By Rasmus Christensen
Trentino-Alto Adige is the region’s official name and it is Italy’s northernmost wine region. It stretches from the top of Lake Garda, straight north of Verona, and up along the valleys to the feet of the high alps
The region is divided into two provinces Trentino and Alto Adige, with a population of little over one million, half in each province.
In the southern province Trentino the majority languages is italien, where German is the first language for many in Alto Adige or Südtirol (South Tirol).
Going back in time
The reason for this regional bilingual is to be found in the complicated history that has surpassed this border country.
From 15 BC the region was swallowed by the Holy Roman Empire and after its collapse, it was divided between Bavarian and Germanic tribes. From the 11th century it was ruled by numerous conflicting central European powers. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1815 it was given to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, where it was finally annexed by italian troops after severe battles during 1. WW.
Under Mussolini’s dictatorship in 1922-43 the fear of german invasion catalysed a strong Italianization of the region and all references to Tyrol was banned and severely suppressed.
Today the two languages are co-official and the mixed cultures are co-existing, which is quite evident even for outsiders. This inheritance is also why you might find the Südtirol branded and projected with strong emotions in the Alto Adige province.
Mapping the region
The Alto Adige province itself has its name from italy’s second longest river Adige that sources in the alps near the Reschen Pass and flows into the Adriatic sea. Alto Adige has a Y-shaped form with Bolzano in the center. Adige flows along the west side of the Y and joins with the river Eisack south of Bolzano, that runs along the east side of the Y.
The East side of the Y continues north towards the Brenner pass, which is a low and principal alp pass that has been used as an important link between central european civilizations since prehistoric eras and the cities along the trail has grown as a merchants route throughout history. And they might even have enjoyed local wines along their journey as viticulture here is dated back to the 5th century BC.
The climate is influenced by several strongly contributing factors. The high Alps protects the valleys from cold wind and rainfall coming from tho north. Warm meditarainian climate from the south provides mild and warm sunny days, while cooler air rolls down the hills during the night. The drastic diurnals ensure the vines to fully ripen and maintain acidity at the same time, which is a general trademark in the style of wines produced. The Valleys with its sizable typographic deviation also fanes the wind which effectively helps to dry the vines and make them less prone to fungus and other forms of disease pressures.
Beneath the surface and training
Soils on the valley floors are formed by mineral rich alluvial deposits, and the hillside and terraced vineyards are shaped by debris cones from the surrounding alps. The northern valleys are dominated by quartz, slate, and mica. Around Bolzano volcanic porphyry soils dominate, and in the southern part of the province more calcareous and dolomite rock soils are found. But this is a simplified description, as the region’s soil composition spans over more than 150 different rock deposits that radically change some places over just a few meters.
On the hillsides the vines are often high-trained by the use of ancient pergola trellising. A type of trellising that lifts up the canopy by a support structure. It was once frequently used around northern Italy, but has been outdated and abandoned for the sake of the Guyot training system. New studies indicate that the pergola system benefits from several elements, especially as an encounter against spring frost, that is becoming increasingly more challenging for European wine growers as climate change is ever more evident.
Around 20 grape varieties are grown in this region with two being indigous, Lagrein and Schiava (Vernatsch). Each variety has its own preferred growing spot that is well provided by the multiple climatics found between the colder north to the warmer south, combined with the many vertical growing zones found between the valley floor and hillsides up to 1000 m.a.s.l.
There is a total production of 62% whitewine and 38% redwine, where the northern valleys are dominated by white varieties and vice versa. The majority of the wines are produced under DOC classification and the total production accounted for little over 1% of Italy’s total production.
Unity for quality
There are a total of 218 individual wineries, with 70% of the total production made by cooperative wineries. While this might seem like a swing towards mass production, it’s on the contrary. There are more than 5.000 winegrowers, many of them are small families that proudly provide their grapes to the local cooperatives as they have been doing for generations. They know, and cultivate their vineyards to an extent that otherwise would have been impossible to manage on large scales. The other way around, the cooperatives can provide expert guidance and specialised equipment. This is a positive contributing factor for general quality produced from these cooperatives.
For what the smaller private wineries are concerned, they have usually chosen site specific vineyards and possess what is needed to produce quality wine. Many of them are also partly engaged in their own hotel and restaurant business, which makes it easy for visitors to enjoy the local wine production.
The collective sum
This region with the complicated history, versatile demography, complex terroir and a span for new wine makers to challenge the norm, and experience in their approach for quality, presents a highly diverse and interesting wine region. The wines found here generally have an intense character, elevated acidity, with juicy fresh fruit notes and are often displayed with a good quality across all levels.
The region has over the recent years experienced an exponential export and have become increasingly more exposed in wine shops abroad as well as visible on social media platforms.
It is likely to assume that this region will continue to foster quality wines from its exceptional terroirs. But what will the constellation look like in the future? Will we see a tendency for small growers to break loose from the cooperatives and create their own ground, as we have witnessed in other parts of northern Italy? Or will cooperative spirit continue to thrive in progressive unity?
It will be worth following.
I have tasted some good examples, and you can find my notes below.
Eisacktaler Kellerei Cantina Valle Isarco Sabiona Kerner 2018
This is the cooperatives top wine and Kerner from its most profound terroir. It is aromatic and spicy with well integrated alcohol, elevated crispy acidity and a long peppery finish.
Eisacktaler Kellerei Cantina Valle Isarco Aristos Grüner Veltliner 2019
Citrus fruit and floral flavours are packed around a tense core of vibrant acidity. It is a benchmark for this variety in Alto Adige.
