This year’s summer wine recommendations begin with a visit to northeastern Italy along its border with Switzerland and Austria. In the Italian Alpine region of Alto Adige visitors can enjoy views of snow-capped mountains as well as lush vineyards which produce ideal wines for warm weather enjoyment. The climate is surprisingly mild with more than 300 sunny days annually and the vineyards are protected from most of the chilly northern winds by the Alps, yet remain open to the warmer southern Mediterranean maritime breezes. The resulting temperature variations ensure that their grapes characteristic flavors are well balanced with bright acidity.
Nearly 60 percent of the Alto Adige vineyards produce white wines and their principle varietals include the familiar Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer along with some less well-known, but quite interesting grapes such as Müller-Thurgau, Sylvaner, and Kerner. There are over 60 Alto Adige producers currently imported into the US and the number is likely to grow since these wines are flavorful, food-friendly and well-priced for their inherent quality.
At an Alto Adige wine tasting held earlier this year the number of delicious wines offered were almost overwhelming. Nearly every winery had several excellent examples with distinguishing characteristics that make it problematic to write about all of the deserving producers in the space available. Some standouts include Cantina Terlano, Elena Walch, Cantina Andriano and Tiefenbrunner but it would be difficult to find an Alto Adige Pinot Grigio or Pinot Blanc that didn’t work as an aperitif or as an accompaniment to lightly grilled summer fare.
The Gewürztraminers were also distinctive with a remarkable depth of fruit nicely intermingled within the spicy frame while the early-ripening Müller-Thurgau would be terrific with Asian noodles or marinated, grilled chicken. Other paring suggestions include a glass of Sylvaner with shellfish and a bottle of Kerner with some spicy Thai cuisine.
And it wouldn’t be summer without Sauvignon Blanc. Among our favorites this year are from the Dry Creek Vineyards including their delightful stone fruit and citrus tasting 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and their sleek, apple and grapefruit flavored DCV3 Sauvignon Blanc 2012. The Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc 2011 is made from organically grown grapes and is bursting with tropical fruit flavors with a hint of grassiness at the end. Napa’s oldest winery, Charles Krug, continues to produce first-rate wines including their 2012 version of Sauvignon Blanc that exhibits perfectly balanced melon, grassy and citrus notes. Another California producer worth seeking out is Hess Collection whose 2011 version of Sauvignon Blanc displays enticing citrus and spice flavors.
Gruner Veltliner is another appropriate summer wine. Gruner has a characteristic fruitiness and signature pepper accent with enough acidity to make it very food-friendly. Among the better producers from their Austrian homeland are Kurt Angerer, Berger, Familie Brandl and Buchegger but also look elsewhere around the globe since the varietal is gaining popularity. Consider the Hess Collection Mount Veeder Small Block Series Gruner Veltliner 2012 that has loads of apple, lemon and pear flavors and the Dr. Konstantin Frank Gruner Veltliner 2011 produced in New York’s Finger Lake region which shows more citrus and exotic spices along with the classic pepper bite at the end. Also from the same region is a slightly sweet version, the Three Brothers Stony Lonesome Estate Reserve Gruner Veltliner 2011 that has a bit of honey mingled with citrus at the finish. Oregon is also a good source for “Gru-Vee” including the Chehalem Ridgecrest Vineyards Gruner Veltliner 2012 and Illahe Estate Gruner Veltliner 2012 from a producer who has been growing this grape in Oregon’s Willamette Valley for almost 30 years.