Südtirol Revisited

I was reminded of the wines of Südtirol (aka Alto Adige) when a kind friend visited recently bearing a delicious bottle of Chardonnay from the Castelfeder winery. Here’s a piece I penned some while back on these wines, following a tasting in Basel… 

Several times a year, the Zurich-based wine and culinary events organisation Mettler-Vaterlaus puts on after-work wine tastings at the Bistro Kunstmuseum in Basel. These are the brainchild of Alicia Mettler, a graduate of the Lausanne Hotel School with a track record in the hospitality and wine publishing business, and Thomas Vaterlaus, freelance journalist and editor of Vinum, the Swiss wine magazine. Together they have built up an impressive client list of professional wine bodies and individual estates throughout Europe (Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Portugal, Bulgaria…), whose wines they promote through a series of events, tastings and dinners.

At a recent Basel tasting, it was the turn of this northern Italian region to strut its stuff. Südtirol’s high-altitude, cool-climate wines, both red (Lagrein, Pinot Noir) and white (Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, the Pinot family, Chardonnay) are winning new converts all the time for their approachability and affordability – “good, well-made, everyday wines”, according to a recent wine travel article in Decanter. Add in the region’s dramatic scenery high in the Dolomites and – as Thomas Vaterlaus assured me – a terrific food culture, and you get a destination that should be on all bucket lists. It’s been on mine for ages, and this tasting confirmed that I need to get down there soon. [Still is…]

Photo credit: Time Inc. (UK)  Ltd.

Thirty-four different producers had sent around 50 different wines, two-thirds of them white (Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer for the purposes of the tasting, though they work with other varieties) and one-third red (the distinctive, high-altitude Lagrein). Each wine was cooled in its own ice bucket and accompanied by a concise a helpful technical description. The whole event took place in the courtyard of Basel’s Kunstmuseum, which on an unusually balmy September evening provided the perfect setting.

Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer are a bit like Marmite or coriander – people either love them or loathe them. Sauvignon can be excessively green and/or grassy, smelling of gooseberries or even – worst-case-scenario – tomcat’s pee; Gewurz can be blowsy, over the top, embarassingly pornographic rather than invitingly erotic. I find much to like in both grapes in the right hands, and found plenty of good ones in this tasting. Standout Sauvignons for me were from Castell Sallegg (unmistakeable but subtle Sauvignon nose, fleshy, delicious) and Kellerei Terlan (lovely Sauvignon nose, herbacous-but-in-a-good-way, gooseberries), with Kaltern’s Castel Giovanelli running them a close third.


Favourite Gewurzes were from Alois Lageder (beautifully dry – 3g RS – grown up to 750m altitude on sand and clay soils) and Sallegg (again), a gorgeous tropical nose, mouthfilling, elegant, with a slightly bitter finish – 5.3g RS, grown at 250m altitude on sandy clay beside the Kalterer See.

I’m a Lagrein virgin, and came to this variety with an open mind. It’s a light red, and probably (according to José Vouillamoz, grape geek and co-author of the magisterial Wine Grapes), native to Südtirol. There are plenty of fruity aromas but it can be a bit of a country cousin, rather like Humagne Rouge/Cornalin d’Aoste from the Valais. I divided my loyalties between Kellerei Bozen’s and Muri-Gries’s, both pale garnet, distinctly spicy, a little sharp/tannic. I could imagine partnering either with fish or white meats (vitello tonnato?).

Sources of Südtiroler wines in the Basel area:

To get yourself on Mettler-Vaterlaus’s mailing list for future tastings (Zurich, Basel), mail them here.

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