It's not just the mountains that reach heady heights in north-eastern Italy – the local wines from terraced lands are also worth exploring, writes Michèle Shah. Read her Trentino-Alto Adige travel guide here.
Planted area: 13,137ha
Main grapes: White: Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco, Riesling, Müller- Thurgau, Moscato, Sylvaner, Riesling, Gewürztraminer Red: Lagrein, Teroldego, Marzemino, Schiava, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc
Production: 958,000 hectolitres a year: 55% red, 45% white
The soaring peaks of the Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage site, rise to more than 3,000m and feature breathtaking vertical walls, sheer cliffs and deep, long valleys. No surprise, then, that this majestic mountain range is a popular attraction for skiing in winter and alpine trekking in summer. But even if you’re not the outdoors type, the region is worth a visit for its wonderful food and wine alone.
There are three Michelin-starred restaurants, all within a 15km radius, each annexed to gemütlich (cosy) hotels, plus spectacular vineyards producing outstanding mountain wines.
Situated in northeastern Italy, the Dolomites are easily reached from the city of Bolzano in the region of Trentino-Alto Adige. Trentino (whose capital is Trento) and Alto Adige (also known as Südtirol or South Tyrol and whose capital is Bolzano) border Austria. The region was annexed to Italy in 1919, after World War I, but the Austrian/German influences are many, not least its range of fragrant white wines and German-accented syllables.
Both Trentino and Alto Adige produce notable amounts of Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as Pinot Bianco and Riesling. The more aromatic Müller-Thurgau, Moscato, Sylvaner and Gewürztraminer (which is said to take its name from the Alto Adige village of Tramin) can be enticingly perfumed and unexpectedly ageworthy.
Production in Alto Adige comes mainly from small, family-owned estates that sell their wines locally with limited exports to Germany and Austria. By comparison, Trentino counts on a large number of growers, members of large cooperatives, such as Cavit and Mezzacorona. These popular wines have found their niche, both in Italy and abroad, among wine drinkers who look for good and affordable wines for daily enjoyment.
Exploring Alto Adige
Alto Adige is divided by the Adige and Isarco Rivers, with vineyards dotted around the banks of the two valleys, rising from 200m to 1,000m into the hills. Bolzano to Trento is an easy 60km drive, and is well signposted with good hotels, restaurants and excellent wineries on the way.
If you are a keen skier, take a few days off to hit the slopes at San Cassiano, which is a picturesque 70km drive northeast of Bolzano. Afterwards, as you descend from the Dolomites, make your first stop at Abbazia di Novacella (kloster-neustift.it/en/wine-cellar/wine-cellar.html), one of the most northerly vineyards in Italy. This 12th-century Augustinian Abbey, which is a fascinating mix of vineyards and monastery, produces classy Sylvaner, Riesling and Gewürztraminer, with zesty acidity due to the altitude of the vines at 870m.
Cooperatives in Trentino-Alto Adige date as far back as the Hapsburg Empire and are common in this area, representing the lion’s share of production. Their success stems from the need to create an effective economic system for the region’s fragmented farming industry, including viticulture – the average grape grower here owns little more than 1ha, and most vines rise up the mountainsides in spectacular, steep-terraced vineyards, some still using the pergola system.
Cantina Terlano (kellerei-terlan.com), a cooperative founded in 1893 just above Bolzano at Terlan, is one of the best expressions of ‘heroic vineyards’ in Alto Adige, producing exquisite white wines, in particular Pinot Blanc from the terraced Vorberg vineyards. Cantina Caldaro (kellereikaltern.com), another model cooperative with vineyards overlooking Lake Caldaro, is the perfect place to sample the region’s local red varieties such as Lagrein, a deep garnet red with round soft tannins, a lighter Schiava, or the Sta Maddalena, which is 90% Schiava and 10% Lagrein. In the area of Lake Caldaro you will find Count Michael Graf Goéss-Enzenberg’s ‘eco-sensitive’ Manincor winery (manincor.com), which produces excellent Pinot Noir, Moscato Giallo and Moscato Rosa.
A short drive south brings you to the village of Magré and Alois Lageder’s picturesque Löwengang winery (aloislageder.eu), built in 1995 to strict environmental and ecological criteria. Here you can relax at Vineria Paradeis, on the old village square, with a glass of wine and a light meal.
Between Caldaro and Magré be sure to visit Martin Foradori’s Hofstätter (hofstatter.com), one of Alto Adige’s historic estates established in 1907 in Tramin (also known as Termeno). Taste his zesty aromatic Gewürztraminer, his majestic single- vineyard Pinot Noir Barthenau Vigna San Urbano and his local Lagrein.
Bolzano is one of Alto Adige’s top areas for red wines. The surrounding mountains create a perfect microclimate, characterised by warm summers protecting the vines and giving good ripeness.
As you reach Trentino, the wineries Endrizzi (endrizzi.it) at San Michele all’Adige and Elisabetta Foradori’s (elisabettaforadori.com) biodynamic estate at Mezzolombardo, are a good introduction to the area’s distinctive red grape, the indigenous Teroldego, which has a deep granite hue alongside its soft tannins. Trentino, which pioneered sparkling winemaking by the classic method early in the century, has retained its leading position and these sparklers are now grouped under the Trento DOC appellation. Predominantly Chardonnay- based, the extensive amount of this grape in the local vineyards reflects the importance of this category. Pay a visit to Ferrari (cantineferrari.it), one of the oldest sparkling estates, and one of Italy’s premium sparkling wines.
South of Trento, two very different estates are notable for the quality of their wines. The first, near Volano, is home to Eugenio Rosi, a controversial yet authentic producer who works with the indigenous red grape Marzemino. Slightly further south, near Avis, is the San Leonardo estate (sanleonardo.it), home to one of northern Italy’s most famous Bordeaux-style blends.
Before visiting any of these vineyards, telephone or email first, just to check they are open. If they’re closed, it’s still worth the drive – the views are spectacular and you’ll be staggered by the beauty of the vineyards.
How to get there
There are several options: fly direct to Bolzano and hire a car; fly to Verona, hire a car and drive to Trento, 98km north; or fly Ryanair to Treviso, near Venice, hire a car and drive 134km to Trento.
Written by Michèle Shah