The Alto Adige Wine Story
Tired of hearing about Tuscany? One of the least talked about notable wine regions in Italy is Alto Adige. Here you’ll find some of the world’s best Pinot Grigio. In Alto Adige, Pinot Grigio is made in a refreshing and zesty style that will tickle your teeth. Besides white wine, the area also produces two unique red wine varieties that are worth mentioning.
Learn about Alto Adige wine; from their iconic Pinot Grigio to age-worthy red wines like Lagrein. Identify the major flavors of the region and know what to look for when you’re craving something Italian.
Alto Adige Wine: Home of Kickass Pinot Grigio
Alto Adige Wine Region
Positioned right below Austria at the tiptop of Italy, Alto Adige lies in a ‘Y’ shaped glacial valley. Before planes, this little valley used to be the main passage between Italy and the rest of Europe. Because of its position as a gateway to Italy, Alto Adige was the focal point of conquest from the ancient Romans to the Nazi regime. It became part of Italy in 1919 and there are up to three official languages: Italian, German and Ladin.
Learn how to read an Italian wine list
Vineyards in Alto Adige creep up the sides of glacial valleys in horizontal rows. The winery estates here are commonly called “Schloss” which is the German word for castle or chateau. Alto Adige is quite tiny at only 13,000 acres but the region varies enough to have 7 distinct growing sub-regions. The city of Bolzano is smack-dab in the center of Alto Adige and has some of the most amazing scenery.
BUYING ALTO ADIGE WINE?
When looking for a wine from Alto Adige, it will most likely be grouped in the store as a wine from “Trentino-Alto Adige.” This is because Alto-Adige is located just north of Trentino, a region known for sparkling wine, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In Alto Adige, it’s also very common to see German names and words on the label. For instance, you may find a bottle of Weißburgunder instead of Pinot Bianco.
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What Does Alto Adige Do Best?
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Pinot Grigio & Pinot Bianco
The white pinots of Alto Adige account for over 20% of the total wine production and are a hallmark of the area. Both wines have a feint lemon and waxy peach aromas with slight honey and almond undertones. Alto Adige’s white Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco rival the best Austrian Grüner Veltliner and German Riesling.
What to Expect from Alto Adige Pinot Grigio
A wine from Alto Adige will have higher acidity and less fruit flavors than American Pinot Grigio. If you’re looking to buy one, expect to spend at least $14. The best wines start at $25 and keep your eyes peeled for Pinot Bianco – It’s worth a spin!
Examples of classic wines
Erste Neue Pinot Grigio ~$15
This wine was recommended to us by the people at Guildsomm.com as an example of wine that’s true to its core. It’s a great example of classic Alto Adige Pinot Grigio.
Cantina Terlan “Vorberg” Pinot Bianco ~$23
This Pinot Bianco shows off how rich and age-worthy Italian white wine can be. White Nectarine and saline finish
Other White Wines
Gewürztraminer is traditionally off-dry (meaning: slightly sweet) with aromatics of fresh leechie, honeycomb and ginger. Alto Adige is Gewürztraminer’s homeland and was recently found by Jancis Robinson to be the exact same grape variety at Traminer. It grows mostly in the most southern wine area called Bassa Atesina which is warmed by Lake Garda.
Müller Thurgau is Gewürztraminer’s lighter flowery friend; it has less alcohol and more citrus blossom aromas. You can find Müller Thurgau also growing in Bassa Atesina, but in the highest elevation vineyards – up to 4000 feet.
Unusual Red Wines from Alto Adige
Schiava You gotta try it
If you love a fruity light wine like Zinfandel then you should add Schiava to your repertoire. The wine is an explosion of strawberries, cotton candy with lemon candy tartness. If I were to compare it directly to Beaujolais, I’d say Schiava is what Beaujolais Nouveau wishes it were: light and fruity… always a good time.
Schiava doesn’t have the awkward earthy flavors that a lot of European wines have. It’s a great gateway drug to old world wines, but a quirky enough varietal for your wine geek friends.
A test of time, Lagrein is an ancient varietal that’s been mentioned as early as the 1500’s (yep, it’s older than Cabernet Sauvignon). With only about 1,100 acres in Alto Adige –and perhaps the world– Lagrein is relatively hard to find. Dark fruit and earthy pepper notes with relatively high tannin and acidity make Lagrein a great wine to cellar a long time. Don’t expect a rush of fruit, we find it tastes similar to French Syrah and Italian Barbera.