Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Schiava and Vernatsch: A Double Identity Crisis

I’ve been meaning to try the most recent vintage of Vernatsch from Andreas Baron Widmann ever since it hit the shelves here in the US a couple of months back. There was quite a buzz about the wine during my recent San Fran trip, which happened to coincide with an Oliver McCrum (who is one of Widmann’s importers) portfolio tasting, yet still I didn’t manage to pull the cork until last night. The final impetus? Today’s edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, the monthly wine blogging fest that I’ve more or less neglected since not long after my own round as host.

Dale Cruse of Drinks Are On Me has taken the reins for today’s 62nd edition of WBW. He’s asked participants to taste and write-up a wine based on a grape that goes by its less traditional or less commonly known name. Primitivo in place of Zinfandel, Cannonau instead of Grenache, Rivaner rather than Müller-Thurgau.... Whether these names are truly any less traditional than their better known synonyms is a matter for debate but you get the idea. I think I got under Dale’s skin quite a while back when I called an earlier episode of WBW “Silly” (yes, with a capital “S”), but I have no such compunctions about his own theme of choice. The topic is a bit broad, but that gives everyone some elbow room yet also encourages them to push their own boundaries and learn something along the way. Besides, I’m going for his “extra geek cred” challenge, hoping that my choice may turn out to be the most obscure variety of the day. That, of course, will be for Dale to decide. So, back to the wine.

Südtiroler Vernatsch, Andreas Baron Widmann 2008
$22. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
Andreas Widmann's Vernatsch hails from a high elevation (340m) vineyard called "Nockerisch." The wine undergoes alcoholic fermentation in steel tank followed by malolactic fermentation and aging in large oak casks (botti). Vernatsch, marginally better known as Schiava (“slave” in Italian), is not a grape variety that produces wines of dark color. Widmann’s 2008 example is painfully, beautifully pale, even more so than the 2007. Redolent of pure raspberry and strawberry fruit, the wine, as it was in ‘07, is clearly reminiscent of fruity-style Beaujolais or a softly-textured Pineau d’Aunis from the Loire. There’s a sweet-and-sour herbal character of dill and basil on the nose, along with a core of sweet, succulent, almost jammy fruit. The wine’s texture is light and juicy, informed primarily by lively acidity and clean fruit, not by tannins or concentration. For all of that lightness of body and alcohol, there’s a surprising level of glycerol, apparent both in the mouth and in the glass. A sign of chaptalization perhaps? I’m guessing so but, regardless, the wine’s damn tasty.

I love the way Schiava fits into today’s WBW theme, as it carries with it multiple identities both in name and in culture, all within a rather small corner of the viticultural globe. Aside from some plantings in the Württemburg area of Germany (where it’s know by yet another name: Trollinger), Schiava is most widely planted in Trentino-Alto Adige, the far north-northeastern corner of Italy. Here, a matter of just a few kilometers can determine whether the variety is know as Schiava, as it is in the Italian speaking area of Trentino, or as Vernatsch, as it is in the German speaking Alto Adige or Südtirol. You’ll see that identity crisis clearly played out on Widmann’s label, as on other bottles from the Südtirol, where the language often bounces back and forth between German and Italian, usually with German taking the upper hand. Be sure to try it if given the chance; I think you’ll find it worth the confusion.


Alfonso Cevola said...

Great post! right up my esoteric alley! Between you and Susannah Gold, the world is going to find out about all of these wonderful grapes and wines from Italy.


David McDuff said...

Grazie, egregio signor Cevola! I do what I can to spread the good word.

TWG said...

I thought I was slow to open bottles.

David McDuff said...

Yeah, yeah... what can I say. There's too much good wine to drink. Speaking of which, did you try a bottle of the'04 Coulée de Serrant yet?

Dale Cruse said...

Thanks for joining us for this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday, David. Here’s the link to the start of the roundup:

David McDuff said...

Quick work and well done, Dale. Thanks for hosting. Always happy to have a little extra motivation to open something interesting.

Dale Cruse said...

David, I wanted you to know the link to my wrapup of WBW62 has changed. It can now be found at: & I'd appreciate it if you'd consider updating your link. I'd also be thrilled if you'd consider adding me to your Blogroll. Thanks!

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