The exact border between Italy’s north and south is impossible to identify. Yet, ironically, the divide between Mediterranean Italy and Continental Europe is startlingly well defined. It exists north of Verona on the Brenner Pass just as the chalky blue waters of the Adige River snake down to the base of the jagged peaks of the Dolomites.
Within the 35 miles between Trento and Bolzano, towns like Cortaccia, Caldaro and Appiano morph into “Kurtatsch,” Kaltern” and “Eppan.” The last scattered olive and citrus trees give way to aspens and apple orchards. marble arcades to gingerbread roofs. The specific cultural dividing line is the hyphen in “Trentino-Alto Adige.” Trentino is the Italian half, and Alto Adige (Südtirol) is Austrian in feel and context. This is evident in the region’s dual wine identities.
Trentino offers some of Italy’s best metodo classico sparkling wines along with native reds Teroldego, Lagrein and Schiava. Alto Adige delivers cool-climate expressions of Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon, Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Friuli-Venezia Giulia is another hyphened region; only here the dividing lines are even more complex. This tiny, northeastern corner stands at the meeting point of Europe’s leading cultures: Germanic, Latin and Slavic. The intricate embroidery of the three has resulted in what is arguably one of the world’s best pockets of white wine. Alluvial soils, mountain breezes and careful focus on technique make for unforgettably creamy Friulano, Sauvignon, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Picolit and Ribolla Gialla from the Collio, Colli Orientali del Friui and Friuli Grave areas.
1919: Alto Adige was part of Austria until 1919. At the end of World War I, Mussolini changed its name from South Tyrol to Alto Adige. The Austrian influence is still clear in the area, as well as in the wine, and today most locals speak both Italian and German.
Common Grape Varieties
Friulano: The protagonist of a major battle between Italy and Hungary over its name, the grape formally known as “Tocai Friulano” has experienced a stunning rebirth as the flagship white variety of Friuli.
Picolit: This fascinating white grape suffers from floral abortion that results in a tiny number of berries per cluster. Precious yields are harvested late for a rare passito dessert wine.
Lagrein: Said to be a cousin of Syrah and Pinot Nero, this vigorous red grape is steadily making inroads in markets outside its native Trentino-Alto Adige.
Ribolla Gialla: The grape is suited to Rosazzo, Friuli, where it shows flavors of honey and nut. Sometimes aged in clay amphorae, it is a player in the “natural wine” movement.
Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso: Named after its stems, which turn a bright shade of red at harvest, this slow-ripening red grape makes a full-bodied wine with bright acidity in Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
Teroldego: Perhaps borrowing its name from “the gold of Tyrol,” this unique red grape has adapted perfectly to the microclimate of the Campo Rotaliano plain in Trentino.