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!
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Just to improve the precision:
The Trentino-Alto Adige region is made of two parts (quite distinct in terms of wine production as well): Trentino, that means the area close to the city of Trento; and Alto Adige, that means the valleys of the highest (towards the mountains) course of the river Adige. Bolzano is the capital of the Alto Adige part, so it is a city, not a valley.
There are not so many fungus diseases problems as one might think, just because of the winds coming from the Alps, drying the bunches after rain.
Alto Adige is a bi-language province (at school both German and Italian are taught children). So producers can choose which language to use on the label, even both.
Nosiola and Lagrein are hardly found in blends,m much more commonly as varietals. Nosiola is a Trentino specialty, while Lagrein is an Alto Adige specialty.
Regarding what You call “Vin Santo”, it’s the classical tricky question asked during a sommelier exam to check if You have really studied 😉 🙂 The sweet wine made with Nosiola is called VINO SANTO, and it is DISTINCT from the Vin Santo (more commonly written Vinsanto) made mainly in Tuscany with grapes like Trebbiano Toscano, Malvasia Bianca Toscana, etc., or Sangiovese, Canaiolo or even Aleatico for the red (“Occhio di Pernice”) version. Another difference is that the Vino Santo from Trentino is practically always sweet, while the Vinsanto from Tuscany can even be made in an oxidative style. The production of Vino Santo is tiny, just a handful of producers make that, and it can be delicious.
I haven’t ever heard of relation between Lagrein and Pinot Noir and Syrah. It can smell of black fruits, like PN, but it is more simple in flavours and much more coloured. In case, in organolectic terms it is more similar to the Syrah, even if for Lagrein spiciness becomes smokiness (no Syrah black pepper flavors), and it is never as balsamic as a Syrah can be. Anyway Lagrein can be REALLY good. The indication “Kretzer” stands for the Rosé wines.
Riccardo, thank you so much for the additional information. I really appreciate it. I covered some of what you talked about in my previous article on Trentino-Alto Adige.https://www.bettyswinemusings.com/pairing-italian-regional-cuisines-and-wines-%E2%80%93-trentino-alto-adige. In this most recent article, I focused more exclusively on the two grapes. I especially love your clarification on Vin Santo. The Vin Santo I know and love is from Tuscany, not from Trentino-Alto Adige. Your explanation gives me a much better understanding. So much to learn about Italian wine!!!