The Alto Adige.
I’m very familiar with this region of Italy as I spent large chunks of my childhood in the neighboring province of Trentino. This is a land defined by contrasts: flat valley floors and steep mountainsides, a cosmopolitan urban population and secluded valleys harboring farmsteads much unchanged for centuries, a Sud-Tyrolian patrimony with a modern Italian love of food, wine and life.
It’s a beautiful area as well, surrounded by stunning vistas and quaint towns, great expanses of unspoiled nature and significant stretches of fabulous vineyards, though the vineyards are going through a bit of a change. Pergolas are being replaced with Guyot and varieties are finding new homes, better homes in fact. That is one of the reasons why I am so excited about the wines from the Alto Adige and a very important one for why you should take a look, or a second look, at the wines from this region.
It’s not like this is an emerging region, it’s a very historic wine-producing region. Heck, the name Gewürztraminer even comes from the town of Tramin in the Adige Valley. Gewürztraminer is literally translated as “spicy of Tramin,” and while the grape most likely did not originate there, it is significant that its name was born there. This is an historic marker dating back over 1000 years, so the Alto Adige is one of the world’s historic wine growing regions. And yet, it doesn’t quite get the respect it deserves.
The easy answer why is hoarding. Being just south of the Brenner Pass, Italy’s main commercial connection with Austria and Germany, the wineries of the Alto Adige have long been suppliers of fine wines to their northern neighbors. Factor in the beauty of the region, the common language (German is the lingua franca of the Alto Adige), and the fact that until fairly recently, the Italian Lira made these wines quite inexpensive and great values, and it’s no surprise that the wineries of the Alto Adige were able to build robust and durable markets for their wines.
Of course, some things have changed. A common currency and shifting attitudes towards drinking have put some pressure on most wineries in Europe, and the Alto Adige is no different. Efforts had to be made to shift from a wine industry built for large volumes to one more focused on high quality. In truth, this was fairly easy for the region. The number of fabulous vineyards is surprising for such a small region, and is due primarily to the complex geology and topography of the region.
It’s been about three decades since this move towards quality began and we are now in its third phase as far as I can tell. The first phase entailed simply reducing yields and working with the best vineyards to produce wine, returning the marginal lands to apple farming, for example. The second phase dealt with stepping fully into the modern era in both the cellar and the vineyards. This third phase includes working to identify the truly grand terroirs of the region and making sure the right vines are planted in the right places.