The alpine wines of Italy have something for every wine lover. Truly. From crisp delicate whites to dark full-bodied reds, you can find it all, and often at very reasonable prices. This week's focus is on four different and diverse wine styles from Italy's most celebrated apline wine regions: Val d'Aosta (or Vallee d'Aoste) and Alto Adige.
We didn't plan it this way, it just happened, but all four wines are made by cooperatives. In general, wine cooperatives have a spotty reputation, but there are many extraordinary cooperatives in northern Italy. Produttori anyone? In mountainous areas especially, where families have tiny scattered plots of vines, banding together makes a lot of sense. If you're into Alto Adige and the Val d'Aosta, you probably already know that these regions have a great reputation for excellent wine cooperatives, so it was no surprise to us that our choices came from coops. Can't wait for you to try them!
Crotta di Vegneron Muller Thurgau 2017 Italy's smallest wine region, the Val d'Aosta is smack up against the border with France, a narrow and isolated valley high in the Alps, where viticulture is an arduous affair and winemaking typically small-scale. La Crotta di Vegneron is a cooperative of 70 small growers contributing grapes to the production of 18 different wines. There is never much of any of their cuvees, and we have a limited amount of this beautiful Muller Thurgau. A cross of Riesling and Silvaner, Muller Thurgau is very well adapted to cool climates, and in the Val d'Aosta it makes one of the more exotically perfumed white wine styles. Expressive and open-knit, we loved it for its notes of ripe citrus, crunchy stone fruits, diverse herbs and flowers. Significant minerality and acidity keep it lively and vibrant through the finish, where echoes of the exuberant bouquet reverberate. Seriously good stuff for the money from any region, but from Aosta, this wine is an incredible bargain. Cantina Terlano Pinot Bianco Riserva 'Vorberg' 2015 A legend in Italian wine, Cantina Terlano's Vorberg is built for the ages. The 1955 and 1959 are apparently monumental today, not in decline, rather ready to perform for the future. We opened the 2015 around Christmas and loved it. If you're going to compare it to other wines, you would probably look to super classy white Burgundy, wines that would start around $100 and go way up from there. The 2015 Vorberg is luminous, with a perfume at once intense and delicate. White flowers, diverse ripe citrus, white peach, yellow apple, pear, hints of toasted spice and fresh cream... it is gorgeous right now, but it is at least a few years away from its most exuberant and expressive self. The palate is layered and rich without a mote of heaviness; stony and saline nuances intertwine with ripe fruit to keep everything very fresh and pure. Hardly inexpensive, one can still count it as a value, considering the company it might trounce. La Kiuva Rouge de Vallee 2017 When I see this wine at a restaurant, I am always tempted. It's so reasonably priced and it's the kind of red that will go with so many dishes. Plus, I just love Nebbiolo; I mean, who doesn't? La Kiuva Societa Cooperativa is a group of 60 growers farming just 15 hectares. Their Rouge de Vallee is a blend of 70% Picotendro (the local name for Nebbiolo) plus small amounts Gros Vien, Neyret, Cornalin and Fumin. The 2017 growing season was sunny and warm, making for a Picotendro blend with a bit more tenderness than usual, not as powerfully acidic as it can be, but still full of delightfully tart red berry flavors. Hints of flowers, herbs and mushrooms lend complexity, but overall it is meant to be a fresh, fruity and easy-drinking style. We absolutely adore it and we're pretty sure you will too. Colterenzio Lagrein 2017 Colterenzio means "terrible hill" in Italian. If you take a look at the landscape of Alto Adige, you might easily imagine why residents might curse the vineyards they must work to make wine. The vineyards of Alto Adige can be precipitous and downright treacherous, and of course difficult and time-consuming to tend. The effort is worth it, because Alto Adige is home to some of Italy's most delicious and distinctive wines. Along with Teroldego, Lagrein is the most famous red grape of the region. One might compare Lagrein to Merlot. They both often have a delectable plummy and chocolatey side, but Merlot is not so often as fresh and mineral as Alto Adige's dark darling. Ripe black and red fruits, spice and bitter chocolate combine with velvety tannins and crisp acidity for an easy-drinking style that should appeal to fans of both Bordeaux and California Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.