Alto Adige: A Pause for Thought
The 2013 Growing Season and Wines
The last two vintages have certainly not been easy in Alto Adige. Two thousand thirteen was a cool, late-ripening year, as it was across many regions in northern Europe. Typically, these
conditions tend to favor whites over reds. That may turn out to be the
case here as well, but it will only be because the reds struggled even more than the whites. Although I had high expectations for the whites, the 2013s aren't as tense or energetic as I had hoped they would be, while the reds I have tasted so far are mid-weight, aromatic wines that pretty much reflect the middling quality of the vintage. Rain towards the end of the harvest was a complicating factor in some spots, as the grapes bloated and the robbed the wines of their concentration and energy.
I strongly believe Alto Adige is one of the world’s elite wine
regions, especially when it comes to whites. I say that with the perspective that comes from regularly tasting the wines of Alsace, Austria, Germany and Burgundy, which is a real privilege, to say the least. But the 2013 Alto Adige whites point to a disturbing trend. I noted traces of sweetness in many wines.
To be sure, the local Italian market, where so much wine is sold in bulk or by
the glass, has a marked preference for whites with a few grams of residual
sugar. At the high end, a number of Alto Adige's best wines have some residual sugar, but in most of those cases, the inherent intensity of the fruit
is actually pretty well suited to stylistic choices that seek to emphasize textural richness and body. That is less often the case at lower levels of quality, however, where residual sugar can really stick out.
In my opinion Alto Adige's single most striking attribute is
the ability of wines to express the essence of vintage, variety and site with
crystalline purity. With few exceptions, the 2013 whites don't achieve their full potential because they lack focus and energy. Don’t get me
wrong, the wines aren't bad, but they also aren't as compelling as they could
be. Make that should be.
Pergola trained vineyards in the south of Alto Adige
First Impressions of 2014
Mother Nature followed 2013 with another tough year. Two thousand fourteen will go down as one of the most
challenging growing seasons in northern Italy. Thus far, I have mostly tasted whites
and only a few reds. Sadly, the results in bottle are pretty much in line with
what the conditions suggested they would be. I happened to be in Alto Adige in
mid-August. The weather was cold, wet and dreary. While late-ripening red grapes
can recover with a good September and October, white grapes don’t have that
luxury. Bad weather in August is pretty much the kiss of death. With disease
pressure from botrytis and attacks of the Suzuki fruit fly mounting, growers were faced with the choice of either harvesting unripe fruit or losing their crop. This was
especially true on the valley floor, where the conditions were brutal. A few
hillside vineyards appear to have been spared the worst, but they are very much
in the minority.
Not surprisingly, the 2014s are slender, diluted and lacking
in varietal character. Although I have only tasted a limited number of 2014s so
far, the best varieties appear to be Sauvignon, which by nature tends towards
the greener side of the spectrum, and Gewürztraminer and Lagrein, two
varieties that typically have more than enough richness to be able to give up
some depth in a poor year and still be tasty. Frankly, it is a minor miracle
the 2014s have turned out as well as they have. Then again, Alto Adige lies in
close proximity to several prominent universities and the expertise of the
region’s winemakers is high. To be sure, 2014 is a vintage made in the cellar
by technicians who used every tool at their disposal. The wines lack depth and
texture, but, with few exceptions, they show no hard edges or unpleasant
flavors. Readers will see many wines with scores in the 80s, which equates to
an average level of quality with no significant flaws. The 2014s are wines to
drink young, with the hopes that 2015 and beyond will be much more favorable.
A cloudy, damp afternoon in Lake Caldaro, August 2014
Note: For the sake of convenience and future reference, I have included a handful of reviews from neighboring Trentino, which is separate and distinct from Alto Adige, but, sadly, a region with far fewer growers of note. This article is coming out much later than I would
have liked. Much of the time that I had allocated to write these reviews last
year was consumed with our acquisition of Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine
Cellar, and the intense follow-up work that was required to integrate our new
team and combined database. Naturally, that is a one-time event, and it is my
hope we will get back on track with Alto Adige coverage later this year. Thank
you for your patience.
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Alto Adige: A World Unto Itself (Mar 2014)
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-- Antonio Galloni