Alto Adige and Willamette Valley: Two Pinot grape wine territories on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean

View from Manhatta Restaurant in Downtown New York City

Alto Adige in Italy, and the Willamette Valley in Oregon. So what do these two winemaking territories have in common? More than you might think.

Some Alto Adige and Willamette Valley wines featured at the event

First a little background on Alto Adige. This small wine growing area encompasses less than one percent of Italy’s total wine production. There are a total of 274 wineries  in the Alto Adige. The 5000 farmers in this region cultivate 20 different kinds of grapes on a total of 13, 838 acres of vineyards situated at 650 to 3280 feet above sea level, to produce roughly 40,000,000 bottles of white (64%), and red (36%), wines annually. Of these, sparkling wines comprise about one percent of production. Almost all wines produced in the Alto Adige are DOC. The area receives around 300 days of sun a year.

A selection of Alto Adige and Willamette Valley wines poured at the event

The Willamette Valley winemaking territory in Oregon comprises three percent of total U.S. wine production. There are 736 wineries in the area, where 931 farmers cultivate over 37 different grape varietals, on 27,380 acres of vineyards situated at 200 to 1100 feet above sea level, to produce 40,000,000 bottles of white (35%), and red (65%), wine annually. The Willamette Valley has been producing an increasingly greater percentage of sparkling wine in recent years. Organic viticulture in the Willamette Valley comprises roughly 50% of wine production. Microclimates in the Willamette Valley wine growing area result in distinctive wines that run the gamut of flavor profiles. The area can look forward to about 150 sunny days annually.

Side by side: Alto Adige and Willamette Valley wines

So what do the two regions have in common? Well, for one, despite being on different continents that are located on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, the Alto Adige, and the Willamette Valley share almost the same global geographical coordinates. In other words, they are situated at approximately the same longitudinal and latitudinal points on the globe. Pinot is also an important grape in both the Alto Adige, and the Willamette Valley.

Finally, both areas are sites of Lagrein wine production. They also believe in practicing good transparency and emphasizing sense of place in every facet of wine production. The following are highlights from the selection of Alto Adige, and Willamette Valley wines that were poured to highlight the flavor profiles and styles that can come from the different production techniques the wineries in both of these areas employ to make their Pinot-based and other wines.

Cantina Tramin, Alto Adige Pinot Grigio, DOC Unterebner, 2020 100% Pinot Grigio grown on calciferous gravel, loam, and porphyry bedrock at altitudes of between 400 and 600 feet (asl). Crisp, balanced and round, with flavors of citrus and orchard fruit, fresh vegetation, and honeysuckle, followed by a medium-long finish.

Remy Wines, Pinot Grigio, Fisherman’s, 2021

100% Pinot Grigio on ungrafted 30+ year old vines planted on Willakensie-Wellsdale and Willakensie-Dupree soils at altitudes of 400 to 500 feet (asl).

Grapes undergo cold-cluster pressing. Color is extracted to deepen the color and favor concentrations, but not so much as to create an orange wine. Three yeast strains are used to ferment this wine.

Flavors of fresh lemon, apples, and white flowers, along with good acidity, and a touch of minerality.

Cantina Terlano, Alto Adige, Pinot Bianco, DOC Vorberg, 2019

100% Pinot Bianco grown on volcanic quartz porphyry bedrock, and light sandy loam soils at between 450 to 650 meters (asl).

Grapes are manually harvested, and undergo whole- cluster pressing. Fermentation takes place in big oak casks, and malolactic fermentation and aging on the lees takes place for 12 months in traditional oak barriques.

Balanced and concentrated, with medium weight. Concentrated flavors of ripe apple, as well as tropical fruit, vanilla, and a touch of oak.

Adelsheim Vineyards, Chehalem Mountains AVA, Chardonnay, “Staking Claim,” 2019

100% Chardonnay grown on sedimentary, loess, and volcanic soil, at an altitude of between 550 to 760 feet (asl).

Fermentation takes place in new French oak barrels (37%) for 12 months. This is followed by five additional months of aging in stainless steel tanks.

Flavors of ripe citrus fruit, as well as oak, cream, and vanilla.

Winery Castel Juval Unterortl, Alto Adige Val Venosta, Pinot Nero Riserva, DOC, 2018

100% Pinot Nero grown on glacier sediment-rich soil containing gneis, schist, feldspar, mica, and quartz, situated at 630 to 700 feet (asl).

Destemmed grape clusters are fermented in stainless steel tanks. This is followed by 15 days of maceration, and malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks.  The wine undergoes 12 months of aging in used French oak (60%), and acacia (40%) barrels.

Flavors of fresh red berry, as well as herb and spice, with a hint of balsamic, along with a slightly glycerin mouth feel.

Tenuta J. Hofstadter, Alto Adige Pinot Nero, DOC Barthenau Vigna S. Urbano, 2017

100% Pinot Nero grown on clay, lime, eroded porphyry, and fine gravel soil situated at 450 meters (asl).

A mixture of destemmed and lightly crushed, as well as roughly 25% whole-cluster berries, are steeped at cool temperatures for one day to extract flavors. The must is fermented with the juice before undergoing maturation in small oak casks for 12 months, followed by an additional year of maturation in a single large oak cask.

Flavors of fresh young mixed berry, as well as cherry, and dark flower, along with a touch of garrigue.

The terroir in the Alto Adige is also well-suited to growing Lagrein. The production techniques employed by two wineries at the event in particular seemed to bring out the best characteristics of Lagrein.
The two outstanding Lagrein-based wines from the tasting are listed below to give you a sense of what you can expect from this comparably obscure grape.

Cantina Bolzano, Alto Adige Lagrein Riserva, DOC Taber, 2018

100% Lagrein grown on 80-year old vines, from a single vineyard, containing warm sandy alluvial soil situated at 250 meters (asl).

Fermentation takes place in wooden vats for five months. This is followed by 12 months of maturation in French oak barriques.

Silky, with good weight, density, and structure. Flavors of luscious blue and black fruit, as well as forest vegetation.

Peter Zemmer, Alto Adige Lagrein, Riserva DOC Furggl, 2018

100% Lagrein sourced from 18-year old vines produced on loam soil at an altitude of 250 meters (asl).

The destemmed grapes undergo cold maceration for one day to enhance their aromas. This is followed by 10 days of fermentation on the lees. The wine is matured for six months in large oak barrels The wine is blended before undergoing an additional 12 months of aging in French barriques.

Full-bodied, with good weight. Flavors of red and black berry, as well as dark stone fruit, and crushed purple flower petal, along with a juicy acidity.

These and other wines were paired with a fantastic lunch prepared at Manhatta restaurant (28 Liberty St 60th floor, New York, NY 10005) in New York City.

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