Paul Marcus Wines
Oakland, CA 94618
Alois Lageder's Alto Adige vineyards
with the Dolomites beyond.
This newsletter features the wines of the Alto Adige - a breathtakingly beautiful region nestled in northeastern Italy's Dolomites. As always, the best way to learn about and enjoy these wines is to drink them with foods that they complement well. You will have that opportunity on Monday August 22nd at Eccolo restaurant in Berkeley. Kathleen Ventura at Eccolo and Erik and Mark from Paul Marcus Wines have selected six of our favorite Alto Adige wines:
Alois Lageder Lagrein Rosé 2004
Cantina Valle Isarco Veltliner 2004
Ansitz Waldgries Weissburgunder 2004
Ansitz Waldgries St. Magdalener Classico 2004
Ignaz Niedrist Lagrein Gries 'Berger Gei' 2002
Cantina Valle Isarco Pinot Nero 2003
We will be on hand to answer questions about the wines and traditional cuisine of this unique Italian region.
As always, chef Christopher Lee will prepare a special menu to accompany the wines. You will be able to order both food and wine à la carte. Prices for first courses are $7-14 and for main courses $14-$28. All wines will be available by the 2-ounce pour, 6-ounce glass, and bottle.
If you would like to make reservations or have questions about the dinner, call Eccolo at 510.644.0444. Eccolo's address is 1820 Fourth Street, Berkeley. For more information, including the food menu, see www.eccolo.com/specialevents.htm.
by Erik d'Azevedo
In June I had the pleasure of visiting the Alto Adige region of northeastern Italy, a trip sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission, Indexport International, and Vinity Imports, from whom we receive some Alto Adige wines. Traveling with a group of importers, retailers, and restaurateurs from the U.S, I was led through a whirlwind of intense tastings and meetings with some of the extraordinary people and winemakers of this region .
Arriving in Rome, I took a two-hour flight up to Bolzano, a picturesque town nestled at the foot of the Dolomite Mountains. The small turbo-prop plane cruised up the gorges and valleys of this lush, green, mountainous region, where hundreds of tiny vineyard patches climb the steep, terraced slopes. At 1,200 to 3,000 feet above sea level, these are the highest vineyards in Europe. Extensive apple orchards line the lower slopes, attesting to the Alto Adige's preeminence as a supplier of apples in Europe.
The local people in Bolzano speak Italian of course, but German is the first language for many of them. The Alto Adige, or Südtirol ("South Tyrol") in German, was part of Austria until after World War I, and the region still maintains a strong südtirolese cultural identity in its language, cuisine, wines, and architecture. This is why you will find so many German names on the wine labels. Towns, streets, and even wines all have names in both Italian and German.
The main white wines produced in the region are pinot grigio, weissburgunder (pinot bianco / pinot blanc), sylvaner, müller thurgau, kerner, chardonnay, gewürztraminer (traminer aromatico), goldsmuskateller (moscato giallo / yellow muscat), and sauvignon blanc. The best tend to be pinot bianco, sauvignon blanc, and chardonnay.
Primary red varieties are schiava (also called vernatsch), lagrein, blauburgunder (pinot noir), merlot, and cabernet sauvignon. St. Magdalener (or Santa Maddalena) is a blend of 90% schiava and 10% lagrein.
The Alto Adige is one of Italy's newest regions to develop a modern wine industry, but good wines were made here even before the Romans arrived. Most Alto Adige wines are produced in cooperatives that can source fruit from hundreds of growers, but there are also some small, family-run operations that have gotten much international attention. One of the latter is Josef Reiterer, maker of Arunda sparkling wines. (Arunda is the name of the area in Alto Adige where Ladino - a local language not to be confused with the Judeo-Spanish Ladino - is spoken.)
Josef Reiterer pours for Erik and his colleagues.
[Photo by Charlie Augello.]
