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Epokale - Silver Mine

Epokale: In the Hall of the Mountain Grill

Epokale has become an iconic wine with a glowing reputation. Its creator is Cantina Tramin, in the Alto Adige region of Italy, also the Italian spiritual homeland for the Gewürztraminer white grape. Some years ago, the Cantina commenced a long-term project to make a special cuvée representing Gewürztraminer, Alpine terroir, and wine-growing skills. This article about Epokale also features the first tasting of all the vintages thus far released – an unrepeatable and unforgettable experience. Epokale is wine in extremis and one of the world’s most extraordinary wines.

A little background

Epokale - bottles and glasses

Epokale – bottles and glasses

Epokale’s name references a time some two centuries ago when Gewürztraminer (aka Traminer Aromatico) in Alto Adige was usually a sweeter wine, a style largely abandoned today in favour of dry wines. Hence in Germanic terms, it’s a classic Spätlese. The lightest of the late harvest styles, it may contain traces of noble rot (Botrytis cinerea) in some vintages.

Furthermore, Epokale’s maturation is unique. It takes seven years, stored deep underground inside a disused silver mine. However, this is no gimmicky marketing device because the storage conditions in the silver mine grant perfect cellarage, which influences wine aroma, flavour and texture.

100 points

The Epokale project has become a great success. After much research and planning, the debut 2009 vintage became the first Italian white wine to receive a perfect 100-point score from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate in 2018. Additionally, it became the only 100-point Italian wine outside Tuscany or Piemonte.

A perfect wine? Whether you embrace or dismiss such tropes, there’s no doubting that this remarkable achievement helped put Italian Gewürztraminer, Alto Adige and Cantina Tramin on the world stage. However, as we shall see, the style of the six vintages thus far released continues to evolve.

Cantina Tramin and Gewürztraminer

Cantina Tramin has previously graced these pages with a feature about three of their other top Alpine white wines: Unterebner (Pinot Grigio), Stoan (a white blend) and Troy (Chardonnay Riserva). Hence rather than repeat the details about Cantina Tramin and its terroir here, please refer to that earlier article. Though it makes many different wines, the Cantina is also a Gewürztraminer specialist. Hence, several Gewürztraminer cuvées are made, including Nussbaumer, considered one of Italy’s top dry white wines.

Kellermeister Willi Stürz (Gambero Rosso’s “Winemaker of the Year” in 2004) is the creator of the wines at the Cantina. He and Marketing Director Wolfgang Klotz led our Epokale visit and tasting.


Making Epokale

Gewürztraminer destined for Epokale

Gewürztraminer destined for Epokale

The Gewürztraminer grapes for Epokale come from two small plots of old vines. These are on the southeast slope of the Mendel massif at 420 metres altitude, near the Nussbaumer farm. The vines are now 25-35 years of age, occupying limestone gravels overlying volcanic porphyry bedrock.

Harvest is by hand at the end of October, about ten days after the main crop. Yields are meagre, at only 28 hectolitres per hectare. After a short grape maceration and pressing, the juice ferments slowly for four weeks in stainless steel tanks at 18°C. Then this fermentation is then halted by deliberately cooling down to 5°C for ten days, leaving residual sugar and stable wine. There is no subsequent malolactic fermentation, as Gewürztraminer needs the racier malic acid to balance the wine. This new wine stays on its lees in smaller stainless steel tanks for 8-11 months, with some lees stirring in the early months before it clarifies naturally. Bottling is then under cork.

Now the magic happens.

So far, so straightforward, you might say. But now, stranger things happen. A disused silver mine at Ridanna Monteneve stores and matures the newly bottled wine. It’s 110 km away, in the far north of the Alto Adige region, near the Austrian border. It’s here in the mountain’s root where the magic happens. The storage facility within the mine is at 2,000 metres altitude. Its burrow is four kilometres into the mountain and 450 metres below the peak. So you may imagine that even securing the necessary permissions was no easy task.

Here the bottles stay for seven years, undisturbed in natural conditions that remain constant year-round. There is no light, sound or vibration – only silent darkness. Furthermore, the temperature (11°C) and humidity (90%) are perfect. Atmospheric pressure is also lower at this altitude, meaning 20% less oxygen is present than at sea level, reducing oxygen ingress through the corks.

