Alto Adige DOC, denomination covering the Alto Adige or Süd-Tirol region in the northern part of Italy’s Trentino-Alto Adige. Alto Adige borders Austria to which it belonged as Süd Tirol (South Tyrol) until the Austro-Hungarian empire was broken up in 1919 after the First World War when it was ceded to Italy for its support of the Allies. Alto Adige’s predominant German-speakers still refer to Alto Adige as Süd-Tirol or Süd-Tiroler, and refer to the land to the south (Italy in other words) as “that country down there” (David Gleave MW: 1989 p.56). Later, Mussolini, who favoured the Italian rather than the German language encouraged migration here from the south of Italy.
The name: Alto Adige translates from Italian as the ‘Upper Adige’, referring to the Adige (Etsch for German-speaking locals), one of two main, valley-forming rivers here, the other being the Isarco (or Eisack) and whose confluence is Bolzano (Bozen), the regional capital.
Vineyard area: 2018 5,400 hectares (13,100 acres) of wine grapes. 350,000 hectoliters (3.9 million cases) of wine. Around twenty different varieties. 60% white. Of this, 70% are Pinot Grigio, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay. The remaining 30% of the white wine vineyard is Sauvignon Blanc, Müller Thurgau, Sylvaner, Kerner, Riesling, and Veltliner. 40% red. Alto Adige’s two indigenous red grape varieties are Schiava (Vernatsch) and Lagrein. Other red wine grapes: Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc.
Native wine grapes: As noted above Adige was formerly part of Austria and so Germanic varieties such as Gewurztraminer, and Riesling survive here and although traditional to this area, they are not native Italian wine grapes. The native grapes of Alto Adige are Moscato Rosa (Pink Muscat) which is made in small quantities; the Schiava group which makes the light, easygoing red called St Magdelener; and Lagrein, a native grape giving much more full-bodied wine than Schiava (Ian D’Agata: 2014, p.39). There exists significant plantings of other grapes in the Alto Adige region, notably Sylvaner, Kerner, Müller Thurgau but like Gewürztraminer these are also neither native nor traditional to Italy (Ian D’Agata: 2014, p.x).
Grape varieties: Native red grapes include Schiava —the most widely planted variety of all in this region (also called Vernatsch in German)—and Lagrein, together with Pinot Noir among the international ones. Among the most commonly grown white grapes there is Gewürztraminer (the Tramin village from which ‘Gewurz’ takes its name is actually located in Alto Adige), while north of Bolzano, in the Isarco Valley, there are also Kerner and Sylvaner. Also common are Moscato Rosa and Moscato Giallo (Rosenmuskateller and Goldmuskateller), the first in the form of dessert wines of considerable thickness, the second made in both dry and sweet versions. The area of Terlano is characterized by porphyries that give the wines a pleasing minerality as well as characteristics of respectable longevity.
DOCs (1): The DOC Alto Adige is the only one in the province and, as is the case of the Val d’Aosta, is divided into sub-zones characterized by soil and climate level: Colli di Bolzano / Bozner Leiten; Meranese Hill or Merano / Meraner or Meraner Hügel; Santa Maddalena / St. Magdalener; Terlano / Terlaner; Val Venosta / Vinschgau; Eisacktal / Eisacktaler
The first DOC to be recognized was Lake Caldaro in 1970, followed shortly afterwards by Merano, Santa Maddalena, Teroldego, and Trentino. An important fact in the production of grapes is that over 80% of regional production is within the DOC and this figure is the highest in Italy.
Terroir: The vineyards are all in mountain areas or foothills up to altitudes of 700 metres (2,300 feet). Only 10% of the region is below 915 metres (3,000 feet) altitude and the highest point is 3,900 metres (12,800 feet). Cabernet, Merlot and local varieties Lagrein and Schiava occupy steep sites warm enough for cactuses to grow on rocks over-looking the vineyards. Being on the south side of the Alps means most sites face south but the region is still thought of as cool climate despite its wine grape-friendly sub-Mediterranean microclimate.
IGT: Vigneti delle Dolomiti.
DOC: The Alto Adige region has one over-arching eponymous DOC for all its wines, listed below.
DOC–by grape variety: Alto Adige DOC Cabernet. | Alto Adige DOC Cabernet-Lagrein. | Alto Adige DOC Cabernet-Merlot. | Alto Adige DOC Chardonnay. | Alto Adige DOC Chardonnay-Pinot Bianco. | Alto Adige DOC Chardonnay-Pinot Grigio. | Alto Adige DOC Gewürztraminer. | Alto Adige DOC Kerner. | Alto Adige DOC Lagrein. | Alto Adige DOC Lagrein-Merlot. | Alto Adige DOC Lagrein Rosato or Rosè or Kretzer. | Alto Adige DOC Malvasia. | Alto Adige DOC Merlot. | Alto Adige DOC Merlot Rosato or rosè or Kretzer. | Alto Adige DOC Moscato Giallo. | Alto Adige DOC Moscato Rosa. | Alto Adige DOC Muller Thurgau. | Alto Adige DOC Pinot Bianco. | Alto Adige DOC Pinot Bianco-Pinot Grigio. | Alto Adige DOC Pinot Grigio. | Alto Adige DOC Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero). | Alto Adige DOC Pinot Noir rosato or rosè or Kretzer. | Alto Adige DOC Riesling. | Alto Adige DOC Riesling Italico. | Alto Adige DOC Sauvignon Blanc. | Alto Adige DOC Schiava. | Alto Adige DOC Schiava grigia. | Alto Adige DOC Silvaner. | Alto Adige DOC Spumante. | Alto Adige DOC Traminer aromatico.
DOC–by sub-region: Colli di Bolzano or Bozner Leiten DOC. | Meranese (di Collina) or Meraner (Hügel) DOC. | Santa Maddalena or Sankt Magdalener DOC. | Terlano or Terlaner DOC. | Valle Isarco or Eisacktal or Eisacktaler DOC. | Valle Venosta or Vinschgau DOC.
Certified Biodynamic: Alois Lageder.
No certification: Cantina Produttoi Cortaccia.
David Gleave, The Wines of Italy (Salamander Books, London, 1989).
Dr Ian D’Agata, Native Wine Grapes of Italy (University of California Press, 2014).