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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Alto Adige GuildSomm Master Class

I attended the Guild of Sommeliers master class on Alto Adige at the end of June - I was so hoping to get into that class as it was small and limited in seating, and when I first tried to get in, it was closed, but when a space opened up, I was on that!  And I got in and was thrilled!  It was completely worth attending.  I love eye-opening wine experiences.  Sometimes our eyes are opened when we don’t expect it.  And sometimes we expect the unexpected and we’re still astounded.  This was an example of the latter; I was astounded by the wines and I can assure Madiran’s customers that several of the wines tasted at that master class will make the list.

It’s no secret that I’m into giving proper attention to wine regions that often go overlooked on account of...well, I’m not sure what it’s on account of, since oftentimes, the quality to price ratio in these growing regions is far better than that of many other more popular regions.  Perhaps it’s media coverage, Wine Spectator, etc., that fails to cover these spectacular regions and neglects to expose wine drinkers to them.  Those who frequent Madiran after opening will notice that the wine list gives special attention to places like South West France, Sicily, Alto Adige, Styria, Hungary, Croatia, and Washington State.  We’re used to hearing about regions other than those, but I assure you, you’ll find plenty of otherwise underrepresented regions present at Madiran.

I suppose I haven’t had time to blog about the Alto Adige class as it was only a week before I went public about Madiran and a lot has changed since then, but I’ve got a little time this morning and I can’t hold back any longer about the fabulous wines I had the opportunity to taste that day.

When we think of wines from Northern Italy, we probably think of places like Piemonte, Veneto, Friuli, and if you’re “certifiably insane” like I am, you might even have fallen in love with Vallee d’Aosta by now (I certainly have!), but Alto Adige needs to be in the mix as well.  I’m not just talking about Trentino - I mean Sud Tirol, home of a more Germanic/Austrian type of people with names and accents that show almost no trace of anything Italian.  Cool, I thought.  I knew this was the situation up there, vaguely though.  And MS Geoff Kruth did a fantastic job covering the lay of the land, the terroir, the people, the food, and of course the wine, as well as history, culture, identity, and...speck.

“I hope this isn’t just going to be a study in Pinot Grigio,” I told Peter the night prior to the tasting.  And it certainly wasn’t!  Not that there’s anything wrong with Pinot Grigio, it’s just that the mass production and lack of inspiration when crafting many examples of Pinot Grigio has led many of us wine geeks to cringe a little when thrown into a lineup of Pinot Grigio.  I usually go for the kind from Friuli, with the true grey color I like to see in a properly executed Pinot Grigio.  But...

We opened with the Muri-Gries 2013 Pinot Grigio.  Bingo.  Only one Pinot Grigio in the lineup and it was awesome - everything I’d look for as a wine buyer - good value, plenty of character and still quite light and easy drinking, and user-friendly for the everyday American wine drinker who asks for a Pinot Grigio and the person pouring cannot and will not serve Santa Margherita.  What a happy wine with notes of bitter almond, orchard and citrus fruit, and white mineral, and just a touch of the telltale grey color, I’d wear that “I just made a wine discovery” smile the rest of the class.

Next up was the Colterenzio Weisshaus 2012 Pinot Bianco.  Now, I’m not usually a lover of Pinot Blanc.  But this one was different, lovely, and quite delicious.  Pale and subtle with suggestions of citrus, orchard fruit, white blossoms, and mineral, the wine has an air of mystery about it, and femininity, if that makes any sense.

I actually preferred the following Pinot Bianco, which was even lovelier and more graceful than the first, with notes of pear, melon, a hint of spice and some texture, and a soft yet bright character.  This was the Cantina Terlano Vorberg Riserva 2011 Pinot Bianco.

Next was the Erste + Neue Salt 2012 Chardonnay, which I found a bit “odd” and strange as I noted on my tasting sheets.  Its name, Salt, was no joke - laced into the lemon curd and green apple notes was a salty characteristic, and oddly enough, I found the wine a little bit hot, although I could have been mistaking some other trait for what I perceived as a balance issue.