No human-made cellar could achieve such conditions without vast expense. And while this storage incurs transport and rental costs, no energy is required to maintain it. Usually, the wine is only disturbed once per year when a vintage is withdrawn for release, replacing it with the latest vintage made.

The Silver Mine

It takes about 75 minutes by car from Cantina Tramin to get to the mining museum at Ridanna Montaneve. This museum acts as a “base camp” for visiting Epokale’s storage site, the entrance to which is a further 8 km up a vertiginous carriage road at Poschhaus Stollen.

The entry is at the bottom gallery of the disused silver mine, which closed in the late sixties. It’s at 1,973 metres altitude. That’s 6,500 feet and so 2,000 feet higher than Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain.

The Quest

At Poschhaus Stollen, a bright red electric train with yellow carriages awaits us. Its fairground-like appearance belies its serious role as the only practical way in and out of the mine. Meanwhile, we dress in waterproofs and rubber boots (this level is muddy, being an exit for mine waters). Helmets and lamps are essential too. Outside, it’s approaching 30°C, so the mine initially offers welcome respite.

The clattering train journey into darkness takes some 20 minutes. The small diameter tunnel amplifies the sound while occasionally we pass rusting iron ladders ascending vertically to smaller, ever remoter galleries. Indeed, the mountain is a hollowed-out labyrinth worthy of Daedalus, with 150 km of galleries and shafts, some of which date back to medieval times. The history of the mine is fascinating, but today we’re focused on Epokale, so that must wait for another time.

After four kilometres, we near our destination. However, the last 250 metres (longer or shorter, it’s difficult to tell in the darkness) are taken on foot, passing various side passages. Briefly, I wish for a ball of string, like Theseus had, to ensure I could retrace my steps should I become all too easily lost.

The Golden Hoard

We reach a locked side gallery. Inside it contains a golden hoard of 10,000 Epokale bottles, each vintage slowly maturing in small plastic crates. Those bottles take the same journey in and out of the mine we do; there is no other way. Briefly turning off our headlamps, the darkness and silence are profound and oppressive. It’s certainly no place for the claustrophobic.

On returning, we emerge, shivering, damp and cold. Then, suddenly, there’s a mighty thunderstorm and hailstones. The deluge continues back down the mountain. I imagine we’ve had a narrow escape from mythical beasts jealously guarding their treasure, perhaps the Minotaur or Smaug the Dragon.


In the Hall of the Mountain Grill

Epokale - ready to go

Epokale – ready to go

The Epokale tasting took place at the Cantina, in a vast air-conditioned hall where the surrounding views of towering mountains and vineyards provide a magnificent setting.

Outside, the mercury reaches a grilling 37°C in the shade. Such temperatures may not be uncommon in the Alto Adige later in summer but are undoubtedly unusual in June, and this was already the third heatwave of the year.

Our places have six empty glasses in the comfortable hall, ready and waiting. The expectations of those few fortunate enough to be present were naturally high. Yet they were about to be exceeded.


Epokale, Gewürztraminer Spätlese, Alto Adige DOC, Italy, 2009-2015


Alcohol 12.5%, Residual Sugar 107 g/l, Total Acidity 5.6 g/l

This debut vintage from a warm year set the benchmark. 2009 had very ripe grapes with high sugar content, some Botrytis, and high acidity. A deep 24-carat gold colour presages powerful aromas. Rose petals and lychee are signatures, but there’s much more besides; lavender, passionfruit and mango all appear, as do cinnamon and saffron. The palate is richly creamy, almost syrupy, retaining finesse thanks to the retention of fresh acidity to balance a large amount of residual sugar. Honey appears on the palate, plus added complexity from salinity, ginger and cloves. The finish takes minutes. This vintage was the one that later received 100 points. There’s an overwhelming impression of power, concentration and intensity, a wine for slow-sipping contemplation. Magnificent – but is it too much? Arguably so.


Alcohol 13.5 %, Residual Sugar 36 g/l, Total Acidity 5.0 g/l

2010 is the yang to the 2009 yin, an excellent vintage, though less warm than in 2009. Moreover, the Cantina decided to dial back, meaning much lower residual sugar and a little more alcohol – creating the basis for an evolving style in subsequent years. In appearance, its golden hues are a few shades paler. The aromas and palate are expressed differently, less floral, with less rose and exotic fruits and more ripe apples and pears, but still powerful. The palate is savoury and spicier, with saffron, nutmeg and cinnamon. Less concentration is welcome, and botrytis seems absent. Yet there’s plenty of freshness, intensity and more elegance with arguably a better balance, while the finish still takes minutes. A triumph.


