The Cool Italians

Süditrol vineyards. | Courtesy Alto Adige Wines

Trust me, I get it. Putting cool and Italian together is thoroughly redundant. Ferrari, Versace, Leonardo Da Vinci. So the title of this article is more a double entendre than a cultural revelation. You see we are going to be looking at the coolest of the cool-climate, Italian wine regions and some cool, wonderful wines.

Our wine tale starts in Südtirol, the local term for the mountainous Alto-Adige region in northeast Italy that has bounced back and forth between Italy and Germany for millennia. Picture “The Sound of Music”-style terrain and scenery and a truly bi-national vibe where most speak both Italian and German and the cuisines, artistic styles and just about everything else are a mix of the two cultures.

Whites come from varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, often labeled here just as Sauvignon, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc. Sauvignons here are energetic with acid and mineral leading the way and crisp citrus that cleanses the palate. Alto-Adige Pinot Gris/Grigio drinks like a cross between lean and minerally versions and richer more Alsatian style with more body and a mix of tropical and stone fruits. Pinot Blanc expresses itself in its most complex and interesting form anywhere outside of Alsace with beautiful texture and aromatics, a touch of spice and creamy pear notes. Gewürztraminer is a Südtirol native where it began as the less aromatic Traminer, with the “Gewurz” denoting the more floral and spicier clone propagated in Germany. Modern versions combine the best of both with the complexity of richer Gewurz and the dry laser-like focus of Traminer.

There is also a sprinkling of German whites such as Kerner and Müller-Thurgau that usually surpass their counterparts from their homeland and are well worth a try.

On the red side there are plenty of the usual suspects such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, which although quite pleasant and well made, tend to be on the lean and simple side. The really interesting Alto-Adige reds are made from the native Schiava, Lagrein and Teroldego grapes. Schiavas are probably most familiar to the New World palate with softer red and blue fruits and lower tannins and acid backbone. Lagrein is a more assertive animal with pepper notes, darker fruits and bold energetic acids. Teroldego from these high-altitude makes tout age-worthy wines with depth and body and as it evolves, reveals black fruits, tarry licorice and cookie spices.

Wines from the Alto-Adige are available at larger wine retailers and even smaller dedicated wine shops and are definitely worth the journey. Cheers.