What and Where on the Wine List: Sauvignon Blancs of Alto Adige

by Emily Bell with Jessica Dukes
Shannon Sturgis
July 2011


Erste + Neue
Via Cantine 5-10
39052 Caldaro, Italy

Importer Information:
T. Edwards Wines
66 West Broadway 4th Floor
New York, NY 10007

Via Silberleiten 7
39018 Terlano, Italy

Importer Information:
Banville & Jones Wine Merchants
208 West 30th Street, Suite 301
New York, NY 10001-1398

Via Castello 4
39040 Cortaccia, Italy

Importer Information:
Winebow, Inc.
75 Chestnut Ridge Road
Montvale, NJ 07645

San Michele Appiano
Via Circonvallazione 17-19
39057 Appiano, Italy

Importer Information:
Siena Imports, Inc
1295 Evans Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94124

Additional Information on Alto Adige Wine Importers

Sauvignon Blanc: The little white grape that could, Sauvignon Blanc has made worldwide wine rounds, with definitive expressions from its native southwest France to New Zealand, Napa Valley, Chile, Australia, South Africa, and beyond. In the “beyond” category is the Alto Adige region of Italy, a collision of Italian and Austrian culture that’s about as strictly managed as the Franco-Anglo détente in Quebec. Here, in the region’s Heidi-esque slopes and valleys, the grassy, fruity varietal plays under the Mediterranean sun, on the backbone of Alpine minerality.

Alto Adige, Italy: Alto Adige is the northern province of Trentino-Alto Adige, an autonomous Italian region with province Trento to the South. Culturally defined and enduringly be-dirndl-ed by its Germanic heritage (also known as Sudtirol, the region was once one of many feathers in the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s cap), Alto Adige is also a geographic and climatic masterpiece for wine production.

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If variety is the spice of life, Alto Adige is the wine lover’s spice cabinet. Not only does it offer an incredible variety of local product, but its landscape—descending from glacier-capped Alps to a distant Mediterranean coastline—yields  a variety of microclimates, suited to everything from native Traminer and Lagrein varietals to Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. And for Sauvignon Blanc, although not foremost in the region’s white wine production, the 300 days of sun, essential maritime breezes, and low-humus rock soils make for happy grapes and distinctive, elegant expressions.

Alto Adige producers pride themselves on their handling of the varietal—the way they cultivate a unity between nose, body, taste, and finish, like a finished Sauvignon Blanc composition that ends in lingering, harmonious tones. Part of the magic is small-scale production (mostly family run, with a density of cooperatives). In total, Alto Adige accounts for less than 1 percent of Italy’s total wine production (it’s known primarily for grappa and apples), and Sauvignon Blanc might rank in the lower production scale than its white counterparts. But again, the trade in quantity typically yields serious quality. And that seems to be the Alto Adige trend; even with such small output, it’s earned nearly 8 percent of Italian wine awards. So it’s no surprise that in most any bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, you’ll get an elegant, near bone-dry expression of the varietal with green (think grass and gooseberry), fruit, and floral complexities, as well as balanced acidity.

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Alto Adige’s wines aren’t as well known as, say, Super Tuscans, but thanks to the region’s increasing efforts at cultivating tourism and a distinctive culinary voice, they’re enjoying increased popularity. Of course, even though they’re available at Italian wine and specialty stores, we weren’t sorry to taste a few Sauvignon Blancs in the broad arms of Alpine paradise itself (mountain views never hurt anyone).

The 2010 Tiefenbrunner Kirchleiten Sauvignon Blanc is a notable example of the region’s geographical advantages. With vineyards between 400 and 700 meters above sea level, the vintners can blend grapes from lower and higher elevations to achieve a consistent balance. Acidity and minerality from higher altitudes mix with the fruit and sweetness of the mellower lower altitudes for a wine of impressive body and nuance.

In fact, all of the wines we tasted expressed, on some level, the direction of Alto Adige Sauvignon Blancs in the years to come (a composite of tradition and innovation). From one of the many co-op wineries operating in Alto Adige, the 2010 San Michele-Appiano joins a floral, fruity nose to a light, crisp body. Limited yields are key to the wine’s complexity; 70 percent of the grapes for this vintage are produced with wire frame trellises (Guyots)—a widespread trend in the region to increase competition among vines.

A 2009 Erste + Neue Sauvignon Blanc “Puntay” is floral and fruit-forward with a mellow finish, thanks to aging in both steel tanks and oak barrels, cutting the grape’s often zippy acidity with just enough soft oak.

And a 2009 “Quartz” Terlano Sauvignon is so-named for the quartz porphyry, or red volcanic rock, it grows in. A mixture of mineral crystal deposits and sandy, porous soil means easy warmth and high sugar production. The result, which the producer says is “as transparent as the quartz crystals in Terlano,” is ripe and full-bodied with robust, but not heavy-handed, minerality. It’s a marriage of structure and romance, or the cultural consummation of Germanic and Italian collision.
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