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ITALY: Northern Italia
There is an incredible array of wines made in the Northern part of Italy.
Let's define this region narrowly, including the Val d'Aosta, Liguria, Piemonte
(we've got a whole separate page for this area), Lombardia, the Veneto, Alto Adige,
Trentino and Friuli.
Northern Italy and Major Wine
||Rarely seen in the U.S. as the wines are relatively
"minor" in the context of international quality. If you visit this
mountainous area neighboring France, you'll find grapes such as Prié Blanc, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Gamay,
Petit Rouge, Petit Arvine, Moscato, Malvasia, Blanc de Valdigne, Vien de Nus, Syrah,
Grenache, Müller-Thurgau, Fumin and perhaps some Dolcetto.
||This small coastal area along the Italian Riviera has Genoa as its
main city. Famous for basil (friends swear the basil for their pesto is best grown
on some little hill outside Genoa!), the region has relatively modest quality wines.
Cinqueterre is a famous white wine, but what we've seen in our market has been rather
average in quality. Two white grapes are of interest, Pigato and Vermentino, while
in red there's a Dolcetto-like wine made from what's called "Rossese di
||Only recently gaining some fame, thanks to a couple of
high-profile winemakers, this region between Piemonte and the Veneto has a curious
assortment of wines and grape varieties. Wines of note include: Buttafuoco,
Franciacorta, Grumello, Inferno, Lugana, Oltrepo Pavese, Sassella, Sfursat, Valcalepio
and Valtellina. Grapes here include Pinot Nero, Chardonnay, Nebbiolo, Barbera,
Trebbiano (of various clones), Bonarda, Sangiovese, Marzemino, Schiava Gentile,
Rondinella, Merlot, Pinot Bianco, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Müller-Thurgau,
Riesling, Croatina, Tocai, Pinot Grigio, Brugnola and something called Uva Rara.
||This region, north of Verona and south of the Alto-Adige
(Sudtirol), produces a wide variety of varietal wines. Cabernet, Chardonnay,
Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero, Moscato, Riesling, Nosiola, Pinot Grigio,
Riesling Italico, Riesling Renano, Lagrein, Marzemino, Merlot, Teroldego, Müller-Thurgau
and Traminer are typical varieties.
|ALTO ADIGE -
|All the villages here have names in German and Italian and many of
the wineries offer their wines with both German and Italian names on the labels.
The locals grow up speaking German as their first language and speak of
Italians as though they're foreigners! There is an incredible assortment of wines
here. The Italian names are listed below, with the German name noted
Moscato Giallo (Goldenmuskateller), Pinot Bianco (Weissburgunder), Pinot Grigio
(Rülander), Riesling Italico (Welschriesling), Muller-Thurgau, Riesling Renano
(Rheinriesling), Sauvignon, Sylvaner, Traminer Aromatico (Gewürztraminer), Malvasia,
Merlot, Cabernet, Lagrein (the rosé being called Rosato, while the "dark" or
red is called Scuro in Italian, Dunkel in German), Pinot Nero (Blauburgunder) Schiava
(Vernatsch), Moscato Rosa and Tschaggeler.
||This large region touches a piece of Austria at the north, with
land just west of Verona all the way east to Venice. The most famous wines include
Soave (made of Garganega and Trebbiano), Valpolicella (Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara
as its principal varieties), Bardolino (Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara,
principally), Prosecco and Bianco di Custoza. There are other denominazione such as
Breganze, Colli Berici, Colli Euganei, Lessini Durello, Lison-Pramaggiore and Piave.
Producers of Valpolicella pride themselves on Amarone and Recioto wines, both made
from dried grapes, the former tending to be powerfully dry, while the latter tending
to be strong and in varying degrees of sweetness. Soave producers also,
often, make a dessert wine of dried grapes called Recioto di Soave. You can find
many wines of the region as varietal wines, so there's a lot of Merlot, Cabernet, Pinot
Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Noir, etc.
||In Italy's northeast corner, this region has about six sub-regions
and wineries here tend to make a range of varietal wines. Many produce curious
proprietary blends. Frankly, we don't look to this region for "good value"
wines. For example, Sauvignon Blanc wines here cost the importer about the same
number of dollar that most California Sauvignons fetch at a retail or consumer level.
The DOC of "Colli Orientali del Friuli" is probably the most prestigious, while
"Grave del Friuli" tends to produce less pricey wines. In addition to the
"standard" varieties such as Sauvignon (Blanc), Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon,
Cabernet Franc, Pinot Nero, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Riesling, a number of local
varieties are noteworthy. Refosco is a modest red, while Tocai Friulano is a typical
white. Now they can't call it "Tocai Friulano," so you'll
see these wines labeled simply as "Friulano." Schioppettino tends to be a spicy, lightly peppery red. Pignolo is a rare red wine of
interesting quality. A couple of white grapes make wonderful dessert wines:
Verduzzo (sometimes made into a bubbly or fizzy wine) and Picolit.
Some Wines We Like:
- POJER & SANDRI
is a famous, highly-regarded winery located way up in the hills overlooking
the Trentino region.
We first visited this estate in the early 1980s and they were nearly
"cult" figures back then. Today our European friends, all of
whom are fans of this winery, reserve their purchases long before the
wines are even bottled! Happily production has grown a bit and we
were able to introduce P&S to a good importer who features artisan and
The climate in this area is varied and the list of varieties made here is
impressive. For years Pojer & Sandri were thought of as bianchisti,
or white wine producers. But they even make impressive red
wines. So impressive, in fact, that they were invited a couple of
years ago to come to Oregon's famous International Pinot Noir
conference! But they also produce a dynamite red blend featuring
For the most part, the wines come from high-elevation vineyards just north
of the city of Trento. You need an hour and 20 minutes in the car if
you're coming from Verona. And you're 45 minutes south of Bolzano in
the Alto Adige. The village of Faedo is a sleepy little place, apart
from this landmark-of-a-winery and a few other small cellars.
Fiorentino Sandri inherited a few hectares of vineyards and he teamed up
with his buddy, Mario Pojer to create a little boutique winery in the
mid-1970s. Sandri handles the vineyard work and Pojer is the
The pair continually strives to make better quality wines. CLICK
HERE to go to a web page on the winery site enumerating
their pioneering efforts with respect to various wines and innovations
with gizmos and machinery to improve quality.
