Nestled in northern Italy, at the “boot’s” upper cuff, right below the Austrian and Swiss borders, lies the Italian wine region Trentino-Alto Adige. Trentino-Alto Adige is one of the three northeastern regions of Italy. The other two regions are Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto. The three regions combined are called Tre Venezie, which means Three Venices. According to Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible, Tre Venezie is known for making “Italy’s most stylish, highest quality white wines, including some of the raciest sparkling wines,…[along with] a slew of fascinating reds.”
This area has a heavy Austrian influence. The climate is alpine — cold to frigid long winters, cool winds and mild summers. Yet, many Trentino wines are grown near Bolzano, a valley found in the northern part of this area, surprisingly boasting some of Italy’s warmest weather. In addition to a warm wind that blows regularly through this area, Bolzano’s sandy, gravelly soil traps heat, making ideal growing conditions for wine.
Given the overall somewhat harsher conditions in Trentino-Alto Adige, however, it is surprising how many native grape varietals grow in different parts of this region. It’s even more surprising given how many of these varietals are susceptible to the myriad rots and fungi prevalent in colder, wetter growing regions.
It was hard to choose two wines to highlight from Trentino-Alto Adige, but I settled on two, which while used as blending wines, are often found as stand-alone varietals.
Trentino-Alto Adige Wines: Nosiola
Nosiola is described as light-bodied and aromatic, with a hint of hazelnuts, which can also give it a slightly bitter taste. Balancing notes include stone fruits (peach, apricot), with a layer of citrus. When pairing this wine, think Alpine lake: choose fresh water fish with citrus chutney, or egg noodles with cheese.
Nosiola is perhaps more renowned as the grape from which Vin Santo, or “holy wine,” is made. Nosiola grapes are dried out (historically on straw mats) prior to fermenting. This additional drying time concentrates the sugar content. Sometimes wine makers will take advantage of some noble rot present to augment the flavors. It is then aged for at least three years, usually in oak, resulting in more intense, sweet, citrusy flavors. Dessert would be a great time to enjoy Nosiola Vin Santo.
Trentino-Alto Adige Wines: Lagrein
Lagrein, our spotlighted red, is related to the Pinot Noir and Syrah, and can be found in two styles, light (“Kretzer” or “rosato”) or dark (“dunkel” or “scura”). It is not unusual to find wine labels in both German and Italian. Historically, Lagrein was an aggressively acidic wine, tamed over the years by adjusting production methods. Today’s Lagrein is full-bodied and spritely with cherry and berry notes. As for pairing, think more Austria and less Italy. As we find repeatedly, local wines pair best with local fare, so cheeses, pork and potatoes, and other more typically Tyrolean dishes like Spätzle (thick egg noodles) are good choices for Lagrein.
I got to try Vin Santo in Italy, and it was delicious. I haven’t gotten to try Lagrein yet. If you have, please share your experiences. Thanks!