Imagine a place where Knödel and pasta are served side-by side, the map says Italy but all around you hear German. No, you have not exited at the wrong airport. You are in the glorious land of Alto Adige, Italy's smallest and most northerly wine producing region - a perfect marriage of Alpine and Mediterranean.
Also known as Südtirol, Alto Adige belonged to Austria until the end of World War One. 70% of the population is of Austrian descent, and intensely proud of their Austrian heritage. On arrival in Bolzano, its capital city, you automatically take a step back, stop and breathe in the most invigorating Alpine air, while gazing at the majestic snow-capped Dolomites, which rise skyward from behind the town.
And, for those anthropologists out there, you can also pay your respects to The Iceman, known as Ötzi, '5,300 years old and still not yet tired', at the Südtirol Museum of Archeology.
While Alto Adige is Italy's smallest wine region (producing less than 1% of total Italian wine), it is certainly not lacking in quality. Over 90% of the production is quality wine classified with DOC designation. It is a mountainous region with vineyards ranging from 750ft to 3500 feet in altitude, enabling producers to grow an enviable diversity of grape varieties, each in ideal conditions.
While, production is 55% red and 45% white, today I am going to talk about the white grape Pinot Bianco, also known as Pinot Blanc. Burgundian in origin, Pinot Bianco has been grown in Alto Adige for over two hundred years and is known locally under its German name Weissburgunder. "Useful rather than exciting" is how Jancis Robinson, MW, describes the grape.
Certainly it can yield some fairly neutral wines, but in Alto Adige, Pinot Blanc truly reaches its apogee. Through a combination of high-altitude sites, with warm days and cool nights, and a rigorous attention to detail in the vineyard, winemakers can produce wines of enormous complexity and balance.
Pinot Blanc wines from Alto Adige are delightfully tangy, with persistent aromas and flavors of freshly sliced apples and pears, with hints of peach and white flower. They are medium bodied and moderate in alcohol. Mostly, these wines are unoaked, but, but if they do have oak treatment, it is typically not new oak, and certainly not obvious or overpowering, but judiciously well-integrated adding subtle spice on the nose and palate.
Incredibly food friendly, serve chilled with simple grilled fish, roast chicken, veal cutlets, grilled vegetables, cured meats or pasta dishes. It is also delightful as an apéritif before dinner
Alto Adige is a region of small to medium sized producers, including, probably the most quality conscious co-operatives to be found anywhere in Europe. There are many excellent Alto Adige Pinot Blanc wines available in the U.S. Some that I am particularly fond of include:
2006 Alois Lageder Pinot Bianco ($15)
2006 Cantina Terlano Pinot Bianco ($17)
2006 Castel Sallegg Pinot Bianco ($18)
2006 Girlan 'San Marino' Pinot Bianco ($12)
2006 Tieffenbrunner Pinot Bianco ($15)
Retailers that carry these and other wines from Alto Adige include:
Wine.com (online only)
Winerz.com (online only)
Young's Wines (online and walk-in, Manhasset, NY)
Astor Wines (online and walk-in, NYC)
K & L Wines (online and walk-in, San Francisco, Redwood City and Hollywood, CA)
Morrell Wine (online and walk-in, NYC)
Zachys (online and walk-in, Scarsdale, NY)
Wally's Wine & Spirits (online and walk-in, Los Angeles, CA)
Corporate Wines (online and walk-in, Woburn, MA)