MAY 2019 ITALIAN WINE CLUB
SPRINGTIME IN THE DOLOMITES PART 2: TRENTINO
One more delicious frolic in the mountains. As the Dolomites really start to climb along the Adige River, benefitting as well by the cool air influence of nearby Lake Garda, there are a few very important appellations in Trentino. Home to a few native grape varieties with seriously great promise, the small handful of top winemakers in this area are up against a very tough challenge: growth.
The fact is, with the exception of these remarkable standout producers, the majority of Trentino is heavily influenced by large Co-op farming and the big business machine of the Veneto Region (just South). Wine makers from Alto Adige have gone so far as to remove the hyphenated ‘Trentino’ from the their labels to disassociate themselves from this trend towards high volume, poorer quality wines. It is worth noting that the production of higher quality sparkling wines has become a small bright point in this otherwise unfortunate story, the side effect there is that amounsgt an already increasing amount of Cab and Merlot plantings, there is now more Chardonnay and Pinot being grown as well to meet this demand. Sigh.
As we showcased in last months focus on Alto Adige wines, non-native Italian varieties can make great Italian wines too! But that’s just not what we’re talking about here unfortunately. Thankfully, however, these particular larger-than-life producers are leading the charge to keep Trentino in the positive spotlight and their wines are amazing enough to inspire future generations to pick up wherever they leave off.
WINE NO. 1
Poder e Sandri
Faedo, Trentino 2017
This is truly a very localized grape that for a long time was limited to the production of the area’s infamous Vino Santo sweet wines. Not to be confused with Vin Santo from Tuscany, mind you. (Simply put: Vino Santo can be mind blowing, where Vin Santo ranges from delightful to decent with biscotti.) The Nosiola grape is also favored as a table grape which is not only rare for wine grapes but also points to why it is grown in such limited amounts- only specifically for a dry white wine such as this.
A white grape variety that is actually a cross breed between Riesling (yum!) and a very light skinned red grape called Vernatsch (or Schiava, also yum!) Kerner is one of a few successful Riesling hybrids from Germany and, as you might imagine, is easily recognized by it’s delightfully floral aromatics. But beyond the nose, what makes this grape truly unique is the slightly textured finishing grip (from the Schiava side of the family tree, of course..)
Friends and neighbors Fiorentino Sandri and Mario Pojer joined forces in 1975 and found they had equal passions for not only great wine but for innovation and experimentation as well. You can’t research these two fabulous souls without reading about their unusual techniques of washing their grapes in a ‘grape spa’ or pressing in a manner that is completely oxygen free. Needless to say their years of striving for better methodology, thinking outside the industry box, and finding genuine enjoyment and fun in their everyday work, has more than paid off.
The color, or lack thereof in this case, stands out here- barely any at all. Green apple, lime leaf and chamomile are the first things that show on the nose. And although the palate is in the same neighborhood, increase that tart factor on the apples, squeeze that lime juice and replace the floral tones with some sea salted hazelnuts. This wine clearly has acid to spare, an attribute which makes the grape a perfect candidate for the aforementioned local sweet version of itself, incidentally. But the sharp saline crispness and angular citrus flavors are the kind of super enticing winning combo that make us cheer for more wines like it from this region.
Did you know that there’s an old tradition of Bagpipes, or Zampogna, in Italy? Neither did I. It is a two cantored instrument, each one plays in harmony with the other. I’ll just go ahead and take a wild guess at the symbolism here. It’s also an engraving from Albrect Durer, a Renaissance artist that frequented their small village of Faedo.
Mezzolombardo, Trentino 2017
MANZONI BIANCO [man-dzo-ni- biàn-co]
One of the only viable grapes today that comes from a series of crossing experiments by Luigi Manzoni in the 20’s and 30’s. The current belief is that this is the result of Riesling crossed with Pinot Bianco, but now Ian D’Agata (who has thrown many a wrench in today’s understanding of Italian grapes) is questioning that perhaps Chardonnay was involved. Regardless, we know it’s a grape with potential for great wine, but is also an absolute menace in the vineyard: small uneven yields, thick skinned yet susceptible to sun damage, and therefore an early harvest.
Elisabetta Foradori is one of few modern day rockstar winemakers that every wine professional seems to universally love. She’s iconic specifically in the ‘natural’ wine world and she stood virtually as a lone opposition against pesticides in her region as she championed biodynamic farming from a young age. Her work has kept both Trentino and it’s native grapes in the conversation for great wine amidst many unfortunate trends in the opposite direction. To know more about this amazing, yet impossibly humble figure in the wine world, you need not dig deep. There are pages and pages of beautifully written praise to discover about her that worthy of your time and admiration.
