Wed 26 Feb 2014
Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” revolves around the notion that places exist that represent the epitome of decency and decorum. I hope the late, great (but deeply troubled) author doesn’t mind if I borrow the term to apply to a group of wines that represent, for me, the epitome of clarity and crystalline transparency, wines that seem to radiate light and chiseled elegance. The six wines under review today hail from the roster of Alois Lageder, an estate founded in 1823 and now operated by the fifth generation. The vineyards from which these wines derive — all white, though reds are also produced — lie in Italy’s Alto Adige region and in the foothills of the Dolomiti — the Dolomites — where the Alps render national and regional boundaries inconsequential. The wines of Alois Lageder, the eponymous leader of the estate, are divided into two groups: Alois Lageder and Tenutae Lageder. Under the former label, the wines are produced partly from the company’s own biodynamically-farmed vineyards and partly from grapes purchased on long-term contracts with local estates. The second group encompasses wines made solely from biodynamic single vineyards owned by the estate. A third tier is Cantina Riff, a pinot grigio and a merlot-cabernet blend made from selected growers in the “Tre Venezie” region; these are the least expensive of the offerings. Winemaker is Luis von Dellemann.
Samples for review from Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. Image of the Dolomites from adventourus.com
The Riff Pinot Grigio Terra Alpina 2012, della Venezia, is as delicate and crisp as a snowflake and just as faceted. The color is very pale gold; piquant aromas of lemons, apples and lime peel unfurl to backnotes of grapefruit and almond blossom and a hint of almond skin. In the mouth, this wine feels chiseled from green apples, limestone and crystalline acidity, bolstered by touches of ripe peach and spiced pear; the finish is lean and spare. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014 as aperitif, with seafood and vegetarian appetizers or fish stews. Very Good+. About $10, an Amazing Bargain.
Higher on the quality and price scale is the Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio 2012, Dolomiti, deriving from more specific locations in Trentino than the generalized Riff Pinot Grigio Terra Alpina ’12. The color is radiant straw-gold with faint green highlights; jasmine and honeysuckle dominate a bouquet inflected by notes of cloves, lilac, pomander, roasted lemons and yellow plums. Surprisingly full-bodied, ripe and spicy with citrus and stone-fruit, but leavened by crisp acidity and a shimmering limestone element; the texture is lovely and buoyant, the finish of medium length, packed with spice and minerals. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now into 2015. A superb aperitif, with seafood terrines, dry cheeses, green olives, or with grilled fish. Excellent. About $15, a Fantastic Bargain.
The grapes for the single-vineyard Tenutae Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2012, Sudtirol, Alto Adige, derive from biodynamic-farmed vines certified by the Demeter organization. (I’m not advocating for biodynamic principles; just informing those who are interested.) The color is pale gold; the whole package feels like tissues of delicate froth seamlessly woven with tensile strength; jasmine and camellia dominate a nose that features notes of greengage, lime peel and lemon lightly spiced and touched with almond. The wine offers delicious citrus and pear flavors and moderately full body, almost creamy, but brightened by crisp acidity and streamlined limestone and flint qualities; the whole effect is of lovely transparency and elegance. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016. Excellent. About $25.
Now we go to pinot blanc, first with the “regular” Alois Lageder Pinot Blanc 2012, Dolomiti. The color is pale pale straw-gold; there’s a burst of floral energy, a seductive strain of jasmine and honeysuckle, then roasted lemon and lemon balm, lime peel and a hint of grapefruit. That grapefruit element persists through the wine’s striking acidity and its note of bitterness on the finish. In between, this is bracing and saline, shot through with limestone and river-rock minerality in lovely crystalline filigree. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014. Quite delightful. Very Good+. About $14, an Attractive Price.
The Alois Lageder Haberle Pinot Blanc 2011, Alto Adige, derives from the Haberlehof estate vineyard that ranges in altitude from 1,500 to 1,710 feet. This is a cool-climate vineyard that sees extremes of day and night temperature variation. The color is mild gold; the wine overall is more subdued than its cousin mentioned immediately above, but is also more expressive and expansive. Yes, it is saline and bracing, as if it had feasted on seashells; yes, it features elements of roasted lemons and lime peel but adds spiced pear, a hint of lychee and dried thyme. The aura here is elevating and balletic, elegant, transparent; bright acidity arrows through to a finish heightened by notes of ginger and quince and a touch of grapefruit bitterness. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2015 or ’16 with seafood pastas or risottos or grilled fish. Excellent. About $22.
Last in this roster is the Alois Lageder Müller Thurgau 2012, Dolomiti, made from a grape that we tend to associate with Germany (where it’s the second-most widely planted grape) and Austria but is grown all over Eastern Europe as well as in New Zealand, England and the United States. It was created in 1882 as a cross between riesling and madeleine royale grapes by Hermann Müller of the Swiss canton of Thurgau, hence the name. The wine derives from Alois Lageder’s highest vineyards, at 1,960 to 2,780 feet altitude. The color is pale gold; the bouquet is notably floral and spicy, weaving cloves and ginger with jasmine and camellia, as well as hints of roasted lemon, grapefruit pith and lime peel and a faint wash of musk. It’s more straightforward in the mouth, quite tasty, a bit savory and saline, very crisp and lively with acid and limestone minerality, but the real attraction is in the nose. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15.