Posted by: tomciocco | December 27, 2012

VERNATSCH – FROM LOCAL TO WORLD CLASS.

There are hundreds of wine grapes under triple that many names in and amongst all of Italy’s flats and folds, so here’s one more, and the fact that it’s called Sudtiroler Vernatsch makes it all the more intriguing, no? Up in the northeastern cuff of the Italian boot, sits the bi-lingual region of Trentino Alto-Adige. The southern half (Trentino) is Italophone, and the northern, formerly Austrian Alto-Adige (A.K.A. South Tyrol,or Sudtirol in German) is German-speaking.

The German/Italian language line in this area has always been very fluid, and wine grape vines flow between cultures even more freely, and so it is here. In Alto Adige, the grape goes by its German name, Vernatsch, but the variety has an Italian name in Trentino, where it is known as Schiava (SKYA-va). Neither name is any sort of gift for the producers or the consumer, but their etymologies provide some solid insight into the variety’s roots if you will…

The name Vernatsch, as Teutonic as it sounds, is actually derived from Latin ( just like the Italian name Vernaccia) with the original Latin root word denoting something “local” or not widely known, in this case a vine variety. The definition of the Italian name Schiava on the on the hand,  is derived from an old Italian word for “Slav” or “Slavic”. Though these etymologies might at first seem to directly contradict each other, as far as I know, Vernatsch/Schiava’s precise origins are yet unknown, so the verdict on Alpine or Eastern European is still out. One clear commonality between the names is the notion that this is not a grape that was ever terribly well known, beloved, and diffuse…

Truth be told, for Vernatch, or Schiava, or its several other aliases, in many cases, not much has changed. Not a great deal of this grape is planted anywhere, even where it is grown. It tends to produce pale red, and if not perfectly ripened, often aggressive wines that over time have fallen out of favor as the taste for riper and riper wines grew. BUT (you knew it was coming) in the right soils, with lots of sun, and tended to by farmers who believe in, and understand the variety, this humble vine can produce some nearly Burgundian results. Andreas Widmann is that farmer, has the spot, and it sings out clearly in this wine.

I paired this wine with a first course of orzotto (risotto made with barley) with smoked bacon, soup vegetables and Parmigiano Reggiano, and  a traditional Alpine beef stew with white wine, red vinegar, lots of rosemary, bay, juniper, etc. served with soft polenta.

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Andreas Widmann Sudtiroler Vernatsch 2011

Slightly purple, transparent medium ruby color. Elegant but earthy aromas of roses, sandalwood, watermelon and fresh strawberry fruit, sawdust, pine needles, hazelnuts, and brook water. The medium-light body is very lively and vivid with a pretty, fresh, smooth and polished mouthfeel punctuated by slightly tough, peppery tannins, and a juicy acidity that frames quite intense and aromatic flavors of cranberry, cherry, and wild blueberry fruit, and mixed fresh herbs. Tartly warm and clean bitter almond finish.   

 

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