By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 10 July 2021
Alto Adige is a startlingly beautiful wine region with its snow-capped mountain backdrop, apple orchards and verdant green vineyard slopes – well-known to skiers who drive through its valleys heading up to the Alps.
Little wonder that Bolzano, in the heart of this Alpine region, was voted as the best place to live in Italy (pictured below right). Alto Adige (or South Tyrol/Sud Tirol is it is also known) may be the country’s most northerly wine region, but it is not Italy’s coolest.
“Bolzano can be hotter than Naples with more sunny days than California, but nights are cool”, says Alto Adige expert Nancy Gilchrist MW. “Altitude is hugely important with vines planted from 200 to 1000 metres – with vineyards creeping even higher now with climate change”.
In this melting pot of cultures, white wines dominate with Austrian and Germanic influence obvious in the grapes and wine styles – but there are still 25% red grape plantings on warmer lower slopes.
With an influx of international grapes in C19, today Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer dominate. There are also interesting native red grapes like the widely-planted pale-coloured Schiava and darker Lagrein worth hunting out - alongside Pinot Noir and Merlot.
In terms of size it is similar to St Emilion in Bordeaux in France – with just 5,500 hectares. A hugely fragmented region with 5,000 winegrowers averaging about a hectare each, with many ‘hobby growers’ who tend their vineyards part-time selling grapes to co-operatives who dominate responsible for 70% of production.
“There is a great sense of unity with so many small individual growers – and all Alto Adige co-operatives are very good”, says Gilchrist. “Take for example Cantinas Andrian, Tramin and Isarco - they really give co-ops a good name”.
As an Alpine region reliant on higher altitude steep vineyard slopes, the expense and labour required (about 80 man hours just to work a single hectare here) makes it difficult to compete – added to the risks of hail and frost, particularly devastating in 2017. Expect to pay £10+ for good wine quality here, but this beautiful Alpine region deserves to be taken seriously and much better known.
WEISSBURGUNDER ‘VINSCHGAU’ 2017 Falkenstein / Franz Pratzner (13%)
£20 Tannico; Dolcevita Wines
Grape: Pinot Blanc
Appley fruits, good weight and intensity from maturation in acacia with a zippy lively saline finish – from a small family winery, one of the highest wineries in Val Venosta, run by talented winemaker Franz Pratzner.
SAUVIGNON BLANC ‘PRAESULIS’ 2019 Markus Prackwieser (14%) ***STAR BUY***
Grape: Sauvignon Blanc
Very stylish Sauvignon Blanc with grassy aromas, ripe tropical fruit, deep intense fruits and sleek long length – very good. Winemaker Markus Prackwieser trained at Geisenheim in Germany.
KERNER 2019 Cantina Isarco (14%)
£17 Harvey Nichols; Vinissimus; Butlers Wine cellar; The Whisky Exchange
Frost-resistant Kerner, a cross between Schiava and Riesling, makes aromatic, peachy, nutty wines with spicy undertones and lively acidity.
GEWURZTRAMINER ‘LYRA’ 2018 Nals Margreid (15%)
£22 Vinissimus; Tannico; Woodwinters
From a thriving co-operative growing Gewurztraminer at 350-550m at Bassa Atesina; very rich and intense with long dry finish.
PINOT NERO 2018 Franz Haas (13.5%)
£26.99 Valvona & Crolla
Grape: Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir grown on Pinzano and Glenois slopes, now showing great ripeness and forward fruits. Alto Adige examples like this one made by legendary Franz Haas in the super warm 2018 vintage has delicious black cherry fruits, spicy notes, soft rounded tannins with sweet sour finish.
QUINTESSENZ KALTERERSEE 2018 Cantina Kaltern Kallerei (13%)
Pale, subtle cherry fruit, soft smooth tannins with a redcurrant grip to the finish – it tastes like a Beaujolais Cru with a touch more sweetness. An ideal match served chilled with the local Speck ham.
LAGREIN RUBENO 2019 Cantina Andrian (13.5%)
£18.50 Harvey Nichols; Astrum wine cellar
Deep dark ruby with rich dense fruits, good grip to the finish – made from a little known grape which is distantly related to Pinot Noir and Syrah; this example is more Syrah-like with its structure.
LAGREIN 2018 Cantina Tramin (12.5%)
£11-14 Tannico; Strictly Wine
Lighter in style than the Andrian’s Rubeno, enticing blackcurrant and black cherry aromas, liquorice notes, smooth textured with a spicy finish – another good co-operative’s example of Lagrein.
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Images credit: Alto Adige Wine/Tiberio Sorvillo