Hugging the northernmost corner of Italy and surrounded by the snow-capped Alps lies the famous winemaking region Trentino-Alto Adige. Trentino-Alto Adige might be one of Italy’s smallest wine-growing regions, however, it is one of the most multifarious due to its complex yet beautiful terrain. Trentino-Alto Adige shares its northern border with Austria, setting its cuisine, culture, and native grapes apart from the rest of Italy. The region is composed of two provinces, Trentino and Alto-Adige, which have very involved geopolitical histories.
Alto-Adige is closest to the Austrian border (the northernmost region of the two), and is also known as the Province of Bolzano (South Tyrol in English). Up until World War I, Alto-Adige was ruled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which is why 69% of the population’s primary language is still German. In 1919 Italy seized the land as well as its grapes, making Alto-Adige’s viticulture very unique.
Trentino (Trento) is located just south of Alto-Adige and is divided by the Adige River. The Adige River forms glacial valleys in both regions and used to be the main passageway between Italy and the rest of Europe. Grapes have been grown in both provinces since 500 B.C.
THE TERROIR OF TRENTINO ALTO-ADIGE
The vineyards that settle on the slopes coupled with the nearly perfect growing climate offer no room for intervention. This has helped Trentino-Alto Adige produce some of the best sustainable and biodynamic wines in all of Italy.
Wine success in an alpine area is unexpected, which is why Trentino Alto-Adige’s climate plays a key role in the cultivation of vines. The region sees over 300 days of sunshine averaging an annual temperature of 54 degrees F. during summertime. The vineyard dotted slopes are quickly warmed by the region’s valleys. The snow-covered Dolomites not only serve as a beautiful backdrop but also protect the vineyards from the harsh winds and nasty weather. This ensures a unique terroir and crisp, pure, and exciting wine flavors, unexpected from an alpine region.
The terroir is a mix of dolomitic rock, fluvial and alluvial deposits with free-draining, phosphorus-rich soil. In the Bolzano (Adige) Basin the soil has more volcanic soil with gray-like slate, heavy in nutrients.
THE WHITE WINES OF TRENTINO-ALTO ADIGE
Nosiola - A white grape variety that can be found in the Valle dei Laghi in the Trentino region. This produces a light-bodied dry white with notes of citrus, apricot, and peach flavors as well as secondary notes of hazelnut.
Gewürztraminer - A slightly sweet and aromatic white wine indigenous to Alto Adige. It grows in the southern area where the vineyards can be warmed by Lake Garda. The aromas consist of lychee, ginger, and red grapefruit and on the palate notes of pineapple, lychee, peach, and apricot.
Riesling - Wines made from Riesling grapes can range in color from pale straw to deep yellow. This native German grape variety has intense aromas of orchard stone fruits, citrus, and white flowers. The wine has fresh acidity and wonderfully elegant flavors of pineapple, apricot, and lemon.
Chardonnay - This popular grape variety is known for its climatic adaptability and its green-skinned grapes. Chardonnay grown in cooler climates, such as Alto Adige, have more crisp acidity and mineral characteristics due to the cool, yet protected climates on the region’s slopes.
Pinot Blanc (Bianco) - Pinot Blanc is a semi-dry (mildly sweet) white wine that is often compared to the beloved Chardonnay. It’s often used when making dessert wines, both sparkling and still. It is medium to full-bodied, has high acidity, and includes flavors of melon, pear, apricot, and some mineral notes.
THE RED WINES OF TRENTINO-ALTO ADIGE
Marzemino - This has been a well-known grape variety in northeastern Italy since the 1600s and is thought to have been native to the area. The wine has a medium ruby color with flavors of sour cherry, strawberry, and notes of leather.
Lagrein - This red grape variety is a sibling of Marzemino and an ancient varietal that has been grown since the 1500s. This is an incredibly rare wine with about 1,100 acres in Alto Adige. Lagrein wines are age-worthy, with strong tannins and high acidity. It has notes of blackberry, blueberry, and earth.
Teroldego - This is a deeply pigmented red grape grown in the Trentino region. It produces a medium-bodied wine with strong tannins and flavors of boysenberries, mulberries, and blackberries. It also has distinguishable notes of earth and forest, such as wood, grass, and bitter herbs.
Schiava - This Alto Adige native has also been called “the true cotton candy wine” for its famous notes of bubblegum and cotton candy. This is a light-bodied red wine that smells of cotton candy, strawberry, and bubblegum. Because this variety grows in a cool climate, the alcohol levels are lighter. The flavor on the palate is understated to mitigate the sweetness on the nose.
Rossara - This wine is nearly extinct and worth mentioning. This red grape variety is grown in the Campo Rotaliano, between the Adige and Noce Rivers. Tasting notes include dark red fruit and pepper.
Enantio (Lambrusco a Foglia Frastagliata) - Enantio, a grape varietal grown in the Trentino region, is made into still or sparkling red wines. It has characteristics of deep ruby red color, high acidity, and tasting notes of red fruits, clove, and cinnamon.
THE CUISINE OF TRENTINO-ALTO ADIGE
The two provinces, Trentino and Alto Adige, have different cultural influences and, thus, varying gastronomical staples and traditions. Because Alto Adige borders Austria, the influence of central European/German food is demonstrated in their ingredients. Trentino has touches of those influences, however, their well-known dishes are different and were deemed “poor cuisine.”
South Tyrolean bretzels are staple antipasti in Alto Adige. Coming from Germany, these Bretzels are a classic grain pretzel typically enjoyed with a refreshing beer.
A traditional first course in Trentino is the canederli. Canederli are Trentino’s take on Italy’s popular gnocchi. They are bread dumplings made with speck, pancetta or other cold cuts. Strangolapreti is another traditional first course. These are gnocchi made with spinach and served with Parmigiano Reggiano and onion flavored butter.
As for the second course, Tyrolean goulash is a beloved typical Hungarian dish prepared throughout Alto Adige. Tyrolean goulash is a beef stew served with warming spices like paprika and cumin and is finished with a hearty serving of polenta. Smacafam is a flavorful cake enjoyed mainly in Trentino. The dough is made up of half white flour and half buckwheat flour and flavored with local sausages and smoked bacon.
To finish a typical Trentino-Alto Adige meal, the locals indulge in Kaiserschmarren. This is a crepe-like pancake seasoned with blueberry jam.