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The wines of South Tyrol

The wines of South Tyrol

by Marco Rossi 10 June 2016

Marco Rossi travels to the Dolomites in the very north of Italy to discover crisp wines full of mineral flavours and fresh aromas.

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We all have a journey, made in a particular stage of our life, that we remember forever. Ten years ago I would have thought visiting somewhere like Burgundy or Champagne would be my favourite ever trip. I never thought there’d be a day when it would be South Tyrol (also known as Alto Adige), but the region’s wine stays with you long after you’ve left.

A land illuminated with mountains, lakes, rivers and green valleys that run from 200 metres above sea level up to over 3,000, South Tyrol is home to vineyards, beautiful orchards, huge happy cattle and a people who have made the most of the land, with its ancient soul and terroir.

South Tyrol is a bit of Austria, a bit of Germany and a bit of Italy all put together, but at the same time it is totally unique; a pure and unpolluted world where typical alpine elegance is reflected in every single aspect of everyday life. Wines made in the Dolomites reflect the soul of the land – they are full-bodied and mineral with a hint of freshness and intense aroma. Some call South Tyrol the Italian Alsace, but that does no justice to the farmers who started making high quality wine in this area 3,000 years ago.

The moment I got off the train at Bolzano's railway station, the majesty of the mountain peaks and the light that continuously chases the shadow of the valleys kept me company until I reached my hotel room. On my journey I was surprised by the quality of the many specialised wine bars scattered around the city, and it became obvious that South Tyrol is a region very focused on wine. It is the Italian territory with the highest number of ‘Tre Bicchieri’ accolades from the publication Gambero Rosso (the most famous Italian wine award) in relation to the size of the vineyards.

Staying in South Tyrol

Fancy travelling to South Tyrol's wine country yourself? There are a number of hotels dotted throughout the region specialising in wines and vineyards. Visit Vinum Hotels to learn more.

Another thing that makes South Tyrol an important winemaking region is that ninety-nine percent of the wine produced in the region falls under a DOC, a percentage higher than any other Italian region. It is because of this that I’ve decided to introduce you to the wines of this area in a slightly different way than my previous articles. We will look at the seven production areas and then ‘taste’ the most important grape varieties, rather than just talk about DOCs and IGTs (there are no DOCGs in the region).

South Tyrol is a region traditionally focused on red wines but in just in a few years it has become famous for its whites too. The traditional grape varieties are more than enough to make us salivate – Schiava gives life to simple and elegant red wines which are very drinkable and not very tannic; Lagrein imparts power and pride to a wine and Gewurz, which comes from the charming town of Tramin, is beloved for its flavour. Now, I am not a great lover of aromatic grapes, especially when they are grown all around the world, but the results achieved with Gewurz are definitely worth trying. And we cannot forget the mysterious pink Moscato Rosa of Sicilian origin that is wisely safeguarded by one of the oldest wine farms in Europe, the Abbazia di Novacella.

The seven winemaking areas of South Tyrol

Bassa Atesina

(Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Schiava, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir)

The area that gave birth to Gewurz grapes, this is the largest wine region of South Tyrol and is also the area with the warmest climate thanks to the constant gentle winds coming from the south. Mountagna and Mazzon represent two very famous sites for wine but it is the town of Tramin and its Gewurz grapes that are truly unmatched.

Oltradige

(Schiava, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Gewurztraminer)

This is a sub-region quite famous for its castles and noble estates that arise around Appiano and Caldaro. The vineyards here run from 300 to 700 metres above sea level and they are well known for producing crisp white wines, but next to Appiano we found an incredible estate with a beautiful wine resort called Stroblhof. Working mainly with Pinot Noir, in just a few years it has reached the highest levels of winemaking.

South Tyrol
South Tyrol is a region of tall mountains and vast valleys
Vines
Vines have been cultivated in the area since 500 BC

Bolzano

(Schiava, Lagrein, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc)

This area lies in a very sunny valley with planting altitudes that reach more than 900 metres above sea level. Close to the capital are expressions of both old and modern grape varieties, Schiava and Lagrein, which are very popular internationally.

Valle dell'Adige

(Sauvignon, Pinot Blanc, Schiava, Lagrein)

Characterized by dry land, vineyards with very deep roots and a very ancient wine culture, here you can find three of the most important and famous communes known for making wines with minerality: Terlano, Adriano and Nals.