Josef Reiterer is an important figure in the region's winemaking, as he is a consultant to many other winemakers. His wines are extremely compelling, and some of the greatest Méthode Champenoise wines I have tasted outside of Champagne. The fruit is sourced painstakingly from three or four areas and are blends of chardonnay, pinot bianco (100 percent organic) and pinot noir. (Arunda also makes a terrific brut rosé.) The bottles are all hand riddled before racking. Josef has an amazing amount of energy and knowledge of the region, and so it was pure pleasure tasting through his cuvees. His Vivaldi Riserva 1988 (bottled in 1996), and Cuvée Marianne (his wife) were marvels in winemaking. Production is very tiny - usually around 7,000 bottles of the top wines each year.
We dined that night at a good local restaurant, Gasthof Waldbicl, which is perched atop a mountain and has an incredible view. Josef accompanied us, selected wines for the dinner, and generally held forth with his formidable knowledge and infectious humor. We were served knodel, a popular dumpling filled with cheese, and Alto Adige speck, local air-cured ham, lightly smoked. Then there was goulasch, followed by housemade apple strudel, and grappa. During dinner, I conversed with Josef, comparing our tastes in wines, a discussion that resulted in his invitation to continue the evening at his home with a "nightcap" consisting of some fabulous bottles pulled from his own cellar. It was quite a night. We arrived back at the hotel and hit our rooms to refresh for an early start the next morning.
The following morning we headed up to one of the 50 castles scattered through Alto Adige, the magnificent Castello Fahlburg in Tiesens. The Brandis family purchased this medieval fortress in 1600, at the time when the emperor appointed them to serve as governors of Tirol. The castle was enlarged and renovated with paintings on the ceilings and paneled walls typical of the late Renaissance. At the entrance, there is a beautiful garden with lawns, a restaurant, and a cafe.
Upstairs we were led through a labyrinth of enormous rooms with paneled ceilings into one large elegant room where the presentation of wines took place. After a short film, a talk about local food products, and a sampling speck ham, we tasted approximately 17 white wines from several major cooperatives and small producers. Among the better wines tasted were '04 pinot bianco and pinot grigio from Andrianer Kellerei, '04 pinot grigio (the second most planted grape variety in Südtirol), sauvignon blanc from Kellerei Kaltern, '04 chardonnay and müller thurgau from Kellerei Bozen, '04 müller thurgau from and sylvaner from Niedermayr, and sauvignon blanc from E&N cooperative. Following this, we went to lunch in the adjoining dining room, where there was a spectacular view of the lush mountainous terrain. We were served a sampling of local speck hams, sausages and salamis, local trout in a beautiful presentation, and fruit with local cheeses.
There were several lovely wines served with lunch, but soon we were back to the work of tasting some 17 red wines from the same producers as the whites of the morning. Standouts among these were '02 blauburgunder from Niedermayr, Kellerei Kaltern, and Kossler, some well-made cabernet and merlot from E&N and Andrianer Kellerei's Tor di Lupo selection, excellent lagrein from Kossler, Kellerei Bozen, Andrianer Kellerei, and riserva '02 from Niedermayr. (Niedermayr has been working with lagrein since 1852.)
Vineyards, rooftops, and mountains in the Alto Adige.
[Photo by Charlie Augello.]
After sampling gewürztraminer grappa, pear and blueberry eau-de-vies from Roner distillery (only the most seasoned tasters survived), we rolled down the hill to more tastings with Cantina Andrianer, the oldest cooperative in Südtirol. At this cantina, we were led down into three levels of cellars that date back to 1893, but that have since been merged with state-of-the-art facilities, including modern steel tanks. There were some excellent dry whites and very good reds here, particularly, the Tor di Lupo line of lagrein riservas, cabernets, sauvignon blanc, and gewürztraminers from Renon, southeast of Bolzano. (An '03 late harvest one had a great, dry finish.)
Dinner that night was memorable. The restaurant was Zür Rose, a one-star Michelin establishment, where Chef Herbert Hintner creates masterful highly imaginative dishes in a cozy 13th century building in the small village of San Michele Appiano. Here we happened upon Josef Niedermayr, whose wines we had tasted at Schloss Fahlburg castle, and from whom I had inquired about ageability of lagrein. Niedermayr and his wife brought us two older bottles of their lagrein to taste with our meal. The wines, a 1985, and a 1996 riserva, were great, and confirmed lagrein's ability to age well. Both these wines were consumed with the main course, and were a perfect match.
