Even in the early days Girlan was determined to do things differently. The tiny cantina, or wine cooperative, was one of the first of its kind to pay incentives to its growers for the quality, rather than simply the quantity, of the grapes it received. This general, quality first approach has only been strengthened under the direction of Oscar Lorandi and cellarmaster Gerhard Kofler. Today the average grower’s holdings are still under a single hectare of vines and if the grower delivers grapes of a quality that make it into a premium Girlan bottling, they get a generous bonus. This starting point and the Girlan team’s attention to detail in every step of the growing and making of each wine has made this address one of the quality beacons of the Valle dell'Adige. The wines are of a quality and style that speaks volumes of their mountainous, stony, glacial terroirs. They are also outstanding value.
Wines from isolated, mountainous pockets of the world can be exhilarating discoveries for those seeking new drinking experiences. The Alto Adige in Italy’s remote, mountainous north is perhaps the quirkiest high-altitude region going. Yes, you are technically in Italy, but forget about pasta, tanned youths on Vespas and your high school Italian. This is the Südtirol, a stone’s throw from the Austrian and Swiss borders and encircled by the saw-toothed Dolomite Mountains. Südtirol is the German name (South Tyrol in English), as the region borders Austria’s Tyrol state to the north. In fact, this area was part of Austria until WW1 and so the Germanic influence runs deep: here the restaurants serve hearty dumplings, smoked pork and sauerkraut, you drive a snow plough in winter and the locals speak German as often as Italian, or even Ladin, a local dialect spoken only in this part of the world.
Alto Adige’s wines are as singular as its setting. This is isolated, high-altitude viticulture at its most extreme. Here an endless variety of stony, well drained, south facing slopes look down on the Adige River from highs varying from 750-3250 feet. A wide range of grape varieties have long been grown here and intense aromatics, fresh acidity, spiciness, etc run through all the best wines. Common varieties include Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc in France and possibly Alto Adige’s best white grape), Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Traminer and Riesling (amongst others). Alto Adige produces some fascinating white blends as well which, in some cases, can be the most interesting wines at a given address. The most intriguing local reds are from the indigenous Lagrein grape variety while progress is being made with Pinot Noir & Schiava. The reds reflect the stony soils and are fresh, minerally, bright, sometimes grippy, and utterly unique. The Alto Adige style offers a great counterpoint to Riesling, Chenin or Pinot Noir for those who fancy aromatic, high-grown whites and reds.
Girlan is one of the region’s finest ‘grower collectives’ producing exemplary Alto Adige whites and reds. They have long encouraged their growers to focus on those varieties that best suit their soils, aspects and altitudes and they have led the way in single ‘commune’ and single vineyard wines. Girlan was also one of the first collectives in Alto Adige to pay its growers according to the quality of their fruit and apply strict controls on yields.
For a multitude of reasons including: geographic isolation, mountainous topography and tiny average holdings, local growers have historically banded together to form co-operatives. Over 70% of the region’s wines are produced by such co-ops and a number, including Girlan, control a wonderful array of the region’s finest sites. This is not a new phenomenon and has nothing to do with the co-ops that you typically find in France or other parts of the wine world.
Over the last 10 years Girlan has been busy establishing itself as one of the most interesting names of Alto Adige. It was the arrival of new cellarmaster Gehard Kofler in 2006, however, that really kicked things up a gear. By 2008, Girlan had five wines competing for Gambero Rosso’s ‘Tre Bicchieri’ (‘Three Glasses’) with one 2008 wine eventually winning this top designation. Girlan and Kofler control some great sites in Alto Adige’s Uberetsch-Unterland subregion. We are struck by the freshness, delicacy and aromatic complexity of the wines, a sure reflection of great sites, low yields and the rigour that Kofler brings to Girlan’s spotlessly clean cellar.