15 Sep 2010

Grape Escape from Alto Adige

PERHAPS I should hold hatred towards über Pinot Grigio producer, Santa Margherita? Not only did their PR leave me in arrivals at arguably Italy’s worst airport, but botched timings the following day meant I missed lunch (feeling hungry in Italy was a first) then the grape crush.

Ostensibly to celebrate 50 years of producing drinkable whites from the ubiquitous blush grape, a gamut of press were coraled into Bolzano’s modernist museum for a tedious tour then six rounds of ‘Generation Game’ style cook your own dinner.
Founded in the mid 1930’s by Cadbury like benevolent businessman, Count Gaetano Marzotto Jr. (he provided homes and sports facilities for workers) this substantial, still family owned firm now extends its reach from the Alto Adige to Lombardy, Veneto, Tuscany and Sicily.
In the Alto Adige, Santa Margherita buys up to 55% of the light soil sewn grape, decreasingly trained on picturesque pergolas in favour of more productive unshaded rows. Here purely commercial intent is unlikely to secure fast returns. According to Josef Romen, winemaker of Margherita’s brand, ‘Kettmeir’, one hectare of usually irrigated Pinot Grigio costs €1.5m to buy but yet only yields €16-17,000 a year.
After ogling exhibits of a man fused with pig to represent war in Sarajevo then fruit stitched together in a dash for immortality, teams crafted plates to the recipes of local chef, Luis Agostini. These represented Santa Margherita’s core markets – the US (where Margherita was the first Pinot Grigio to be introduced in 1979), Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and England. 
The least enthralling dish was limp tuna sashimi, whilst the most intriguing was Canada’s slow cooked salmon with sweet cucumber embalmed in a rustling bon bon wrapper. Agostini’s Bakewell tart charmed me, an entente improved by Italy’s eggs and flour.
Alongside, ‘09 Pinot Grigios proved precise and pretty. Valdadige DOC fused aromas of canteloupe with a palate of pear and gentle viscosity, whilst Impronta del Fondatore Alto Adige DOC had more identity. From higher altitudes and oak matured, its fruit aromas were less obvious in favour of minerality. White pepper and petrol gave way to lime on the slightly less viscous palate.
Owing to clouds, the planned helicopter ride over the vineyards was cancelled, although it would have been a scrum anyway considering the coach load of writers. Explaining the look of relief that swept his face, fellow scribe, Ezio Zigliani mentioned that last week chance saved him from death. Unrelated to Margherita, a helicopter he had meant to board subsequently crashed killing all on-board.
By comparison, my albeit inwardly facing moans at Margherita seemed utterly petty...