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Focus on Alto Adige

   One issue with big wine tastings is the fact that inherently flashy wine gets noticed. I mean high-alcohol, superripe and fruity and/or heavily oaked styles are what stick out by definition. And when you’re tasting so many wines all at once, it’s easy to miss out on the examples of more restrained, balanced, contemplative styles.

 

   Earlier this week, I was lucky to attend a trade tasting featuring the wines of Alto Adige, a region at the very Northern tip of Italy, bordering Austria. The region drapes down from the Alps in  the North, facing the Mediterranean in the South. The wine reflect this combination of cooler, high-altitude Alpine climate and moderate Mediteranean influences: classy, aromatic wines with focused acidity, good fruit, never getting too ripe.

   The region’s strength is in white wine, with consistent themes across different varietals; acidic, linear whites with fantastic focus. Some highlights offered at Binny’s: Colterenzio’s pinot grigio is nice and light, with notes of pear and limestone. Tiefenbrunner’s pinot bianco is more toward the modern style, with more fruit than most others at the tasting, but still defined by racy acidity. Elena Walch offers a memorable pinot grigio with fresh lemon citrus and circus peanuts, with more breadth than most.

   It’s worth pointing out that every one of these falls under the fifteen dollar mark. Talk about value.

   The gewurztraminer from Alto Adige is spectacular. Gorgeously aromatic on the nose, with full honey and melon, these gewurztraminers smell sweet. This is deceptive, though, as the wines are often fermented dry, spicy and linear. Favorites include those by Terlano, Colterenzio, and an upcoming release from Elena Walch, though none are on Binny’s shelves yet.

   A bit of trivia: Gewurztraminer means “spice from Tramin.” Tramin is a town within Alto Adige, so linguistically speaking, Alto Adige is the home of gewurztraminer, or so the locals claim. More on that story on Wikipedia.

 

   I enjoyed these wines quite a bit. Most are consistency vibrant, structured, and classy, and outstanding values too. Even those that stand out as fruitier and more plush only do so in a matter of context they still fall into this charming but angular profile.

   I felt like this tasting was the ideal way to appreciate these particular wines. I had been worried that a tasting featuring only Alto Adige would be a little narrow. But in a larger contest, say, the Tre Bicchieri tasting just a few weeks ago, or maybe among hundreds of brown-bagged wines in a big reviewer’s blind tasting, these little wines would surely get lost in a sea of heavier, more showy and obvious styles. And trust me; that would be a real shame.

Visiting Tuscany

   A handful of Binny’s people recently traveled to Tuscany. We spent our nights in Florence, our days touring wineries throughout the region. My impression of Tuscany: rolling hills lined with vineyards and olive trees, multiple-course “light” lunches, two-hour dinners that don’t even start until half past eight, and a sea of locals who remain uniformly young and fit despite living this lifestyle.

   The architecture of the area is traditional yet modern. The style breaks down to basic geometry: brick and plaster walls, square windows, ambivalence for right angles. Simple elements come together to create something classic, timeless.

   This mindset is reflected in the food and in the wine. Pasta and wild boar (cinghiale) come together in an enduring dish. The wine shows pure fruit, acidity, minerality touches of wood streamlined, classic in proportion yet modern in style. There’s this simlicity that lends a timeless quality.

 

click the pictures for larger images

 

Torrigiani

   On a low hill outside Chianti is the medival town of Vico, home to Fattorie Marchesi Torrigiani. Binny’s is a major US clearing house for these wines, and there is a reason we sell so much. They show reverence for the land with an emphasis on the sangiovese traditionally grown in the area, but with touches of merlot and cabernet sauvignon that add elegance and weight.

   While touring the winery, we were able to taste some of the ’09 varietals from the barrel. The sangiovese is focused but big, with lots of floral notes and raspberry and acidity; the cab and merlot are darker, balancing chocolate, dark fruits and peppery herbaceous notes. It will be interesting to see how these blend at bottling, and how they will open with time.

   The 2008 Chianti is more modern than I expected, with heavier fruit and coconut up front and herbal notes pushed to the back. At $8.99 (on sale now for $7.99) this stuff is an incredible value and a good point of entry for anyone curious about Chianti. We also tasted several vintages of Torrigiani’s Torre de Ciardo and Guidaccio from newer and older vintages. I have to say that I favor the older stuff; extra bottle age gives these wines time to calm down. Both the 2003 and 2004 vintages are showing quite well. 

