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Alto Adige MW Trip

Though somewhat ignorant of the Südtirol region before the trip, I knew the essence of it, where it lies geographically and that it presents itself as an amalgam of the best of two cultures: Austrian and Italian. What I wasn’t prepared for was the delightful epiphany that I was to experience.

The Dolomites came as a wonderful surprise. Great slabs of towering white rock shot up vertically all around us, many of them surmounted by implausibly situated trees and the looming skeletons of long-abandoned fortifications; ever-alert sentinels to the presence of any would-be invader. Fairy tale stuff then. So why on earth hadn’t I been before? I have to ask this question again given that every reasonably flat surface is smothered with vines. This nicely illustrates why land values are so high in this area. What little relatively horizontal surface that isn’t adorned with houses is nicely decorated with apple orchards and vineyards. Unbeknownst to me, this was to be a revelation and perhaps more than any other wine region I have visited to date. Alto Adige comes as a great big surprise that ejects any ambivalence one might previously have held concerning this wonderful, colourful and dynamic wine region.

Having built its reputation, albeit a domestic one, on high volume red wine, the region began to move away from mass production in the 1970s. White wines soon became the order of the day and generic quality gave way to authentic, high-quality production. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet-Sauvignon soon gained ground alongside native varieties such as Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Gewürztraminer, Sciava and Lagrein. In days of yore a small number of aristocratic families owned the majority of the land. Many of them still do. However, with the average land holding weighing-in at less than a hectare, cooperative producers now dominate wine production. Our trip coincided with the Südtirol wine summit, and we mingled freely on a number of occasions with trade members, wine writers and journalists from all over the world; some of them Members of our very own Institute. What struck us most was the consistently high base quality of wines. I don’t remember once tasting anything that wasn’t at least pleasant and palatable. Even in the cellars of our beautifully situated hotel Schloss Korb, I was also struck by a willingness to experiment, learn and improve. This was particularly evident at Kellerei St. Paul with Wolfgang Tratter’s Amphora wines, including a super skin-contact Sauvignon Blanc. The delightfully enthusiastic Karoline Walch presented a range of ‘Argentum Bonum’ Gewürztraminers that had been matured in small lots 3 kms inside a disused silver mine at some 2,000 metres. We also witnessed an enthusiasm for alternative closures and experimental equipment and also a quest for total terroir-expression displayed by the enigmatic Michael Göess-Enzenberg at the biodynamic Weingut Manincor. This estate grow and air-dry much of their own oak for barrels. They also operate the most comprehensive heat-exchanger that I have ever seen.

Ours was a small band, just eight of us, and we were extremely well looked after by the ever patient and attentive Paul Zandanel of IDM Südtirol/Alto Adige. As well as enlightening us with a variety of producer visits in surroundings ranging from vertiginous vineyards to centuries-old wine cellars, we were also treated to walk-around wine tastings courtesy of the summit. These provided an invaluable comparison between producers styles, inherent site quality, and grape varieties being produced in the region today. The trip wasn’t without its eccentricity either…following a cable car ascent and taxing hike, we were guests at a remarkably scenic tasting inside an open-sided tent atop a mountain meadow high in the Dolomites. This latter experience was gilded by three Loden-clad musicians playing Tyrolean long horns. Dinner in a lodge resembling Heidi’s house topped-off the day.

Though this is a short report, I hope it exudes the excitement and enthusiasm that greeted us and the wholehearted feelings of the same that we reciprocated. What a wonderful place. I shall definitely return. In short, though a little more detail might have been required of me, I might have distilled this article into four words: Go to Alto Adige.

Demetri Walters MW

VDP.GROSSE GEWÄCHSE Tasting – The New Releases

Setting a very refreshing tone for this year’s AGM, the tasting that started off this important day was of the latest Grosses Gewächs Riesling releases from the 2016 vintage. The VDP kindly provided samples that we had chosen to represent ‘classic’ German Riesling. We thus had 56 Rieslings on show: 49 from the 2016 vintage and seven from the riper 2015 vintage. Of course the very well-known regions of Mosel, Rheingau and Pfalz featured – and storied vineyards at that – but we took care to include Mittelrhein, with slopes just as steep as those of Mosel and Saar as well as Franken – some of whose Rieslings duly came in Bocksbeutel. We also tried to give a good overview of the very different aspects of Rheinhessen and the geological diversity of the Nahe. The wines showed beautifully and we achieved what we wanted: the diversity in styles and winemaking approaches between estates, regions and sites was evident. Everyone seemed to fall in love with a different style or region – the room was full of smiles: for wines that are made to age these samples showed at their youthful, seductive best. Hilke Nagel, director of the VDP was in attendance, too: let me express our gratitude to her for making such a splendid tasting possible.

