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Article – The Groucho Marx of Wine

October 8th, 2010

The poster of Franz Haas we all received as we left

The poster of Franz Haas we all received as we left

Another Day, Another Lunch

That tasting I mentioned last week in Ballymaloe was fantastic and with the risk of Silvia Allegrini thinking that I am stalking her, I think I’ll wait a while before the next wine dinner. Two Allegrini dinners within a week and in two different countries is a lot. As promised I present a new tale from my Italian odyssey and. One of the longer bus journeys of the trip took us up towards Austria and the Alps. It was to a meet a man named Franz Haas in a place called Montagna, which lies half way between Verona and Innsbruck.

Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine visits Franz Haas in Alto Adige

Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine visits Franz Haas in Alto Adige

James Bond Elevator into the mountains

An impressive winery greets us, built into the side of the mountain. It looks tiny from the dangerous mountain road where it sits. However, the modest façade hides a labyrinth of cellars and tanks and an elevator that brings you high into the mountain and a dining room and tasting room that hangs over the edge of the world. Am I being a touch dramatic? Perhaps, but the wines were of a quality that really surprised me and made me wonder why I had chosen to ignore the Alto Adige region for so long.

Have you ever had Pinot Grigio? – Real Pinot Grigio

One of my best selling wines is a cheap and cheerful Pinot Grigio from Italy. It only costs 8.50 Euros and is all apples and pears and easy to drink. It is well made but not overly exciting but I understand why it is so popular. When my Pinot Grigio fans are in the shop I am going to ask them to taste Franz Haas’s version of Pinot Grigio. We will have it open from this weekend and on special. This is real Pinot Grigio just as Chablis and White Burgundy are real Chardonnays. By real, I mean the grapes are grown in a place where they belong and the full luscious fruit that Pinot Grigio is known for is fully expressed.

By all means, people can go back to their old style Pinot Grigio, but I would love them to at least know what it is supposed to taste like. Mr. Haas’s Pinot is straw yellow in colour with perfumes of flowers and rich almonds as the wine develops. On the palate it is ripe and full-bodied with a lifted acidity from the high vineyards, and has a lovely depth from the lees ageing. I will be running a special price on this to celebrate its arrival into the shop. Please call in to taste it.

Franz Haas treats us to a great dinner

Franz Haas treats us to a great dinner

So, other than his Pinot Grigio, what else is so special about Mr. Haas and his mountain wines? Well firstly, he has what we like to call pedigree or heritage. His family, and in particular each firstborn son (called Franz) has been doing this since 1880. The current Franz is the 7th in the long line.

The view from this vineyard is possibly the most beautiful I have ever seen, and I have been lucky enough to see lots of them. The man himself is quite a character and wears a Groucho Marx like moustache on this bald head. His mannerisms and movements are more like Harpo as he curtsied and bowed. He pretended not to speak very good English and came in and out of the visit as he was very busy.

The view from Franz Haas vines

The view from Franz Haas vines

We were gate crashing the harvest it must be said, so it would not have come as a surprise if we given the road. Instead we were treated like royalty and the panoramic vineyard tour was followed by a cellar visit and a chance to taste some freshly picked Sauvignon Blanc must from a fermenting barrel. Basically, it is like very concentrated sparkling grapefruit juice. A taste is enough, as it is very harsh on the stomach. A refreshing glass of Pinot Grigio brought us back to life. God Bless the bus driver. I normally spit my way around vineyards, but I could enjoy it a little bit more on this trip.

The cellar was followed by a delicious dinner in the aforementioned dining room. To all of my Tipperary Food Producer friends, can I suggest a new product? We had fennel bread with the lunch and it was just heaven. It may have something to do with a local saying, “Pane e vino fanno un bel bambino” which means “bread and wine make a beautiful baby”. Both are seen as essential nourishment. I am not recommending wine for a baby by the way. This magic bread was followed by the obligatory Risotto of course and a range of other local delicacies.

More Risotto ....

More Risotto ....

The Alto Adige region is strong with German roots but also with Venetian history and this offers a very different take on both styles. The Rhaetian Alps and the Dolomites wall this region in, and this is evident by the photo I took from the vineyard. Even if you don’t like wine, it is a beautiful place to visit. The wines of Mr. Haas are typical of the area and Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero (or Noir), Traminer join local varieties such as Lagrein, a delicious red wine.

I always enjoy being surprised in the wine business and for everything I have learned about new wines and areas, there is so much more to learn. I know that most people will stick to their cheaper Pinot Grigio but all I can do is show you the difference, and ultimately it is up the consumer. Never was the old adage about the customer being always right truer than in wine.

Keep a date in your diary free. There is a Tipperary Food Producers Food Extravaganza in the Clonmel Park on November 10th with Bord Bia involvement. As well as the chefs on show,  Jane Boyce MW, once of only 4 Masters of Wine in Ireland will be giving a talk on food and wine pairing talk. She is not to be missed and will be worth the price of admission alone. She was on the trip to Italy and I tried to convince her to travel down for this important local event. On another note, another Tipperary Food Producer, Nuala Hickey has just won Gold at the Blas na hEireann Food Awards in Dingle. Well done to Nuala.

(There are much more photos available on Facebook and we will be posting video very soon )

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“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”

Red Nose Wine Article - Nationalist Oct 06 2010(

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