In preparation for my upcoming trip to Italy, I invite you to join me on my exploratory journey through the Italian wine regions! This week, the region of focus is Trentino-Alto Adige.
The Trentino-Alto Adige Region
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.”
The Trentino-Alto Adige region is an alpine region nestled at the southern tips of Austria and Switzerland. The region is actually a dual-part region, with many relatively isolated areas boasting quite varied traditions. The northern area, Alto Adige, is made up of smaller, family owned wineries. The primary language in Alto Adige is German. The southern Trentino area has larger wine cooperatives. Italian is the primary language there.
Trentino-Alto Adige Food
Trentino-Alto Adige’s cuisine reflects the Germanic influences of its neighbors. In fact, the word for their prize-winning ham is “Speck,” the German word for bacon and ham fat. Speck is served with traditional red cabbage in red wine and simmered in stews. Berry-filled pastry dishes, fruit-garnished poultry and non-pasta accompaniments are customary here. You will also find Hungarian, and eastern European influences—perfect warm goulashes to take the edge off dark, cold evenings, and hearty soups with bread dumplings. Cooks in the Trentino-Alto Adige region tend towards polentas of cornmeal or buckwheat over the traditional Italian pastas.
Trentino-Alto Adige Wines
This region offers a large number of international and indigenous grape varieties. The most important white wine is Chardonnay, which comes in a wide range of styles, including sparkling (Chardonnay is used to make dry Spumante). Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon Blanc are also important wines. As far as indigenous whites are concerned, the two most worth noting are Traminer and Vino Santo. Traminer is related to the better-known Gewurztraminer. It is floral and flavorful yet very light. Vino Santo is a beautiful amber-colored dessert wine made by leaving nosiola grapes on trays to dry, which increases the sugar concentration.
Even though Trentino-Alto Adige is known for its white wines, the region actually produces more red wine than white. Leading international red varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The leading indigenous red variety is Teroldego (pronounced tr AHL duh go), a spicy, tannic wine that many feel bears a resemblance to Zinfandel but is actually related to Syrah. Gary Vaynerchuk does a brilliant five-minute piece on Teroldego that I highly recommend checking out.
Interestingly, Trentino-Alto Adige produces less than 1% of the national output of wine. However, it produces 10% of Italy’s grappa! Grappa is a heavily fermented, high alcohol drink made from wine grape residuals (mostly seeds and skins). Grappa is very popular in Italy, but it is not for the faint of heart ☺
Food and wine pairing is an adventure that is always new, surprising and educational! I would love to hear about your experiences with wines from Trentino-Alto Adige.