The incredible story of Dante’s infamous escape from certain captivity in 1285, memorialized on the label of this northern Italian gem with the phrase he cunningly uttered, makes it worth the price of entry alone! Father-daughter team Ferruccio and Michela Carlotto make only this one bottling of Lagrein from their vineyards planted in volcanic stone soil near Bolzano. It is the pinnacle of what the grape can achieve in the region: a wine with an ebony robe that gives the impression of drinking black silk, with invigorating white pepper undertones. It is the counterpoint to the local Schiava grape, which produces light, aromatic reds for daily sustenance. Carlotto’s Lagrein is the perfect foil to wild game, foraged mushrooms, and rich stuffed ravioli dishes.
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.
When buying red Burgundy, I think we should remember:
1. Big wines do not age better than light wine. 2. A so-called great vintage at the outset does not guarantee a great vintage for the duration. 3. A so-called off vintage at the outset does not mean the wines do not have a brilliant future ahead of them. 4. Red Burgundy should not taste like Guigal Côte-Rôtie, even if most wine writers wish it would. 5. Don’t follow leaders; watch yer parking meters.
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