Why Alto Adige May Be Italian Wine’s Best Kept Secret
Posted on 07 May 2021
When people think of Italian wine, and luxury Italian wine at that, many thoughts will head straight for the rolling hills of Tuscany for Brunello and Chianti, or maybe the stunning landscape of Piemonte for Barolo and Barbaresco. Few would ever look to the far North East of Italy and the region of Alto Adige, the wine region with the highest proportion of high-end DOC wines in all of Italy. The quality of the wines demands our attention.
Alto Adige, also known as Südtirol by the large proportion of German speaking inhabitants, is nestled high up in the valleys of the Dolomites mountain ranges, with valleys split by the Adige River which runs from the Alps all the way through North Eastern Italy to the Adriatic. As you can tell from the common use of both the Italian and German names, this is a region steeped in the history of central Europe, with famous and infamous figures such as The Holy Roman Emperors, Napoleon, Mussolini, and Hitler all having significant influence on the land and population of their time. It’s this unique history and culture that stands the food and wine of Alto Adige apart from the rest of Italy.
Mountain Valley Vineyards
Vines are grown throughout the valleys of the Adige and Isarco rivers at around 600-800m above sea level. Grape growing on such slopes and at such altitude means that most of the work is manual, and the vines yield lower but higher quality fruit. All this points to why Alto Adige producers, solely from an economic point of view, need to ensure that they produce high class wines. Suitable land is very expensive, so if you’re not making great wines, it’s time to sell up and move on!
As anyone who has visited Alto Adige on holiday will tell you, the climate is surprising. Despite its northerly and mountainous position, the summer months can rival and region of Italy for heat, especially in the crucial grape ripening months of July and August. That altitude gives fantastic coolness at night, and means producers have access to high quality grapes that are both fully ripe and still incredibly fresh.
Diverse Grape Varieties
As you’d expect from a region with such a diverse history, the grapes grown are a mix of international, Italian, and German varieties. The reds had for years been dominated by the local Schiava (light and fresh reds) and Lagrein (deep and earthy reds) grapes, but Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) is now showing some brilliant results on the warmer slopes.
It’s the white grapes, however, that really stand out here. Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio produce wines with far more body and fruit concentration than many give these grapes credit for when grown elsewhere. Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are adding international glamour to the vineyards, whilst German varieties such as
Silvaner, Gewürztraminer, and Müller Thurgau remain well planted by those with strong historic family ties.
These hearty yet fresh whites are, as you’d expect, perfect with the local cuisine. This is mountainous food, designed to give you energy and warmth. There’s lots of broths, ham, pork, cream, and pasta, not to mention the famous dumplings! As simple as this food sounds, the recent explosion in the number of Michelin starred restaurants celebrating local food just proves the point that there’s much more the food and wine culture of Alto Adige than meets the eye.
Great Wines to Try
- Pinot Bianco Classico 2019 by Cantina Terlano
- Pinot Nero “vom Kalk” 2016 by Ignaz Niedrist
- Sylvaner Aristos by Cantina Valle Isarco
Find out more about Cantina Terlano from our previous blog about this fantastic producer