Over the years we've become almost a family member...the kids have come to
California and have "hung out" with their American Zio
Mario is one of those brilliant fellows who looks at everything, makes an
evaluation and, if he likes a concept, works to perfect it. He came
to our shop and saw how we use a tank of argon in our wine-tasting
room. On a trip to Italy we saw they now have a tank of argon gas in
their tasting, but Mario devised a really cool dispensing gizmo to sparge
open bottles and preserve them after each pour.
He's worked with a company which builds pumping machines. The
innovation there was aimed at minimizing the potential for oxidation when
moving grapes and wine. This translates to winemaking with less SO2
They've designed a machine to clean the grapes immediately after harvest
and prior to their being crushed.
- In fact, we visited Ca' del Bosco, the famous
Franciacorta -sparkling wine- producer, and saw they employ this machine now as are other wineries.
We found a video showing this grape-washing in action at Ca' del
CLICK HERE to have a look at that.
We were skeptical about this frankly, thinking the "spa" might
wash away beneficial components adhering to the grape skins.
Apparently it is not detrimental to wine quality.
- Mario Pojer
Now that their kids are grown up, it's great to see they have an
interest in the family business. Elisa Sandri has been in charge of sales
and administration for a number of years. Her brother Federico seems to be
the winery ambassador and travels around the world to promote their wines.
Meanwhile, Matteo Pojer was sent to Friuli to a winemaking school in 2017.
Now he's speaking German and learning at the famous wine school in
Geisenheim. His sister Marianna is learning about Public Relations and
handles some social media projects for the winery.
It's a really wonderful enterprise and if you have not tasted
their wines, you should consider exploring these. The wines are
"mountain wines" and you won't find them to be the fruit bombs made in
warm-climate California sites. For some tasters, the wines may be a bit
too subtle. These are usually not extreme in alcohol potency, for one
MULLER-THURGAU is a bit of a specialty and it's grown on a hill close to
the winery. Palai is the name of the specific site and the wine takes
It's vinified in stainless steel and does not see any wood. It's
a rather delicate, crisp dry white and, frankly, oak would do nothing for
this wine aside from covering it.
You'll find nice lemon and lime notes on the nose with a faint herbal tone,
along the lines of a good Sauvignon Blanc.
It's not a very "big" wine and we enjoy this as a
cocktail white or paired with seafood. It seems to work nicely in
tandem with Asian-styled foods, white fish or mildly-season vegetable
The 2019 has just landed and we've sale-tagged it at $19.99
Nosiola grape may be an offspring of something from Northwest Italy's Aosta
region. It had been viewed as a table grape until someone made it into
a Vin Santo in the early 1800s. This catapulted the variety to much
- It got another boost in the 1930s when the
Archbishop of Trento decided to stop using red wine for religious ceremonies
and change to white wine. If he spilled Nosiola on his white vestments,
who would notice?
Nosiola these days is made by a number of wineries in the Trentino
area. We've tasted, amongst others, the wine made by the wine
university at the base of the hill near Pojer e Sandri. The Instituto
di San Michele all'Adige bottles and sells its wines and theirs is a
perfectly good rendition.
- But the 2017 from Pojer e Sandri has more
life and character. Still, it's a light, dry, crisp white wine...think
of a French Chablis, for example, but perhaps a tad more quiet and
reserved. We're told this wine can actually age well and so holding it
for five years, or more, is not out of the question.
You can pair this with white-sauced pasta dishes, simple risotto, light
salads and mildly-seasoned seafood.
Our friend Fiamma Sandri says Nosiola pairs well with any sort of avocado
dish, including her Mom's surprisingly good, mildly spicy Guacamole.
may note have experienced wine made from the Rotberger grape.
It's a grape that makes a light red, at best.
The grape is thought, these days, to be a crossing of Trollinger (or Schiava
in Italy) and Riesling. The Geisenheim university brought this grape
to life and it's not widely-planted.
Rotberger shines brightly when vinified as a Rosato and we were surprised to
find the local importer brought in some Vin dei Molini.
The wine is bottled in the late winter/early spring to retain its mildly
berryish, lightly herbal notes.
to see a little video we shot when they were bottling this wine.
- The wine is fresh and mildly herbal. We detect red fruits and a some
currants. It's dry and light...we paired it with lunch at a San
Francisco Dim Sum restaurant and it was delicious. But it can also be
matched with a salumi platter, oysters, prawn dishes, mild pasta and risotto
or white meats.
- Pinot Noir comes from high elevation sites. One parcel is about 1000
feet above sea level, another is at 1640 feet while the highest is 2300
feet. In addition to the cooling influences of these mountainous
sites, there's the breezes called "Ora" that flow in off
the nearby Lago di Garda.
As a result, this is a light and delicate Pinot Noir, but it's not a weak or
feeble red wine.
If you're expecting a wine of the depth and weight of a good vintage from
the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, why then, yes, you will be in for a
- But if you understand that it's sort of a picnic wine and intended for
lighter fare, served lightly chilled along the lines of a Rosé or
Beaujolais, you will be delighted.
- Their signature wine for us is called Rosso Faye. Faye is a
reference to their hometown, Faedo, not the name of one of the wives or
We believe the current bottling to be half Cabernet Sauvignon and the other
half comprised of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and the wildcard, Lagrein (a local
We currently have the 2016. This vintage doesn't display as much
cedary oak character as the previous bottling we had (2012). It's a
medium bodied red and seems to do best when it's decanted about an hour
ahead of service.
- Our dear friend Claus Bonifer treated us to a magnum of a nicely-aged
Rosso Faye. It was a 1996 vintage and served at 20 years of age.
My, oh my, this was a handsome bottle of wine.
- We found it to be reminiscent of well-aged Saint-Julien wines, for
example. It develops more rapidly than those magnificent wines from
France's Bordeaux region, but this certainly was a ringer for a wine which
might have been a decade, or so, older.