Anne Krebiehl MW

Sherry trip to Jerez

Jerez. Not the easiest destination to reach from Athens but totally worthy of the trouble. The Sherry Master 2017 hosted by Institute Supporter Gonzalez Byass (GB) was an extraordinary combination of theory and taste, a fine exploration of the Jerez terroir. 4 Masters of Wine from 4 different countries together with around 10 more professionals from Spain, Germany and USA participated from Sep 12 to Sep 14 in this Sherry master course.

GB Vice President along with the company’s master blender the passionate Mr. Antonio Flores offered us a warm welcome to the world of Sherry. GB was established in 1846 and it is regarded as the major player in the Sherry market. The first day included visits to the vineyards and to the archives of the company dating back to 1835. The tremendous capability of a single variety – the Palomino grape – to produce such a diversity of wine styles was the focus of the day.

Currently, the Sherry vineyards cover approximately 7.000 hectares. This has come down from 20.000 ha over a century ago. Out of these GB owns one seventh and buys grapes from another 500 hectares. During the last couple of years the landscape has changed; new plantations have been trained higher to facilitate mechanical harvest (accounts for 65% for old vineyards) and pruning has changed as well. Instead of challenging and requiring skills traditional cane pruning, vara y pulgar, the double arm system and spur pruning have been adopted with no changes in yields which remain the same at 10.500 kilos per hectare.

In a very well structured tasting called V Shape, Antonio Flores discussed the five pillars of Sherry: Albariza soils, the varieties, biological aging under flor, oxidative ageing and the solera system. He went ahead to give us an insight on the styles of Sherry by explaining how wines start, progress and evolve.

For Fino Sherry everything begins with a must that expresses finesse which after fortification becomes a youthful Fino (Fino Sobretablas) and a regular Fino after 4 years of age under flor. Antonio Flores emphasized on the increase of acetaldehyde to 380 mg/lt increasing the perception of dryness and the decrease of glycerol from 6 g/lt to less than 1! Finally when flor dies naturally because of alcohol increase a Fino Amontillado is born demonstrated by GB Vina AB. Acetaldehyde rises higher to 500 mg/lt. GB also produces a VORS Amontillado with the solera starting with a Vina AB at least 30 years old. The latter has no presence of flor having aged only under oxidative conditions.

When it comes to Oloroso, GB looks for a must with density and complexity which is then fortified to 18%. Contrary to Amontillado, Oloroso sees glycerol increased from 6 g/lt to 10.

The mystery of Palo Cortado was then discussed by Antonio Flores and Ronan Sayburn MS during the next day’s Annadas tasting. Palo Cortado has no official winemaking protocol; the only prerequisite is to stylistically be between an Amontillado and an Oloroso having the aromatic refinement of the former and the structure and body of the latter. Compared to an Amontillado, it will often have spent less time under flor and its base must would have been really delicate. Another way of describing it would be as a kind of very delicate Oloroso.

The second day we were offered a tour in the cellar where the brand of Tio Pepe was born. There they demonstrated and explained to us how the flor is created and subsequently floats. The En Rams success story was explained which started 8 years ago in a trade tasting in the cellars of GB! The company now sells 16.000 bottles of En Rama that are sold out within 48 hours. This comes from a limited selection of 60 casks from an initial selection of just 100.

The tasting of the limited series of Palmas with the masterpiece of Cuatro Palmas, a 54 years old En Rama Amontillado produced in just 500 bottles was beyond any doubt the highest moment of the Sherry Master Course. And this wasn’t the end of our Sherry trip: a very rare tasting of Old Palo Cortados going back to 1963 was yet another exquisite moment. The vintages presented were 1993, 1987, 1982, 1978 and 1963.

On my way back to my homeland, I must admit a long-lasting Jerez aftertaste was full of strong aromas, wonderful memories engraved in my heart and of course my palate. “Saúde” to the Gonzaless Byass family for opening their home, sharing their knowledge and more importantly their passion for this amber coloured drink that elevates our souls!

Yiannis Karakasis MW

Switzerland MW trip

From 8-13 September, 22 Masters of Wine were hosted by Swiss Wine Promotion in Switzerland. The goal of the trip was to show the quality and diversity of Swiss wines and culture, as well as its unique Alpine micro-climates and the viticultural issues that accompany them within its three distinctive regions.

Each day included at least one walk around tasting of 18-20 producers showing 2 or 3 wines and lectures with highly knowledgeable professionals. Following a quick detour to the vineyards west of Geneva, the first official stop was east of Geneva in Nyon at Ecole de Changins, Switzerland’s renowned viticulture and oenology university. The facilities are shared with Agroscope, Switzerland top agriculture research centre. Dr. Olivier Viret and Dr. Johannes Rösti introduced Switzerland as a winemaking zone and discussed the research that has been done to create hardier crossings in order to achieve better ripeness in their marginal climates and to treat less. The use of drones as a tool used in precision viticulture was also discussed. The day finished with a walk around tasting showing the diversity of grapes planted in Geneva, La Côte and Neuchatel/Trois Lacs followed by dinner at Schenk’s beautiful Château Chatagneréaz.

