For an authentic Oktoberfest, give Gewurztraminer, Schiava, and Lagrein a try

It’s Oktoberfest in wine-harvesting regions across the globe and people are making merry with celebratory food and drink events that sometimes go on for days.

In Alto Adige-Sudtirol, Italy’s northernmost region abutting the Swiss Alps and Austria, German influence still reigns in language, culture and viticuluture. The cuisine, though, reflects the area’s multiple ethnic character. It’s a place where pizza and pasta get equal treatment with rouladen (thinly sliced beef or pork wrapped around a filling of bacon, chopped onions, pickles and mustard) and eintopf (beef and vegetable stew).

This mountainous, rocky terrain produces some of Italy’s most distinctive and uncommon white wines. I used to be fearful of varietals that I couldn’t spell on the third try. Gewurztraminer, Muller Thurgau and Weissburgunder (Pinot Bianco) come to mind. No longer. All it took was that first sip.

Craig Gandolf, the national sales director at Cynthia Hurley French Wines, says Gewurztraminer is among his favorite wines. “It has such wonderful aromatics and a spicy taste that makes the wine so appealing and memorable. Not all varieties have that same effect.”

Elevated vineyards near the Swiss Alps lend Cantina Andian’s Gewurztraminer distinctive mineral notes.

Gewurztraminer is an intensely perfumed wine (rose petals, spice, tropical fruit) that is high in alcohol, rich in texture and exceedingly fruit fresh. Versions can be dry, off-dry and sweet – styles that accommodate a wide range of foods. What follows are two examples I recently sampled.

Cantina Andrian Gewurztraminer 2016, Alto Adige, $14 – This is a beautiful yellow-straw colored wine of delightful honey, spice and floral aromas. A14.5% alcohol level puts it in the dry category, but clearly the ripe, tropical fruit and zesty spices dominate. The palate-feel is clean, velvety. A nuanced bitter almond flavor emerges on a cool and salivating finish. Benefits from mineral-laden Dolomite soils and can age for 3-5 years in the cellar. A good fit for spicy Asian, Thai and Vietnamese dishes.

Schiava is actually a group of unrelated grapes that share common characteristics. It yields a bright, easy drinking and tasty red wine.

Fetzer Gewurztraminer 2017, Monterrey, $10.99 – The varietal does well in California, the Pacific Northwest and New York State with different terroir twists. I prefer Finger Lakes versions for their baked apple and cinnamon spice flavors, but this California style shows how versatile Gewurztraminer can be in slate, loamy soils and a warmer climate. It’s medium sweet (11% alcohol), creamy, very floral on the nose, and strong in peach and stone-fruit flavors. It pairs best with sweeter and spicier foods, including “hot” Mexican and Spanish dishes.

Really, though, an authentic Oktoberfest needs red wines from Alto Adige. Two of the most popular are Schiava and Lagrein.

Elena Walch’s Schiava 2018  ($12) is characterized by a bright, ruby-red color, delicate floral aromas, moderate alcohol, red berry flavors and mild acidity. Schiava is actually not one grape, but a group of unrelated varietals (also referred to as “vernatsch”) that share common characteristics. It’s the everyday, light and refreshing wine of the locals who quaff it with almost any German and Italian meal on the table. It’s noteworthy that Elena Walch, one of Italy’s top  innovators, crafts this wine with the help of her two daughters.

Huck Am Bach is an elegant, powerful red wine crafted from Lagrein and delivers dark berry fruit notes.

For a full-bodied, dark red, try Kellerei Bozen’s  2018 “Huck Am Bach” ($13) from the prestigious St. Magdalener region featuring the powerful Lagrein varietal. Though high in tannins and acidity, Huck Am Buck is elegantly structured and produces expressive violet, cherry and raspberry notes. A touch of caramel spice elevates the long finish. Grilled, smoky meats and Italian veal are sure to succumb to Huck’s charms.

Event of the Week: The Wine ConneXion in North Andover kicks off its “Cheers to 10 Years” series of anniversary tastings with a visit from David Phillips, co-owner of Michael David Winery in Lodi, CA. Phillips will be pouring his popular Freakshow brands at a 1 to-4 p.m. tasting that is free and open to the public. For directions, go to

Deal of the Week: Costco just announced its arrival of the 2018 Kirkland Signature Cote du Rhone Villages, a fruity Grenache-Syrah blend that is selling for $6.99 a bottle. That’s a ridiculous bargain, since the 2017 CDR received a decent rating from Wine Enthusiast (87 points) and the new vintage is considered much better.




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