Monks & Friars in the Cellars of Trentino Alto-Adige
Abbazia di Novacella
Located in Alto Adige in the town of Varna, Abbazia di Novacella is the oldest winery in the world in continuous production. The Augustinian monastery and bishopric of Novacella was founded by Hartmann, Bishop of Brixen in 1142 and has featured prominently in Tyrol’s history ever since. Its famous library, extensive cultural activities, and its popular wine cellar all bear witness to its glorious past. White grape varieties such as Sylvaner, Muller Thurgau, Gewürztraminer, Kerner, Pinot Grigio, and Veltliner have flourished in this cool, mountain valley around Novacella for centuries. Novacella also owns vineyards in South Tyrol’s main wine growing area near Bolzano. The well ventilated hillside site produces first class red wines including Kalterersee, Edellvernatsch, and Pinot Nero. A third estate is located on the outskirts of Bolzano where South Tyrol’s finest native red variety Lagrein flourishes in the scorching summer heat and yields rich, powerful red wines which improve for years. The winemaker is Celestino Lusin, who was named “Winemaker of the Year” in 2009 by Gambero Rosso, Italy’s most prestigious wine guide.
Marchese Carlo Guerrieri Gonzaga Tenuta San Leonardo
Marchese Carlo Guerrieri Gonzaga Tenuta San Leonardo is located in Trentino, overlooking the Adige River. With its back shielded by the imposing Lessini Mountains, San Leonardo enjoys an exceptionally mild climate, characteristic of the southern end of Lake Garda. This site, with its church dedicated to St. Leonardo around the sixth century, presents evidence of the cultivation of grapevines from the early Middle Ages. In 1215, the place name of San Leonardo is clearly documented, when a monastery and hospice were founded by the Cruciferous Friars nearby. At that time, the vineyard became an integral part of San Leonardo. Nowadays the almost three hundred hectare property covers exactly the perimeter of the fief at that time. The Guerrieri Gonzaga family has been the landowner and vine grower at San Leonardo since the eighteenth century and today cultivates only red varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. The winemaker is highly respected Carlo Ferrini.
At the end of the 19th Century, the Lechthaler family was making wine at Piana Rotaliano when the area was still a part of Austria. By 1905, Lechthaler wines appeared in the best hotels and restaurants in the area and were sold in 750 ml bottles at a time when most wine was transferred to restaurant owners and inn-keepers in large barrels and sold to the public in smaller barrels. In 1950, the Togn family purchased the winery, and today produces mainly Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir, grape varieties that arrived in the Trentino region from Germany around the beginning of the last century. The family’s Torre di Luna label specializes in Bordeaux varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. The winemaker is Goffredo Pasolli. *
In 1979, the Togn family, which owns the Lechthaler estate, purchased the 18th Century Maso Poli property, including 15 hectares of land, 10 of which are planted to the traditional vines of the area, Pinot Nero, Pinot Grigio, Lagrein, and Teroldigo. Today, Valentina Togn has taken over management from her father Luigi and runs the business. In 2004, the family built a new winery, from which visitors can see the panorama of the Rotaliana Plains. The winemaker is Goffredo Pasolli, who is also the winemaker at the Lechthaler estate.
Italian Wines of the Month
Maso Poli – 2007 Pinot Grigio
This beautiful wine from hillside vineyards around Pressano on the Rotaliana Plains in Trentino-Alto Adige is 100% Pinot Grigio and has the typical color of the variety, a pale copper hue. The wine is fragrant and deeply flavorful with an unmistakable hint of pear. It obtains its deeper flavors because about 40% of the production is fermented in small French oak barrels with the rest in stainless steel tanks. The wine then rests on its lees for six months. Serve chilled as an aperitif or with entrees, such as grilled trout.
Torre di Luna – 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
Torre di Luna, the Lechthaler label for its Bordeaux varieties, presents this 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from vineyards in the southern part of Trentino. This very fresh tasting Cabernet Sauvignon includes 20% Cabernet Franc and was aged for 12 months in stainless steel tanks instead of oak barrels so that it has a lighter feel in the mouth. The wine shows ruby red color and aromas of fresh fruit, red berries, and hints of spice. The tannins are smooth and sweet. The wine is more versatile that heavier Cabernet Sauvignon and will pair well with pasta in tomato sauces, risotto with wild mushrooms, and mild Italian sausages. Serve at cool room temperature.
