Most wine enthusiasts will be familiar with Alsace Wines. We have explored the area often and become familiar with their main grapes: Riesling; Pinot Gris; Gewürztraminer (of course)… but also Pinot Blanc; Sylvaner; Auxxerois; Muscat and Pinot Noir… Many fewer wine lovers will be as acquainted with Alto Adige, however.

Alto Adige is actually only the northern third of the full Italian region: Trentino-Alto Adige. That itself is the northernmost Italian region, comprising two areas with very different personalities: the Germanic Alto Adige (or Südtirol), which borders and once belonged to Austria, and right below it the more Italian but still very Alpine Trentino. The region’s capital and largest city is Trento, followed closely by the Südtirol provincial capital: Bozen (Bolzano). The breathtaking valley of the Adige River is renowned in the wine world for varietal labeled cool-climate wines, mainly white. It has no DOCGs, eight DOCs and four IGPs.

In fact the full region, Trentino–Alto Adige, is a similar size to Alsace in terms of area under vine and volume of wine production. In 2015, Trentino–Alto Adige produced about 2.5% of Italian Wine (13.7 million cases),  but Alto-Adige has less than a third of the Regions vineyards – mostly small growers unlike large co-operatives and producers further South – and it’s contribution is about 0.7% (3.9 million cases).

The Alto-Adige area is Y-shaped: Valle Iscaro is the right arm,  following the Iscaro river from nearer Austria until it meeets the Adige River near Bolzano. The Adige above Bolzano constitutes the left arm from the Valle Venosta, flowing though Terlano. Below Bolzano, going  due South towards Trento and the “tail” of the Y, fuller versions of Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanco Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürtraminer are more common.

Terlano focuses more on international varieties Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and the Pinots.  Valle Iscaro majors on the Germanic grapes: Riesling; Müller Thurgau; Sylvaner; Kerner; and Grüner Veltliner.

Overall white grapes varieties occupy about 60% of Alto Adige’s wine-growing area and are vinified into the best wines. There are 20 varieties common: Pinot Grigio; Gewürtraminer; Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay lead the way, but Sauvignon Blanc; Müller Thurgau; Sylvaner; Kerner; Riesling and Grüner Veltliner are also significant in Alto Adige.

So Alto-Adige has many grapes of Germanic origin: Riesling; Gewürztraminer; Sylvaner; Kerner; Müller-Thurgau and Grüner Veltliner. The first three are shared with Alsace too – as are the Pinot Family – so comparison seems attractive.

It may be said that the most obvious comparison: Pinot Gris/Grigio is actually the most complicated. First of all there may be clonal or selectional differences in the grape plantings although they are the same variety. Secondly the “target” style is different: richer complex wines in Alsace and fresher lighter wines in Italy. Finally,  yields are often much higher in Italy resulting in a neutral “quaffing” wine. That’s being generous,  a lot of the Italian version – possibly two thirds – could be called Pinot (e)Gregious, wines that are often thin, inoffensive occupants of the early parts of Restaurant wine lists, where they offer (I would say) characterless wines for people who don’t like wine…

Actually some of the better examples, though of a radically different style, do come from Alto-Adige – and I think the comparison is one we are going to have to try.

So the varieties I have chosen to show in comparison of the two areas end up being the Alsace big three: Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. The Alsace wines will act as a style reference to see what we think of Alto Adige versions. I think the next time I approach a tasting focusing on Alsace I’ll make sure basic versions of those three grapes are entirely omitted and concentrate on all the other styles and varieties .

The wines will be in pairs to aid comparison, although it’ll be immediately obvious which is which – not least because the Alsace example will have more age. So only the most similar pair – the Rieslings – will be tasted blind… We’ll see how these – vaguely Germanic – wine areas deal with those grapes.

Notes will follow in 3 or 4 days…

Until then….