Our last buying trip covered much of northern Italy including Barolo, Barbaresco, Valpolicella, Prosecco, Alto Adige and Friuli. I have fortunately been to Piedmont several times and to me, it is a breathtaking region in terms of viticultural beauty with its openly perched villages whose vines flow down towards the valley floor.
But this last trip, we branched out to other regions. We have long believed that Italy makes some of the world’s greatest wines and are hoping to integrate a few more domaines into our portfolio. So with this in mind, we decided to step outside the box and pursue several leads in other regions. Alto Adige was our first stop.
Many people – including us – were a bit hazy on where Alto Adige actually is. I had confused it with the Valle d’Aosta, the most northwest corner of Italy that is at the core of the Alps and which borders Switzerland and Savoie, France. Alto Adige is actually over 400 kilometers away due north of Lake Garda towards the Austrian border. It is still mountainous, however, with The Dolomites, a southern section of the Alps, calling it home. It is incredibly beautiful and is a haven for hikers, skiers, mountain climbers and hang gliders.
The main thing that sets it apart from the rest of Italy is its Germanic soul. Its original name (and the one that Italian’s call it) is Südtirol (“˜southern Tyrol’ aka southern Austria). The region was part of Austria-Hungary (and its predecessor, the Austrian Empire) from 1389 until it was annexed to Italy in 1919. And it cannot be more different from its more southern, western and eastern neighbours. Alpine cottages and castles dot the hillsides while German is the language of choice (many locals speak Italian with a teutonic accent) and even a few speak Ladin, a local language similar to Swiss Romansh. The food is clearly Germanic in origin – from the bretzel dinner rolls to the central European spices. Yet, it still retains an Italian twist with its plates of pasta, balls of mozzarella and salamis.
The other main difference is its wines; they are some of the freshest of Italy. Though the region get lots of sunlight, its cool evening mountain air retains the wine’s crisp acidity and allows the alcohol levels to remain moderate (12.5%-13.5%). Unbeknownst to many, this is also the home of Gewürtztraminer, though their style tends to be drier and less heavy than Alsacian counterparts. Also planted are other native varieties like Schiava and Lagrein (both red) with Riesling closer to the Austrian border.
French varieties were imported in the 19th century so many wineries have old vines and many estates can produce some impressive Pinots, Cabernet/Merlot blends and Sauvignon Blancs that can easily rival their French counterparts. In the latest Decanter, Michael Broadbent, after tasting a disappointing Sauvignon Blanc from Tuscany, wrote that Sauvignon should be left to the French. He has obviously never tasted any wines from here (or Friuli for that matter). They are really delicious and unique and what I like to call “˜crunchy’ – like its fruit was just picked.
Yet the quality goes beyond the wines. Their wineries tend to be state-of-the-art with an artistic edge yet which are incredibly ecological; its close border to Austria has had a stylish impact on Südtirol. However, we also saw things that we have never seen anywhere else. Living in such a beautiful, natural area has had a tremendous impact on how they view themselves in the grander scheme of things.
We were just delighted by what we tasted, breathed and ate. The people were the kindest we experienced during our trip (following Piedmont, this is a big statement). Our favourite winery was Manincor, a beautiful property, a stone’s throw from Lake Caldaro.
We will be doing an offer on their delicious, fresh and mineral wines in the early autumn. Prost!