Thu 3 Apr 2014
If national borders were erased and a sort of primal geography took over, northeastern Italy would fittingly spill over into Austria and Switzerland, where place names, surnames and grape varieties are shared in abundance. That’s certainly true for the mountainous areas of Italy’s Alto Adige region, where Germanic terms are as common as Italian. Taking a prominent place among producers in Alto Adige is Elena Walch, who, with her daughters Julia and Karoline, makes some of the best white wines, well, that I have tasted so far this year. A specialist in gewürztraminer and pinot blanc grapes, Elena Walch — person and estate — farms along rigorous sustainable practices and was among the first in the region to do so. The two examples under review today represent the “regular” bottling of gewurztraminer, drawn from several vineyards, and a single-vineyard model from Kastelaz. Both wines are made completely in stainless steel tanks and are all the fresher and appealing for it, though stinting not a whit on complexity. These were samples for review, imported by Walch/USA, Sausalito, Calif.
The Elena Walch Selezione Gewürztraminer 2013, Alto Adige, Italy, is the estate’s standard or regular bottling, but the quality is far above standard. The color is medium-gold; pungent aromas of peach, jasmine and lychee, cloves, quince and ginger are seamlessly woven with notes of yellow plum, lightly roasted fennel and a stray finger of coriander; if you think it’s difficult to tear oneself away from these seductive scents, you’re not wrong. Spicy and lively citrus and stone fruit flavors are buoyed by bright, lithe acidity, while the long dry finish offers refreshing notes of celery seed, grapefruit bitterness and brisk salinity. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value for the Price.
The Elena Walch Kastelaz Gewürztraminer 2012, Alto Adige, derives from a steeply terraced vineyard (pictured here) that lies 340 to 360
meters — 1,115 to 1,240 feet — above sea level; the soil is chalk-clay with raw rock of volcanic origin. The color is radiant medium-gold; a dazzling array of effects, however splendid, is beautifully integrated. The highly perfumed bouquet features notes of jasmine and lilac, cloves, candied ginger and lime peel, orange zest and blossom, all wreathed with fruit tones of peach, spiced pear and lychee; yeah, pretty heady stuff. Overall, though, the wine is both luscious and seductive, on the one hand, and spare, supple, elegant, on the other, even a bit demanding in its dryness and steely, limestone character. Wonderfully alive and resonant. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $32.