The 2011 is an exceptional wine. It's got a pretty good backbone,
but is drinkable now. If you pair it with grilled or roasted red
meat dishes, you'll be in for a treat. It's not "Spaghetti
Red," so pairing it with a tomato-sauced pasta won't show off the
wine to the fullest. The P&S families suggest Veal Shanks with
Polenta, grilled steaks, rack of lamb or cheeses. They're partial to
local cheeses such as Trentigrana or Vezzena.
The 2012 was exceptional, but now sold out.
- In addition to their bottle-fermented sparkling wines, they make a
curious bubbly called Zero Infinito.
In the nearby Val di Cembra they cultivate a vine called Solaris.
It's a variety born the same year as the Pojer e Sandri winery as a
viticulturist in Germany's Freiberg crossed "Merzling" with
The professors doing this work were trying to create a disease-free vine
and it seems they are successful.
The lack of vineyard treatments, then, is one Zero. No
Then, as it finishes its fermentation in the bottle, it has no sweetening
dosage, yet another Zero.
Some may describe this as a "Pet Nat," a currently popular fizzy
Others may say it's a Méthode Ancestrale sparkling wine...
The wine is rather cloudy and hazy when it shows up at the shop. If
the bottles are left untouched for a week, the wine becomes clear as the
yeast sediments settle to the bottom of the bottle.
There are two ways to serve this. One is to decant the clear wine
off the sediment which yields a more aromatically fruity bubbly.
If you prefer something a bit more rustic, gently agitate the bottle and
pour the wine with its sediment.
When you have the clear fizzy Zero Infinito, you'll find fragrances of a
fruit bowl. We've enjoyed the grapefruit-like notes in some
bottles. Others are reminiscent of fresh honeydew melon, pears and
Every bottle, though, is unique.
they're not making large quantities of sparkling wines, they do make an
excellent bubbly which is extremely dry. Like French Champagne, the
wine is made of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The wine
spends about two and a half years on the spent yeast before
disgorgement. No sweetening dosage is added, so the wine is too dry
for most people.
Tasting the current line-up.
TO SEE SOME PHOTOS.
- Currently in stock: 2016 ROSSO FAYE (List $65) SALE $49.99
2019 MULLER THURGAU SALE $19.99
2019 NOSIOLA $19.99
2019 VIN DEI MOLINI (Rosato) $18.99
2018 PINOT NERO $24.99
ZERO INFINITO SPARKLING WINE $24.99
Their grappa finally arrived. Please inquire.
Link to a little video...it's in
Italian, but you can see people flock to taste their wines at the Italian
wine fair, Vin Italy.
The comments from those interviewed is quite enthusiastically laudatory.
These people are in the wine business in Italy, people who work in wine
shops and restaurants for the most part.
could not know the Trentino grape called Teroldego without knowing the wines of
You could not.
Her wines had been the reference point for this wonderful grape, a variety that's
particular to the Campo Rotaliano, a small region north of Trento.
There's lots of limestone and granite to the soil here. Ms. Foradori
has worked diligently to plant and re-plant good "clones" of
Teroldego, preferring vines which will produce quality fruit, often at the
expense of quantity. The region, actually, had been carpeted with
Teroldego from more vigorously-producing clones, so Foradori took cuttings
from her family's oldest vines (heirloom Teroldego, if you will) to
propagate. Elisabetta says they have about 17 clones of Teroldego
- The Famous Principessa of Teroldego.
In the cellar...
It was a warm morning, so we tasted outside...a "Fuoradori"
Her basic Teroldego is labeled simply as "Foradori." It
carries the "Rotaliano" D.O.C. It comes from
various vineyard sites from her major holdings in the Rotaliano
"region." The average age of these vines is older than
the winemaker, which is a good thing. The fermentation takes
place in stainless steel and the wine is matured in seasoned oak for about a
year. These are routinely delicious and a great alternative to wines
such as Chianti Classico, Barbera, etc. We currently still have her 2009
"Granato" is a wine that's also made entirely of Teroldego, but
though it's the more "special" wine, it has the lesser denominazione
of the I.G.T. of Vigneti delle Dolomiti Rosso. The wine comes
from various vineyard sites, all cultivated with more severe pruning in the
winter to reduce the yields and maximize the intensity of Teroldego.
This used to be, for us, a benchmark wine.
More recently the Granato has become a more standard quality wine to our
Interestingly the critics have routinely awarded the wine high marks,
despite it being so different and for us, less complex and less striking
than the wine she made in the early 2000s.
We recently tasted the 2015 Granato...it was merely a standard bottle of red
wine. No longer is the majestic wine of the late 1990s and early
Some winemaker friends we've queried say they're perplexed by the various
ratings as they think the wines have been less interesting.
A trio of other wines rounds out her portfolio. A white wine called
"Myrto" features Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco and Incrocio
Manzoni. There's a particular red blend featuring Cabernet Sauvignon
with Syrah, Petit Verdot and 10% of local, "Foradori"
varieties. And, finally, she's been bitten by the Syrah bug, creating
a wine called Ailanpa of which she makes about three bottles every few
Elisabetta has recently become enamored with terracotta amphora containers
for her wines. We wondered about the use of these and how it might
impact the wines.
We have felt the quality of the wines we've tasted in 2015, 2016 and 2017
has been a bit disappointing.
In 2018 we tasted the range of wines and felt the basic bottling had
improved, but we were not thrilled by the various whites, nor the current
A couple of single vineyard Teroldego wines were rather nice and of good
We currently have the 2018 Vintage of her Teroldego...it's a medium-bodied
version and you won't find wood to be a part of the flavor profile in this
It's best served lightly chilled and probably a wine for immediate
- Currently in stock: 2018 Foradori Teroldego "Normale" $27.99
Dipoli is a highly-regarded vintner in Italy's Alto Adige region and
he's been making a full-throttle dry white made of Sauvignon Blanc for
He's an Alto Adige native and studied at the wine school in the Trentino
region, the Istituto Agrario di San Michele all'Adige. Armed with his
degree, he then went to work for a branch of the Centro di
In 1987 he was able to purchase a small vineyard of 1.2 hectares (not
quite 3 acres) near the town of Cortaccia. The vineyard was
planted with the local red grape called Schiava, but Dipoli said he
wouldn't slavishly make this little wine so he replanted it with
Sauvignon Blanc, feeling this would make a more noteworthy wine.
