Thursday, February 29, 2024

Trentino-Alto Adige


In the late 18th century, the noted English essayist Samuel Johnson wrote these insightful lines: "A man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see." 

Johnson's thoughts were memorable and prescient since he could not have known how many people, over the hundreds of years, would have felt an inferiority at not having seen Italy. The Italy Johnson found so necessary was far different than it is today.  And it is that difference that draws people by the thousands every year. 

For me, the essence of what defines and attracts me to Italy is hard to describe.  And yet, I would like to think, the attraction I find for the country and its people could be similar to that felt by Dr. Johnson.

Whatever it is, that "Italyness," comes through in the country's impressive variety of red, white and sparkling wines.  Nowhere is that more evident than along Italy's northern tier, specifically in Trentino-Alto Adige, a scenic region wedged between Austria and the Italian province of Veneto. 

Trentino-Alto Adige is a beautiful mountainous land, diverse and multi-lingual, with German spoken in northern Alto Adige, and Italian in southern Trentino.


White wine rules in this hilly area, marked by the Adige river that runs through the region. Principal grapes in Trentino are European but with an Italian variation: Chardonnay from France, Müller-Thurgau from Germany and Pinot Gris that started out in France and became Pinot Grigio in Italy.    

This mix of grapes is spread along the foothills of the Dolomites mountains, on both sides of the Adige river, with orchards on the valley floor.  From time to time, attempts have been made to grow grapes in the mountains, but flat land there is in short supply, so the efforts mostly fail.

Pinot Grigio

To define the Italian wine style to be found in Trentino wines, the wine consumer need look no further than the Trentino take on Pinot Gris.  Trentino Pinot Grigio is lighter, less concentrated and complex than an Alsace Pinot Gris. The body and fruit of a Pinot Grigio is leaner, supported by brisk cool climate acidity.

Although cooperatives and volume are important factors in Trentino wine production, there is an active group of small wineries aiming at making distinct varietal wines. At least three-quarters of all production is white. 

Alto Adige

Alto Adige was annexed by Italy after World War I, but the mountainous region still retains its Germanic heritage. Generally cooler than Trentino, Alto Adige reflects a German influence by producing mainly white wine. 

Agriculture in Alto Adige is mixed, with wine grapes planted on valley hillsides, up to more than 3,000 feet, and apple orchards along the valley floor.  Rooting grapevines at such heights means cooler growing conditions, retaining the grapes' natural acidity and clearly defined varietal character.  

For most consumers, German wine usually means Riesling and Müller-Thurgau.  But in Alto Adige and its neighbor, Trentino, the emphasis is more on Pinot Grigio and two indigenous dark-skinned varieties, Lagrein and Schiava (German Trollinger).  

Variety in all things is what makes life interesting.  Unfortunately, in recent years, demand for wine with an international pedigree, like Pinot Noir, has meant that mostly unknown local varieties like Lagrein, are loosing interest. 

Tasting Lagrein for the first time broadened my appreciation for indigenous varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon can be tasted anywhere, but you can only taste Lagrein in northern Italy.


Of the Lagreins I tasted, Lagrein Rosato was the most interesting, with its rose petal and strawberry flavors. I found a trace of bitterness in the red Lagrein, a characteristic that mostly disappeared in blends containing Lagrein.

Schiava is mainly an undistinguished grape, but has its advocates among the German-speaking residents of the area, who prefer to call the grape Vernatsch, which is curious because in the Württemberg region of Germany, where the variety is widely planted, calls the grape Trollinger.

In Alto Adige, Schiava is used mainly in red blends and when made as a varietal wine, is pale in color with non-varietal flavors, more like a light rose than a red wine. The Schiava Gentile clone is generally thought to make better wine then the more common Schiava Grosso.

Gewurztraminer, a white variety with a German background, but probably better known for its association with French Alsace, is the fourth most planted white grape in Alto Adige.  Locals sometimes refer to the grape as Gewurztraminer Aromatico, although the wine is less scented and lacks the finesse of an Alsace Gewurztraminer. 

An aside: The true origin of the Gewurztraminer grape may never be resolved, but for now, the question is what does the grape name mean?  Prior to the late 19th century, the variety was known as "Traminer" or Traminer Musque, a mutant grape that has Muscat properties and a "musky" scent.  After 1973, Traminer was dropped and both the grape and wine were henceforth called Gewurztraminer. Further, the direct translation of the German word gewurz is "spice," but when associated with the grape, gewurz means "perfume."

Another German grape import is Kerner, an aromatic cross of Trollinger (Schiava) and Riesling that has many Riesling characteristics but is easier to grow than Riesling.  While plantable acreage in Alto Adige is small, Kerner has great promise.

There is a lot more to Trentino-Alto Adige than in this brief overview. Here are some wineries offering both international wines and indigenous Lagrein and Sciava: Cantina Terlano, Abbazia di Novacella, Fratelli Lunelli, Foradori Granato, Gonzaga, Cantina Tramin Kellerei. 

Next blog: The Temptation of Tempranillo

Contact me at

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.