Alto Adige at Solent Cellar

I’ve been down in the New Forest for a week, having family down there. It’s a lovely part of the UK, but increasingly it seems to be developing a real reputation as a gastronomic location as well. I’ve written about a few of the New Forest restaurants before, and I shall follow this article with one on a rather good day’s dining soon. But for those wanting to buy wine, Lymington is your destination.

On the coast, with attractions including its marinas, a ferry to the Isle of Wight, and a very good Saturday market, Lymington is worth a visit anyway, but it also possesses one of the best wine shops in the country, Solent Cellar (voted one of the “Top 50 Indies” by Harpers Wines & Spirits for the past two years, but in my view, clearly top-10 material if you browse the shop). Apart from scooping up a load of wine last week, I popped in on Friday evening for one of their regular tastings. This was billed as “Alto Adige“, although the importer apparently forgot to put one of the reds in the box, so we had a Piemonte red as a substitute.

The importer in question was Astrum Wine Cellars. All over the country dedicated staffers spend their evenings putting on tastings like this, in conjunction with local stockists. It gives customers a chance to try something new and to focus on a particular producer or wine region, under the tutelage of the importer. Generally, the wine shop will discount the wines on the night, so it will generate interest and a few sales as well.

ALTO ADIGE, aka Südtirol in the local German dialect (the region having formerly been part of Austria until war changed its nationality in the last century), comprises the valleys which follow, or diverge from, the River Adige, north of Lake Garda. We are between Trentino and the Brenner Pass, in Northeast Italy. The region has a strong local identity and co-operatives have played a major part in regional viticulture since the late nineteenth century. Co-ops like San Michelle Appiano and Cantina Gries are often listed among the best in the country, and Cantina Sociale Terlano, based at Terlan just north of Bolzano, can be added to that list.

The Terlan co-operative, founded in 1893, joined forces with Cantina Andriano in 2008 and the wines still appear under the two distinct labels. Six of the wines on show came from this source, but the first wine was a sparkler from Cesarini SforzaTridentvm Brut 2010 is a metodo classico (bottle fermented, like Champagne), made from the classic Champagne grape varieties – Chardonnay (80%) and Pinot Noir (20%) in this case, under the Trentodoc DOC. Trentodoc is very quickly gaining a very fine reputation for classy sparkling wines, being brought to our attention by some of the foremost writers on fizz.

The grapes for Tridentvm (sic) are fermented in stainless steel before undergoing a second fermentation on lees in bottle for 48 months. Bottled at just under 10 g/l dosage, this nevertheless tastes very dry. The crisp acidity and mineral structure is set off against a very fine bead. There’s little sign of further autolytic character yet, but the nose is elegantly floral. As a Champagne rival, it challenges on price for quality (around £20), as well as being a well made and attractive wine. With 48 months on lees, it may develop more bready notes if cellared.

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Next we tasted two varietal wines made from two of the white grapes with which the Alto Adige co-operatives are synonymous, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio. Finado 2015, Cantina Andriano is a Pinot Bianco, made with six months lees contact to give a little texture. The main impression is of soft pears, with an initial touch of CO2 which dissipated fairly quickly. Although it’s a gentle wine without being very assertive, it has a good length, and was quite popular.

It contrasted with Pinot Grigio 2015, Cantina Terlano, which is quite a bit richer (it comes from a south facing vineyard). The Pinot Grigios at this level are wholly different to the dilute examples sold for well under £10 in UK supermarkets (this one retails at £18, compared to £14 for the Finado above). In fact Waitrose sell a decent upgrade on the cheaper versions of Pinot Grigio for £12, which comes from another Alto Adige co-op, San Michelle-Appiano, but in terms of weight and complexity this Terlan version is another step up again. There’s pear, but apricot and peach as well, with a bitter stone fruit twist on the finish.

Terlaner Classico 2016, Cantina Terlano (£19) is one of the blends the region does so well. This one is 60% Pinot Bianco, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Sauvignon Blanc. It is mostly aged on lees in stainless steel for seven months, but 20% of the blend is aged in oak. The bouquet is much more floral than the previous two whites. The weight of rounded Chardonnay fruit dominates the palate, but on the nose there’s definitely a sense of grassy Sauvignon Blanc. A certain lightness of touch made this wine, on balance, my favourite of the three so far, though the best was still to come.

