For most people, the image that comes to mind when they think of Italian wine is distinctly Mediterranean—rolling Tuscan hills artfully dotted with Cyprus trees perhaps or dusty vines on an arid Sicilian hillside. But the best Italian wine, or at least the best Italian white wine, comes from an environment that couldn’t be more different from these sun-bleached vistas.
Tucked into a steep river valley in the country’s extreme northeast, in the shadow of the Tyrol hard by the Austrian border, is one of the world’s most exciting white wine regions, Alto Adige.
In many ways it is more German than Italian. From the middle ages until 1919 it answered to Vienna, not Rome or Venice, and the German language is still widely spoken. The names of many of the best producers are German, as in the case of this week’s Wine of the Week, the Barthenau Vigna S. Michele 2006, Bianco, from J. Hofstatter ($37).
This wine shows the powerful intensity that a white is capable of when grown in a cool, mountainside vineyard with poor, rocky soil. This bianco has a huge mineral component, along with flavors of pine needles, honey and lemons, cinnamon and nutmeg, all wrapped in a mellow, nutty opulence.
This appealing, layered complexity of flavors is the result of age—you would never find it in a recently released wine. But it’s not just the result of age; you also need the right grapes grown in just the right environment. And in this case that environment is the cool, steep valley of the Adige River in the foothills of the Italian Alps.
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When to Drink: Now
Breathing/Decanting: Not necessary
Food Pairing: Richer chicken and fish
Grapes: 70% Pinot Bianco; 25% Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc; 5% Riesling
Appellation: Alto Adige
Region: Alto Adige