If it’s true that great wine is made in the vineyard, not the winery, then the wines of Alto-Adige should be gorgeous. And they are.
Alto Adige is a beautiful, mountainous region in Italy’s far north, bordered by Austria and Switzerland.
Its vines grow in terraces around stunning lakes in the foothills between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea.
Its wines – high-altitude, cool weather whites such as pinot grigio and Muller Thurgau and reds such as lagrein – are known for their special subtlety and fruity intensity.
Part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until World War I, Alto-Adige was given to Italy in 1919. Today it has two social and wine cultures, Italian and German – which adds to the wines’ complexity.
One of the region’s top wineries, Alois Lageder, has lived through all of its turbulent history. Founded in 1823 by a young farmer named Johann Lageder, it is now run by the family’s fifth generation under Alois Lageder IV.
In the wine world, the Lageder name is synonymous with natural grape-growing and winemaking principles that, while showing great respect for the soil, also seek economic sustainability.
The Lageder family operates some of his vineyards by the principles of “biodynamics” developed in the 1920s by the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner.
Lagader says in its website: “Biodynamics respects the principles that make nature a single, unified whole, and brings the grapevines to their natural state of equilibrium, as interrelated with both the earth and the cosmos.”
Biodynamics rejects chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides for natural methods – for example, using beneficial insects to counter harmful ones and pruning vines by the phases of the moon (pruning is done under a new moon because a full moon would pull the sap high in the vine where it would be lost if the shoot was cut).
But biodynamic growing is complex and labor-intensive, and can be very expensive.
In other vineyards, Lageder uses “sustainable” growing methods. This follows many of the same concepts, but keeps the flexibility to adjust them when economically necessary. It also concentrates on conservation of energy and water.
Lageder’s white wines are light and lively, with pure fruit flavors and a crispness that goes nicely with food. They go well as aperitifs and with shellfish, seafood pastas and other light dishes.
Its reds are soft and round, and go well with stews and other red meat dishes and cheese.
Overall, Alto-Adige’s wines are not very familiar to most Americans.
For fans seeking wines with intense, juicy fruit, it would be a good New Year’s resolution to try them.
• 2011 Tenutae Lageder “Porer” Pinot Grigio, Alto-Adige (biodynamic): light and crisp, with intense aromas and flavors of peaches and minerals; $24.
• 2011 Alois Lageder Pinot Bianco, Alto-Adige (sustainable): crisp and light, with apricot and golden delicious apple aromas and flavors; $14.
• 2011 Alois Lageder Muller Thurgau, Alto-Adige (sustainable): floral aroma, spicy green-apple flavor, light and crisp; $15.
• 2011 Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio, Alto-Adige (sustainable): crisp and light, with floral aromas and spicy, minerally flavors; $15.
• 2010 Alois Lageder Lagrein, Alto-Adige (sustainable): dark red hue, soft and round and smooth, with black cherry and mineral flavors; $24.
Fred Tasker has retired from the Miami Herald but is still writing about wine. He can be reached at email@example.com.