Italy has long been known for its indigenous grapes; hundreds of unusual and obscure varieties found solely within the boundaries of Europe’s boot. However, certain regions provide an environment in which popular international varieties thrive, too. Alto Adige, near Austria in the northeast, is one such place. Growing alongside local grapes like Schiava are Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Nero (Noir).
Of the so-called international grapes, Pinot Grigio is Alto Adige’s biggest by volume, though it’s a prolific Italian grape, too. The variety grows widely across neighboring regions though to unremarkable effect. Alto Adige’s 300 days of Mediterranean sunshine coupled with cool alpine nights, contribute zesty ripe citrus to Pinot Grigio. It’s a wine with purpose, not just commercial positioning.
The other white Pinot – Bianco – has become the wine to watch. Reductions in yields, changes in vineyard training systems, and higher elevation plantings up hillsides, notably around Appiano, have improved quality. It’s Grigio’s soft-spoken counterpart, with a rounder mouthfeel that evokes honey, melon and flowers.
Alto Adige makes Chardonnays of finesse. The world’s most popular white grape saw a rash of plantings in the 80s, contributing to a wealth of older vines. The grape shows off its delicate side, producing medium-bodied wines with nuanced layers of citrus and minerality.
Sauvignon Blanc, important globally, grows in small quantities in Alto Adige. The variety excels because vineyards are farmed in small plots. Sauvignon Blanc turns dull when produced in quantity over quality. Smaller yields and hands-on techniques ensure the variety’s complexity and balance are preserved.
In the pantheon of red grapes, it’s easy to see why Pinot Nero (Noir) thrives. The best versions of this noble variety feature fresh red berry fruits and taut acidity for backbone and longevity. Alto Adige’s wide diurnal range (difference between day and night temperatures) lends Pinot Noir this trait in spades.