Merano

(Schiava, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc)

Historically a town famous from a touristic point of view, Merano was also able to establish itself for its wines, produced in sandy soils less than 800 metres above sea level. The DOC Alto Adige Merano is focused on the Schiava grape and its almost undetectable tannins, but the area has become even more famous for the incredible results achieved with Merlot and Pinot Noir.

Val D'Isarco

(Muller Thurgau, Sylvaner, Kerner, Gewurztraminer)

This area is the most northern wine region of Italy and also one of the oldest. It is home to the famous winery Abbazia di Novacella, which has been making wine expertly since 1142. The local soils create powerful and structured wines with a rare but extremely refined minerality and freshness.

Val Venosta

(Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Nero, Schiava)

This area is famous for its apple orchards and an extremely dry alpine climate. From its sandy soils, the wines take on very unique and elegant characteristics.

The seven wine varieties of South Tyrol

Gewurztraminer

  • Visual: vibrant yellow with golden shades when older
  • Bouquet: intense floral aroma with distinctive notes of roses, lychees and yellow tropical fruit
  • Taste: quite fresh on the palate without being too persistent, finishing with a slight mineral aftertaste
  • Pairing: fish, Asian cuisine, lobsters, prawns, foie gras

Must try:

Traditional: Cantina Tramin – Gewurztraminer Nusbaumer Alto Adige DOC

New wave: Pacherhof – Gewurztraminer Val D'Isarco DOC

Riesling

  • Visual: yellow with golden shades
  • Bouquet: peach and orange, becoming stronger when aged
  • Taste: really fresh on the palate with quite a long persistence, finishing with a strong mineral aftertaste and no sweetness as there is no residual sugar
  • Pairing: shellfish, oysters, pasta dishes and Japanese cuisine

Must try:

Traditional: Abbey of Neustift – Riesling Riserva Praepositus

New wave: Falkenstein – Riesling Val Venosta DOC

Moscato Rosa

  • Visual: vibrant pink with ruby shades
  • Bouquet: very floral, with a distinctive red rose aroma. Spices and small red fruits with hints of sweetness
  • Taste: quite fresh on the palate and really dense and persistent, finishing with a sweet aftertaste perfectly balanced by the minerality
  • Pairing: desserts such as strudel, crepes, cocoa and strawberry cakes

Must try:

Traditional: Franz Haas – Moscato Rosa Alto Adige DOC

New wave: Elena Walch – Moscato Rosa Alto Adige DOC

Red wines
Originally known for its light red wines, South Tyrol now makes world-class whites, too
Wine trails
There are dozens of wine trails throughout South Tyrol, where you can walk amongst the vines and taste local varieties

Pinot Noir

  • Visual: pale light ruby red with garnet shades, going slightly orange when older
  • Bouquet: fresh aromas of cherry, raspberry, strawberry and blueberry, with floral aromas like violet and rose. With ageing some intense spicy notes appear
  • Taste: fresh on the palate, really elegant and persistent with quite low tannins, finishing with a slight mineral aftertaste
  • Pairing: game, roasted meat, aged cheese

Must try:

Traditional: Brunnenhof – Pinot Nero Riserva Mazzon

New wave: Stroblhof – Pinot Nero Riserva Blauburgunder Alto Adige DOC

Blends (in this case, Lagrein, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot)

  • Visual: intense violet dark red with high coloring
  • Bouquet: evolved aromas of violet, tomato leaf, green pepper and intense spice
  • Taste: round and intense on the palate, really powerful and persistent, quite high tannins, finishing with a strong mineral aftertaste
  • Pairing: game, roasted meat, aged cheese

Must try:

New wave: Manincor – Reserve del Conte Alto Adige IGT (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Lagrein)

Schiava

  • Visual: light ruby red
  • Bouquet: fresh aromas of cherry, floral aromas like delicate rose. Quite simple and not that intense
  • Taste: Fresh on the palate, almost no tannins, finishing with a slightly bitter almond aftertaste
  • Pairing: Speck, fresh cheese, veal and South Tyrol's traditional dishes

Must try:

Traditional: Cantina Produttori San Paolo – Schiava Passion

New wave: Pardellerhof – Schiava Rosé

Lagrein

  • Visual: intense violet dark red
  • Bouquet: aromas of red berries, fresh cherry and violet
  • Taste: round and intense on the palate with silky, persistent tannins, finishing with a strong mineral aftertaste
  • Pairing: red meat, aged cheese

Must try:

Traditional: Tenute Kornell – Lagrein Riserva Staves

New wave: Winery Bozen – Lagrein Riserva Taber

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