A view from the north: Cantina Tramin

In the global world of wine, co-operative cellars play a vital role. Owned by hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of small farmer share-holders, these are centralised facilities with a winemaking team that receive fruit from the members, and then make and market wines on their behalf. This involves aggregating the crop of several growers. Most member farmers do not have the volume of grapes, or the facilities and expertise, to bottle their own wines, so the co-ops have been essential in maintaining a local wine industry. There is something of a misconception that all co-ops deal only in large volumes of lower-end wines. That may have been the picture 40 or 50 years ago, but while some co-ops failed to modernise and improve, others grasped the nettle of improving quality dramatically, and ploughing much more investment into technology, systems and brand-building to become shining lights. Often they produce some of their region’s most recognised and highly-regarded wines.

In the far north of Italy sits the Alto Adige, or Südtirol, a stunningly beautiful wine region running into the Dolomite and Southern Alps mountain ranges. It borders Austria and Switzerland and there is a distinct Germanic influence to its grapes and wines, having been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of the First World War. Here, the Cantina Tramin is a co-op of around 190 farmers, founded at a time of hardship for the region’s wine growers. Christian Schrott, parish priest of Tramin, took the initiative in 1898 in order to protect the livelihood and future of farmers and wine producers in the area.

Today, Cantina Tramin is seen as one of Italy’s best producers. It was under the leadership of their new winemaker, Willi Stürz, that in 1990 they began to “reach for the stars,” with the ‘Selection’ range of wines as tasted here. These represent their finest vineyards, and were part of Stürz’s ambition that the Cantina become “oriented towards excellence.” In 2010 a stunning new winery and headquarters, designed by architect Werner Tscholl, furthered the Cantina’s ambitions.

Vineyards are planted at altitudes between 250 and 850m above sea level, and although this is a distinctly Alpine landscape, the grapes reach full ripeness and alochols are generally quie high. The warm Ora wind from Lake Garda moderates temperatures and the range of soils spans clay, gravel and limestone. The vineyards at medium to high elevation are planted mostly to Gewürztraminer, the variety which has become the signature of the Selection wines, particularly the 100-Parker point ‘Epokale’, with Chardonnay thriving in limestone-dominated vineyards.

The Wines

Though Cantina Tramin produces several ranges of wine, others less expensive than these from their super-premium Selection range, this tasting focus on the top end wines that have helped cement something of a cult reputation for the Cantina. They absolutely confirmed that world class wines are made here, distinctive and expressive of both variety and their very specific geography and location. The ‘Eopkale’ is indeed an extraordinary wine, though for sheer drinking pleasure the Stoan blend, Unterebner Pinot Grigio and Troy Chardonnay are delicious and profound wines, as is the only red wine tasted here, the powerful but aromatic Maglen Pinot Noir.

(2021) Most assuredly a Pinot Grigio that marches to a very different beat from your 'average' northern Italian example. This is a powerful, concentrated wine of texture, opening with white fruit, melon rind and peppery aromas, and striking the palate with real authority. I guess 14% ABV helps that, as does some oak ageing, but really it does show that skinny, leesy grip on the palate and the concentrated fruit that is much more 'Gris' than 'Grigio', with a broad chewy texture of fruit, extract and a even a touch of tannin. Besides that, however, the freshness and acid balance is excellent making this a gastronomic treat too. The best Pinot Grigio from Italy that I have tasted? Possibly, yes.
(2021) Another absolutely lovely wine from Cantina Tramin, this an oak cask-fermented blend of 65% Chardonnay with Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer, coming from stony limestone and clay soils, it's name meaning 'stone' in local dialect. It is sweetly perfumed, refined and accented by floral and creamy top and bottom notes, a lovely taut but ripe fruit juiciness. In the mouth the oak fermentation rounds the wine beautifully, but those bright and quite vivacious fruit characters and the salts and citrus acid structure of these wines is very nicely balanced, making this so easy to drink, but with precision too.
(2021) An an alpine Chardonnay, weighing in with 14% alcohol by volume, there's a fairly obvious oak influence here, giving a wisp of Jack Daniels on the nose, but the balance of white fruit and freshness from these vineyards at 500– to 550-metres altitude is good. It was fermented and aged for 11 months in Bordeaux barriques, but then a further 22 months ageing on the lees in steel. On the palate there's interplay between juicy orange and peach, quite a full texture, with a fat waxy lemon quality, and again, good balancing acidity in a concentrated, grippy, serious style.
(2021) This prmium Gewürztraminer cuvée comes from vineyards at 350- to 550-metres altitude, grown on calcareous soils. The vines are up to 40 years old, and the wine is aged in stainless steel on the lees. With 15% alcohol declared on the label it is a powerful, concentrated and intense expression of Gewürztraminer, pouring a light gold colour with soaring aromas of lychee, old fragrant roses and Turkish delight. In the mouth the texure is slippery and rich, and the sheer weight and concentration of fruit along with a little residual sugar could be overbearing, but thankfully the acid base of the wine is equally powerful. That all adds up to a big, dominant style of white wine that I think might work best with food - spicy Sechuan or Thai cuisine perhaps.
(2021) This outstanding wine is expensive, but I have to say, is worth the price if you can afford it. Made from the oldest plots of Gewurz on high slopes, picked late, it is aged for six years in an abandoned silver mine, 6,500 feet up, and four kilometres deep into the mountainside. It pours a pale gold colour, and the bouquet is immediately arresting, with classic rose petal and lychee perfume, a touch of honey, and a touch of something lightly leafy and herbal. In the mouth there is glycerine richness and weight, but the punch of the vibrant and still very pretty fruit comes through, tropical and candied, but with a core of shimmering acidity that never loses focus. 1,200 bottles produced. Note that price and stockist is for the previous vintage at time of review.
(2021) This is an excellent Pinot Noir from the Cantina Tramin. From two of their highest vineyards at over 450-metres altitude, it is fermented in large oak casks and aged in a combination of small French barrels and big oak casks for a further 18 months. It has a beautifully composed nose, with a warm cherry and red plum fruit spiced with tobacco and Sandalwood, an expressive beetroot earthiness adding depth. On the palate that juxtaposition of sweet and fleshy fruit with spicy structural tannins and pert acidity gives lovely balance. A full and rich wine, but with an edge that keeps the interest through the long finish.

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