The first vintage was the 1990. Today he's got 3 hectares of
Sauvignon, working out to not quite 7.5 acres.
The winery also produces some interesting red wines, with Cabernet and
Merlot being the players there.
- The vineyard for the Sauvignon is located about 500 to 600 meters in
elevation (1600-2000 feet, roughly) and the soil has sandy soils with
limestone, a good combination, Peter explains.
The swing between warm temps during the day and cold nights allows the
fruit to retain good levels of acidity. The Sauvignon then has
lengthy "hang time" so it loses the vegetal or bell-pepper
notes and takes on a more exotic fruit character.
The vineyard was planted with a number of different clones of Sauvignon
Blanc, but Dipoli says if and when he has to replant, he'd select just
two or three. "Loire Valley clones of Sauvignon might work
well in France, but they don't necessarily produce the best wine
here," he told us.
The wine is fermented in wood, but not French oak: Acacia barrels.
It stays in wood until May following the vintage. They will stir
the spent yeast sediment several times a month for the first few months
and then simply allow this haziness to settle in barrel before bottling
It seems to age handsomely, too. We tasted a couple of young
vintages on our visit and then one that was 8+ years old. It
resembled a wine you might identify as being from France's Alsace.
Exotic notes of baked apple-like fruit.
A 5+ year old bottling was very fine and quite complex and elegant.
A tank sample of a recent vintage was very shy and quiet, not unlike
Dipoli himself. "My wine needs a couple of years to
develop." he explained.
The 2015 is currently in stock. It's the product of a rather warm
growing season. It's ripe and mildly herbal with a suggestion of a
woodsy note. Quite elegant, but it's not a bright, fruity
Sauvignon along the lines of Sauvignons from New Zealand or the
No...there's a "wild" element to this wine, along with some of
the herbal notes of Sauvignon. It's dry and slightly
minerally on the palate. The flavors change a bit as the wine gets
some air and warms up from the cold refrigerator
It's not for every palate, but if you're in tune with this wine, it is
Dipoli, by the way, also has a side business of representing some of his
neighbors and other wineries, so he's well-connected in the world of
Italian wines. He's a good judge of wines, too. We were
amused to hear him use the term "siliconato" to
describe wines that are pumped up and overly alcoholic. These
would be some of the "fruit bombs" that get huge numerical
scores from so-called experts.
Siliconato. As in "silicone" implants to augment
someone's appearance in an artificial way.
Currently in stock: 2015 PETER DIPOLI Alto Adige
Yes...that's an empty bottle of wine from Santa Barbara's Au Bon
Il Professore tasting Voglar.
- Tasting a tank sample
- This story sounds similar to other top, little wineries in Italy's
Alto Adige. The grapes from this place had been sold to a local
grower's co-op winery but when Manni was ready to take over the azienda,
he decided he would prefer to make his own wine. Add to that, the
co-op closed its doors.
Nössing's father made money raising cows and selling milk. The
vintages for milk are less important and the customer base is decidedly
more local. Nobody more than a few kilometers away knew the family
name. But Manni is well-known around the world in the connoisseur
Nössing spent some time at the winery of a nearby artisan, Peter
Pliger. Kuenhof. Pliger is a white wine "meister"
and produces an impressive range of elegant and flavorful white
wines. We feature Kuenhof's Riesling called "Kaiton" as
it's our favorite of his line-up.
Nössing, though, makes a similar range of wines but his Kerner is
really stellar. In fact, all his wines are damned
There are perhaps 2.5 hectares of Kerner in Nössing's vineyards, by far
his largest planting.
The grape is a crossing of Riesling and the red grape called
We've enjoyed a number of Kerner wines from the Alto Adige, but Nössing's
is probably the most intensely aromatic and the most lively.
Nössing told us "I am called Mister/Signor/Herr Kerner" by
many people. And why not?
His wine is remarkably good.
He described the Kerner grape as "a sugar factory" and said
the grape requires great attention during the growing season and,
especially, around harvest time.
"Years ago, when I first started, we made very light, acidic
wines. Now, thanks to warmer weather we're making slightly bigger
wines. And we make wines to drink, not to swirl in a glass for
examination and wonderment. My wines are made to drink."
We have his killer 2016 Kerner in stock. It's beautifully aromatic
and displays some peach-like fruit. I thought it might have a
little bit of residual sugar, but Mister Kerner says there's but 3 grams
of sugar (5 is the threshold for most people), so it will taste dry to
the vast majority of tasters. The acidity is a bit high, too, so
it's crisp and zesty on the palate.
- If you want to taste a benchmark for the Kerner grape, this is a good
place to start. And maybe to stop.
Currently in stock: 2016 MANNI NÖSSING
Eisacktaler KERNER $29.99
Vineyards in late winter near the Nössing winery behind the winery.
Here's a view out to the front of the winery.
Meanwhile, downstairs in the cellar...
- Mostly white wines, of course...
...but a little bit of red. A St. Magdalener.
When we try to explain the Carso wine region, most people are
befuddled. They have enough trouble imagining precisely where Friuli
is located until we say "an hour's train ride north of Venice."
Trieste is a town many people have heard of but few could point on a map
with any confidence and peg its location. The Carso region is north
of Trieste along the sea (the Gulf of Trieste, actually) and it's a region
with wines most Italians would consider to be "foreign."
of the leading winemakers, if not THE leading vintner, is Edi Kante.
His wines are regarded as the benchmark of Carso winemaking. And one
of the curious varieties I'd tasted from some Friuli producers who are
located close to or on the border with Slovenia is a wine called Vitovska.
Kante's is a remarkable bottle of wine. You can 'taste' or sense the
chalky soils where the vines are planted. Some tasters may find an
element or influence of the sea, as you might find a note of salt air in
the wine. I found a definite minerality in the wine, with a touch of
apple and pear notes. You could mistake this for some stony,
minerally Chablis perhaps. It's less aromatic than a good Sancerre,
but has that almost chalky element on the palate.