The meal began with a selection of local cured meats and hams, followed by seared escolar with a sorbet of red peppers that was sublime. There was shoulder of local lamb prepared confit-like with crisped skin and tender moist meat—some of the most flavorful lamb I've ever tasted. The '85 lagrein riserva was elegant, soft and nuanced with gorgeous aromas of dark chocolate, prunes, and tea. (Older vines tend to have these types of aromas and flavors) The '96 Riserva was very deep and velvety, with raisin/mocha, cherry notes. The Niedermayrs explained that younger vine lagrein tends to express more light chocolate and flower aromas and flavors. With this part of the meal came some roast loin on a bed of chickpea purée with a wispy strip of spicy, slightly sweetened demiglace sauce—incredible. This was followed by a platter of sweets, chocolates and petit fours, and then a caramelized cherry strudel served with passito wines (Anthos from Kellerei Kaltern, a late harvest blend of gewürztraminer, sauvignon blanc, and ribolla giallo), and espresso.
The next day there was a visit to the E&N and Caldaro wineries cooperative, built in 1900 by a parish priest. The deep vaulted cellars are painted with bright images of biblical and mythological stories. This cooperative takes its grapes from 520 growers around Bolzano. Tasting through their wines, I was particularly taken with the Puntay wines, the top level of wines produced here.
After the tasting, we hiked with winemaker Helmuth Zozin through the biodynamic vineyards up to the castle of Baron Giovanelli, the cooperative owner. Helmuth is an intense and passionate man. He gave us a fascinating account of vineyard management, which includes biodynamic practices like filling steer horns with manure and grape must and burying them in the northeastern-most corner of the vineyards, anointing vines with must/manure solution, and planting and harvesting according to lunar cycles. We were then treated to lunch on the lawns overlooking the vineyards. The repast included an elaborate spread of local cheeses, cured meats, salads, and breads, and of course white wines and locally brewed beer.
On to the Kossler winery, a spotless clean cooperative with sound, well made wines from the usual local grape varieties. Twenty percent of their fruit is estate owned, 80 percent is coop-ed fruit. Their top wines are limited to only 1000 cases. The entry level and second level wines revealed some good blends of pinot bianco, pinot grigio, traminer, and chardonnays. There were some very sexy, delicious wines from their top level, including '02 cab-merlot, '02 lagrein, and lagrein-schiava, all aged in 100 percent new French barriques.
Afterwards, we made our way to the Roner distillery, where some of region's best grappas and eau-de-vie fruit brandies are made. The tour of the facilities ended with a tasting of some of their products. Of special interest was a grappa blended with egg yolks and sugar. It was bright yellow and sweet without being cloying, and rather zabaglione like...delicious!On our last night we visited Bolzano's Medieval quarter, where we dined at Vogele. Josef Reiterer (Arunda) joined us and selected wines. We started with two sauvignon blancs, one fermented in stainless steel, the other in new oak barrels. Both were quite good with a fillet of mild white fish. We also had a '98 Lageder "Romigberg" cabernet (really great), an '01 Kellerei Gries lagrein, and an '01 lagrein riserva, both quite good. These were selected from an excellent list of all local wines. We left for the hotel happy and very full, strolling through the streets listening to live music and watching the throngs of people milling around and eating outdoors at the late hour. It was a little sad leaving this place that was so full of life and vitality, but then, there is no reason not to return.
Here's a list of the Alto Adige wines that we currently stock. Come in and ask us for descriptions and food pairing recommendations.
It may help to know that some Alto Adige wineries have two names - the name of the proprietor and the name of the property. We've listed both here.
Celebrating the 1900 lagrein vintage at
Erbhof Unterganzner (Mayr).
Alois Lageder Lagrein Rosé 2004 ($15).
