The Winemakers of South Tyrol.
Last year After the Merano wine festival which takes place in the city of Merano each year during the first week of November, I decided to make the first of many dedicated trips to the region called Trentino-Alto-Adige to dig down deeper into the mountainous region famed for its wines that borders Austria and Switzerland.
The Adige is a river, the upper reaches of which flow through the valleys and gorges carved out by it and its tributaries, hence the name Alto Adige (high Adige) The other more political and historic name for this region is South Tyrol (Sud Tirolo) which was formerly part of Austria until after the second world war when Italy reclaimed it. More recently in 1971 the population voted to stay autonomous under Italy. The official languages are German (69%), Italian and Ladin.
Here the influence of Austria is still keenly felt in this fiercely independent part of Italy. Walking into the cellars you will still often see the Austrian rampant eagle carved into the older casks. German is spoken everywhere and Italian and English are optional extras. You will also feel the influence of 3000, metre snow-covered mountains towering over you whilst standing in vineyards planted on sunny slopes. The average temperature in the north in South Tyrol is a mere 12.2 and the average rainfall 717.7 mm. Although if you are lucky enough to enjoy the microclimate of Merano and the capital city of Bolzano protected by its belt of the South Alps and Dolomites in summer, it can be balmy and hot.
Although this region is known for its outstanding white wines, no other grape holds so fiercely a place in the hearts and minds of the local population and its gifted winemakers than the renowned Lagrein.
Lagrein has never migrated into popular wine making history other than small pockets of experimental vineyards planted in Australia and California. It certainly possesses qualities sought after by many dedicated winemakers; high acidity, low PH, tannic. Perhaps its low yields have scared some off, however, I believe it is because the region guards its heritage and rootstock jealously and wants to keep it this way.
Various theories have been put forward as to its origins and ancestry from Lagaria in Greece to Lagarina in Trentino. First mentioned in the seventeenth century in Abbey records, what is certain with modern scientific records is that the grape was probably named for Val Lagarina in Trentino.It’s parentage has been traced via DNA to be Teroldego (the much loved grape of Trentino) and its relatives; Syrah, Pinot noir and Dureza.
Lagrein is produced today in both regions Alto Adige and Trentino under DOC regulations. It is sometimes blended for its wonderful purple colour and tannins with Schiava, Teroldego and Merlot.
Lagrein’s silky tannins and plummy, earthy-mineral qualities make it a very good partner with the local robust foods of pork, aged cheeses and venison, here it really shines. Yet I also love it as a stand-alone wine by the fire or even in summer with a salad of beef carpaccio and rucola. Quite a few winemakers now produce wonderful Lagrein rosé and my personal favourite is made by Alois Lageder renowned winemaker of the region. Picture.
My winter visit started in the small village of Marling just outside the city of Merano in the province of Bolzano where the winemaker Erwin Eccli met me for the day he had planned in the vineyards and to meet some of the winemakers.
Pardellerhof-Montin is a small winery with mountain vineyards dedicated to making South Tyrolean
Low-yield organic wines. Pardeller-hof and its neighbouring picture-perfect farm Popphof share resources, and also work in tandem. It is a very pleasurable thing to see this community spirit in winemaking which in these parts Erwin tells me, is not rare. The spotless winery and cellar gleamed as I tasted the tank samples. The new release of a sparkling Moscato giallo coincided with my visit. The Popphof Meraner is Vernatsch, the winery also produces an excellent Lagrein and a full range of local whites which can be purchased at the cellar’s tasting rooms.
The goldmuskateller passito made by Erwin from his precious and carefully tended 0,1 ha of Goldmuskateller, simply must be tasted. We enjoyed this at the end of an excellent pre-Christmas dinner.
Pardellerhof (pictured) has between two locations, 0,3ha of Lagrein, 0,5 of Vernatsch and in the whites 0,5 Chardonnay and 0,7 Pinot Grigio. Producing 9,000 bottles, soon to be 2,500 from new vineyards to be planted. The other Eccli brother David, farms at Salorno where the Lagrein and Pinot Grigio is grown. Pardeller-hof have family apartments to let on the farm near Merano for a perfect family holiday.
Later in the afternoon Erwin took me up on the other side of Merano near the towns of Tirolo and Schenna to visit some winemakers. We stopped off to taste the wines at a beautiful winery Weingut Innerleiterhof where Erwin had his start in 2012 in the borrowed cellar. The state of the art cellar and private wine hotel are well worth booking one of the exclusive rooms, to be able to experience these wonderful wines and award-wining food.
Just a twenty-minute drive along the main road out of Merano toward Bolzano lies the winery Kellerei Terlan or Terlano in Italian, named after the small town of Terlano it is located in. The winemaking team here is headed up by Rudi Kofler and here they produce some excellent wines. Recently I was invited to a vertical going back to the seventies of their aged Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc which were a real education (but that’s another story). Certainly if you do visit for a tasting, these are a must. Kelleri Telano produces among its range Lagrein Riserva Porphyr its flagship label and also the more affordable Greis Riserva. The old name dunkel that you may see on some labels - means dark). The cantina also produces a Lagrein rosé. There’s a tasting room open to the public.
The Alois Lageder cellars are at Tòr Löwengang. The state of the art winemaking cellar complex at the Löwengang estate in Magrè is the result of two hundred years of winemaking by the Lageder family. The biodynamic farms, winery complex and marketing of this successful family wine brand is led by Alois Lageder and his son Alois Clemens. The Lagrein (pictured) should be tasted for the true expression that this local gem can achieve. A visit to the cellars must be booked.
Cantina Bozen in the province of Bolzano also make a lovely Lagrein but should you not have time to visit the wineries, all the wines mentioned here can be purchased at the wineshop/deli Pur (Pure) in Merano which is well worth a stop. Wines can be tasted by the glass and the food is served all day.