Wine of the Week: Tiefenbrunner 'Feldmarschall Von Fenner' Müller Thurgau
Region & Country: Alto Adige at 3,300 Feet Terroir Trumps Variety
Price: $35 - $40
Continuing on from my post last week on the Alto Adige wine region Alto Adige, today I am focusing on one specific wine. It is the Tiefenbrunner 'Feldmarschall' Müller Thurgau. Made from grapes grown at 3,300 feet altitude, it is the epitome of an Alpine wine and a veritable expression of place.
On my recent trip to Alto Adige we had the pleasure of visiting the Tiefenbrunner castle and estate, which is located in the small village of Cortaccia. The estate 'house' — the beautiful, aristocratic Castle Turmhof — has been the Tiefenbrunner family home since 1675.
As part of our visit, Christof Tiefenbrunner, the handsome and charming owner, took us up to the famed Feldmarschall vineyard so that we could see and feel the uniqueness for ourselves.
Why Feldmarschall is so special: The Feldmarschall vineyard is about a 15 km, steep and winding uphill drive from the Tiefenbrunner winery. In poor weather conditions it is often not accessible. Thankfully, we were blessed with beautiful sunny weather and the fact that harvest had not yet started; we did not have to compete with trucks on the narrow, winding roads.
Christof explained that the Feldmarschall is actually a hilly plateau, not a slope. At 3,300 feet above sea level, it really is at the limit of viable viticulture. However, the vineyard has a special microclimate that enables the grapes to fully ripen. The fact that it is a plateau rather than a steep sloped vineyard is its first thermal advantage. In addition the surrounding Alps protect the vineyard from the harsh northerly winds. There is even a warming effect from Lake Garda’s Ora wind. It is also south facing and hence gets the sun all day. This combination of influencing factors means the site is actually warmer than many vineyards lower down the slopes.
As we marveled at the views and soaked in the environment, Christof pointed out that at up at Feldmarschall, you have the feeling that 'time passes more slowly.' I am inclined to agree — it was rather magical.
Feldmarschall Vineyard - First planted in 1971: While the Feldmarschall vineyard has long belonged to the Tiefenbrunner family, it was only as recently as 1971 that it was planted to vines. The vineyard sits alongside the family’s summer residence and adorable little chapel, where family members hold weddings and other religious ceremonies, weather permitting.
Christof's father firmly believed in Feldmarschall’s potential as a unique vineyard, a special place that would produce a very special wine. He chose to plant Müller Thurgau rather than any of the more acclaimed white varieties of the region, mainly because it buds and flowers late, and also ripens early, thus avoiding inclement alpine early spring or fall weather.
For those not so familiar with Müller Thurgau, it is unfortunately widely regarded as a workhorse of a grape variety, noted for its high yields and extreme ordinariness. However, here in the Feldmarschall, with yields kept low, terroir trumps variety and the result is an extraordinary wine. The wine is an exquisite expression of place, a tightly defined wine of considerable depth, complexity and structure worthy of age.
Tasting the 2011 and 2012 Feldmarschall Von Fennberg Muller Thurgau: Up in the vineyard (what better place?) we tasted both the 2011 and 2012 vintages. Both were crisp, refreshing and focused. The 2012 was more upfront nervy and energetic, racy and still tightly wound but packed with citrus and stone fruit flavors with notes of spice and flowers. While tight, you could sense its potential.
The 2011 had already mellowed somewhat, become more obviously minerally, and expressive, showing great depth of fruit, while retaining its tension and tight definition, thus giving a more complete picture of the wine's quality and potential.
In my opinion, both of these wines will easily continue to improve for up to ten years. In fact last weekend, back in New York, we opened a 2007 Feldmarschall to celebrate a special occasion. It was elegant, minerally, persistent and layered with flavors of stone, exotic and citrus fruit, just starting to show some nuances of honeyed and savory bottle development. It was a delicious and much enjoyed wine.
Where to buy Feldmarschall: There are only about 18,000 bottles of Feldmarschall produced each year. And only a small proportion of that makes it to our U.S. shores. However, with persistence it is possible to find a bottle using wine-searcher. At $35 to $40 per bottle, Feldmarschall Muller Thurgau is not an inexpensive wine, but worth it for a special occasion.
Meanwhile, Tiefenbrunner makes a diverse range of other varietal wines, both red and white, which are much more easier on the wallet and widely available across the country.
(Image: Mary Gorman-McAdams)