In the mountains of Alto Adige, Michela Carlotto and her father Ferruccio have created a perfect cross between precise northern craftsmanship and suave Italian class. In their hands, the local Lagrein—a notoriously inky, tannic grape—is a thing of purity and finesse. Several years ago, after realizing Lagrein’s rustic side could be tamed with a gentle vinification, they began to harvest earlier and shorten macerations with the goal of crafting a powerful, age-worthy wine that would also offer immediate satisfaction. The 2014 illustrates the outcome of their philosophy: this dark, brooding beast has silky-fine tannins providing a delicate platform for its deep mountain berry fruit to shine. A relatively new addition to our portfolio, Carlotto demonstrates the potential for wildly intense, yet elegant reds in Italy’s northernmost grape-growing region.
Feruccio Carlotto and his daughter Michela farm a tiny estate of several hectares in the Alto-Adige town of Ora, south of Bolzano. The special of this village is Lagrein, a red grape that is native to the region. They chose to produce only one Lagrein Riserva that is aged in large oak casks. They also make a small amount of Pinot Nero that is made in a very fine, elegant style, with a feathery touch. We were pleasantly surprised when we were able to talk the Carlottos into selling us a pallet for the United States. Unfortunately there are not much of these finely crafted beauties to go around but if you can get your hands on a few cases, you will be experiencing some of the best of what Alto Adige has to offer the wine world.
In the heart of the Dolomites, Alto Adige is Italy’s northernmost wine region. Having changed hands multiples times in its history between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire (it shares a border with Austria), it boasts strong Germanic influence on its culture, language, cuisine, as well as its wines.
The mountainous geography is the principal determinant of local winemaking styles, with the high-altitude vineyards and cool Alpine climate favoring primarily crisp, racy, aromatic whites from varieties like Kerner, Sauvignon, Müller Thurgau, and Grüner Veltliner. A Mediterranean influence on climate is channeled north up the valley until Bolzano, permitting the cultivation of certain reds as well, among which Schiava, Lagrein, Pinot Nero, and Merlot fare best.
Small growers who once sold fruit to the area’s multiple co-ops are now increasingly bottling their own wines. The arrival of many quality-oriented artisans on the scene caught our eye years ago, and we now count three estates from Südtirol, as it is also known, in our portfolio. These high-acid mountain wines make for a beautifully invigorating aperitivo with thinly sliced speck, a local specialty.
I want you to realize once and for all: Even the winemaker does not know what aging is going to do to a new vintage; Robert Parker does not know; I do not know. We all make educated (hopefully) guesses about what the future will bring, but guesses they are. And one of the pleasures of a wine cellar is the opportunity it provides for you to witness the evolution of your various selections. Living wines have ups and downs just as people do, periods of glory and dog days, too. If wine did not remind me of real life, I would not care about it so much.
Inspiring Thirst, page 171
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