Andy Mossack uncovers Italy’s German-speaking Alto Adige region and discovers the wines are just as cool as the climate.
Hidden away in the foothills of the Dolomites lie Europe’s highest vineyards. But at 1,100 m above sea level, it’s not just the air that’s rarefied. The Alto Adige DOC may be one of Italy’s smallest wine regions but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in quality and taste.
Let’s face it, anything that grows at altitude has to be hardy to flourish. There are more than a few stiff breezes to contend with and winters can be harsh, but these vineyards enjoy plenty of sunshine too, lying on steep south-east and south-west facing slopes literally bursting with rich soil types.
The resulting grape varieties, of which there are over twenty, produce some exceptional white and red wines; crisp whites such as Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Grigio and elegant, light-bodied reds such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet and Merlot.
There’s no doubting Italy’s wine-making pedigree, after all, who can resist a fine Barolo or decadent Chianti. But to discover a wine region such as Alto Adige, so far under the radar yet producing outstanding wines, is to me akin to a wine epiphany.
Italy’s far northern region of Trento, or Trento-Südtirol in German, is one of five autonomous regions of Italy. As such, it enjoys a degree of independence from the Italian state particularly with its language, its culture and local governance. It’s clearly revelling in this freedom, and as far as winegrowing is concerned, attaining its DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) status in 1975 which is more than just a guarantee of location. It’s a promise of quality and taste.
Images of Alto Adige vineyards (c) Florian Andergassen.
Three examples of Alto Adige wines
Having given the Alto Adige region such an impressive build-up, here are three examples of its excellent wines I have enjoyed drinking recently.
Soma Merlot Cabernet 2017
Coming from one of the oldest cooperatives in Alto Adige, the Kurtatsch winery was formed in 1900 and made up of 190 families. Generations of wine growing expertise bring a blend of 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon to your glass. A delightfully smooth aromatic ruby-red wine that tastes of dark berries courtesy of the greater percentage of Merlot but has a wonderful depth to it that makes it such a lovely wine to enjoy. I found it particularly fetching paired with a chunk or three of my 85% dark chocolate stash, but it is one of those wines that works perfectly with or without food.
Awarded 92/100 points I Vini di Veronelli
Soma Merlot Cabernet 2017 available from Independent Wine £25.74. Free delivery on all orders throughout mainland UK.
Pinot Noir Rolhüt 2019
The family-owned Peter Zemmer winery has been producing wines on the lower slopes of Alto Adige since 1928. Half of this Pinot Noir is aged over months in large barrels of French oak, and the remainder is aged in small casks of French oak. The combined wine is then aged in the bottle for a further six months before being distributed. Another smooth ruby-red wine velvety and elegant with notes of raspberry and cherry. This wine would likely develop even further in the bottle over the next four years, but was an excellent balanced experience for me now.
Bronze Medal winner at Decanter World Wine Awards 2020 and 92 points – James Suckling.
Pinot Noir Rolhüt 2019 available from Independent Wine £18.24. Free delivery on all orders throughout mainland UK.
Another great wine from the Kurtatsch winery, a young white wine that thrives on the sunny high slopes of Alto Adige. Gewurztraminer is known for its golden hew and the bursting flavours of fresh lychees and passionfruit are undeniable. This proved to be a very enjoyable drink out on the terrace in the sunshine with a plate of blue cheese. It was, perhaps, a taste of bottled alpine freshness and I loved it.
Award: Vini Buoni d’Italia – La corona.
Gewurztraminer 2019 available from Independent Wine £17.93. Free delivery on all orders throughout mainland UK.
Alto Adige Fine Wine Zoom Wine Tasting with Independent Wine
Perhaps the perfect Mother’s Day gift, Independent Wine is running one-hour Zoom tasting session to introduce the fine wines of Alto Adige. Priced at £99 each tasting pack includes three full-size (750ml) bottles of award-winning wine from the region.
There is also another wine tasting session on 12th March 6 pm on the noble reds of Piemonte.