Last month when I was preparing for my article, it was snowing. This month, I was taking shelter from the blazing sun and in search of the perfect wine to help me endure the summer heat. I found that perfect wine — or, more specifically, wine region — in northeast Italy, in the region of Trentino-Alto Adige.
Like the subject of last month’s column, these wines are crafted at high altitude, though not as extreme as those of the Andes or even the Alps in Italy’s northwest. The vineyards of Trentino-Alto Adige are set against a backdrop of the plunging green slopes and jagged peaks of the Dolomite Mountains. Because the climate is cool, the wines of the region — both the reds and the whites — tend to be light, crisp, minerally and fresh.
But climate is only one contributor to the style of wines found here. Another great influence is culture, which is distinctly not Italian. Indeed, Trentino-Alto Adige has “belonged” to Italy for fewer than 100 years. Until the end of World War I, when in 1919 it was given to Italy in a post-war treaty, the region was part of Austria-Hungary. Today, it still retains a clear Austrian and German character in its language, its cuisine and its wines.
While the region has its own indigenous grape varieties and makes a lot of pinot grigio, many of the other grapes grown here are more closely associated with Austria and Germany than with Italy — riesling, grüner veltliner, gewürztraminer and pinot noir, for example. For the sake of being thorough, of course, I tracked down wines from as many of these categories as I could.
Alois Lageder is one of the larger producers in the region and has quite an impressive footprint in New Mexico. If you were to visit the producer’s website — which is in German — you would read about the winery’s commitment to sustainability, as well as excellent wine. The producer makes a vast number of wines, and I was pleased to taste two of its classical grape varietals — the first, pinot grigio, and the second, schiava.
Italian pinot grigio can range from insipid to exquisite; Lageder’s is definitely on the latter side of the spectrum. 2016 Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio Vigneti delle Dolomiti ($18) is youthful and spritzy, with lively green fruit aromas. Apple, pear, honeydew and lime mingle with wet gravel and a whiff of sea breeze. I enjoyed it with a rich seafood risotto, where it lent a pleasing lightness to the match and transported me to the last time I was in Venice, enjoying just such a pairing while overlooking a canal on the island of Mazzorbo. Funny how a perfect pairing run away with you like that.
Schiava (literally “slave”) is a grape variety indigenous to Trentino-Alto Adige, which is just about as light and fresh as a red wine can get, and as such is meant to be consumed while young and vibrant. 2014 Alois Lageder Schiava Alto Adige ($18) is actually a little over the hill now, but two years ago when I first tasted it, it reminded me of a good-quality Beaujolais. It has tart red fruits, a little earthy and peppery, with round tannins and a perfect mouthfeel, especially delightful if served slightly chilled.
Another red, 2010 Maso Poli Pinot Noir Trentino Superiore ($25), is showing beautifully at 7 years of age. In fact, the flavors and aromas benefited from some time exposed to air — the wine tasted even better the second day. In my tasting notes, I used the word “cherry” no less than four times — candied, liqueur, dried and fresh. There are also subtle hints of black licorice, leather, cedar and fallen leaves. It is certainly a lighter interpretation of the grape, especially if compared to some offerings from our own continent, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in substance and complexity.
Riesling probably isn’t the first grape to come to mind when one things of Italy, but the climate of Trentino-Alto Adige is perfect for it. 2012 Lechthaler Riesling Trentino ($18) drinks like a textbook dry riesling. There’s a trace of petrol on the nose – but not enough to offend – and plenty of lime, mineral, peach and honey to leave your mouth watering for another sip. Another perfect pairing for seafood, this time I matched it with a Thai curry with just enough spice to dance beautifully with the touch of sweetness in the wine.
It would be great if we could all hop on a plane and wing our way to Trentino-Alto Adige this summer, but enjoying the refreshing wines from this region will do almost as well.