Alto Adige is a magical place to grow wines grapes. Located in northern Italy, between the regions of Lombardy to the west and Veneto to the east, Alto Adige is a cool climate area that is perfect for many white varietals as well as a few red ones.
Also known as Südtirol (South Tyrol, this is a bi-lingual area where signs are written in Italian and German), Alto Adige is the northern half of the region known as Trentino-Alto Adige. While Trentino is also a cooler area, with some excellent sparkling wines (especially those labeled as Trento DOC), Alto Adige is known more for Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon and Gewürztraminer for white wines and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir), Lagrein and Schiava for reds.
What each of these Alto Adige wines displays is lively, sometimes bracing acidity, which helps preserve freshness, as well as aging potential. Even the humble Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige is often a wine of greater complexity than from many other territories in Italy.
I recently tasted a variety of wines from Alto Adige. Let’s go through several of the most representative offerings from this spectacularly beautiful land.
Pinot Bianco – Pinot Bianco is the everyday workhorse variety of Alto Adige. It’s consumed for lunches and dinners at dining rooms throughout the area, and no wonder, given its freshness, acidity and uncomplicated manner.
St. Michael-Eppan Pinot Bianco “Schulthauser” 2020 -Medium-deep yellow; aromas of green and red apple and magnolia. Medium-bodied with very good concentration and persistence, good acidity and excellent typicity. Notable freshness. Enjoy over the next 2-4 years. (90)
Castelfelder Pinot Bianco “Vom Stein” 2022 – Medium-deep yellow; aromas of red apple, quince and yellow flowers. Medium-full with ripe, bright fruit, very good acidity, notable persistence and a beautifully balanced finish with distinct sapidity. Pair with pork or lake or river fish and enjoy over the next 3-4 years. (91)
Pinot Grigio – While not the most famous varietal in Alto Adige, most versions produced here are a step or two above those from many other areas in Italy; again thanks to the cool temperatures as well as the hillside plantings.
Kaltern Pinot Grigio “Soll” 2022 – Bright, medium yellow; delicate aromas of pear, apple and elderflowers. Medium-bodied, this is straightforward with good acidity, a clean, dry finish and nice harmony. This lacks complexity, but it a pleasant quaffer. Enjoy over the next 1-2 years. (88)
Eisacktal Pinot Grigio 2022 (Valle Isarco DOC) – Bright, delicate yellow; lively aromas of just picked red apples along with hints of jasmine and elderflowers. Medium-bodied, this is a bit light on the palate, but there is notable varietal purity and a nicely balanced finish with vibrant acidity. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years. (88)
Kurtasch Pinot Grigio 2021 – Aromas of apples, pear and yellow flowers. Medium-bodied, this has very good structure, lively acidity and a lengthy finish. Enjoy over the next 2-4 years. (89)
Sauvignon – Throughout much of Italy, Sauvignon Blanc is known merely as Sauvignon. Alto Adige, along with the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, is home to most of the finest examples of Italian Sauvignon, as the cool climate here yields intensely flavored examples of this wine.
Elena Walch Sauvignon 2022 – Pale yellow, aromas of freshly cut hay, bell pepper and yellow pepper. Medium-bodied with good concentration, very good acidity and a fruit-driven finish with notes of grass and green vegetables. Very nice typicity, this is a well-made, understated Sauvignon. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years. (89)
Kornell Sauvignon “Cosmas” 2022 – Bright, medium deep yellow; aromas of bell pepper, freshy cut hay and a hint of asparagus. Medium full with very good concentration. There is good acidity, impressive varietal character and a nicely balanced finish with very good persistence; enjoy over the next 3-5 years. (91)
Colterenzio Sauvignon Prail 2022 – Bright, medium deep yellow; aromas of pear, basil and hawthorn, and a hint of chalk. Medium-full with a rich mid-palate, very good acidity, notable persistence and outstanding varietal purity. Great complexity: the finish offers delicate notes of grapefruit, orange pulp and sage. Enjoy over the next 4-6 years. (93)
Gewürztraminer – Along with Sauvignon, this is the essential white varietal of Alto Adige. The grape’s name is a key to understanding this wine, as the word gewürz means “spicy,” while the word Trainer refers to the town of Trainer in the region, where several of the finest versions of this wine are produced. Yes, there are spicy notes, but what one immediately notices are the exotic aromas of lychee, white and yellow roses and even lanolin in many of the most distinctive examples. Gewürztraminer is always mentioned around Thanksgiving as an ideal pairing with turkey, but it is also a great accompaniment to Thai and Oriental cuisine.
