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Overdelivering for the Price
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 1, 2019
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Alois Lageder Terra Alpina Pinot Bianco 2018 ($15) and Alois Lageder Schiava 2018 ($16), Vigneti dei Dolomiti IGT (Italy) (Dalla Terra Imports):
  If you’re in the habit of spending a good amount of money on wine, this review isn’t directed to you.  Unless, of course, you have occasions when you need an inexpensive wine for a large party and yet quality still matters to you.  Or some of your family members are indiscriminate wine drinkers and it annoys you that they are not sufficiently appreciative of the pricey wines you put before them.

Northeastern Italy produces a huge amount of wine, much of it inexpensive, volume brands — and much of it either Pinot Grigio or Prosecco.  But the Alto Adige region in the northernmost part of the country, bordering on Austria, makes wines that are a cut above.  Although the wines are mainly inexpensive, they tend to have more concentration of flavor than the mass-market version of Pinot Grigio, for example, and they have character.  High altitude and hilly vineyard sites are part of the reason, as is a sunny, warm climate and a careful, no-nonsense approach to winemaking.

Of course, Pinot Grigio is one of the wines produced here, as is Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as Pinot Noir, some of which is exceptional.  But the real pride of place belongs to two native red varieties, Lagrein and Schiava, and to the white variety Pinot Bianco.  Lagrein is a deeply-colored, spicy red with firm tannic structure, while Schiava is the mirror image, a pale, easy-going red with low tannin levels.  Pinot Bianco is a white with low-key aromas and flavors and a satisfying, broad structure.

Alois Lageder is one of the largest private wine producers in Alto Adige.  The family owns more than 135 acres which are all farmed biodynamically, and also works with 80 individual growers.  Besides the Alois Lageder label, which includes more than a dozen varietal wines along with single-vineyard wines and special bottlings, the family makes wines under the Terra Alpina label.  These are larger-volume wines that carry the Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT classification rather than the more restrictive Alto Adige DOC; the IGT territory extends into neighboring Trento province, enabling the wine draw from more vineyards.

The 2018 Terra Alpina Pinot Bianco has a quiet aroma that suggests fresh apples, grapefruit and, vaguely, peaches.  It’s a dry wine and fairly full on the palate, considering that it contains only 12.5 percent alcohol and is unoaked.  Although the wine has significant acidity, it tastes broad and weighty rather than lean and crisp.  Its texture is rather waxy, in keeping with the full, rounded structure.  Its flavors echo the aromas, along with pear, a bit of sage and a savory, mineral note.  The wine was made completely in stainless steel, but it had four months of lees contact after fermentation.  This process can round out the palate and give it substance; in this case, the lees aging complements the broad mouth-filling nature of Pinot Bianco, for a soft, rounded wine.

The label of the 2018 Alois Lageder Schiava reads “Vernatsch-Schiava,” using both the German and Italian names of the grape.  This is the most planted grape variety in Alto Adige, and it has long been popular as the everyday go-to for locals, especially in warm weather.

When you serve this wine, you might think that you poured a deep rosé wine because the wine’s color is pale ruby — but that’s the effect of the grape’s low pigmentation.  Along with the low pigmentation comes low tannin, making this an easy, quaffable dry red.  The wine’s aromas and flavors suggest red fruits — red plum, strawberry — floral, and delicate nutty notes, in a faded, muted style on the nose but more vivid in your mouth.  The wine is light-bodied but it has enough tannin, of a powdery/dusty sort, to give it substance and eliminate any idea that you are drinking rosé.  The finish has an earthiness that’s satisfying.  Frankly, it’s unusual to find a light-bodied red (only 11 percent alcohol here) that’s truly dry, and that’s an intriguing aspect of this wine.  Winemaking involved stainless steel fermentation and fairly brief aging in concrete.

Lageder also makes a very good $15 Pinot Grigio bottling under the Terra Alpina label.

2018 Terra Alpina Pinot Bianco, 90 Points

2018 Alois Lageder Schiava, 89 Points

Read more by Mary Ewing-Mulligan:   "On My Table"