The Incredibly Delicious & Refreshing Wines of Alois Lageder 1823
Wine: Alois Lageder 1823
Region: Alto Adige
Grapes: Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Müller Thurgau, Schiava, Pinot Noir, Lagrein
I had the good fortune of tasting a handful of delicious, refreshing wines from Alois Lageder last week, and because of their exceptional deliciousness, I felt compelled to move my review up on the editorial calendar. Urs Vetter is the international sales representative for the winery, and we met in the offices of their New Orleans distributor, Wines Unlimited. It's a rare treat to get one-on-one attention and, short of visiting the actual winery, is the ideal opportunity for asking questions and gaining deeper understanding of the wines and the region.
Biggest takeaway: Alois Lageder makes refreshing, upbeat wines with youthful flavors, bright acidity and lengthy finish, which is always a sign of high quality.
You can see from the above image that Trentino-Alto Adige are Italy's northern most vineyards. If that photo and the two immediately following look like postcards from the 1980s it's because I made them with my iPhone, snapshots of pages in the Alois Lageder brochure. I'm kinda digging the retro feel, reminiscent of my pre-wine loving days when I was still in grade school and playing "bar" with my sisters, mixing up tonic & tonics.
Alto Adige sits a little north of Trentino on the south facing, sunny slopes of the Dolomites and Italian alps. The soils here are a mix of glacial deposits over 200 million years old that includes volcanic rock, granite, slate, and predominately dolomitic limestone. Although some vineyards reach 3,300 feet above sea level, the valley sits in a bowl-like enclave where summer temperatures can hit 95 or 100 degrees during the day, then benefit from cool air cascading down the mountains that drops the temp to 65 degrees at night. The east side of the north-south running valley sits below the glaciers high above and is shaded from the morning sun. Oak, Birch and Pine trees grow here, but 2.5 miles across the valley on the west side, you can find olive and palm trees. Mind blown. With 320 days of sunshine a year and the protective and beneficial influences of the surrounding mountains, the area is perfect for growing cold weather varieties.
Urs says Lago de Caldero (Lake Caldero or Caldero Lake) is relatively shallow with summer temps of 75 to 80 degrees, perfect for swimming, and in winter, it freezes over, attracting ice skaters. I don't know if it was Urs' enthusiasm, his slightly shaggy fair-hued hair, his friendly Germanic vibe, or that the wines were tasting so fantastically, but I'm about ready to jump on a plane back to the Adige. I've actually been there once before, in 2005, though I can not for the life of me remember who we visited. Fail. But I'm fairly certain J. Hoffstätter was on the docket, though we were not yet selling the wines in New York. I definitely remember the famed landjäeger dry sausage that sustained us on our travels through northern Italy though. Alto Adige, which abuts Austria and was a part of Austria until it ceded to Italy after WWII, is strongly Germanic. FYI, in case you hadn't already picked up on that...German is still their first language.
I've written before about Alto Adige, a few of the wines and the cooperative nature of the region. Most wines made in the area are produced and bottled by a collective of growers, "associated partnership," Urs says, who each own and farm a tiny plot of vineyard land then sell their fruit to the co-op label, in this case, Alois Lageder. I speculated in previous posts that those grape growers, most of whom own less than three acres, have day jobs. Urs confirmed this, though while I was imagining 30-somethings commuting to Bolzano for their IT careers, Urs says they also own apple orchards and have other farming gigs. They are farmers, which makes more sense. I did not know that about half of Italy's apple production is in Trentino-Alto Adige.
The Alois Lageder estate was established in 1823, and today is run by the family's 5th and 6th generations, Alois Lageder V and Aloise VI. They work with a number of winegrowers, long-standing partnerships that operate on a handshake agreement. The estate owns 200 acres itself, all of which are certified biodynamic. Yes, those are cow horns packed with cow shit in the above photo. The horns will be buried in the vineyards, according to custom. It's weird, but the believers believe. Over the past ten years, warming climate conditions have forced them to move up harvest dates. Harvest used to begin around September 10. In 2015 they started picking in late August. Urs says their vineyards haven't struggled as a result, that the biodynamic farming has made them more resilient. The growers they work with have taken notice of the good looking vines and begun to adapt biodynamic practices aided by the Alois Lageder team.
The physical winery is built from recycled materials, gravity fed, and completely dependent on solar and thermodynamics. No fossil fuels burned here, 100% renewable energy. My tasting notes follow. The schiava, a native, was one of my favorites, which is why I led with an image of it in my glass. I love its pale hue and elegance. Production is sizable, with about 120,000 cases a year stretched over 37 different wines. You might notice too that all are varietal wines. I'm not sure I've ever seen a blend from the region. Something to look into. And you should be able to find these with relative ease, through your local retailer or wine-searcher.com.
Pinot Grigio 2015
Pale straw color, beautiful aroma, classic PG, ripe pear on the nose and palate, great acidity, long finish, really beautiful and an excellent value at $15.
Here they blend fruit from parcels on the warmer westside of the valley for richness and the cooler eastside for vibrancy. Pale straw-yellow, the essence of chardonnay with orchard fruit on the nose, great acidity, floral and peach notes on the mid-palate along with some subtle richness, long finish. About $15 per bottle.
Müller Thurgau 2015
This is an early ripening grape with high extract and acidity, a cross between riesling and the now extinct table grape, Madeleine Royale, according to "The Oxford Companion." Intensely flavored with apricot, white peach, hints of lychee and anise, nectarine and lovely high-toned acidity, slightly more body than the chard, mineral notes and long finish. This was a favorite. Also $15 on the shelf.
At one time, two-thirds of Alto Adige vineyards were planted to schiava, mostly for bulk wines. It's very thin skinned, which gives it the very pale, ruby color. This one spent two weeks with its skins and still you can read through it! My guess is vineyards were replanted to more popular, deeply hued varieties that better flow with wine trends. But I love it, and hope it's coming back. Cherry notes, strawberry, raspberry and some earthiness, super soft tannins, great zingy acidity, mellow on the palate with mineral notes more pronounced, gentle texture. $15 SRP
Pinot Noir "Krafuss" 2011
Single vineyard pinot noir with some age on it? Yes please. Gorgeous nose right out of the glass, with bright cherry notes, smokiness, then layers of flavor, hints of mushroom and herbs, stony notes, beautifully elegant. I would happily take this over a village or vineyard specific Burgundy. It's a treat worthy every penny. $45-50 SRP
Lagrein Riserva "Conus" 2012
The native lagrein grape is often produced in a heady, grippy, bold style - and that certainly flies with consumers - but Urs says he prefers this style, and I can see why. Richly colored with loads of red fruits on the nose, well-defined tannins but not chewy. Like them all, good acid, good length. $30 SRP
Lindenburg Estate Vineyard Lagrein 2008
All estate fruit here, made in a slightly more concentrated style than the previous lagrein. Deeply colored, ruby with purple tones, black fruits, herbal and eucalyptus notes, which I'm on the fence about as a personal wine drinking rule. "Lagrein tannins are always on the green, herbal side," Urs says. This one is softer than I expected, though still firm. Juicy dark fruits on the palate, solid finish. $40-45 per bottle.