Where Italians Speak German
I had the opportunity to catch up with Alois Lageder of Italy's Alto Adige region this week, which was great, as I'm a big fan of his wines and the wines from this region. Located in the far north of Italy on the east side of the country the Alto Adige borders southern Austria, which is why the majority of the residents in this area speak German as their primary language. The wines reflect a sort of teutonic bent as well--the whites—Rieslings, Pinot Grigios and Sauvignon Blancs, especially—are precise and steely with a great mineral core, just as you'd find in Austria and Germany. The reds are good too, but lesser known. The most famous indigenous variety of red grape there is Lagrein, which has a spicy, peppery component that recalls a lighter Syrah.
Anyway, Lageder's wines are very much in the tradition of the region, though he has distinguished himself both by the consistent excellence of his wines and with his attention to the environment (his estate farming is biodynamic, 50% of his energy is solar and he's carbon neutral).
I tasted his current releases--Riesling 2005, Chardonnay 2003 and Pinot Grigio 2005 as well as an '03 Pinot called Krafuss. All the wines were good, but I was struck most by the two 2005 whites. The Pinot Grigio will turn heads, as it's not the light, blowsy wine that people have come to expect from Italy. Instead, this wine is complex and well-structured with a deep minerality and a pleasing hint of bitter almond on the finish. You can find it at Bevmo for a very reasonable $15.99.