Cantina Valle Isarco Aristos Riesling 2019
Peperry and herbal expression with crispy acidity and discrete amount of fruit.
Eisacktaler Kellerei Cantina Valle Isarco Aristos Sylvaner 2019
This is Sylvaner in its pure form. Fresh, crispy and mineral driven that are lifter to a second level by the pronounced acidity.
Eisacktaler Kellerei Cantina Valle Isarco Sabiona Sylvaner 2018
Sylvaner from the “holy mountain” beneath the abbey founded in
350 A.D. It comes with an extraordinary perfumed fragrance and an electric acidity that elevates both fruit and the long and delicate finish.
Eisacktaler Kellerei Cantina Valle Isarco Aristos Kerner 2019
Expressive and energetic. It has a high acidity that tinkles the floral and green fruit flavours.
Impressive elevation of this variety.
Eisacktaler Kellerei Cantina Valle Isarco Aristos Kerner 2018
The cooperative is known for its high quality Kerner and this one of them. Intens aromatics, crispy high acidity and a powerful well composed structure.
Cantina Terlan Pinot Grigio Tradition 2019
Lime juice, ginger and herbal aromas. This is a mineral driven wine with an electric and pronounced acidity.
Cantina Terlan Cuvee Terlaner 2019
This cuvee represents a classic blend of 60% Pinot Bianco, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Sauvignon Blanc and has spent more than 7 month on lees. The pronounced and lively acidity provides the core strength, with aromatic and spicy flavours attached. This is a tremendously well made wine that beautifully displays the essence of Alto Adige.
Cantina Terlan Winkl Sauvignon Blanc 2019
Super floral and fruity with a lively acidity to balance it perfectly. This is a captivating and quite sophisticated Sauvignon blanc.
Cantina Terlan Lagrein 2015
Juicy red and blackberries with a medium body, herbal notes and a fresh acidity. This is exactly why Lagrein continues to gain in popularity.
Cantina Andrian Pinot Noir 2016
This wine presents a fruity and vibrant palate with a juicy and crispy acidity that beautifully elevates all the delicate impressions. Great quality for a basic line wine!
Manincor Mason di Mason 2018 Pinot Nero
This Pinot Noir shines bright with an intense character, vibrant acidity and lots of flavors of pomegranate, dried herbs and spices. It has a well orchestrated balance and will mature gracefully.
Manincor Eichhorn Pinot Bianco 2019
Good amount of fruit, acidity and a nicely rounded texture. Mediocre.
Manincor Sophie Chardonnay 2019
Lovely focused bouquet with intense flavours rapet around a crispy minerality and a long mineral driven finish. Leaves a joyful expression.
Manincor Tannenberg Sauvignon Blanc 2019
Rich and perfumed aromas with high and intense crisp acidity. It has spicy flavour and noticeable impact from skin contact. It is a Sauvignon Blanc that differs radically from the norm.
Manincor Réserve della Contessa 2019
Complex and packed nose with flowers, ginger and fresh fruit. It has an intense and lively acidity, loads of flavors and a long and spicy finish.
This wine examples the art of blending superbly.
Manincor Cassiano 2019
Intense and energetic wine that are beautifully balanced. There are a good amount of acidity and a tense core that needs a few years to fully moderate.
Cantina Tramin Gewürztraminer 2020
Expressive aromas of rosehip flowers and tropical fruit. It delivers a creamy mouthfeel with an elevated acidity and slightly tannic bite in the finish. Brilliant effort in this entry level wine that truly shows Tramins masterskills in this variety.
Cantina Tramin Gewürztraminer Terminum 2017
Owerhvelming fragrance of dried tropical fruits and intense aromatic flavors with a high level of residual sugar that the amount of acidity has difficulties to follow.
Cantina Tramin Pinot Grigio Unterebner 2019
It is juicy and intense with a creamy mouthfeel and a lot of personality. This belongs to some of the most serious Pinot Grigio in all of Italy.
Cantina Tramin Kellerei Nussbaumer Gewürztraminer 2019
If anyone should challenge Gewürztraminer from Alcase it has to be Tramin. This Nussbaumer Gewürztraminer has been made with short skin contact, 11 month on fine lees and 7.5 g/l of residual sugar. And the outcome is a highly expressive wine with perfumed floral fragrance and never ending tropical flavors and a mineral driven finish.
Elena Walch Ludwig 2018 Pinot Nero
It has an intriguing symphony of crushed red berries and green herbs, with a highly aromatic and lively elevated acidity to compliment juicy red fruit. This represents the essence of well made cool climate Pinot Noir. Will mature gracefully over the next 10-15 years.
Elena Walch Chardonnay Castle Ringberg riserva 2018
Castle Ringberg Chardonnay beautifully presents a rich and spicy side with notes of ripe fruit, flowers and vanilla that are lifted and held together by a high acidity and a steady structure. Lots of personality and impressions for this one.
Elena Walch Pinot Grigio Castle Ringberg 2020
From a pristine single vineyard, named after the idyllic Habsburg built castle, comes this highly expressive Pinot Grigio. It has a perfect balance between tropical fruit, the lively acidity and a creamy mouthfeel. This is a candidate to one of the best Pinot Grigio from this region.
Franz Haas Pinot Nero Schweizer 2017
From the uncrowned patriarch of Italian Pinot Noir comes this high altitude wine. It has a delicate and fine structure with subtle aromatics that beautifully blossom in the glass. Will undoubtedly develop positively over the next decade.