Alcohol 14.2%, Residual Sugar 30 g/l, Total Acidity 5.0 g/l

Stylistically similar to 2010, with a little more alcohol and less residual sugar. A deeper yellow than 2010, but the still attractive aromas seem more straightforward and the palate a little more aggressive. When texturally compared to 2010, it’s like feeling a piece of wood sanded by 120-grade grit rather than a finer 400-grade, subtly coarser. 2011 also seems older than 2009 and 2010. Then the provenance is revealed: this 2011 example wasn’t one kept in the silver mine! Instead, it was a comparison bottle aged at the Cantina. Now the subtle maturation influences of the silver mine seem apparent, leaving no doubt in my mind that it plays an essential role in retaining nuances of aroma and flavour and subtleties in texture. Unfortunately, a silver mine 2011 example wasn’t available to confirm this.


Alcohol 13.8%, Residual Sugar 23 g/l, Total Acidity 4.5 g/l

Another good vintage, though conditions meant lower levels of alcohol and sugar. Yellow-gold, and slightly less sweet-tasting, yet a velvet cushion texture too. The least residual sugar of any of the vintages released, with rose, oleander, lavender, lychee and sage aromas. A predominance of citrus fruits on the palate. Orange, kumquat and tangerine suggest a hint of Botrytis. A length in minutes, with cloves and nutmeg, a saline mineral freshness. A little less weighty, but with no sharp edges, irresistible.


Alcohol 12.7%, Residual Sugar 46 g/l, Total Acidity 4.5 g/l

A return to higher residual sugar due to a later harvest. Pale gold. 2013 offers an attractive candied fruit sensation on the palate. It feels like a much younger wine, more restrained; you sense there’s more yet to unfurl. Powerful aromas of stone fruits, rose petals and lychee, with hints of something green, sage perhaps. A  more luscious expression than 2012, kept agile by focused mineral-like acidity.


Alcohol 12.5 %, Residual Sugar 55 g/l, Total Acidity 5.1 g/l

This brand-new release is fresh from the mine and a light golden colour. Rich, fruity and intense, showing rose and oleander scents, apple, pineapple and melon on the nose and palate. It has the highest residual sugar since 2009, so it is a little heftier. Velvety textured and beautifully poised with still unrealised potential, so there’s much more to come.

Wither 2014?

For completeness, it’s worth noting that the wine was made in 2014 but has never appeared. The 2014 vintage conditions were harsh, so this wine is “a good Gewürztraminer, but not an Epokale.” Nevertheless, that wine continues to mature within the mountain, with its ultimate fate still undecided.

Food Matching

You might imagine that a Spätlese style wine would be perfect for desserts like Apfel Strudel and fruit tarts, and Epokale certainly is. However, it’s more versatile than that. A creamy saffron and liquorice root risotto is a fine-dining revelation. Chinese and Thai cuisines offer good pairings, while Duck, Pork and Paté are classics. In addition, smoked food (meats, fish and cheeses) and fresh tomatoes are usually unhappy wine partners, but not here. Meanwhile, highly aromatic Münster and Taleggio cheeses are unbeatable.

UK availability and pricing

Noble Grape has a stock of the 2012 Epokale priced at £130. This retail price seems eminently reasonable given the time, quality, and legendary provenance.

Final Thoughts

These wines will continue to develop and live for at least 20 years, potentially many more. Each vintage taken alone is a great wine but tasting them all together reveals a deliberately evolving style.

There’s no decision on “the best vintage” at this rarified level. Instead, it’s a personal preference. 2009 is the memorable blockbuster, yet I prefer 2010. Meanwhile, I’ll take 2012 to drink right now, 2013 for drinking soon, and 2015 to drink in 4-5 years. But, because 2011 doesn’t have the mine influence, I’d like to try that against one that did.

To summarise, Epokale is exquisite and inspiring. An extraordinary wine with an incredible story. It was a privilege to participate in this tiny part of its history.

Location Maps

Cantina Tramin
Strada del Vino, 144
39040 Termeno (Tramin) (BZ)
Alto Adige (Süd Tirol)

What3Words Address


Silver Mine
Poschhaus Stollen
Ratschings (BZ)
Alto Adige (Süd Tirol)

What3Words Address


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