We purchased a bottle of Kante's Malvasia and Sauvignon Blanc. The
Sauvignon is nice, but not as compelling as the Vitovska.
Currently in stock: KANTE Carso VITOVSKA
Sold Out Presently
There's a marvelous cellar well below ground.
Some wineries have a guest book for visitors to sign.
Kante's guest book is a bit unusual.
- This is
a 302 member grower's cooperative winery whose Gewürztraminer is amazingly
fine! The winery was started in 1898 and in 1971 it merged with
another co-op. They are located in storybook town of Tramin (or Termeno
If you visit this village, you'll immediately notice is does resemble
some of the towns in France's Alsace, another bastion of the Gewürztraminer
- You might think they make loads of industrial-quality wine, but this is an
exemplary cellar and they have rather high standards. The winemaker is
Willi Stürz and he's a perfectionist. It's challenging to manage 302
small parcels owned by people whose idea is to harvest the maximum possible
quantity of fruit while your idea as a winemaker is to create something of
top quality. Quantity and quality don't usually pair up in the world
of wine, so pick one or the other.
The vineyards of the member growers are situated in the hometown of Tramin,
of course, and nearby Ora, Egna and Montagna. That's Auer,
Neumarkt and Montan in German. Each town has its name in both Italian
The entire line-up of wines is of good quality and a few of the wines are
Winemaker Willi Stürz
The Nussbaumer Gewürztraminer is extraordinary and holds its own with just about any dry
Gewürz from France's Alsace region. The vineyards are in clay and limestone,
the exposure being south and south-west. A portion of the grapes are picked
somewhat late, when they're really ripe and intensely aromatic. The
juice is macerated with the grape skins to further intensify the spice
notes. What a wine! Intense fragrances of lychees, grapefruits
and rose petals waft from the glass. The wine is quite dry, too, with
but 7 or 8 grams of sugar per liter, typically. This balances the
slight bitter finish and balances the wine quite handsomely.
- During the holiday season a woman visiting us from San Francisco asked
about Gewürztraminer, wanting to see our selection of wines from
Alsace. She looked at me sideways when I proudly showed her a bottle
"How could an Italian Gewürztraminer possibly be any good?" she
asked, still looking at me sideways.
She reluctantly bought a bottle and nearly a year passed before we heard
from her again (San Francisco, you see, is so far away!).
There was a call saying "Hello, I came to your store last year
and you suggested some Italian Gewürztraminer...by any chance, do you have
more of that?"
And she ventured down to Burlingame and bought some more bottles to share
with friends and family that holiday season!
We visited the winery one summer and winemaker Willi Stürz opened a 5 year old bottle of the Nussbaumer...amazingly good and still
very much alive.
special bottling of a fantastic dry white blend is called Stoan.
This is a wonderful blend and the 2019 is the current offering.
The wine is based on Chardonnay, but don't let that dissuade you.
There's Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc and a small percentage of Gewürztraminer
in this blend. For having such a high amount of Chardonnay, it seems
to be more influenced by the Sauvignon Blanc, as there's a nicely citrusy
The Pinot Blanc may give a bit of texture and the tiny drop of Gewürztraminer
surely accounts for a bit of the aromatics. The Chardonnay did see a bit
of wood, but the oak is well in the background here as it is matured in
When we were able to offer wine-tasting, people tasting this Stoan white
would routinely leave with several bottles.
It's one of those interesting wines where everyone at the table is
interested to see the bottle to make a mental note (if they didn't take a
snapshot of it).
The entry-level Pinot Grigio is quite good and it's a good, medium-bodied,
They ferment the juice in modest-sized stainless steel tanks and even have
a bit of malolactic fermentation to add a note of complexity and soften
the wine slightly.
But you won't find buttery or creamy notes here.
This winery offers good value, too and this ends up being well-priced.
- There's a "killer" Pinot Grigio from Tramin which carries the
This wine comes from vineyards which yield a smaller crop than the
entry-level wine listed above.
The juice is fermented in wood and they do a bit of malolactic
fermentation to create this full-throttle, mildly toasty Pinot Grigio.
It's a far cry from the simple, ordinary "dry white" we see in
most bottles of Pinot Grigio and it costs a bit more, too.
It ages handsomely, too.
But we find the wine to be of serious quality and worth the splurge.
- Currently in stock: 2011 NUSSBAUMERHOF GEWÜRZTRAMINER Sold Out
2019 STOAN White Blend $35.99
2015 STOAN White Blend (magnum) $74.99
2018 PINOT GRIGIO "Unterebner" $38.99
2019 PINOT GRIGIO "Normale" SALE $16.99
The doors into the cellar have the names of all the staff members.
Our friend Sigrid said her name was not yet on the door because she was recently
We asked her to stand on the other side of the glass so we could take a picture:
We noticed her name was on the door and this was a great surprise to Ms.
- The Haas story begins in 1880, we're told and the current owner,
Franziskus Haas is yet another Franz Haas. It seems the family
routinely names its first born as Franz. Or in this instance,
We have known the Haas wines for many years. The winery is located
in the mountains in a town called, appropriately, Montagna. They
own or lease maybe 29 hectares of vineyards, but with
regularly-purchased grapes, the entire enterprise tallies to about 60
hectares we were told on our visit in early 2018.
Haas is a fussy guy and he speaks about making wines without
compromising, as he says it's all about quality.
Current vintages are adorned with a more colorful label which makes
the wines as distinctive on a display as they are in the glass.
Haas makes a lot of white wine and only about 5% of the production
sees an oak barrel.
Pinot Noir from Haas is well-regarded.
Franz Haas wines and Franz Haas...
of the most famous wines from Haas is a proprietary white blend called Manna.
It's named in honor of Franz Haas wife, Maria Luisa Manna. While they
were engaged to be married, the couple had dined in a particularly fancy
restaurant and enjoyed numerous courses of elegant cuisine, each accompanied
by a particular wine.
Franz was taken by the experience and dreamed of producing a wine of
complexity and elegance which would be worthy of being offered in such a
temple of high gastronomy.
And so, some years after their dining experience, Haas assembled a blended
white from the 1995 vintage.
