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Pinot Bianco at Its Best
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 20, 2008
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Elena Walch, Alto Adige Pinot Bianco Kastelaz 2006 (American Wine Distributors, Inc., $28):  It is no secret that I am a big fan of Pinot Blanc wines from Italy's northerly Alto Adige region.  For me, they offer just the right combination of character and easy drinkability.  Moderately flavorful and food-friendly, they sit somewhere in the middle distance between simple Pinot Grigios, at one extreme of white wine styles, and ponderous, oaked Chardonnays at the other extreme.

At a recent tasting of Alto Adige wines, I sampled the wines of twelve producers and rated none of them lower than 87, although some cost as little as $12 a bottle.   One wine that captivated me was this single-vineyard Pinot Bianco from Elena Walch, a former architect who is one of the most admired winemakers in the region.

Cooperatives dominate wine production in Alto Adige, achieving a level of quality that many co-ops elsewhere in the wine world would do well to emulate.  Elena Walch runs a private winery, however--in fact two private, family-owned wineries in different districts of Alto Adige.  Like most Alto Adige producers, she makes a wide assortment of wines, mainly whites but also reds, which fall into different ranges and price points.  Kastelaz Pinot Bianco is her finest wine from this variety.

Unusually for a Pinot Bianco, this wine aged partially in oak:  30% of the wine aged in barriques, while the remainder remained in stainless steel until bottling.   Another influence on the wine's taste is that it comes from low-yielding, south-facing vineyards that lie in a fairly southerly part of the region.

These two factors make this wine richer and a bit more exotic than the typical Alto Adige Pinot Bianco.  It is, among Alto Adige Pinot Biancos, the Alsace-like wine in an Italianate lineup.  Its aroma suggests very ripe apple and pear, a honeyed note and very slight smokiness of oak.  In the mouth, it has a rich, viscous texture that is cut through by a razor edge formed by medium-plus acidity and the slightest bit of tannin; richness dominates on the fore-palate, while the rear palate is all clean freshness.  Flavors include ripe apple, minerality and a suggestion of peach.  The wine's fascinating interplay of richness and cleanness speaks to its quality.

This is a powerful Pinot Bianco, with a softer focus than those made in the crisp, precise style that less expensive versions tend to have.  But it is no less food-friendly.  Its rich flavor perks up spring vegetable risotto and similarly delicately-flavored dishes.  It also has enough weight to complement poached salmon, chicken breast fillets in a creamy sauce, or a cheese-laden white pizza.

90 Points