Hofstatter Gewürztraminer “Kolbenhof” 2019 – Bright yellow; classic aromas of lychee and white and yellow roses. Medium-full with beautiful texture, there are delicate spice notes of ginger in the finish. Beautiful acidity and excellent varietal focus. Enjoy over the next 5-7 years. (92)
Cantina Tramin Gewürztraminer “Nussbaumer” 2021 – This wine, along with the Hofstatter wine mentioned above, is made from grapes sourced from a single vineyard in the commune of Tramin. Bright, medium-deep yellow; textbook aromas of lanolin, lychee, grapefruit and hints of apricot and chamomile. Medium-full, with very good to excellent concentration. Lively acidity, excellent persistence, very long finish with notes of ginger and honey. Outstanding harmony, superb varietal purity, wonderful complexity. Enjoy over the next 5-7 years, though it will probably drink well for a few additional years. The Mona Lisa of Alto Adige Gewürztraminers. (95)
Schiava – Also known as Vernatsch, Schiava is a charming and highly distinctive red wine that has modest tannins, distinctive red and black spice notes and very good acidity. Perfect for a hot summer’s day or anytime you don’t want a powerful red wine, the wine can be enjoyed slightly chilled, and is ideal with white meats, lighter red meats (especially pork) or salumi.
Kaltern Schiava 2021 – Beautiful medium deep garnet; aromas of cranberry, bing cherry and nutmeg. Medium-bodied, this has very good varietal character, medium-weight tannins, very good acidity and a nicely balanced finish with hints of fennel and basil. Enjoy over the next 2-4 years. (89)
Nals Magreid Schiava “Galea” 2021 – Bright, medium deep garnet; aromas of maraschino cherry, wild strawberry and notes of tobacco and oregano. Medium-bodied with good depth of fruit, very good acidity, modest tannins and impressive typicity. Straightforward, this is well made and enjoyable; drink over the next 2-4 years. (88)
Abbazia di Novacella Schiava 2022 – Inviting aromas of cranberry, cardamom, red poppies and a hint of pepper. Medium-bodied with very good freshness, lovely harmony, modest tannins and good acidity. The finish is a bit short, but this offers admirable charm. Enjoy over the next 2-4 years. (90)
St. Magdalener – A highly singular wine, St. Magdalener is produced in the quaint village of Santa Maddalena, and is primarily made from the Vernatsch varietal, with as much as up to 15% of Lagrein, a heartier and more tannic local varietal, potentially being included in the blend. Thus the wine is richer on the palate than a typical Vernatsch, and can have greater aging potential, although St. Magdalener is generally at its best upon release and up to five years of age. It is typically paired with salumi, younger cheeses and veal dishes.
Obermoser St. Magdalener Classico 2020 – Bright, medium deep garnet; aromas of strawberry, thyme, cardamom and a hint of nutmeg. Medium-bodied, there is excellent typicity, moderate tannins, very good acidity and persistence. Elegantly styled and very appealing, this is enjoyable now and will drink well for the next 3-4 years. (91)
Beautiful medium deep garnet; aromas of cranberry, bing cherry and nutmeg. Medium-bodied, this has very good varietal character, medium-weight tannins, very good acidity and a nicely balanced finish with hints of fennel and basil. Enjoy over the next 2-4 years. (89)