Early vintages were made of Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and
Sauvignon Blanc. Since the 2013 vintage they've included a small
percentage of a moderately prominent variety called Kerner.
Each variety is cultivated in a site they feel is well-suited to the grape
and, in fact, Haas' vineyards are planted from 240 meters to 1150 meters above
The Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc wines are done in wood, while the others
are vinified in stainless steel. At about 10 months after the harvest
Haas works to make a final blend.
The wine shows a bit of oak, but that's not the center of attention for this
wine. The fruit elements fit together nicely with lovely fragrances of
each variety. The Riesling and Gewurz are quite apparent and there's a
touch of a citrusy note which we suspect is the Sauvignon.
We brought a bottle of this to a dinner at a nice dining spot
where a few wines had been brought to the table. We tasted this in the
middle of the various wines and at one point, having found most of the
offerings to be lacking, we dumped out our glasses and quickly refilled them
with Manna when the host wasn't looking. This is far more satisfying,
especially if you like an aromatic wine with some 'snap' on the palate.
We read a recent article describing the results of a vertical tasting of
multiple vintages of Manna. It seems the wine ages quite well and the
critic whose assessments we read said a 15 year old vintage of Manna was
Haas also considers himself a Pinot Noir aficionado.
He makes three Pinot Noirs...this one is his entry level which shows very nice
To its credit, a capable taster will easily find it to be Pinot Noir right off
the bat. It's a medium-bodied red with light oak notes and a touch of
The wine is fermented in open top, stainless steel tanks and they punch
down the "cap" frequently (this is the mass of grape skins and
berries that are pushed to the top of the tank thanks to the carbon dioxide
that forms during the fermentation.
Once fermented, the wine then goes into barriques for about a
It's intended for immediate consumption, though it might develop a bit with
additional time in the bottle.
We suggested serving this lightly chilled...cellar temp...maybe 50-55 degrees.
It pairs well with mildly-seasoned red meats, chicken, pork, cheeses, etc.
The next tier in Pinot Nero from Haas is called Schweizer, as that's the name
of the artist whose designs adorn the Haas bottles. The late Riccardo
Schweizer has quite an interesting history and interactions with many hugely
famous artists (Chagall and Picasso, for example). CLICK
HERE to visit a page with his history and some of his artistry.
It's also a good Pinot...more wood, to be sure, but not solely oak (30% new
They make a rarity called PÒNKLER Pinot Nero...This comes from a
particular vineyard site that is about 750 meter above sea level. Haas
tried to buy the land but the owner was reluctant to sell it, but that site is
now rented to Haas.
The name of the vineyard site, Pònkler also comes from an old Alto Adige song
The wine also honors a wine critic whom we met in Piemonte back in the 1990s,
Francesco Arrigoni. This fellow had been a protégé of
Luigi Veronelli when we met him ages ago. He then worked for the Gambero
Rosso group and finally for the newspaper Corriere della Sera. Arrigoni
was a passionate wine and food aficionado and, unlike so many critics, was
quiet and unassuming. He had been a fan of the Haas wines and so a
portion of the proceeds from this Pònkler Pinot is donated to a foundation
set up in Arrigoni's name.
We were able to taste the 2012 of this Pònkler Pinot, the first vintage
made. It's very elegant, nicely aromatic and quite expressive of Pinot
Noir with some oak and cherry-like fruit. There's a bit of tannin, but it's
probably best in the next few years.
Rosa is a remarkable sweet wine and it comes in half-bottle format.
The grapes are grown in a breezy site which Haas says is desirable to avoid
the grapes getting attacked by "noble rot," Botrytis cinerea.
This would shrivel the grapes and detract from the marvelously aromatic
perfumes of this red Muscat grape.
The juice is fermented with the skins for a short maceration period...this
helps add to the character of the wine, They have to be careful, though,
to not pick up too much tannin from the skins, lest the wine have a bitter
The fermentation is stopped when the wine retains about the desired amount of
residual sugar. It's stopped by dropping the temperature in the tank so
that the yeast are n longer active.
The wine is rather expensive and you may wonder why they ask so much.
The answer is in the size of the crop in the vineyard. The production in
the vineyard is maybe 15-20% that of, say, their Pinot Grigio and maybe 20-30%
that of Pinot Noir.
Has does a great job of capturing the essence of Moscato Rosa. It does
have a rose petal fragrance and there are notes of brown spices here,
too. Haas claims this to be a good aperitif before a meal, but we prefer
it after dinner (or lunch), as it pairs handsomely with
Currently in stock: FRANZ HAAS "MANNA" White Wine
FRANZ HAAS PINOT NERO $44.99
FRANZ HAAS MOSCATO ROSA $SALE $49.99 (375ml)
is one of the storied estates in the Veneto making Valpolicella. (The
other is Quintarelli, as if you didn't know...)
A young Romano Dal Forno had met the legendary Giuseppe Quintarelli, as he
was starting out in the wine world. Dal Forno had a passion for the
business, which Quintarelli noted, though the family vineyard holdings were
located in the Val d'Illasi, a place Giuseppe felt was better suited to
cultivating corn than grapes.
In those early days, Dal Forno's family had sold its grapes to the local
grower's cooperative winery. Romano and his wife Loretta were married
in 1979 and the notion of wine was a bit of a fantasy...but they found they
made a bit of money in selling wine and so this helped convince them that
wine was a good idea.
Romano's grandfather had some vineyards as did Loretta's family...and so
they embarked on a wine adventure and today Dal Forno's wines are a bit of a
enological trophy. They are expensive, indeed, but the family (their
three sons are now involved in the family business) goes to extraordinary
lengths to make wine.
They own around 12.5 hectares of vineyards and rent additional
vineyards. They farm, in total, around 27 or 28 hectares, including a
modest quantity of an obscure variety called Oseleta. This is a
variety which has thick skins and very little juice. As a result it
was on the verge of extinction.
Dal Forno bought cuttings of Oseleta and in 1988 started planting it in
hopes of improving the quality of his Valpolicella. Not a fan Molinara
grapes, Dal Forno's wine is based upon Corvina and Corvinone which he says
are not especially intense in color. He likes Rondinella for its color
and, as we understand it, the Corvina and Corvinone may extract a measure of
color when fermented in concert with Oseleta. Romano also is a fan of
the Croatina grape.
