Sauvignon Blanc takes on countless incarnations throughout the world, and of course, it all comes down to terroir and winemaking. Only certain sites have the capacity to draw finesse and drinkability from this variety, and even when planted in the right places, techniques such as inoculation with aromatic yeast strains and sterile filtration can zap the life from what would be a fine wine, producing instead a beverage more reminiscent of mass-produced fruit punch than an authentic representation of place and the unique hand of a vigneron. This brings us to Egna, a small town in Alto Adige, Italy’s northernmost (and perhaps its most stunning) wine region. In 1990, local grower Peter Dipoli planted Sauvignon on steep terrain of rocky limestone, perched hundreds of meters above the valley floor in a position that appears more suitable to mountaineering than viticulture. The grapes from this breathtaking parcel are fermented and aged in large acacia casks, a method that promotes the development of deep, complex flavors while retaining the racy nerve that provides thirst-quenching refreshment. You won’t find any grassiness in Peter’s Sauvignon, and certainly no cat pee. Its perfume is exotic yet refined, with ripe, luscious citrus introducing a textured mouthfeel of total precision before a bracing, chalky finish. Bottle age is certain to reveal further nuances—with five or ten more years, this 2014 promises to be truly spectacular. Indeed, this compelling expression of the variety speaks more to the extreme conditions in which it grows and the prowess of its maker than to Sauvignon’s often overtly obvious varietal character. This unparalleled mountain white will satisfy and refresh, all while shattering any preconceived notions of what Sauvignon Blanc should be.
Peter Dipoli represents one of the wine world’s pure talents, a pioneer in Alto Adige who is producing wines on a level beyond what anyone thought possible in this mountainous region. After much research, Peter determined that the steep, high-altitude slopes near Bolzano were ideal for producing age-worthy white and red wines. He began with Sauvignon Blanc: at this altitude, Sauvignon attains great ripeness while retaining the acidity that would allow it to age in bottle. Peter’s research led him to detect a zone with a milder climate and soils of clay and limestone, ideal for Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Experience the unique artistry of one of Italy's great talents, a secret largely guarded within Italy's borders, until now.
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.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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