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Wine Geek on the Road – Trentino-Alto Adige

Trentino-Alto Adige

As mentioned in these missives before, it seems that almost all of the world’s great wine regions happen to be in incredibly beautiful areas. Few however are as beautiful as the region most recently visited by Geek…Italy’s Trentino-Alto Adige.

Located in northeastern Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige is one of Italy’s 20 Regions (like our states, sorta), and forms part of the northern border of Italy, touching Austria and Switzerland. Though one region, Trentino and Alto Adige zones are quite different from each other: Trentino is clearly Italian in culture and temperament, albeit with its regional soul. Alto Adige (AKA Sudtirol) on the other hand is decidedly Austrian/Germanic in culture and demeanor…and in language! Even the road signs are in Italian AND German. When discussing this with a vintner friend from Piedmont recently (Marta Minuto of Moccagatta) she shared that she has been there with friends, and in certain restaurants they had to order in English because no one spoke Italian.  For Geek’s recent visit there one appointment he tried to make was declined since, as the US Importer shared “that day is a Holiday in Austria so the winery is closed”, even though it is located in Italy!

These two halves are quite different geographically as well: Alto Adige is quite mountainous and is essentially where the Alps spin off the Dolomites (the Dolomites are considered part of the Alps, but of a different geological era, hence different composition and appearance), whereas Trentino—still considered to be in the Dolomites—is less dramatically mountainous and a bit warmer in general. In spite of their northerly location, the Alps protect the region from harsh/cold weather from the north and warm breezes from Lake Garda moderate the climate further. Additionally, they have huge diurnals, and when combined with their typical 300 days of sunshine… a world-class vineyard area.

Geek is always puzzled when sharing travel experiences in Europe and mentioning a drive here or there, and people say “you drove while there?”. There must be some notion that the roads are full of danger in these otherwise civilized nations—which can be true if driving in cities like Rome, Naples, Paris for example.  But when driving in the countryside, it’s no different than driving here—except that the roads are in better condition! Same rules, same side of the road, even some of the same cars that we see in the US.  No worries! And besides, it is really the only way you can visit the wineries—they’re not located in the major cities after all. That said, it can be expensive: Car rentals are a bit more $$ than in the US on average—especially if you want to do a one-way rental—and of course gasoline costs around $6 a gallon in Italy right now…and bring money for tolls…there are lots of toll roads. Geek usually uses when traveling in Europe and has always had flawless service. Be apprised however if you use such a third-party rental service, you are much better off purchasing insurance from the rental counter when you pick up your car; it will be a bit more expensive, but you’ll avoid heaps of hassle (and expense) should you need to invoke it: Geek once had a more than minor mishap in Italy, and when returning the car, he simply handed over the keys and said arrivederci.

For this particular trip, Geek flew into Venice/Marco Polo Airport; Verona is a bit closer to Trentino-Alto Adige, but more flight options to Venice, plus Geek was visiting Conegliano/Valdobbiadene on this trip too…so Venice won (and a visit to this area is also highly recommended—it will change your opinion of this wine).  A little more than two hours later, we were driving thru Bolzano—the capital and commercial center of Alto Adige. As for time of the year, Trentino is pretty busy in the summer, with thousands and thousands of German/Austrian/Swiss tourists visiting the lovely Lake Garda. Alto Adige is busy in the summer too…and in autumn, and in winter (some WORLD-CLASS skiing here folks). In the summer and fall, hiking is the main activity—sort of the national pastime in Alto Adige with trails for all skill levels, virtually everywhere in the area. Geek chose Merano in Alto Adige as base for this trip: everything worth seeing is within 60-90 minutes from there, and the roads are great, so crisscrossing back and forth is easy—and easier than moving around. There are dozens of good-to-great hotels in the region, but it is highly recommended you stay in Alto Adige/Bolzano area, rather than Trentino/Trento. Bolzano is at the base of a ‘Y’ created by the Adige and Isarco rivers which meet there. Recommended hotels are: Parkhotel Laurin in Bolzano proper, Castel Fragsburg and Miramonti Boutique Hotel in Merano (the upper Adige Valley), or Hotel Perla in Corvara, and Hotel Elephant in Bressanone should you choose the Isarco Valley side.

As mentioned above, Trentino and Alto Adige are vastly different in almost every way. They have in common that both zones make great white and red wine—though Alto Adige in generally more renowned for its whites (with zippy acidity), and Trentino a bit more for its reds (and bubbles). Trentino is the northernmost area where it is warm enough to easily ripen heat-loving grapes such as Teroldego and the Bordeaux varietals. Teroldego can be extraordinary, although only a handful of producers take this route (predominantly all grown on the Rotaliano plain next to Mezzolombardo). most are nice, rich, luscious reds, and fairly good values. Bordeaux varietals thrive here evidenced by places such as Tenuta San Leonardo, an historical estate that makes extraordinary, age-worthy wines—Tre Bicchieri almost every single year. And of course, the area’s most notable export, Trento DOC: Chardonnay-based (predominantly) Metodo Classico sparkling wines. Many producers, but the largest and arguably the best is the amazing, family-owned Cantine Ferrari…great values.  They do indeed, they make some luscious, fairly rich reds in Alto Adige—including more than respectable Cabernet, Merlot and Pinot (the third most-planted red). But Lagrein and Schiava (also known as Vernatsch) are the most heavily planted red varietals, and if you order the ‘house wine’ in most restaurants, these are what you will most likely be served.  Outstanding Pinot Gris, Pinot Bianco, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon and Riesling grow here. Indeed 98% of what Wine Geek drank while dining in this stunning land was white wine. There are ‘sub-zones’ in this region, and rightly so: Val Venosta and Valle Isarco are quite a bit cooler than the main growing areas of the upper and lower Adige River Valley. Note by the way that most vineyard plantings in these valleys are not on the valley floor—that’s ALL apples. The grapes are on the hillsides/on terraces typically at 600 to 1500 feet ASL (but reaching as high as 3,000 feet ASL).

For those of you lucky enough to have been to Italy already—and have ‘checked off’ Tuscany and Piedmont—Geek cannot recommend more fervently that the third Italian region to get your ticket punched in should be Trentino-Alto Adige.

Go see the world!

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