In my last post I detailed a late-afternoon meal with my husband, at Vic’s New York. Lots of tasty dishes in a casual and comfortable atmosphere, just the way we like it. And, while the food certainly deserved its own post, I must now give equal time to the wine we sipped as we savored our meal.
Each time I eat at Vic’s, I look forward to perusing the wine list: most of the wines are Italian, and they come from all over the country. It’s not unusual to find options from each of Italy’s 20 growing regions. And most of the wines are available by the glass or bottle, so you and your friends can sample a few side-by-side, before you commit to a favorite. If you’re really in the mood for something special, there’s a limited reserve list, available by the bottle only.
The day of our last visit was warm and sunny, and I was craving rosé – or rosato, as it’s known in Italy. There were two on the list: one from the Veneto and the other from Alto Adige (aka the Südtirol) in far, northeastern Italy. I was immediately drawn to the latter: it was made from Lagrein, a local specialty, and it practically called my name.
Our server nodded her approval as I ordered a glass, remarking on the wine’s intense color, aromas, and flavors. She carefully asked whether I was expecting a pale pink wine in a Provençal style because, as she noted, “This is not that.” I smiled and gave the okay to pour. I knew what I was getting. Or so I thought . . . .
Heinrich and Elda Mayr grow their grapes just outside of Bolzano, the gateway to the Dolomites. The Mayr family has farmed these lands since 1788, but under increasing challenges as the city modernized and expanded following World War II. Many farmers pulled up stakes and moved away; the Mayrs dug in their heels and carried on.
The winery’s name – Nusserhof – pays homage to the early days, when the outskirts of Bolzano were still rural, and the entrance to the Mayrs’ property was lined with mature walnut trees. Nusserhof translates to nut farm, and I find myself wondering what they did with the fruit of those trees. Maybe they made nocino, the spirit flavored with green walnuts; perhaps they dried and preserved the walnuts for use during winter.
What’s difficult to picture is a tiny vineyard dedicated to indigenous local varieties thriving outside a major city. The main parcel (2.4 hectares) lies on the flat alluvial soils along the Isarco River. This is where the red grapes Lagrein and Teroldego, and the almost-extinct white grape Blatterle are planted.
Blatterle, which claims 1.5 of those hectares, is grown by only three producers, Nusserhof being the largest. Only 40 hectolitres of wine are made each year. Of note is that the grape variety may not be printed on the wine label as it is not recognized by Italian authorities. Instead it’s categorized as vino da tavola (table wine.) In a subtle thumbing-of-the-nose at said authorities, Nusserhof labels its Blatterle wine as “B . . . .”
I respect the attitude!
About 3 kms away from the main parcel lies a smaller plot, planted on steeper slopes with rich porphyry soils. This is the domain of old vines Schiava grapes trained in the old-school way – under pergola.
Winemaking at Nusserhof
All grapes are farmed organically and tended by hand. Lagrein is the main focus at Nusserhof and, believe it or not, most of what they produce is rosato. They make theirs from 100% Lagrein as the Mayrs believe this is the traditional method of vinifying the grape. They also make a 100% Lagrein rosso.
Other offerings include a 100% Teroldego rosso; 100% Blatterlee bianco; and a red blend of 85% Schiava and 15% other grapes.
All wines are naturally fermented, without temperature controls. The reds undergo extended macerations and long aging (2.5 years in French oak botti and then at least two more years in bottle before release.)
2017 Weingut Nusshof Südtirol Lagrein Kretzer DOC (13% abv; $17/glass; $68/bottle at the restaurant)
The word kretzer refers to the woven basket used to separate the skins from the juice – a traditional way to ensure gentle treatment of the grapes with minimal extraction of tannins.
This wine is 100% Lagrein from 40- to 90-year-old vines, all organically farmed, and hand harvested. While DOC rules allow for four other grape varieties to be included, Nusserhof uses only Lagrein. Half the wine is produced via direct press; the other via the saignée method, resulting in a wine that is both intensely aromatic and deeply colored.
Unlike most rosato producers, Nusserhof delays the release of their Lagrein rosato until a full year after the harvest. While it carries the same vintage date as other rosato wines produced that year, by the time it appears on the shelf at your local wine store, it will be a year older.
I appreciate the Mayr family’s approach – employing deliberate, old-school methods; allowing each wine to evolve at its own pace before bottling and releasing it. What a contrast to the hustle and bustle of the big city which creeps closer to their vineyards every day! Despite the march of “progress” that threatens to engulf them, the Mayrs have doubled-down on the traditions that make their wines unique. Again, respect.
Color: Deep pink-violet all the way to the rim. Just beautiful!
Nose: Pronounced aromas of cherry, cranberry, and pomegranate, with more delicate notes of thyme and forest floor. It becomes more enticing as it warms and opens in the glass.
Palate: A burst of ripe red fruit (you can tell the summers are warm here!) balanced by medium+ acidity. Tannins are silky-smooth and add a lovely texture to the wine’s mouthfeel. Again, there’s an herbaceous note that complements the cherry-berry flavors. It’s medium-bodied and offers a medium+ finish with lingering notes of sour cherry and pine.
Verdict: A real pleasure to drink and a fantastic food partner. I was mesmerized by this wine’s gorgeous color – almost like a red wine – and thoroughly enjoyed the fruit/herb profile. I’d drink it as an apéritif or, as we did, with a selection of vegetable dishes. It was downright brilliant with the Roasted Purple Turnips with Castelvetrano Olives and Horseradish.
Have you tried any of the wines from Italy’s Alto Adige (Südtirol) region? I’m just getting started in my exploration but am loving what I’ve experienced so far. I’d love to hear which wines you’d recommend and compare notes.
Note: The wines of Weingut Nusserfof are imported by Bowler Wines in New York City. Contact them to see if they are available in your local market!