Trentino-Alto Adige

Trento (Trent) is the administrative center of Trentino-Alto Adige, whose other province is Bolzano (Bozen). The region ranks 11th in size (13,607 square kilometers) and 16th in population (930,000).

In Trentino-Alto Adige, production of the numerous varietal wines is centered in two large DOC zones: Trentino in the south and Alto Adige or Südtirol, the province’s blanket appellation. The Alto Adige DOC takes in wines from distinct zones noted for class: Colli di Bolzano/Bozner Leiten, Meranese di Collina/Meraner, Santa Maddalena/St Magdalener, Terlano/Terlan, Valle d’Isarco/Eisacktal, and Val Venosta/Vinschgau.  Although experts agree that the Alpine climate favors grapes for perfumed white wines, the historical emphasis has been on reds, which account for nearly two-thirds of the region’s production. The dominant vine variety of Alto Adige is Schiava or Vernatsch, source of light, bright reds that flow north prodigiously to German-speaking countries. The most highly regarded of these is St Magdalener or Santa Maddalena, grown on the picturesque slopes overlooking Bolzano. The best known wine is Caldaro or Kalterersee, produced from vines around the pretty lake of that name at the rate of nearly 15 million bottles a year.

The ranks of roseate ruby wines from Schiava extend through the South Tyrol along the Adige river into Trentino and Veneto under the Valdadige or Etschtaler appellation. That applies to red and white wines of popular commercial standards. Other reds show greater class. Alto Adige’s native Lagrein and Trentino’s Teroldego stand with northern Italy’s most distinguished vines, making wines of singular personality.

Lagrein thrives on the gravelly plains along the Adige at Gries, a quarter of Bolzano where the wine achieves full, round, plus qualities with a bit of age. Santa Maddalena has a long-standing reputation as a refined light red. Teroldego, grown on the Rotaliano plain north of Trento, is an unusually attractive red when young, with capacity to age splendidly from good vintages. Trentino’s Marzemino makes a fresh, lively red for casual sipping.

In both provinces, increasing space has been devoted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which can reach impressive heights whether alone or in blends. The region also produces some of Italy’s finest rosés, the most impressive being Lagrein Kretzer. The sweet Moscato Rosa, with its gracefully flowery aroma, is a rare and prized dessert wine.

The growing demand for white wines has influenced growers to plant more of the international premium varieties. The heights are favorable to aromatic whites: Sylvaner, Veltliner, Gewürztraminer, Müller Thurgau and white Moscato. But the quality of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Grigio and Sauvignon from certain cellars can also stand with Italy’s finest. Trentino’s native Nosiola makes a a tasty dry white and is also the base of Vino Santo, an opulent dessert wine from the Valle dei Laghi north of Lake Garda.

Although the region’s white wines are sometimes considered light by international standards, the best of them have an unexpected propensity to age. Pinot Bianco, Riesling, Sylvaner and Müller Thurgau have been known to remain fresh and vital for a decade or more. But the emphasis remains on the popular Pinot Grigio and, increasingly, on Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer.

Trentino, which boasts Italy’s largest production of Chardonnay, is a leader with sparkling wines by the classical method, many of which qualify under the prestigious Trento DOC. Alto Adige has also stepped up sparkling wine production. Ultimately, producers in both provinces have been making whites of greater weight and complexity, in particular from Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Pinot Bianco and Gewürztraminer, whose name derives from the South Tyrolean village of Tramin.

Red wines have also taken on greater dimensions, notably in Lagrein and Teroldego and combinations of Cabernet and Merlot, but also with Pinot Nero. They are gradually enhancing the status of a region whose sterling record with DOC still hasn’t fully expressed the extraordinary quality potential.

Despite the traditional flow north to German-speaking countries, the wines of Trentino-Alto Adige, whites in particular, have been making steady progress in Italy and, recently, on distant markets, such as the United States and United Kingdom.