“Happy” Wines – An Evening in Alto Adige

Dave McIntyre described a wine in one of his reviews once as one that would “fuel conversation, not dominate it,” and if we had to sum up the delicious, joyful wines of Kellerei Kaltern in one phrase, that would be it.  Though they are made with great care, the grapes handpicked by a collection of hundreds of small growers all dedicated to quality, they do not knock you over the head with their importance.

Instead, they are the kinds of wines that insinuate themselves into your daily life, or, in our case, into your wine shop.  No other single winery dominates as many spots as Kellerei Kaltern does, and they deserve every bit of shelf space.  This is why we were so excited to have Tobias Zingerle join us this past Thursday for a relaxed evening of delicious, food-friendly wines.

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In the foothills of the Alps, Alto Adige is a unique, high-quality wine region that combines the kind of racy, cool-climate varieties you find in Germany and Austria with a food-friendly Italian sensibility.  In Bolzano, the  main city in the region, the signs are in German first, and then Italian – the region really is at the intersection of two cultures, and the wines reflect this as well.

kaltern grower

We tasted nine wines in all, each one more delicious than the last.  Standouts included the refreshing, crisp Pinot Bianco, perfect for crab or any kind of shellfish, and the quintessential aperitif wine.  The light-bodied red Schiava was a revelation for many as well, although it’s been the ‘house red’ for many of us on staff for months  now.  A red this light can at first seem too thin and light if you’re used to drinking full-bodied, New World reds.  It’s the kind of wine that grows on you over time rather than bowling you over at first sip, so it’s easy to overlook.  But put a few bottles in your wine rack, and you’ll be surprised at how often you reach for it.

The Moscato Rosa was another surprise.  Made from a rare pink mutation of the Muscat grape, it’s an off-dry rose with a little bit of tannin, and a whole lot of flavor and fun.  It’s the perfect wine for brunch or a lazy Sunday afternoon spent with the paper or a great book, and maybe a little cheese.  The thought of sweet rose is shudder-inducing for many, calling to mind those not-so-great ‘blush’ wines that come in a box or jug, but this is real wine, and very well made – it just happens to be loads of fun, too!

Many thanks so Sandy Dickerson of Siema Imports and Tobias Zingerle of Kellerei Kaltern for a fun and educational evening.  Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have a date with a bottle of Schiava and some pizza…

Be sure to peruse the links below for more information on these delicious wines!

Kellerei Kaltern Caldaro Pinot Bianco Vial 2011

Kellerei Kaltern Chardonnay Wadleith 2011

Kellerei Kaltern Caldaro Pinot Grigio 2012

Kellerei Kaltern Muller Thurgau 2012

Kellerei Kaltern Gewurztraminer Alto Adige 2011

Kellerei Kaltern Caldaro Schiava 2012

Kellerei Kaltern Caldaro Pinot Nero 2012

Kellerei Kaltern Caldaro Lagrein 2011

Kellerei Kaltern Rosenmuskateller Moscato Rosa 2012

Italian Whites Make a Comeback

You might not know it yet, but Italian whites are making a serious comeback.  No longer limited to bland Pinot Grigio and insipid Soave made from overcropped grapes, the landscape of Italian white wine is now peppered with fascinating indigenous varietals and unique takes on classic grapes, all for very reasonable prices.  Since it’s seafood, salad, and al fresco dining season, what better time to take advantage?

20 years ago, most white wine imported from Italy to this country was inexpensive and not very interesting.  The Italians themselves seemed to feel the job of white and sparkling wines was to be clean, crisp and refreshing, but merely a prelude to the ‘real’ (read: red) wines to follow.  This has all changed, thanks to better vineyard practices and an increased interest in native grape varietals.  This article does a fantastic job of analyzing the cause of white wine’s comeback in Italy.

Vineyards in the stunning wine region of Alto Adige

Vineyards in the stunning wine region of Alto Adige

Inspired by their pairing feature at the end using Italian whites and some rather ambitious-sounding dishes, here are a few ideas for some of our favorite Italian whites and some more realistic suggestions for what to serve with them:

With De Angelis’ Falerio from the Marche region, something with shrimp or other shellfish and a healthy dose of garlic and herbs is in order.  This pasta recipe looks perfect for a weeknight meal, since shrimp and pasta are both quick and easy to cook.  This mid-weight white also makes a perfect aperitif.

Throw out everything you know about Soave before trying La Formica’s!  This healthy and delicious farro and zucchini recipe would be the perfect, earthy foil to this sophisticated white.

Rich, delicious crab is an ideal foil for this Pinot Bianco from Alto Adige’s Kellerei Kaltern, and this recipe with plenty of fresh herbs and a garlicky aioli looks especially wonderful.  Scallops would be great with this wine as well.

You may never have heard of Erbaluce, but once you taste this unique white from Piemonte, you’ll wonder where it’s been all your life.  Move over, Arneis, now we have a new grape no one’s quite sure how to pronounce!  A bit richer than Pinot Grigio, with intriguing herbaceous notes that call to mind chammomile tea, it’s refreshing, but has the weight to stand up to flavorful food.  Serve it with something like these polenta cakes with goat cheese, caramelized onions and honey for an innovative first course or light lunch.

Now you’re armed and ready for Italian white wines to make their big comeback – Salute!

What We’re Drinking

Doug, in a continued effort to show us all up in the gourmet experiences department, had the lobster rolls from the Ad Hoc cookbook the other night, prepared by two of our favorite customers.  He said the secret to its deliciousness is that the rolls are toasted with an obscene amount of butter, but the lobster itself isn’t gloppy, providing the perfect flavor and texture contrast.  With this decadent sandwich, they enjoyed Sylvan Bzikot’s 2008 1er Cru “Les Folatieres” (here’s the 2009).  He says this wine is in a stellar place right now, providing the perfect marriage of richness and cut, and that the flavors are evocative of wines from famous producer Domaine Leflaive.

Randy brought the Pinot Bianco from Kellerai Kaltern and Vina Taboexa’s Albarino to a friend’s house for dinner.  They had these two fresh, mineral lovelies with homemade aoli served with a variety of cold cuts, green beans, and potatoes.  The acidity and bright citrus flavors of both of these wines did a great job of cutting through the richness of the meats and sauce.  Yum!

Despite the fact that she rails against the cliched pairing of red wine and chocolate – “it’s a bad pairing!  It never works, people just want it to work!” Diane had to eat her words when she had a few squares of Green and Black’s 70% chocolate with a glass of the Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2010.  It had already been open a day by the time she got to it, and the ripe, Grenache-y fruit flavors  exploded in the mid-palate.  It may not have been a textbook perfect pairing, but the chocolate and the wine both disappeared just fine.

What have you been drinking?