Day 2 was spent mostly in the Vaud focusing on the history, terroir and ageability of Chasselas, Switzerland’s most planted variety. A lecture by Alexandre Truffer from Vinum magazine was followed by a visit to the cellar of Louis-Philippe Bovard in Cully. We tasted 5 Chasselas clones (Fendant Roux, Fendant Vert, Blanchette, Giclet and Bois Rouge) as well as 6 older vintages (ranging from 2005-1983) from the Dézelay Grand Cru appellation produced by various producers. This tasting suggested that there is far more potential to this indigenous variety than it might sometimes appear.

A boat ride on Lake Geneva enabled us to learn more about the different soil types and wine styles of Lavaux. This included the two Grand Cru designated areas, Dézelay which we had already discovered and whose wines tend to be quite broad and powerful, and Calamin, a significantly smaller AOC that produces more chiselled, less powerful wines.

A walk around tasting at Château Maison Blanche highlighted the area around Chablais and also included the regions of the lower Valais – Martigny & Fully. A number of indigenous and international varieties were poured. The highlight was a dry 1988 Petite Arvine from Benoît Dorsaz that showed incredible freshness (even at 15%) and displayed notes of creamy butter, dried apricots and cut hay.

Dinner took place at the Château de Villa, the region’s renowned raclette restaurant where we experienced 5 different “crus” of raclette cheese, a Valaisian speciality.

Day 3 focused solely on the Valais, Switzerland’s largest wine producing region, and home to most of Switzerland’s indigenous varieties. We began with an inspiring presentation and tasting with Dr. José Vouillamoz, grape geneticist and co-author of “Wine Grapes” (with Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW). He led us through the history and parentage of various varieties, including Rauschling, Rèze, Petite Arvine, Amigne (from 1971!), Completer, Himbertscha, Cornalin (aka Rouge du Pays), and Bondola from Ticino. Following José’s presentation, Marie-Thérèse Chappaz, Switzerland’s reigning queen of séléction des grains nobles, introduced the Charter of Grains Nobles, a doctrine to ensure the highest quality of these superb sweet wines within the region. We finished the lecture tasting three of her wines, including an extraordinary 1997 Petite Arvine.

With the sun on our side, the afternoon carried on with a guided walk with the mayor through the vineyard of Chamoson, one of the region’s most beautiful. At the end of the trail, we were greeted by an acrobatic Swiss flag tosser, Alpine horns, a small pavilion of producers and a delicious “vendangeur” lunch of local sausages cooked in a cauldron of grape marc.

Another walk around tasting with local producers at the newly opened Celliers de Sion lead into an exquisite meal hosted at Provins, Switzerland’s largest wine producer (a high-quality cooperative) and Jean-René Germanier. Multiple wines were shown including two vintages of Electus, a recent project from Provins which is a top parcel selection and blend of Cornalin, Humagne Rouge, Diolinoir, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Impressively endowed, it is also one of the most expensive wines coming out of Switzerland at CHF 150 (€130). Gilles Besse also showed two vintages of Cayas, his top award-winning Syrah.

Early the next morning, we left for Ticino, Switzerland’s Italian-speaking canton. Though Ticino only produces around 7% of the country’s wines, its Merlot creates some of the most famous and expensive bottles in the country. Our first stop was at an unusual vineyard in the village of Ludiano, where vines are planted around large boulders deposited by glaciers. As they retain heat, they help ripen the grapes in this wet and often cool climate. Cristina Monico, winemaker at Cantina Moncucchetto gave us an introduction to this more Mediterranean region.

The afternoon continued with a comparative tasting of Swiss wood ageing. Gerhard Benninger, the cooper at Tonnellerie Schuler led us through the different types of Swiss oak and chestnut. We then tasted the differences for ourselves. Two flights of Merlot from Gialdi/Brivio, the Swiss producer who uses the most barrels in the country (1500 annually), one flight of Merlot from Gianfranco Chiesa and one flight of 2 different Merlot Biancos from Schuler Weine. We finished the day with a walk around tasting with 18 different producers at the newly opened, Casa del Vino, an old mill which has been converted into a gastronomic centre focusing on Ticinese wine and locally produced food.

Our last day was spent in the Graubünden, Switzerland’s most renowned Pinot Noir area and in Zürich to taste a number of wines from the smaller wine producing areas of Zürich, Aargau and Schaffhausen. But before we could tuck into some extraordinary Completer and Pinot Noir clones with Martin Donatsch and Georg Fromm, our bus was pulled over by the polizei! Apparently, our driver had overtaken trucks on a road that he was not supposed to and so our bus was weighed and searched for over an hour. In the end, our cultural discoveries were not just vinous ones.

Overall, it was an exciting trip that showed Switzerland’s beauty and diversity, and also provided a laugh or two. For more information on Swiss wine and our trip, visit

Robin Kick MW