Cantina Produttori Gries Pinot Bianco 2002 ($6.99)
Alois Lageder Chardonnay 2003 ($8.99)
Cantina Produttori Bolzano Pinot Grigio 'La Pergola' 2004 ($10.99)
Cantina Valle Isarco Veltliner 2004 ($13.99)
Cantina Valle Isarco Kerner 2004 ($15)
Heinrich Plattner / Ansitz Waldgries Weissburgunder 2004 ($17)
Weingut Niklas Weissburgunder 2004 ($20)
Weingut Niklas Sauvignon 2004 ($23)
Heinrich Plattner / Ansitz Waldgries St. Magdelener Classico 2004 ($13.99)
Josephus Mayr / Erbhof Unterganzner St. Magdelener 2003 ($18)
Elena Walch Lagrein 2003 ($16)
Heinrich Plattner / Ansitz Waldgries Lagrein 2004 ($20)
Ignaz Niedrist Lagrein Gries 2002 ($33)
by Paul Courtright
I was having lunch with a friend in the wine business recently, and he recounted the story of an Italian winemaker who likes to compare his cabernet sauvignon based wines to the top wines of Bordeaux. It's a fair comparison (two wines from different regions, using the same grapes), and the Italian wines hold their own. This way of thinking is fairly common in the world of wine - pick a benchmark and hold any variety of wines to that standard.
That's a tricky proposition, though. The idea that there is a standard definition of "quality" is very appealing. There's a lot of wine out there, and there's the potential to spend a lot of money. If we can assume that there is one ideal for "great" wine and compare everything to that, it can make the daunting task of choosing a bottle a little easier and hopefully ensure that we get our money's worth. On the other hand, the world of wine is incredibly varied, as are individual tastes - what happens if you don't like the benchmark that everything is being compared to?
In the end, this way of thinking seems to point toward a "one size fits all" world of wine. If big, rich, intense wines are the definition of quality, then everyone must want a wine like that all the time, right? Never mind the fact that it's a warm summer afternoon, and what you really want is something refreshing to drink with whatever you just pulled off the grill. Forget about the long winemaking history of regions and grape varieties that are better suited to making lighter, subtler wines. Disregard the reality that some people prefer Mahler while others would rather listen to Joni Mitchell.
Wine, like music, is something that most people enjoy to some degree. There are as many different ways to enjoy either as there are people who drink or listen. Some of us spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff. We read magazines and web sites that discuss records or wines that few people have heard of. We buy CDs or bottles that are obscure and unusual. We're interested in the finer points of how these things we love were created, and how the people who created them think their products fit into the world at large. Of course, not everyone has the inclination to do that. For many people, a handful of CDs is enough and buying a bottle of wine every now and then is fine. The simple notion of liking a song or enjoying the taste of a wine is enough.
Paul C. searching out some Not Great Wines in Tavel.
Sometime I feel that with wine we're all being asked to hold to one standard. Not only does the idea of the 100-point wine disregard different tastes, it also ignores the different ways that people use wine. Imagine if all music was expected to live up to the standards of Mozart or Beethoven. There is no question that they're great, but does that mean that the Velvet Underground weren't any good because they were less sophisticated? With wine, people have come to accept the idea that the vinous equivalents of Metallica are always the best, and that the little Yo La Tengo wines are somehow less desirable. Sometimes you want to sit down and listen to a symphony, sometimes you want to sing along, and sometimes you just want something playing in the background. Is wine any different?
When most people enter a wine shop, they see hundreds of bottles they know nothing about. They want something that tastes good, and they don't want to feel like they're being ripped off. It's a safer bet to reach for something familiar - you know what to expect from a bottle of Merlot, but what the hell is Lacrima di Morro d'Alba? There may be a new favorite hidden behind one of those labels, but how are you supposed to know?
Robert Parker has positioned himself as the "consumer advocate" of the wine world. He is pretty up front about his mistrust of wine retailers. He assumes that everybody selling wine is just trying to pull a fast one on their customers. This makes sense in light of the fact that most wine purchased in this country is bought at large chain stores and super markets. The wine press exists to help consumers make sense of the world of wines available at the impersonal superstores. But the 100-point scale ends up countering that impersonal atmosphere with this one size fits all mentality.