   This estate is noteworthy for their breathtaking values. Tusany is becoming known for combining traditional Sangiovese with Bordeaux varietals, but seeing truly thoughtful wines in this category in the low teens, even at $25, is increasingly rare.

 

 

Tua Rita 

   After a short car ride South from Bolgheri, near the town of Suvereto, we found Azienda Agricola Tua Rita. The vineyards here are much more flat, gently sloping away from the Mediterranean coast. Binny’s hasn’t carried many of these wines lately. They are marvelous, and worth seeking out. The theme here is pure, vibrant fruit. These wines balance freshness with structure and acidity in a very monolithic way.

   Our tasting began with the 2009 Rosso dei Notri. Though this is an entry-level wine, it reflects the theme we would taste throughout the lineup: pure, beautiful fruit. The nose is bright, fresh, super-fruity. The same on the palate, the 2009 has notes of bing cherry and orange peel, almost like sangria, but balanced with racy acidity. Binny’s currently has the 2008, which I tasted just yesterday it’s much darker, with heavier notes of raspberry and plum. I hope the ’09 stays fresh on its journey here.

   We also tasted the 2008 Tua Rita Perlato del Bosco, Giusto di Notri and Redigaffi. These wines all show notes of fresh and sweet fruit, with increasing acidic and tannic structure. These are lean, sleek, racy wines that are absolutely stunning for their pure fruit. I hope that Binny’s can offer more from the Tua Rita portfolio in the future.

 

 

   Thanks for reading.

Good Wine From Italy

   Thirty-something Binny’s Wine Consultants crowded into a room in a basement in one of our suburban Binny’s locations yesterday afternoon. This was part two in a two part series of classes highlighting the wines of Italy, a subject diverse enough to tie up any wine professional for a while. Italy is, after all, infamous for having multiple wines with the same name, multiple names for the same wine, and not listing varietals on wine labels, except for when they do.

   Jenni Heim, our resident Italian wine nut (admirably!) led us through a tasting of over thirty wines from central and Southern Italy. Though education was buried in her message, the gist of it was enthusiasm. These are delicious and approachable wines! People need to know about them!

   Right NOW!

   Some of her enthusiasm may have rubbed off on me.

   Somehow, I have always held this cynical idea that inexpensive Italian wine is overly acidic and lacking in charm. This was probably a self-fulfilling prophecy; I managed to avoid the good, cheap stuff for years. But yesterday afternoon I tasted all these wines, not a single one over $30, most half that, and discovered all I’ve been missing.

   Just a few greats you might want to try:

Red

   A central theme to our tasting was that generally, the farther South you look in Italy, the less the wine is focused on acidity, meaning better entry points for the American palatte. This is apparent in the 2007 Aia Vecchia Lagone, a Bordeaux-style blend from Tuscany. Its big nose of cocoa and stewed tomato leads to a fat, modern, ripe red. It’s good, but for under fifteen bucks, this should be a slam dunk for anybody searching for a bargain red along the lines of Californian or South American.

   The 2008 Quercia Montepulciano d’Abruzzo shows surprising grace for one ten dollar bill. Light and smoky on the nose, the focus of this wine is in its lightly tannic grip, which supports the light fruit beautifully. Another graceful wine is the 2009 Colosi Nero d’Avola from Sicily, which features bright, lightly sweet strawberry fruit notes and surprisingly tight tannis. The 2008 Costera by Argiolas shows light, easygoing fruit with a distinct note of Black Jack gum in the nose.

   Moreover, these wines all get a big thumbs-up for their texture, grip and value: 2005 Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino, 2006 Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, 2007 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso.

 

White

   I’m used to tasting the whites of Spain, Portugal, New Zealand, so the Italian whites were refreshingly balanced and refined, even the cheap ones. Aromatics are key here.

   The 2008 Botromagno Gravina shows big time lemon creme on the nose with apricot and flowers. Beautiful! The good fruit and herbal cut on the palate are nice, but this is about the nose.  A wine that caused controversy is the 2008 Terredora Fiano di Avelina. What some people described as an off-putting nose of shoe rubber (or even sulfur?) I found more along the lines of heavily-toasted waffle cone and cream. The Fiano shows tart lemon on the palate, leading into brown sugar and toasted vanilla. Wonderful!

 

   Of course, this list is in no way exhaustive. Be sure to ask for recommendations in the Italian asile the next time you’re in the mood for a great value.

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