His vineyards are densely planted and we have found his wines to have the
intensity of Cabernet Sauvignon...very curious for Valpolicella. But
with his regimen of low yields and modern fermentation tanks, drying the
fruit to further intensify the wine, perhaps it's possible to make the
remarkable nectar offered under the Dal Forno label.
- The tanks are equipped with special punch-down pistons to help extract
color and character from the fruit.
And, of course, the cellar is computerized, allowing them to program each
They program the computer to routinely "punch down" the cap of
the fermenting juice...something like every 90 minutes, which may
contribute to the intense, deep color of their wines.
Of course, the tradition in making wine in this region is
drying the grapes to intensify the character of the resulting wine. Dal
Forno has designed a special system to facilitate this process and they dry or
dehydrate fruit not only for their Amarone, but for their "basic"
Valpolicella, as well.
The underground cellar is a work of art.
Romano Dal Forno is a fan of American oak cooperage.
As we walked through the cellar, Dal Forno, ever the perfectionist, would top
off with wine each barrel from which we'd tasted...he'd then clean off the
barrel and rinse the glass 'thief' as well as thoroughly cleaning the sink (more
like a fountain, actually, as you can see behind wine aficionado Carlo Perini).
Domaine de la Romano Dal Forno. It looks a bit like a Bordeaux wine cellar
or something out of the Napa Valley.
Some tasters may fault the Dal Forno wines for being excessively
oaky. I've usually been reminded of the wines of Silver Oak or BV Private
Reserve Cabernets of the early 1970s when tasting the young Valpolicella of this
estate. It's darker in color than wines of neighboring
properties...perhaps the low yields, particular fermentation tanks, oak regime,
etc., all allow the Dal Forno family to produce a wine more reminiscent of
Cabernet Sauvignon than of Beaujolais.
Romano points to the drying of the grapes as a contributing factor to the
quality and character of their wines. "This is a totally different
dynamic than working with 'fresh' grapes."
He likes the American oak barrels (many being coopered in the Southwest of
France in the Armagnac region).
"Oak for our wine is a bit like a good suit or a haircut for a
gentleman. It makes a good first impression for most people."
And, as with many wines, as the wine matures in the bottle, the oak tends to
become less prominent and, eventually, the grape takes over and shows its
We had the 2013...sold out recently. It's deep and dark in
color and shows a fair bit of wood and dark fruit notes. This is the
"Silver Oak Cabernet of Valpolicella." It's a very showy wine on
its own (Romano often suggests consumers drink it by itself!) and it pairs
handsomely with grilled steaks, lamb, prime rib or duck. The wine is
matured in oak for two years and then it gets another three in bottle before
being released. This sort of maturation is akin to California Cabernet
production in the 1960s and 1970s.
A fellow asked us to send a few special bottles for a birthday
celebration. He was willing to spend about a hundred bucks a bottle and
left the selections to us. We included a bottle of Dal Forno's
A week after his birthday celebration he wrote a note saying now he's wondering
if he's "missing out" by not purchasing somewhat more costly
bottles. He typically goes for wines in the $25-$40 range.
We explained that we do have an idea of value and while a hundred bucks
is a small fortune for a Valpolicella (generally), this is no ordinary
Anyway, he was blown away by the wines we selected and this was one.
We can order the Amarone, if you like. Be sure there's 'room' on your
Currently in stock: 2013 DAL FORNO VALPOLICELLA
Amarone by Special Order
you follow baseball, you know that it's rare for a kid to come out of high
school or college and make it directly to the Major Leagues.
Typically a kid might get drafted out of high school and head directly to
the minor leagues, starting at the bottom. Or he may attend a
college or university and play on the school team for a few years before
being drafted and then, typically, he'll go to the minor leagues, starting
at the bottom. Some guys spend a decade waiting for a call to come
to The Show. For some, it's maybe for as cup of coffee, just to get
a taste of major league ball and then it's back to the minors.
What's this got to do with Monte Santoccio? Is he a first baseman
for the Verona Romeo's baseball team?
Well, actually, Santoccio is a little area near the "big city"
of Fumane and the winery is the work of a young fellow named Nicola
Ferrari. And his first winemaking "gig" was in the major
leagues at the winery of Valpolicella legend, the late Giuseppe
Quintarelli! He didn't spend a decade laboring in a big
grower's co-operative or large industrial winery before deciding to make
This kid was in the major leagues right away, making him a bona fide
"bonus baby." (I wonder if any young fans have ever heard
Nicola Ferrari was 26 years of age when he was hired by Quintarelli.
There he saw all sorts of traditional vineyard protocols and winemaking
We teased him about his having learn what to do and what not to do.
Quintarelli's wines have a lot of personality, to be sure. And they
don't come with a price tag, but instead, there's a ransom note on the
bottle. You'll pay $350+ for a bottle of the "regular"
Amarone, for example. If you want the fancy bottling, that's $1200 a
bottle. Happily, Signor Ferrari doesn't apply the Quintarelli pricing
policy to his artisan production bottlings.
The family estate now comprises about 5 hectares and they produce about
35,000 bottles annually at the present time. We've noticed Ferrari
started with but three hectares and these day's, it seems, they've grown.
And why not? The fellow is making some outstanding wines!
They also cultivate some olives.
- The vineyards and cellar are approximately at 350 to 400 meters in
altitude. The soils are rather chalky which accounts for good
acidity in the wines. The Monte Santoccio wines are not especially
"big," but they're not shy and retiring, either.
No weed killers, but they're not certified as biologico,
either. "My wife and I have two young kids. We live
here. We don't want to pollute our environment with chemicals."
The cellar was under construction when we visited the first time...by 2017
the place has been completed and it's fully functioning.
Mostly tonneaux in the cellar for aging the wines. Mostly
French wood, thought there's a tiny bit of American oak. These puncheons
are for the Ripasso and Amarone.
Nicola is a thoughtful winemaker. "You have to have
passion to work in wine if you're going to make good wines."