Obviously, as the buyer for a small wine retailer I have a bias on this issue. Still, I truly believe that there are alternatives to both supermarket wines and the mainstream wine press. I tell everyone who will listen (and some who don't want to) that the best bet to finding good wines is to find a good small retailer. When I'm looking for my new favorite record, I don't head to chain CD stores, I head to smaller places like Mod Lang in Berkeley or Aquarius in San Francisco - someplace where it's clear that the staff loves the music they sell and there's someone to make recommendations. The same holds true for wine. When you shop at a store where someone will talk to you, answer your questions, and ask you questions about your preferences, then your purchases won't be a shot in the dark.
Find a retailer who will take the time to both learn your tastes and expand them. If you do that, you'll be able to find out what your own benchmarks are, and you'll find a wine that fits your tastes and the occasion when you plan to drink it.
In the spirit of Paul Courtright's article, we highlight here some personality-filled but relatively obscure wines that we enjoy drinking. These wines won't be the talk of 100-point-scale-wielding critics, but they will expand your wine horizons and make meal time just a little more fun. Think of them as "indie wines" - wines that push the creative boundaries and move you beyond the greatest hits.
The Alto Adige is the source of many fun indie wines, including Kerner (a white wine similar to a full-bodied, dry riesling), St. Magdalener (a lighter bodied red), and Lagrein (a tangy, fuller bodied red which is also made into a delicious rosé). St. Magdalener is especially delicious with speck, an Alto Adige ham that's available at The Pasta Shop. See "Alto Adige Wines at PMW" earlier in this newsletter for a list of Alto Adige wines that we carry.
Lacrima: Tears of joy.
Morotti Campi is a small winery in Italy's Marche region. They make Rùbico, a remarkable red wine from a regional grape called Lacrima. Lacrima means "tears" in Italian. This thin-skinned grape tends to burst in the warm Italian sun, leaking the "tears" of juice that it is likely named for, and making it a difficult and unreliable grape to tend. The effort appears to be worthwhile however, as Morotti Campi's Lacrima di Morro d'Alba 'Rùbico' 2003 ($11.99) is a wonderfully aromatic wine bursting with fresh red fruit flavors.
Sparkling wine from Michigan? Yes indeed. M. Lawrence's provocatively labeled "Sex" ($16) is sparkling pinot noir and chardonnay that smells like strawberries, earth, and rhubarb. It's brut dry, tastes good, and doesn't cost a lot.
Austrian Blauer Zweigelt from Berger 2004 is the perfect summer red - light, crisp, and fruity. It'll work in a lot of the same settings as pinot noir, and it's only $11.99 for a whole liter. Open it at your next barbecue and watch that whole liter disappear real fast.
The A to Z Pinot Gris 2004 ($11.99) from Oregon is crisp and refreshing. It's a good aperitif and goes well with lightly spicy food.
From the French Alps you'll find unusual whites like Quénard Chignin 2004 ($9.99) and Stéphane Tissot Arbois 'Sélection' 2002 ($23). Chignin has the body to complement richer white meat and pork dishes. Arbois is an utterly unique, semi-oxidized wine (think dry Sherry) that's great with funkier cheeses.
From the Basque Country in northern Spain comes the wonderful white wine Txakolina - bring on the shellfish! Txomin Etxaniz Txakolina 2004 ($18) is one of the best - and how can you not like a wine with that many Ts and Xs in the name? Galicia in northwestern Spain brings us Bierzo, from the unique mencia grape variety. We've got Pittacum's Bierzo 2002 ($20), which works well with roasted meats.This is just a sampling of the less common wine styles that we carry (and drink) at Paul Marcus Wines. The next time that you're in the store, ask any of us to show you our current favorites. We'll help you wow your dinner guests, tingle your taste buds, and support vinous diversity.
We publish newsletters every few months and send them out via e-mail. In addition, we post all issues of the newsletter, plus maps and photographs, on paulmarcuswines.com. If you like what you've read so far, then sign up for e-mail delivery of future newsletters by sending an e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org. And don't worry - we will never, ever sell, rent, or give away your e-mail address.
Our next Eccolo / PMW dinner will take place on Friday September 16. The dinner will feature the wines of I Produttori del Barbaresco, and director Aldo Vacca from Barbaresco will be our special guest. We'll send more information in our next newsletter.