Italy’s best aromatic whites

Cantina Tramin is one of Italy’s finest producers of aromatic white wines for which it has won a host of awards. For publication in the week starting 16 July 2018.

Many critics say Cantina Tramin makes the best Gewürztraminer in Italy. Its focus on aromatic white wines has seen it win hundreds of awards around the world.

In his monumental book Native Wine Grapes of Italy, wine expert Dr Ian D’Agata noted that centuries ago the non-aromatic Traminer grape mutated into the spicy variant called Gewürztraminer, which is mostly associated with Alsace in France.

Traminer originated around the town of Tramin in Alto Adige in northern Italy, where Cantina Tramin is located. The suffix “er” is how the German language creates the possessive form. Alto Adige was part of Austria for more than 1,000 years before the end of World War One. The town of Tramin is also known as Termeno because Italian and German are both spoken in the region.

Traminer is one of the world’s oldest grape varieties and is believed to be the parent of many important varieties including Pinot Noir and Riesling.

The German prefix “Gewürz” means spicy or aromatic, though in the context of grapes it also means “exuding intense aromas”. Dr D’Agata confirmed the grape’s origins: “A lot of Gewürztraminer is grown in Alto Adige [but] it is neither native nor traditional to Italy.” Alto Adige only became part of Italy in 1917, after World War One.

Gewürztraminer grows best in cool climates with a long ripening period. It rarely produces good wines in hot climates. If grapes are harvested early to preserve acidity the wine often lacks the tropical fruit characteristics which are attractive in a great Gewürztraminer.

When grown in the best location, such as around the town of Tramin, the wines combine floral and spicy aromas with a firm backbone of acidity which makes them extremely elegant.

D’Agata wrote In the January 2015 edition of Decanter magazine that the only Gewürztraminers that match Alsace for quality come from the Alto Adige “and out of these, Nussbaumer is the best”. Nussbaumer is Cantina Tramin’s best-known Gewürztraminer and the only wine to receive the highest rating in every leading Italian wine guide.

Over the past 15 years Cantina Tramin has focused on quality by improving cultivation and through advanced winemaking techniques. Winemaker and technical director Willi Stürz has been the driving force behind this development.

Bibenda, Italy’s association of sommeliers, gave Stürz the title of best winemaker in the country in 2003. The next year Gambero Rosso, Italy’s most prestigious wine guide, named Stürz Italian winemaker of the year. He has done 27 vintages at Cantina Tramin.

Ext Cantina Tramin

Photo by Stephen Quinn

The company has a distinctive winery (shown at left), designed by architect Werner Tscholl. It is on the edge of the village on the western side of the Adige Valley and a major landmark. The building opened in 2010 and blends harmoniously with the surrounding countryside. Cantina Tramin was founded as a co-operative in 1898. The company represents about 300 growers or 180 families and includes 260 hectares of vines. In other words, the average ownership is slightly more than one hectare per family.

The co-operative prides itself on its flexibility. Wolfgang Klotz, director of marketing and sales, said the arrangement combines the advantages of small plots cultivated directly by owners with the chance to exploit economies of scale associated with being a co-operative. This enables Tramin Cellars to offer fine wines at reasonable prices. “Each grower is encouraged by being financially rewarded according to the quality of the grapes supplied.

“The relationship between grower and land is intimate. Vines have often been planted by their grandfathers,” Klotz said. Small plots mean that grapes can be picked within a couple of hours, ensuring flavours and acidity are retained.

Willi Sturz.jpg

Photo by Stephen Quinn

Winemaker Willi Stürz (shown left), born in the village of Tramin, said he aimed to preserve primary aromas in the grapes. They are delivered to the press via conveyor belts to reduce stress. “In all phases of the fermentation process we avoid the loss of aromas through gravity feeds and by controlling the fermentation temperature to prevent evaporation of aromas.” Stürz said in summer the hot weather was tempered by a cooling breeze from Lake Garda called “Ora”. The area also has a diurnal range of 20 degrees Celsius. Vines are thus able to rest during the night which prolongs the ripening period in what in California is called “hang time”. During a long “hang time” grapes continue to ripen on the vines well into the autumn and are sometimes not picked until mid October.

A long, gradual ripening season is a pre-requisite for the production of aromatic and concentrated white wines whose body is underpinned by mouth-watering acidity. To date Cantina Tramin Gewürztraminers have received 26 top awards from the Gambero Rosso wine guide – more than any other Italian winery.

Gewürztraminer wines are full-bodied yet delicately spicy with vibrant acidity. They partner beautifully with savoury dishes, or Thai and Asian cuisine, and especially with mild creamy Indian dishes and seafood, particularly lobster and crayfish. In 2007 Gambero Rosso named the Nussbaumer Gewürztraminer as one of the 50 wines that have led Italy’s wine renaissance.

Dessert wines made from Gewürztraminer grapes are a revelation. Wines from botrytis-affected grapes such as the Terminium have been declared the best Italian sweet wine several times since 1997. In 2002 the prestigious wine magazine Civiltà del Bere included Cantina Tramin among the seven best wine producers in Italy. A decade later Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate gave Terminum 96 points out of a 100.

That same year Terminum received the Grand Gold at Mundus Vini – an award that selected the best 37 wines in the world from more than 6,000 wines from 45 nations. World champion sommelier Luca Gardini chose Terminum for his list of the world’s best 100 wines.

In 2013 Gewürztraminer Nussbaumer 2012 was awarded the title of Italy’s best white wine, and a year later Stoan 2013 was named Italy’s best white. In 2006 the Guida migliori vini d’Italia declared Cantina Tramin Italy’s top producer of the year. Weinwirtschaft magazine in Germany selected Cantina Tramin as the “best Italian wine co-operative” In 2011, 2012 and last year.

Cantina Tramin makes about 1.8 million bottles a year and produces two ranges of wines. These will be discussed next week. Annual sales last year were worth about 14 million Euros.

Disclosure: Stephen Quinn was the guest of Studio Cru, who provided meals and accommodation.

Words: 1,074

Categories: Italy, Not home, wine

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