I love the refreshing minerality from "mountain wines" where vineyards benefit from the additional mineral complexity of decomposed rocks in the vineyards as opposed to soils of clay and sand. And so, Alto Adige with its almost sheer sided valleys between cliffs of granite and limestone was definitely high on my list of an area to find wines. The "wine business" is complicated by a lot of things, however, including specific local costs of production and the number of meaningful producers in each region.
The costs of production in Alto Adige is high given the steep vineyards and difficult terrain in narrow valleys. As such, a lot of of the production in the regions is from cooperatives who improve the economies of scale for small growers and who are also largely making good wines in the area. Although I have some suppliers who are local cooperatives elsewhere in Europe who are making authentic and expressive wines, I usually do prefer the additional focus of of small independent producers.
My own focus on authentic and expressive wines was then fulfilled when I tasted the wines of Josef Brigl in the area. The winery was actually founded 700 years ago and so they have quite a bit of history in the area! The current generation at the winery is led by Josef Anton Brigl whose dedication to his family's heritage has resulted in the highest quality viticulture in their estate vineyards throughout the area and in state of the art winemaking facilities to preserve the freshness and authenticity of their estate grown fruit.
As I also focus on what I consider native grape varieties in each area, my initial selections are based on the red Schiava and Lagrein grapes. As with elsewhere in Europe, "international" varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon are also grown in the region's vineyards and also actually make very good wines given the accentuated minerality in the area. But there is already enough of such wines produced all over the world and so I prefer to focus on what I consider "local wines."
The local wines that I initially selected are also pretty obscure but I seem to be known for that. As one of my very good wine bar clients says when I visit him which is "what do you have for me today that I've never heard of and can't pronounce?", the initial selections are a Kalterersee Auslese, a St. Magdalener, and a Lagrein.
The Kalterersee Auslese is 100% Schiava (Vernatsch in German) from the unique microclimate around the Kalterersee (Lago di Caldaro) which is on the west side of the valley about 12 miles south of Bolzano. St. Magdalener (Santa Maddalena in Italian) is a appellation of south facing slopes in six villages slightly northeast of Bolzano and the wines are at least 85% Schiava with Lagrein usually being the remainder. The third wine is a 100% Lagrein, which is notable for its full body and dark color.
You will also see in the descriptions above that there is a mix of German and Italian names for grapes and places and that is part of the fun of the area. Alto Adige (the high Adige valley) is traditionally a description of the northern part of the region around Bolzano and is also known as Sudtirol in German. The area's German language heritage is from the region having been part of the Austrian empire for a large part of its history and you will hear mainly German spoken around Bolzano and to the north. Trento which is only 40 miles south in the Adige valley is definitely Italian, however, and you will typically only hear Italian spoken around Trento. In my respect for the historical heritage of each of my producers, and although Josef speaks and writes in perfect Italian and English, I write back and forth with Josef in German.
Kalterersee Auslese DOP 2022
Kalterersee Auslese is a red wine made mainly from Schiava from vineyards surrounding the Kalterersee (Lago di Caldero) which is about 12 miles south of Bolzano. The Kalterersee is on the west side of the valley and is also separated from the central part of the Adige valley by a ridge on the east side of the lake. The topology creates a microclimate known for producing rich and expressive wines.
The Auslese part of the wine’s name actually signifies that the wine is made only from a higher quality selection of the harvested grapes. The term Auslese is better known for signifying grapes harvested in Germany at higher sugar levels but the term in Germany also actually just means “selected” clusters, but, in common usage in Germany, selected for higher levels of sugar at harvest. The word “lese” itself in German merely means harvest and with the added prefix of aus (from) the word simply means “from harvest” or selected clusters from the harvest.
Aromas include dark cherries, blackberries, boysenberries, and dark cocoa. Flavors include boysenberries, raspberries, and dark cherries. There is a medium body, perfect balance and acidity, and a long medium finish.
Food pairings would include Filet Mignon, veal chops, pork chops, tenderloin, and shoulder, baked ham, chicken, duck, salmon, branzino, clams, mussels, seafood pasta, ravioli with light tomato sauces, Asian pork and chicken dishes, Asian appetizers, lighter Asian beef dishes such as beef with broccoli, tamales, tacos, tapas, charcuterie, and mild to medium cheeses.
St. Magdalener DOP 2022
St. Magdalener is from vineyards on south facing slopes slightly northeast of Bolzano and the wine must be at least 85% made from Schiava. The increased sun exposure during the day is known for the growth of very expressive and high quality fruit with increased minerality from the hillside vineyards.
The 2022 St. Magdalener is 85% Schiava and 15% Lagrein. Aromas include dark cherries, dark plums, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries. Flavors include blackberries, boysenberries, dark cherries, and dark plums. There is a medium body, perfect balance and acidity, and a long medium finish.
Food pairings would include Filet Mignon, New York Steak, Rib Eye, short ribs, beef stew, veal chops, lamb, pork, wild boar, elk, chicken, duck, cassoulet, coq au vin, grilled sausages, pasta with meat sauces, baked pasta dishes, salmon, shrimp, paella, risotto, Asian pork and chicken dishes, spring rolls and imperial rolls, sushi, Mexican beef, pork, and chicken dishes, tamales, tacos, tapas, charcuterie, and mild to medium cheeses.
Lagrein DOP 2021
Aromas include dark cherries, dark plums, boysenberries, pomegranate, and nectarines. Flavors include blackberries, boysenberries, blueberries, and red peaches. There is a medium to full body, perfect balance and acidity, and a long full finish.
Food pairings would include Filet Mignon, New York Steak, short ribs, beef stew, veal chops, veal stew, lamb chops, pork chops, pork ribs, grilled chicken, duck, cassoulet, grilled sausages, pasta with meat sauces, baked pasta dishes, salmon, shrimp, clams, mussels, paella, Asian and Mexican beef, pork, and chicken dishes, lamb curries, Tandoori dishes, beef enchiladas, carne asada, carnitas, Mexican food with mole sauces, charcuterie, and medium, rich, and creamy cheeses.