Alto Adige Südtirol: Home Of Delicious Pinot Nero

It's often said that there are no bargains when it comes to pinot noir. While there are few examples of wines made with the grape that exhibit great typicity at bargain prices, they do exist. The integrity of pinot noir, more than chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon (to name two examples), is driven by site. Not to say good sites aren't important for those other varieties, but they're a bit more forgiving in their ability to adapt.

One of the attributes that most of the world's great pinot noir growing regions have in common is cool climate. In northern Italy, the Alto Adige Südtirol region sits between 300 and 3,300 feet of elevation, covering a good bit of the Dolomites. In addition to the geographic influences from disparate elevations, there are a host of ethnic influences at play. Austria, Switzerland and their respective local wine regions border Alto Adige to the north. Germanic culture has played a significant role in the food and wine of the area.

Within Alto Adige, seven distinct cultivation zones exist. Each zone is home to a different array of grapes. Both international and local grapes thrive in Alto Adige. Local favorites include gewürztraminer and schiava. Pinot grigio, Müller-Thurgau, lagrein, and sauvignon blanc thrive as well. Pinot noir, known locally as either pinot nero or blauburgunder (hello, German influence), has also made itself at home in this mountainous region. It's no coincidence that in Germany, which is known around the world for their white wines, pinot noir is the most commonly grown red grape.

I tasted through some pinot nero from Alto Adige recently, with friends over Mexican food. One of the charms of great pinot is how widely adaptable it is to a variety of cuisines and food styles. In this instance, with everything from guacamole, carnitas, and vegetarian enchiladas with mole to steak tacos, the pinot neros below excelled. As one aims to achieve, each was heightened by the other. And speaking of value, I must say whoa! Priced from the mid-teens to the upper thirties, each of these wines over-delivers. While there are many connectives tissues between the styles, there are just as many differences based on where within Alto Adige they were grown. So yes, Virginia, you can get a great deal on pinot nero.

The wines that are the subject of this review were provided at no cost to the writer.

Castel Sallegg Pinot Nero 2015 ($16). Red cherry and bits of barnyard fill the nose. Fresh, ripe black and red cherry, black tea and gentle bits of savory herbs dominate the palate. Hints of leather and earth are evident on the long finish alongside continuing red fruit. Racy acid and medium tannins provide terrific framework. In terms of value, this selection is an absolute steal. It evolved significantly over the evening and by the end it was the hands-down favorite among the group. It would be a great choice for a red house wine as a case purchase.

St. Michael-Eppan Pinot Nero 2015 ($18). Candied cherry and blackberry aromas lead the charge. The palate is a who's who of bright and ripe red berry fruits tinged by hints of black fruit. Pomegranate, cranberry, bits of tar, and a trove of mineral notes are all in play on the solid finish. For those who like bigger and brighter fruit, those characteristics are on offer here in relative terms.

Castelfeder Glener Pinot Nero 2015 ($21). Black raspberry, bits of vanilla, and pepper spice drive the aromatics. Red raspberry, bits of cinnamon, and clove are all apparent on the palate. The firm and gripping finish shows off hints of toasty oak, comminuted spices, and a final burst of berry fruit. This was a particularly great match with carnitas tacos. It would also stand up beautifully to a lamb burger topped with feta cheese.

Abbazia Di Novacella Pinot Nero 2015 ($22). The nose is ostentatious and engaging, with red raspberry and an underpinning of savory herbs. The gently layered palate is awash in wave after wave of subtle red fruit and wisps of cinnamon. Crushed red cherry, white pepper and a bit of vanilla are all apparent on the finish.

Tiefenbrunner Turmhof Pinot Nero 2015 ($26). The rich aromatics feature blackberry and tiny hints of tobacco. The full-flavored palate is loaded with juicy dark fruit characteristics, such as cherry and raspberry, along with bits of graphite. The finish is long and somewhat lusty. Size is relative; while the fruit and heft here are bigger and bolder than the other wines listed, it's still a proportionate and impeccably food-friendly wine.

Franz Haas Pinot Nero 2015 ($38). Aromas of vanilla, plum compote, and hints of kirsch liqueur abound. Sour-leaning black fruits drive the palate along with a dusting of cocoa. Savory herbs, a dense core of minerals, and black cherry flavor are each evident on the above-average finish. If you're going to choose a glass of wine, pinot noir could be the smartest choice for your health. It has the highest concentration of the antioxidant resveratrol, making it quite possibly the healthiest red wine you can drink.