A Closer Look at Trentino Alto Adige

A Closer Look at Trentino Alto Adige

Ready for a break from Tuscany and Piedmont, but not yet ready to leave the world of Italian wines? Discover the wines of Trentino – Alto Adige, Italy’s most northern producing region. Home to the autochthonous red grapes Lagrein, Teroldego and Schiava, this region is also very well known for its zesty Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. Join us as we travel to this land of deep valleys, whose landscape is as diverse and complex as its cultural and political history. 

A History of Changing Borders

As a direct result of its fascinating history, the Trentino – Alto Adige region is made up of two autonomous provinces: the almost entirely Italian speaking Trentino in the south and the predominantly German-speaking Alto Adige, known in German as Südtirol , in the north. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the area was divided between invading Germanic tribes and later passed to the Counts of Tyrol and Counts of Görz. In 1363 Margarete, Countess of Tyrol ceded the region to Hapsburg. Following the Napoleonic Wars, the Treaty of Paris (1810) divided the area between Austria and what was then the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy. When Napoleon was defeated in 1815, the region returned to Austria. During the First World War, Trentino Alto-Adige (referred to as Südtirol by the Austrians) became a strategic point, as it represented a gateway to Italy. The Italians fought off the Austro-Hungarian Kaiserjäger during many battles fought in the Alps and Dolomites, and eventually annexed the region in the Treaty of Saint-Germain.

© Matteo Lavazza Seranto

© Matteo Lavazza Seranto

Under the dictatorial rule of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, the German-speaking population of Trentino Alto Adige was subjected to forced programs of Italianization, which also eliminated references of Tyrol (which recalled a Germanic past). In fact, between 1919 and 1947, the region was named Venezia Tridentina, linking its past to one of the ancient Roman Regions of Italy. When Hitler came to power in Germany, the region was annexed by German forces and thousands of German-speaking locals were relocated to the Third Reich, only to return (with great difficulty) to their homeland after the Second World War. When the Nazi regime was defeated, Trentino Alto Adige passed back to Italian rule in 1945. At this time German and Italian were both made official languages. Nevertheless, neither the Austrian government nor the German-speaking population of the region was satisfied with the agreement, causing significant friction for several decades. In 1971, Austria and Italy signed another treaty, which helped appease separatist tensions. In May 2006, Senator Francesco Cossiga introduced a bill that would allow for a referendum to help decide whether to stay in the Italian Republic, become independent or return to Austria. All parties voted not to pass the referendum, in fear of igniting ethnic tensions.

The Terroirs of Trentino – Alto Adige and the Wines they Produce

Closely bordering Austria in a Y-shaped glacial valley is Alto Adige, home to 7 distinct wine-growing sub-regions. This area gets its name from the Adige River, which runs further divides the land into east and west banks. Most of the vineyards of Alto Adige can be found along this river and its many tributaries. Although most of the wine production in Alto Adige comes from small, family-owned estates, there are also several cooperatives, some of which date back to the Hapsburg Empire. It is common to find very steep-terraced vineyards here, some which still use a pergola system. Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco wines, recognisable by their lemon, peach and subtler honey aromas, account for over 20% of total wine production. Austrian Gruner Veltliner and German Riesling also grow in this region, in addition to several other international varieties. The Bolzano area is known for its red wines, since the mountains around it create the perfect microclimate to allow for warm summers and gradual ripening. Here you will find single-varietal grapes made from local varieties including Schiva and Lagrein. Lagrein is commonly produced as a single-varietal wine in both Trentino and Alto Adige DOC areas. Wines of this varietal tent to be deeply coloured and full-bodied reds with characteristic flavours of plum and wild cherry. Like many other northern Italian wines, Lagrein wines tend to offer a bright, fresh acidity and slightly astringent finish. Well-made Lagrein wines can be aged for several years, though often they are best if consumed just a few years after harvest.

South of Alto Adige is the Trentino area, home to a large number of producers and cooperatives, including Mezzacorona and Cavit. Trentino is known for having pioneered sparkling winemaking using the classic method rather early on, and these sparkling Chardonnay wines are grouped under the appellation of Trento DOC. Trentino is also known for its own indigenous grape variety, Teroldego, which produces very fruity, deep granite red wines with very soft, smooth tannins. These wines are usually consumed within three years of bottling, though the best examples can age for up to 10 years. Teroldego wines are produced in just one DOC appellation, that of Teroldego Rotaliano. This area is characterised by a sandy, gravelly plain perfect for growing this varietal.

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The wines produced in the Trentino – Alto Adige region owe their spicy, ripe character to the somewhat surprising micro-climate that can be found in this region. Although it is located in an alpine region at the top of the 46th parallel north (sharing a latitude with central Burgundy), this region is characterised by rather warm summer temperatures. The floors of the valley heat up quickly and send warm air up to the vineyards lining the slopes. The sun is also very powerful at this altitude, allowing the grapes to ripen to a perfect level in time for harvest.

Three of Our Favourites from Trentino – Alto Adige

1Endrizzi : Teroldego Riserva 2014

The Endrizzi Teroldego Riserva 2014 is a single-varietal red wine of DOC Superiore Riserva, made of Teroldego grapes, harvested from old vines that are planted in Mezzcorona and Mezzolombardo upon gravel and a thin layer of fertile earth. The grapes are harvested manually after a sunny summer season and then fermented at a controlled temperature with frequent punch-downs for a period of 10 days. Malolactic fermentation followed and then maturation in oak barrel.

The Teroldego Riserva 2014 from Endrizzi reveals a gorgeous ruby colour at the tasting. Fruity and complex, this wine offers raspberry and prune with a hint of chocolate on the nose. It is an elegant and well balanced wine on the palate with a harmonious tannic structure. A very persistent and satisfying finish. This wine will benefit from ageing up to 5 years.

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San Leonardo 2007

The San Leonardo 2007 is a red wine produced in the IGT appellation of Vigneti delle Domomiti in the mountains of northern Italy. The Bordeaux-style blend consists of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Merlot. The vintage was characterised by a warm summer, which made for highly concentrated grapes. The fresh autumnal nights also helped develop aromatic intensity in the fruit.

On the nose the San Leonardo 2007 reveals notes of freshly ground black pepper, along with Alpine herbs and blueberry. The palate is very complex, offering dried blackberries, ripe red currants, pepper and anise notes, along with tobacco and beautifully fine-grained tannins. On the finish, this wine also displays notes of grilled herbs.

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3Elena Walch : Lagrein Riserva Vigna “Castel Ringberg” 2013

The Elena Walch : Lagrein Riserva Vigna “Castel Ringberg” 2013 is a single-varietal red wine made of Lagrein grapes harvested from a single vineyard, Vigna Castel Ringberg, which overlooks the beautiful Lake of Caldaro and is planted at an altitude at 1150 feet above sea level. The vines grow on a southern facing hillside with characteristic soils of calcareous clay with inter-glacial origin. The must undergoes alcoholic fermentation over a period of 10 days, after which it is moved to stainless steel tanks for malolactic fermentation. The wines is matured in French oak barriques for 20 months before bottling. It aged several months in the bottle before release.

At the tasting, the Lagrein Riserva Vigna “Castel Ringberg” 2013 from Elena Walch displays a deep dark garnet red colour. On the nose, one will observe fruity and spicy aromas – red berries, plums, dried figs, hint of chocolate and some smoke. On the palate this wine offers meaty tannins and a robust structure, along with a silky fullness. This 100% Lagrein wine is remarkably juicy, with a nice bite and a long finish.

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