Regional tour of Italy through Food and Wine – Alto Adige

Chapter 19 – Alto Adige or Sudtirol

I remember my first visit at Bolzano and Merano, in Alto Adige during the last Merano Wine festival in 2019. Being grown in a city by the sea and spending all my vacations at beach destinations, it has been one of my first times over such incredibly high mountains. 

The landscape is super charming, you can see vast valleys between steep mountains, covered by vineyards, usually grown as Tendone or Pergola shapes. Also another very diffuse agriculture there are apple trees. 

Alto Adige is a wine-producing province of the farthest northern Italy. Two-thirds of its inhabitants are German-speaking and that’s why it is also called Sudtirol. Trentino Alto Adige is the official Italian region but it is well distinguished between Trentino and Alto Adige in terms of language, culture and also morphological conformation. 

Immersed in the Southern Limestone Alps, Alto Adige is bordered by Veneto to the east, Lombardy to the west and the Tyrol region of Austria to the north.

Alto Adige is a region of topographical and climatic extremes, indeed their mountains can reach over 3050 metres above the sea level. The region’s key vineyard zones trace the north-south path of the Adige river, and are planted on the valley floor and the slopes above, many of which are incredibly steep. They run from Merano in the north down to the provincial border with Trentino in the south. Also significant is the Isarco river valley (Eisacktaler), which runs north-east to south-west and feeds into the Adige at Bolzano.

Alto Adige has both Alpine and Mediterranena climate zones, with vineyards concentrated into regions of the later. The Alps protect the area from cold masses from the north so that warm, moist air from Lake Garda and the Mediterranean Ocean can dominate the region. Ideal conditions for viticulture are created with mild days, plenty of sunshine hours and rainfall concentrated to the winter months.

The Alto Adige DOC, which covers the majority of wines made here, was granted in 1975 and is subdivided to district and commune level, creating more than 30 possible provenance statements, each with Italian and German versions. 

There are efforts underway to simplify this system.

Alto Adige is the only Italian viticultural zone whose area under vine actually increased during the 1980s and 1990s. With this came technological advancements in both winemaking and viticulture and thanks to the presence of the highly respected winemaking school in San Michele all’Adige, this trend has continued into the 21st Century.

Most wine made here is produced by co-operatives, which, through the need for efficient harvesting, winemaking and marketing, have become known for consistent quality and reliable quantity. There is now a growing number of independent producers also making a good name for themselves.

The predominant grape varieties are Schiava and Lagrein and in my opinion the Schiava is one of the most fascinating wines from this area, that is the reason why I have decided to pair with the delicious Canaderli made by Carlotta, one of my recent best Schiava discoveries. 

Schiava is a red variety grown at the junction between the French, Italian and Germanic parts of Europe, so its vines have several synonyms, further complicating an already confusing name.

Most grapevine authorities indicate “slave” as the translation of “Schiava”, although this in the sense of being “Slavic” rather than “enslaved”. Based on this, the grape is thought to be of Slavic origin, as far as the etymology indicates. 

Other diffuse grape varieties include Muller Thurgau, Sylvaner and Gewurztraminer, with also a good presence of international grapes.   

The Schiava typically makes mid-bodied, pale-hued wine with low levels of alcohol and tannins and high acidity.

When in the 90s and 00s modern consumer preference has moved away from this style of wine in favor of fuller-bodied red and white styles, Schiava was often blended with the more robust Lagrein to bring it a little depth and power.

This phenomenon also caused a lot of producers to uproot this grape variety in favor of more popular ones. Nowadays luckily for the Schiava producers and wine lovers, with overall changing of taste, people are coming back to lighter wines, with less alcohol and extraction, more easy drinking and flexible food pairing. 

Being our second-last episode of this incredible regional tour of Italy that we made throughout the food traditions and the wine culture, me and @lapanzapiena decided to celebrate with a lovely pic-nic in Montalcino at sunset. 

The wine was absolutely perfect for this cause. 

Reyter winery, certified organic since 1996, has only 4 hectares of vineyards, taken care by Christoph Unterhofer and his wife Rosy. 

During this series I always tried to introduce to you some lesser known, smaller wineries which represent hidden treasures of the region for me. Hope you enjoyed this idea and that you will be finding some inspiration when looking for specific regional products. 

The winery is located in Greis, a small village in Bolzano province, close to the Caldaro and Termeno areas. Their concept is to see their vineyards as they were gardens, to preserve and to safeguard. The climate is perfect for viticulture, they have 300 days of sun throughout the year and the soils are mainly sandy, clay based soils, with alluvial deposits from the rivers nearby. 

Their Schiava comes from old vines, it is fermented spontaneously in stainless steel tanks. Aging is held in oak barrels for 18 months. 

The result is a wine with a delicate while intense bouquet, with a lot of small red berries and red fruits, a hint of bush and wild flowers. 

In the mouth the wine enters with an amazing acidity and an extremely pleasant drinking. Simply lovely and perfect paired with the Canaderli traditional recipe of which Carlotta will be talking below. 

Carlotta’s food story:

The significant influence of German within the language is also extremely present within the region’s cuisine, culture and way of living. The region’s most famous dishes are canederli, strudel and sauerkraut – all traditional Austrian dishes. Speck, a type of smoked pork belly, is Trentino Alto Adige’s most popular product, staple ingredient of canederli, large stale bread polpette served in piping hot broth. The German name for the dish is Knödel, and besides being popular in Trentino Alto Adige and Austria they appear in Hungarian, Chekz, Slovanian and Polish cuisine. 

The rest of Trentino’s regional cuisine is heavily influenced by the region’s historical isolation from the rest of Italy due to the remote Alpine valleys that form most of the landscape. A traditional cuisine therefore heavily reliant upon ingredients which could be sourced locally, such as potatoes, cured meats and cheeses and carne salada – dried game meat. All these ingredients form the traditional cuisine to be a poor one, where reusing leftovers – especially stale bread – was vital, so the recipes which have survived till our days use a lot of “waste” ingredients. 

I’ll speak briefly about the region’s wines before passing the word on to Manu who’s much more of an expert in the matter than myself. The wine produced in the region is for the most part white wine – thanks to the high altitudes, with the rest of production being divided between red and rosé wines. Trentino Alto Adige counts 9 wine DOC’s and 4 wine IGT’s. 

The Canederli recipe I chose to share with you today is an adaptation of Claudio Sadler’s recipe, which uses smoked pancetta instead of speck, which gives the smoked flavour nonetheless. 

Visit La Panza Piena website to see the full recipe

Published by ManuPaper

Born in Sardinia, living in Tuscany - Montalcino. Certified Italian Sommelier and WSET. Brunello addicted 😊 I am a wine enthusiast and blogger, I love to share my wine discoveries and wine reviews online, on my blog and social profiles. Travel is my second passion together with wine, that's why I enjoy visiting wine regions around the world 🌎 I have a strong experience in Hospitality and can help you in organizing your future trips in Tuscany and Italy. Wine Travel Advisor 🍷 👉🏽Social Media Content Creator and Blogger

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