Where the Nosiola was linier and racey, this wine is round and ample. Brilliant yellow in color and immediately effusive with ripe aromatics: peach and tart apricots, mango and citrus rinds. Minerality in this wine is such an important element, so much so there are only a few wines in Italy like this one on the level of, say, German Rieslings (not surprisingly). This is where descriptors like ‘shattered slate’ or ‘crumbled limestone’ come into play. Call us as a bunch of rock lickers if you must, but how else can we describe what ‘minerality’ actually taste like? Thankfully this wine is extraordinary and exotic enough that we need not dwell in the pebbles, but enjoy the strata as it is revealed. Decant this if you can, air is your friend.
Fontanasanta (Holy Fountain) is a vineyard name of utmost importance in this area since the 1400’s. Elisabetta identifies more with the Vigneti della Dolomiti designation than the Trentino political boundary and the quote on the back is from her ex-husband. Her thoughtful manner and care embody it fully.
Marco Donati ‘Fratte Alte’
Mezzocorona, Trentino 2017
LAGREIN [la-GRAIN] or [lah-GRINE]
In 1526 there was a revolt led by local farmers against the nobles and the church in order to expand their rights and to, most importantly, be allowed to drink Lagrein. Gotta love it. Lagrein is a clear exception to native alpine red wines typically leaning more towards lighter body and paler coloring. It is a grape that loves as much sunshine as possible and although that sounds like it is perhaps in the wrong place, Lagrein is clearly at home in the mountains and tends to get finicky when grown elsewhere. Truly, a grape variety with a fighting spirit.
Marco Donati is a fifth generation grower and producer in this part of Trentino. As mentioned, single family estates such as this are an unfortunate rarity today, so it is important to them that they remain consistent to their identity as such. This current generation has transformed to organic practices, not for the certification but simply because Marco recognized that it was necessary in order to maintain the health of the vines and the biodiversity of everything else in the surrounding property. And, of course, to pass on the best possible legacy to his daughter, Elisabetta.
Dark and saturated purple color, smells like blackberry jam on warm toast next to a really fragrant fresh brew of coffee (seriously.) Ripe with blueberries and pomegranate, it goes down so easy and has a real warming effect. Is it ok that I want a team of St. Bernards, with those mini barrels around their necks filled with this wine, to explore about the Dolomites? Although I’ve certainly had more ‘complex’ examples of Lagrein than this, I can honestly say that I tend to find more beauty in this more approachable expression of the grape. I also love the way it finishes super bright, plumy and with a nice touch of peppercorns and violets.
Lagrein ‘Rubino’ means “Ruby wine.” Up north in the more Germanic part of Alto Adige you might see ‘Dunkel’ or Dark. This distinction is made because Lagrein is also often made into a Rosé wine, though more of that is consumed locally than it is exported. And the story about the dude on the back label slaying the winged serpent thingy? According to local legend a few drops of blood from a terrible dragon spilled on the ground and from those fertilizing drops the first vines were born.
De Vescovi Ulzbach
Campo Rotaliano, Trentino 2016
Teroldego is certainly a grape of great intrigue in Italian wine. The great ones are truly great, but there so few of those. It used to be planted in much higher amounts, but when a grape variety is deemed difficult to grow (the berries have a tendency to break off easily) as well as difficult to manage in the winery (can be green and bitter) it simply falls out of favor. Teroldego grown in Rotaliano is unquestionably the best there is, in fact it is one of the very few ‘Grand Cru’ sites that is specific to a grape variety in all of Italy.
Giulio De Vescovi is a home-grown prodigy of sorts. His family has a long history of growing apples in this valley (as well as grapes, but that kinda goes without saying.) He is also a product of the highly regarded local Istituto San Michele all’Adige, which has churned quite out a number of today’s rising stars in Italian wine. He is focused on one grape only: Teroldego. A notoriously difficult grape to master and with very few benchmark examples to follow (see: Elisabetta Foradori), he has clearly found something special is his approach and technique.
Crushed herbs, deep currant fruits, black tea and black cherries, and earthy vine ripe tomatoes as well. Add that to a texture of wonderfully balanced acidity and tannins, and this wine now has a ton going on at once. There is also a slightly gamey and irony quality in this which lends a soft and elegant bitterness – yet another layer to its depth. That bitterness is what most other winemakers have long struggled with in working with Teroldego, but here it is not only tamed, but a fabulous accent to a truly complete wine. Decant if you must, but I much prefer you deploy the big wine glasses and take your time enjoying this one.
A very straight forward looking bottle, but once again we see that the important DOC appellation ‘Teroldego Rotaliano’ is the only thing that indicates where it is from. No mention of Trentino. This wine can stand up to just about any meal, but I’m craving grilled Lamb lollipops (chops) with Salsa Verde.