Editor's Note: Peter Zemmer was recently named "Best European Winemaker" at one of Europe's leading wine competitions. Peter, named for his grandfather and the founder of the estate, drastically limits yields at his family's domaine in the Alto Adige and fashions wines of exquisite charm and distinction from a growing number of varietals.
In Cortina, amidst the alpine hills and valleys of the South Tyrol (Alto Adige), nestles the Zemmer family winery. Founded in 1928 by Peter Zemmer, this family-owned-and-run operation has recently emerged as one of the zone's leading producers of both white and red wines, thanks to the visionary leadership of Helmuth Zemmer and his talented winemaker son Peter, the firm's current guardians.
The hallmark of Zemmer's wines is always a pure, precise, highly focused aroma that defines the essence of the varietal or varietals from which they are made. In addition, the aroma of a Zemmer wine is merely the prelude to the rich flavors that lie within. Zemmer's wines are consistently gratifying libations that appeal to the purist taster; they are completely unmanipulated expressions of their cepage and terroir. In other words, no smoke or mirrors are employed here. The annual harvest comes only from Zemmer's own vineyards and those that are bound by tradition to the Zemmer property. White wines, most notably Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and a luxury blend labeled Cortinie Bianco, dominate this producer's outstanding portfolio, but Zemmer also fashions fine, full-bodied red wines that merit serious attention.
Alto Adige or Sud Tirol?
In Italian, Alto Adige refers to the high or upper reaches of the Adige, the stony, swift-flowing river that Ernest Hemingway immortalized in A Farewell to Arms. However, most of the world knows this stunning country as the Sud Tirol or the South Tyrol. The dual name illuminates this region's splintered history and highlights its continuing split personality. Presently, Alto Adige is officially an autonomous region of Italy, but the Alto Adige or South Tyrol remains primarily German speaking, which underscores the fact that for most of its tortured history this beautiful alpine land of lederhosen and loden caps was an integral part of Austria. In fact, it was not until after World War I that the South Tyrol was ceded begrudgingly to Italy.
In spite of or, perhaps, because of the South Tyrol's plurality, ethnic diversity, and historical factional violence, the present generation of winemakers in Alto Adige of both Austrian and Italian heritage have banded together in the common pursuit of happiness and prosperity. In doing so, the winemakers of the Alto Adige/ Sud Tirol have fashioned some of the highest standards for winemaking in all Italy. Consequently, more than 50 percent of the zone's wines are DOC designated, while a substantial portion of the area's non-DOC offerings constitute Alto Adige's most expensive and illustrious offerings (Zemmer Cortinie Bianco, for example) simply because DOC regulations do not yet provide for imaginative, luxury blends.
While it may be true that white wine is the calling card of Alto Adige and that many of Italy's finest white wines do indeed flow from its pretty hills and valleys, this industrious, forward-thinking region is also renowned for its production of light- to medium-bodied red wines of supreme bouquet, finesse, and style. So whether it be an outstanding Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, or Pinot Grigio, or one of Alto Adige's little know reds in the guise of Santa Maddalena, Teroldego, or even Lagrein, quality remains the region's unifying factor.