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Terlaner “Vorberg” Riserva 2014 is one of the top wines from the Terlan Cantina, coming from one of the region’s best single sites. It is fairly expensive at £32/bottle, and this is why the opportunity to try something like this at a tasting is quite enlightening. It’s made from 100% Pinot Bianco, fermented in 30 hectolitre casks, and then aged for a year in oak, during which time it undergoes a softening malolactic fermentation. At 14% alcohol it is rich and buttery on the palate, with pear and peach fruit. The nose is developing slowly and right now is mainly reminiscent of white flowers, but this is one to age. In fact I know someone who has put away a couple of six-packs. The little bit of austerity, which may have put off some tasters, will give way to a complex bottle, given several years cellaring, at which point it might appreciate being paired with turbot at Verveine (the marvelous fish restaurant in nearby Milford-on-Sea).

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There are a few red grapes which are native to Alto Adige. Teroldego is one, particularly well known in the version called “Morei”, from Foradori. Another red variety which is often grown alongside it is Lagrein. Under the Cantina Andriano label, we tasted Rubeno 2015, 100% Lagrein, and nicknamed “Ribena” by a few on our table. It’s a dense ruby red colour, fermented in stainless steel, and very bright to look at. It’s a fresh, young, red with soft and juicy black and red fruits, and a little tannin. It finishes slightly bitter. A nice sappy red at £16. These Alto Adige wines are never cheap when they are good, but if you’d like to try something a little different, it’s worth it. I find Lagrein attractive when it’s well made, and like so many Italian country reds, it goes really well with local cold cuts and cheeses.

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We finished with our Piemontese interloper. The Produttori del Barbaresco is very well known, and I’ve written about them in the past. If the Alto Adige co-operatives are among the best in Italy, then “The Produttori” can stake a reasonable claim to be the best. Certainly a few of their single vineyard Barbaresco wines can match those of the top producers in the right vintage, and at half the price.

Here we were tasting the entry level Langhe Nebbiolo 2015. I’d not tried the 2015 vintage of this yet, so I wasn’t complaining our final wine wasn’t from the Northeast. These have finally hit the £20 barrier now, though even at that price they are still good value. I’ve had many cheap Barolos which truly disappoint, but this Nebbiolo cuvée has never done so. Characteristically pale, although far from the brick red which Nebbiolo assumes when old. The nose hasn’t fully opened, but it hints at something more haunting, and quite a few tasters detected a touch of liqorice. There’s tannin here, not the firm tannins of a young Barolo (or Barbaresco), but enough to prefer food, or a year or three in bottle. But a nice wine, well priced for the quality and, after a year or two, capable of showing the uninitiated what Nebbiolo can do. It won’t hit the heights of Barolo, but nor will it break the bank.

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A nice little tasting. Some readers might have seen me mentioning COS Zibibbo on Social Media last week. Solent Cellar had one or two magnums of this new and rare COS wine, the Sicilian strain of Muscat vinified in amphora. I thought I’d offer a heads up to any readers who got this far, and who might fancy popping down to Lymington this coming Friday evening (21 July). From 6pm Solent Cellar are hosting a Sicilian night, along with Sicilian pasta merchants, Bedda Co. They will be cooking up some fresh pasta with Sicilian toppings out back, whilst Solent will be selling (mainly Sicilian) wines by the glass. I am promised that the last two magnums of the Zibibbo will be opened. There’s a large car park over the road, down the side of M&S, and you don’t need to book or buy a ticket. But if you want the Zibibbo, remember to arrive early (and don’t blame me if there’s a rush). If nothing gets in my way, I shall be there. Solent Cellar is at 40 St Thomas Street, Lymington.

About dccrossley

Writing here and elsewhere mainly about the outer reaches of the wine universe and the availability of wonderful, characterful, wines from all over the globe. Very wide interests but a soft spot for Jura, Austria and Champagne, with a general preference for low intervention in vineyard and winery. Other passions include music (equally wide tastes) and travel. Co-organiser of the Oddities wine lunches.
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