Nestled between Austria and Switzerland, Alto Adige’s diverse climate and vineyard elevations create a variety of terroirs. With vineyards planted all along the rising hillsides, winemakers are able to find the perfect zone in which to produce a range of exceptional red wines. The combination of cool Alpine breezes, heat from over 300 days of sunshine per year, and wide day-night temperature swings results in perfectly ripened grapes that produce elegant, aromatic wines that speak of their mountain origins while expressing true varietal character.
As the weather turns cooler, look for three reds from Alto Adige: Schiava, a light red, juicy wine with lively acidity; Lagrein, a velvety, medium-bodied red with flavors of fresh cherries and violets; and Pinot Nero (or Pinot Noir), a well-structured wine with notes of dark berries and spice.
While we might think of autumn as the time to return to reds, the offerings from the Alto Adige are ready any time you are. They will bring you the bright flavors of the sunny slopes of the Italian Alps, so be sure to enjoy them year round!
Schiava – Light, fresh and fruity
Schiava, meaning “little slave” (and locally known as Vernatsch to the region’s German speaking citizens), is Alto Adige’s most widely planted grape variety (2,859 acres) and accounts for 22 percent of all vineyard plantings. First grown in the Middle Ages and now firmly entrenched throughout the region, Schiava is almost exclusively trained on pergola trellises. The grape prefers alluvial and gravel soils and produces a fresh, fruity wine, low in tannins with moderate alcohol—the ideal lunchtime or aperitivo wine. Alto Adige wines labeled “Santa Maddalena” or “St. Magdalener” are blends enriched with a dollop of Lagrein to make them fuller in body than the 100 percent Schiava bottlings. As you travel up the Adige Valley from the warmer climate of Lago di Caldaro towards Merano, you can see the wines change from a softer style to one that shows off Schiava’s spicier side.
Lagrein – Hearty, robust and spicy
Just over 1,000 acres of Alto Adige’s signature red grape, Lagrein, are planted in Alto Adige. This indigenous variety produces wines with aromas and flavors of plums, fresh cherries and violets, along with soft acidity and silky tannins. Lagrein performs best in warmer, lower elevation vineyards, especially around the region’s capital city of Bolzano, whose soils are composed of sand, gravel and porphyry. Lagrein labeled “Riserva” has generally been aged for longer periods in small oak barrels and is both more structured and spicier than wines aged in large oak casks. A rosé version of the grape is also made, known as “Lagrein Kretzer” or “Lagrein Rosato.”
Pinot Nero – Elegant, complex and refined
While known as an international variety, Pinot Nero has been cultivated in Alto Adige since the middle of 19th century. The grape performs best in medium elevation vineyards with chalky, gravelly soils, which naturally limits the acreage available for prime Pinot Nero. The vines now stand at about 850 acres or a mere 7 percent of the vineyards in the region. Wines from the finest sites evoke their Burgundian cousins with earthy berry flavors, delicate tannins and minerality. Classic versions are best enjoyed within two to three years of bottling while single vineyard wines can be aged up to 10 years.