Baron Josef di Pauli, 1973, Terlaner.
Caldaro/Kaltersee: a Noble region no one is talking about?
Buying older wine is always a gamble, but with time the market evens this out. Certain Bordeaux, Burgundy, Port and the like, have proven to stand the test of time and hence call for a certain price point in the secondary market. Of course demand has greatly affected this, but there is an underlying notion that these have been proven to have improved in bottle let alone be drinkable.
Yet what about the wines that used to be in this league? What about the ones that were forgotten? What do I mean? A classic example of a Noble region is of the demarcated Tokaji. There is not one wine expert I can take seriously that doesn’t realize the true value of the amazing and classic region of Tokaji.
Tokaji provides obvious clues of its former ranking through the existence of old bottlings in British cellars, or quotes we have from a French Monarch. Obvious to us, since it is Western European wine market data. We do not need a reference to Port or Bordeaux to prove to us its breadth of history. The Anglo market takes it for granted since the importation and literature has been not been interrupted for the latter.
Tokaji has been able to sing true, since their resurgence story has combined nationalistic appeals and an influx of money and talent that hence have afforded to tout the horn of their existence. However it leaves the question of what else has been left out?
A long name and the road to the Autonomous and Unknown
Years ago I tried a Muller-Thurgau from Trentino Alto-Adige that swept me away. The wine was affordable, sold for under $10 on closeout. Yet what hit me was not that it was amazing but how it was perfect. From that point on I have said things like “Muller-Thurgau should be the table wine on every dinner table”, and in the States, that was almost the first and last Italian MT I got to try. However there was a decent amount of German MTs that I ended up selling.
On my arrival in Italy, I started seeing MTs everywhere in Wine bars and restaurants BTG. It has been a great value, but what it gave me was a real sense that I needed to learn more about the region of Trentino Alto-Adige. I started trying the reds; meaty Pinot Noirs, spicy Lagriens, how the Schiava/Vernatsch was the same as the hipster Trollinger. I tried immaculate Chardonnays and mind blowing Muscat Giallo/Goldmuskater. Anyone who has any interest in Traditional Method bubbles has to discover the alpine Trento DOC.
I began frequenting a Trentino-only wine shop in Bologna with a Lederhosen wearing owner that introduced me to the Bilingual DOCs such as Santa Maddalena classic/St. Magdalener and Klassisch Lago di Caldaro/Kalterersee to name a couple. Having spent my early wine education reading wine books dating back even to the early 1900’s, I have a soft spot for the writings of 60’s writers of German wine literature. The way they would start talking about an appellation “the famous xyz village”, and I was reminded of this in the way the proprietor spoke about these wines. Of course there were many wines with astronomical prices I couldn’t even touch, but some of these “important” wines were very reasonably priced. They certainly tasted “important”. Here I am feeling like I am discovering the Mosel for the first time, but no one else seems to realize. If I say I am passionate about German wine, it is obvious I must learn about the Mosel. Yet, if I say I am passionate about Italian wine, who is raising their hand, when Sudtirol comes into question?
But Italy is big and my thirst for knowledge is bigger, so, since I live in Bologna, I started learning about Emilian Frizzante wine and resurgent Romagnan varietals. Then after a penny pinching Berlin trip I took a bus all the way back to Bologna and though it hurt my spine and tuchus to an immense degree, the view was a dream on the eyes. I still cannot believe the beauty of the mountains, and guess what, that is where a lot of these vines are. It is popular in wine education to talk about slopes, slopes, slopes, and in Trentino you have almost every angle except flat.
Though I had lived in Italy for a year, the concept of Trentino was still very much elusive until that point. I am very good at understanding a region, a nation, a place without ever stepping foot in it. I can describe in detail the Haggia Sofia, or the wonders of Petra without ever having been there. Often landing in a city I already have the layout of the streets in mind due to doing the research. Yet, Trentino had lacked the wine region map, the book, the stories (in English) for me to internalize till then.
So far, my last trip to the region was to the Ferrari Winery in Trento of the Trento DOC. They are big, but they do it right. The ride to Trento took us through Marzemino country, and past hilltop castles surrounded by vineyards.
After that point, did I feel that I started to have a sense of the region?
It is all this that has lead to this point where I walk into my spot, looking through the vintage bottles and I see this Germanic bottling (the slender Alsace, German bottle rarely seen in Italy) from 1973 with the name Baron Josef di Pauli, Terlaner. By any stretch of the imagination, I should not be buying 43 year old white wine! This is not a JJ Prüm or D’yquem, this is a producer I have never heard of, from a region I have only had a red from. However, the bottle looked in perfect shape. There was another Terlaner and a Tokay (Not sure if it means Friulano or Pinot Grigio), hopefully meaning it came from a lot. This together told me I had to do it. When will the next opportunity to even take a chance on this be?
I took the Terlaner home. It just felt right. The next day I opened it for some friends. It poured a golden hugh, everyone was a skeptic, and it looked as if it was dead. I said, wait. Of course the color will be darker, it’s over 40 years old! I sniffed and then sipped. It was alive, it was good. There is no doubt its better days were behind it, but let’s be real, it was more than drinkable; it was fresh, with noticeable acidity and flavor. This was not premox, this was not browndead. It was still good, and it tasted much younger than could be believed. If one had tasted it blind, without seeing the color, the age guessed could easily be in the single digits.
Sip. Drink. Stop and think.
Here I am left feeling as if I found a forgotten region. Why is this not starred in the wine maps of Italy? Why is this not marked as one of the noble time tested wines?
The winery still exists. Their websites states:
“The Tenuta Baron Di Pauli stands for 300 years of passion for the ancient and noble art of winemaking. The winery, as a guaranteed maker of high-quality wines, was honoured with the title “Purveyor of Wines to the Imperial and Royal Court of Austria-Hungary” and its products were prized even at the Tsar’s court in St. Petersburg” Link
When looking at how Central and Eastern European wine regions became forgotten, we point at Communism as the scoundrel, but the erosion started earlier. For instance, there is much evidence in the example of Tokaji that the political turmoil of the Magyar Nationalism and the further discrimination of those that formerly made it a vibrant multicultural territory in the capitol and wine regions led to its eventual downfall.
Where are the cracks in the Tyrolian tradition?
This point in hand has led me to asking questions that have only led to more ambiguity. Realizing that to understand the history of Caldaro, I would need to learn about the history and culture of the Tyrolean region.
To be Continued……