Abbazia di Novacella – 2007 Pinot Nero
Originally from Burgundy, France, Pinot Nero has won fans in many countries, including Italy, where its chosen home is Trentino Alto-Adige. It was widely planted in Trentino during the middle of the 19th Century, mainly as a substitute for existing vines, which were decimated by the root louse phylloxera. Made from 100% Pinot Nero fruit, the wine was aged for eight months in oak barrels and shows bright ruby color with garnet highlights, typical of the grape variety. This smooth and aromatic wine with lively aromas of wild black berries is best with more delicately flavored dishes, such as risotto with wild mushrooms, roasted chicken, or braised rabbit.
Marchese Carlo Guerrieri Gonzaga – 2003 Merlot
Now seven years old, this Gonzaga wine is 100% Merlot from estate vineyards and is mellowing with bottle age into ripe plum fruit layered over a faintly grassy background note. Dry, soft, and well-balanced on the palate, the wine is a natural match with rice and pasta in tomato or meat sauces as well as grilled and braised red meats, poultry, and soft cheeses.
Marchese Carlo Guerrieri Gonzaga – 2003 San Leonardo
This Tre Bicchieri award winner is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Merlot, grape varieties from Bordeaux, France, which found an ideal habitat in Trentino since the beginning of the 20th Century. Between 1988 and 2004, when the last San Leonardo was released, the wine has won Gambero Rosso’s prestigious Tre Bicchieri (Three Glasses) award 12 times. Each grape variety is vinified separately and then blended shortly before bottling. The wine was aged for six months in Slavonian oak barrels and for 24 months in French barriques. With an intense garnet tinted ruby color, the San Leonardo expresses itself with remarkable aromatic intensity, which ranges from green peppers to red berries on a vanilla background. On the palate, the wine is full-bodied, warm, and round with a very long and intense finish. Decant and serve at room temperature with roasted, braised, or stewed meats and game, and with mature cheeses.
Abbazia di Novacella Praepositus – 2006 Pinot Nero
Praepositus from the Latin means “appointed to lead (pre-positioned),” and the Abbazia di Novacella wines under this label are the winery’s finest. Two Praepositus white wines, released in 2009 won the prestigious Tre Bicchieri (Three Glasses) award, the 2006 Valle Isarco Riesling and the 2007 Valle Isarco Sylvaner. This Praepositus Pinot Nero (in French Pinot Noir) is a bright ruby color with intense Pinot Nero fruit flavors and hints of fresh woodland and wild flowers. The wine is dry, full-bodied, and warm at 14.5% alcohol and displays a fine tannic weave with a strong structure and excellent length on the palate. The 2006 Pinot Nero was aged for 13 months in French barriques before release from the winery.
Italian Region of the Month
Trentino Alto-Adige, Italy’s northern most region, borders Austria and Switzerland and then splits into two distinct provinces. Alto Adige in the north is better known as Sudtirol to its bi-lingual German-Italian speaking population around Bolzano. And Trentino, around the city of Trento to the south, is historically Italian. The Adige, Italy’s second longest river flows from north to south through the center of the region on its way to the Adriatic.
Dominated by the Rhaetian Alps and the Dolomite Mountains, only about 15 percent of the region is suitable for cultivation. In the south, vineyards climb the sides of sweeping river valleys up to the foothills of high mountains. The snows fall heavily in the winter, and the breezes off the lakes and rivers cool the valleys in the summer.
The Etruscans were probably the first people to practice viticulture in the area and may have been responsible for training vines on wooden frames, a practice which the Romans found when they first arrived and which farmers still employ in the region. At the time, farmers in other parts of Italy more commonly trained their vines on trees. Here in the Trentino Alto-Adige, the Romans first used wooden barrels for ageing and transporting wine.
Today, Alto Adige’s native Lagrein and Trentino’s Teroldego are among Italy’s most distinguished red wines, and Cabernet and Merlot, which have grown in the region for 150 years, have reached impressive heights. The region also produces some of Italy’s finest Rosé. Among the white wines, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Grigio, Sauvignon, and Riesling Renano can also stand with Italy’s finest. Trentino’s native Nosiola which is a fine dry white is also the base of Vino Santo, a rich, golden dessert wine. Trentino, which has Italy’s largest production of Chardonnay is a leader with sparkling wines. The region also produces the aromatic Gewurztraminer, Sylvaner, and Muller Thurgau.