like a “Y”. The base is at Trento in Bassa Atesina (lowlands), moves through the Oltradige (midlands) to Bolzano, and from there branches off east (Val Isarco) and west (Val Adige, Val Venosta, Merano) to the highlands.)
Krafuss Pinot Noir 2016, SRP $57, abv. 13% – The Lageder winery is based in Magre, a lowlands town near Trento where wine merchant John Lageder launched the business in 1823. Since then, the Lageder family – headed by Alois IV – has acquired neighboring lands and developed a 50-acre vineyard estate focused on biodynamic farming methods.
The Lageders also partner with 80 select growers from throughout Alto Adige to produce more than 30 wines made from native and international grapes.
A key partner is Roland Riz, Alois’ father-in-law. Riz owns the 55-vineyard acre Krafuss estate which dates back to the 16th century.
Located 25 miles north of Magre, in the region’s midlands section, Krafuss’ hilltop vineyard sits 1,400 feet above sea level and gets plenty of sunny exposure.
Krafuss is planted exclusively to pinot noir from vines that are a minimum 30 years old. The site is chemical- and pesticide-free in accordance with Lageder’s sustainable farming mission.
Although it can get extremely hot and humid during peak summer months, the region benefits from the ever-present “ora” winds that originate 40 miles to the south in Lake Garda (Lombardy province). The gentle wind refreshes the air and drives out humidity.
Krafuss Pinot Noir is a testament to the estate’s individuality. The soils here are gravelly, loamy and interspersed with limestone, clay and morainic elements formed during the Ice Age. These nutrients, once absorbed by vines, help create a subtle, appealing minerality – sometimes flinty, mostly salty – in the pinot noir wines.
MY TAKE: Krafuss is ruby-colored, medium-bodied, and splendidly fresh and outdoorsy on the nose. It’s a beautifully balanced pinot noir that is loyal to its roots.
My first sip of the 2016 vintage swept me off my palate: It was a penetrating wake-up call to the senses, empowered by clean, bright, tart cherry flavors that intermingled with savory, herbal elements. The texture is velvety smooth. The crowning aspect, though, was the saline minerality. The overall effect enhanced the flavor without overtaking the fruit. A restrained touch of oak came through on the persistent, dry, mouthwatering finish.
Krafuss is a suitable match for poultry and roasted meats. The winemaker says it will age well for 3-10 years but I say now is the best time to drink this Alto Adige beauty.
Lagrein Riserva Furgll, SRP $20, abv. 12% – According to Karen MacNeil, who authored the marvelous book The Wine Bible, lagrein (lah-GRAIN) is among several indigenous red grapes in Alto Adige that “have no parallel anywhere else in the world.” She is absolutely correct!
Lagrein is the region’s co-signature red grape, the other being “schiava.” The grape produces dark-colored, robust wines that shake up the palate with concentrated – and somewhat bitter – red fruit and secondary flavors.
The Peter Zemmer Winery has been in family hands since 1923, when the present owner’s uncle of the same name planted vineyards in the valley lowlands of Cortina, the Alto Adige’s smallest village.
Today, Zemmer’s focus is on preserving the natural environment through sustainable farming practices and the use of renewable energy in the production process.
Zemmer’s Lagrein Riserva Furgll is easily a one-of-a-kind-wine with a capital “P” personality.
The vineyards are located in a detached area known as “Furggl” in the community of Ora. It’s a unique place where lagrein vines grow on “clayey, scree-covered ledges” and grapes mature steadily under ideal conditions.
Grapes come from select, small vineyards in the community of Ora, near the banks of the Alto Adige River.
Lagrein Riserva Furgll undergoes a precise fermentation (gentle racking, 10 days in contact with skins) and aging process (18 months in various oak casks, 6 months in bottle) that lead to a deep extraction of color (garnet), fragrance (rustic, wild berries, violets) and flavor (blackberry, raspberry, bitter chocolate).
MY TAKE: I couldn’t stop twirling the glass, because each gentle pass seemed to unearth more rustic fragrances. On the palate, the purple-colored wine flows smoothly and delivers lush tastes of plum, black berries, and pungent secondary chocolate/mocha notes. A soft, saline minerality triggers an appealing mouthfeel at mid-palate, leading to a finely tuned, dry finish. For $20 a bottle, there’s a lot to experience – and like – in this bottle, which can age for more than a decade with proper cellaring.
Lagrein Riserva Furggl is a good choice for grilled meats, especially a thick steak, and fits the bill for any party outing where hearty fare is on the menu.