Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Alto Adige (Südtirol) wine region

Fresh from a trip to Alto Adige, Master Sommelier Geoff Kruth led a Guild of Sommeliers tasting of the region's wines held at Khong (Miami Beach, FL) on Thursday, May 16th. I will report on the tasting in a future post but will first seek to establish the bona fides of the region.

Alto Adige (Upper Adige) is one of two provinces (the other being Trentino) which constitute the autonomous Trentino-Alto Adige region in north Italy. Trentino is the southern portion of the region and, centered around the city of Trento, is classically Italian. Alto Adige, centered around the city of Bolzano, is bordered to the north and east by Austria, to the west by Switzerland, to the southeast by Veneto, to the south by Trentino, and to the southwest by Lombardy. Alto Adige was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire prior to World War I and was known at that time as South Tyrol (Südtirol). At the end of the war Italy came into possession of Südtirol and changed the name to Alto Adige as a part of the integration process. Its Germanic roots are reflected in the fact that 70% of the population speak German today.

According to, Alto Adige has a mild Alpine-continental climate aided by the alps protecting the region from cold north winds and openness to Mediterranean influences in the south. The region experiences 300 days of sunshine per year -- a total of 1929 hours -- and average growing season temperatures of 18℃ can spike to 29℃ (84℉) in July. High average daytime temperatures in the summer make for significant diurnal temperature differentials. pegs the annual precipitation at 661 mm (26 in.) while stipulates that number at 811 mm (32 in.). The wettest month of the year is August with 90 mm (2.5 in.) of rain, snow, hail, and sleet falling on the region over a total of 9 days (

There is significant soil diversity in Alto Adige with quartz, mica, limestone, dolomite, sandy marl, volcanic porphyry, and weathered ancient rock resident in close proximity. A part of the vineyard area is located on the valley floor on soils comprised of "rock debris and scree cones." These soils are deep and far from groundwater but the texture allows grapevines to dive deep in search of water. The remaining vineyard areas are on slopes and terraces where moraine deposits are dominant. These soils are difficult for roots to penetrate and have low water permeability. The stony soils in the southern portion of the region originate from the Dolomite Mountains and, as a result, have a high mineral content. Due to the mineral content, and a high degree of water permeability, these soils are especially well-suited for grape growing.

Alto Adige is characterized by mountains and valleys and the key vineyard zones follow the north-south path of the Adige River and the northeast-to-southwest path of the Isarco River prior to its disgorgement into the Adige at Bolzano. As shown in the figure below, the Alto Adige wine region is further subdivided into seven distinct sub-regions. The characteristics of the sub-regions are detailed in the immediately following table.

Alto Adige wine region (Source: Guildsomm handout)

Some observations regarding the Alto Adige sub-regions:
  • The largest sub-regions, in terms of vineyard area, are to the south with Bassa Atesina and Oltradige together representing 69% of the total.
  • Val Venosta is the smallest of the regions with 1% of the vineyard area
  • The greatest elevation range is in Basse Atesina with the lowest vineyards at 200 meters and the highest at 1000
  • Limestone and porphyry soils dominate
  • White wines dominate in every sub-region with the exception of Bolzano and Merano
  • The Schiava variety is important in every region with the exception of Isarco Valley.

The Alto Adige climate suits white wine production and a number of aromatic (Sylvaner, Grüner Veltliner, Gewürtztraminer, Müller-Thurgau) and international (Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon Blanc) whites are produced here but red wine production has been historically important in the region. As shown in the tables below, 11 white and six red varieties are important in the region. The major white varieties have comparable representation in terms of vineyard area but, surprisingly, Schiava (a red) has twice the area devoted to its cultivation as the nearest white variety (Pinot Grigio).

Both the white and red wines produced in Alto Adige are a combination of blends and single varieties. White blends are made from Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, or Pinto Grigio with Sauvignon Blanc or Gewürtztraminer rounding out the blend. Red wines with geographic designations have historically been traditional blends but, more recently, Bordeaux style blends made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot have been all the rage. In addition to the red and white wines, Alto Adige produces small quantities of sparkling and dessert wines. The sparkling wine is made using the methodé champenoise and utilizing Pinot Bianco, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay grapes. The dessert wine is traditionally made from Moscato Rosa. Over 70% of the region's wines are produced by cooperatives.

Alto Adige gained its DOC designation in 1975 and today fully 98% of the region's vineyards are classed DOC. The DOC classification of Alto Adige wines are shown in the table below.

In the next post I will turn to the tasting of the Alto Adige wines.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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