The next wine I also didn’t connect well with, as it seemed too strange, even for a geek like me.  It was the Manicor Reserve Della Contessa 2012 Terlaner, a blend of Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.  (I’m not a huge fan of white blends actually, especially when the blend appears to muddle the identity of the wine, at least on my nose and palate and therefore in my perception of the wine.  There are many exceptions for me, however this was not one of them.)  The wine showed notes of what appeared to me as green apple, sour peach, lemon, grapefruit, funky herbs, and...drumroll please...a less than sanitary urinal.  Obviously this wasn’t on my favorites list.  To put it mildly, I hated it.  But that’s going to happen sometimes - if there are things we like, surely there will be things we don’t like.  It was one of two wines at the tasting that flat out offended my nose and palate.

I went straight into recovery mode with the gem that came next, and I’m still thinking about this wine a couple of months later.  The Peter Zemmer Rohracker 2013 Riesling was gorgeous and I wrote the happiest thoughts in the margin next to the wine’s name and tasting notes.  Clearly less expensive than many of its counterparts around the world, it’s very much a Riesling with lovely aromas and flavors including green and white grapes, orchard and tropical fruits, bold white blossoms, and white stony mineral with a waxiness and plenty of acidity and a perfectly clean feel.  I was back on track in no time and completely in love with this wine.

Another gem (which I’ve tasted previously but never tire of it) was the Abbazia di Novacella Val Isarco 2012 Kerner (MS Kruth tells us that Kerner is the product of Riesling crossed with Schiava) - Kerner is something worth experiencing, because there’s nothing quite like it, in those funky tall skinny bottles.  It’s got a pale yellow gold color, it’s clean and wonderful with lively acidity, a fun, happy, aromatic wine with more citrus peel and spice and fennel than Riesling but otherwise fairly similar with orchard fruit and floral perfume.

The other wine that didn’t sit well with me was a disappointment as I love Gewurztraminer, but this was just too much.  The Cantina Bolzano Kleinstein 2012 Gewurztraminer has the tropical and lychee and spicy notes we expect from Gewurztraminer and that weight we like to see with a wine like this, but the alcohol was intense and for me, it overtook what could have (should have?) been an otherwise good wine.  And then MS Kruth read the alcohol content to us - 15.5% ABV - for me, that’s just too much.  The balance seems quite off and the wine left me with a hot, sweet, strange sensation - and for the first time in recent or long term memory, I did not go back for any more Gewurztraminer.

Then the reds came out.  There were three of them.  And they were just an expression of love and passion that we find in many Italian wines, and precision and exactness that often we experience with German/Austrian wines.

First was the Kellerei Kaltern Caldaro Pfarrhof Lago di Caldaro Classico Superiore Schiava 2013 (it took much longer to type it than to enjoy it).  It was served chilled, as a wine of such lightness and mirth should be.  Pale, a pinkish red with clear reflectiveness, berry, herb, stone - it’s a perfect summer red with cheeses, meats, antipasti - just perfect.

Next up was an excellent example of good quality to price ratio - as I believe it’s somewhat challenging to find good Pinot Noir at an affordable price.  The Castelfeder Glener 2011 Pinot Nero is delicious, bright red, smokey, fruity, elegant, clean, and has a fun hint in it.  It’s an easy drinking wine and easy to pair with food, and I really enjoyed this one.

The final wine was one of the true winners in the lineup - the Tiefenbrunner Linticlarus Riserva 2011 Lagrein.  Wow, just wow.  Americans, on average, seem to like bigger styled reds.  It’s very dark in color, almost purple and inky with a black core.  It shows dark fruit, plum, blackberry, blueberry, some oak, and purple blossoms/lilac, with bright acidity and very present tannins.  For the red drinker who’s looking to change it up from Cabernet and Merlot and wants an excellent quality-to-price wine, here’s your wine.

So there it is, the Alto Adige GuildSomm master class and my observations and notes - look for some of these wines next year at Madiran!

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