And does he! We have a 2013 vintage of Ripasso. This
is a serious bottle of wine and it's clearly a level or two above most ripasso
wines. Many large producers make technically sound Ripasso but they rarely
have the soul of a wine such as this from Monte Santoccio.
Ferrari has a good blend for the wine. Typically it's
mostly Corvina and Corvinone, with maybe 20-25% of Rondinella the rest being
Molinara. Ferrari leaves the Valpolicella in contact with the Amarone
skins for nearly 3 weeks, his "secret" in making a seriously good
Ripasso. The wine then spends about 20-24 months in those puncheons you
see in the photo above.
Monte Santoccio's Amarone is a real show-stopper.
The fragrances are bright and display red and black fruit. It's not a
rustic, raisiny red wine as are some. And it's not sweet, usually having
but three grams of sugar, below the threshold for most palates (of 5
grams). The grapes are picked towards the end of September to early/mid
October. The grapes are dried until sometime in January when Nicola begins vinifying
this masterpiece. The wine is matured for about 30 months in those
puncheons, resulting in a mildly tannic, robust, full, fine red.
It's a really showy wine.
We have the 2012 in the shop presently. It is outstanding. Ferrari
was kind enough to share an older bottle with us and we tasted a 2009
Amarone. At 7+ years of age we found the wine to be very showy.
Great nose and still fresh. Nicely woodsy with fine tannins, yet deep
fruit. It seemed to show a hint of sweetness, but still very complex and
Nicola told us "I'm not big on vini da meditazione but more vini
da pasto." The former are wine for contemplation while the latter
are perhaps less complicated and more for sheer hedonistic enjoyment.
Of course, the irony here is Ferrari makes wines worthy of consideration and
contemplation so he's modestly under-selling the Monte Santoccio
We were not fooled, in any case.
Nicola understands, though, that good wine is meant to be shared with friends
and family, not to be put on a pedestal as some museum piece and worshipped.
His wife Laura was a clothing designer and she's quite an artist.
That's some of her artistry on the label.
His artistry is in the bottle.
Both are masterpieces in one form or another.
His Recioto is quite good...not imported yet, but damned
good. The other bottle in that photo is called Viola, a Passito of some
sort and named after one of their daughters, Viola.
This is a seriously good producer and the passion and enthusiasm for winemaking
is evident in every bottle.
Currently in stock: 2013 MONTE SANTOCCIO
VALPOLICELLA Classico Superiore Ripasso $29.99
2012 MONTE SANTOCCIO AMARONE della VALPOLICELLA Classico $74.99
- The Giovanett family launched this winery in the town of Egna back in
1969. From the humble beginnings of Alfons Giovannett, today the
winery is run by his son Günther and grand-children, Ivan and Ines.
The name of the winery comes from an old fortification which is up in the
hills, not too far from the cellar. It's said there are perhaps 160
buildings there in various states of ruins. The oldest is said to be
prehistoric, while there's an old chapel said to be from the 6th
- The currently have about 60 hectares of vineyards, 20 being owned
outright by the Giovanetts and 40 spread amongst a bunch of small growers.
- We are often surprised to see so many tanks outside and not housed
within a winery building. But keep in mind that these do have a
temperature-controlled cooling jacket on them and, since they make
predominantly white wines, these are usually emptied towards the end of
winter or in early spring, so the contents are not subjected to hot summer
temperatures which might have an adverse effect on the wines.
They make a range of good wines. Pinot Bianco here is
quite good and so is their Pinot Grigio. They make Chardonnay and Pinot
Nero, along with Kerner and Lagrein.
impressive, to our taste anyway, is Gewürztraminer. While we have
been big fans of the Gewürztraminer of the Tramin cellar, especially their Nussbaumer
wine, the 2015 Castelfeder is every bit its equal in all respects except price.
It's got the name "Vom Lehm" on the label and this is not exactly a
vineyard designation but more a description of the wine coming from loamy (lehm)
The Giovanetts say this is the secret of this wine, apart from picking the fruit
at precisely the right moment and fermenting it under temperature-controlled
The fragrance of this wine is magnificent and intensely aromatic with notes of
rose petals and grapefruit.
There's ample acidity to balance the slight touch of sweetness (it's around
6/10ths of a gram of sugar, so barely perceptible to the most sensitive of
If you're a fan of good Alsatian wines, you'll likely be delighted by this...
Currently in stock: 2015 CASTELFEDER GEWÜRZTRAMINER Sold Out
have known the wines from this co-op for many years, having done extensive tastings of the
wines from the Alto Adige. On a recent trip to the area my friend Stoffi
scheduled Colterenzio as our final appointment. Apparently he'd saved the best for
winery was run by Luis Raiffer, a serious wine man. The place,
located in the town of Cornaiano (or Girlan in German, if you prefer), was started in
1960. Today they have more than 370 hectares and the production is large.
While many claim the Produttori del Barbaresco to be Italy's model of a cooperative
winery, I would have to say, given the quality of the production here, Colterenzio
deserved a piece of that title.
- They made a wonderful range of wines. Raiffer's son Wolfgang took
over when his dad retired and they continued to make some good wines.
But in the recent past he's departed to run a winery near Verona if I
- They make a good, solid bottling of Pinot Grigio. It's well-made,
clean, fresh and nicely dry. This is pretty much what people want in a
Pinot Grigio: nothing high alcohol, no oak, no toast, no butter...not
at all like Chardonnay.
Then we have a lovely Sauvignon Blanc called "Prail." This
comes from hillside vineyard sites around 400-500 meters. The wine is
vinified in stainless steel for the most part, although there's a portion
that goes into klarge wood tanks. Both lots spend 6 months on the
spent yeast sediment and are then blended and bottled. This displays
good varietal fragrances with a touch of tomato leaf and herbal
Their Lagrein is made along the lines of a care-free Dolcetto from Piemonte,
though without the tannic edge of some of those wines. Lots of red
fruits, virtually no tannin, mild acidity and it's begging to be served
lightly chilled on a warm day. It's perfect for picnic fare, pizza,
lasagna, simple pasta, sausages, roasted chicken, etc.
Currently in stock:
2018 PINOT GRIGIO $16.99
- 2018 LAGREIN $18.99
Northern Italian Wines