The Geography geek in me gets excited whenever we talk about Northeastern Italy, an area rife with annexations, takeovers and other conflicts of land ownership. The region – especially Trentino & Alto Adige, also known as South Tyrol – is one of the areas of Europe that has been passed back and forth so many times that languages and culture are permanently blurred. Much like Alsatian France is distinctly German, this area of Italy takes the lead from Austrian culture, as it was part of the Hapsburg Empire through World War I. In fact, so entrenched is the German language that it often takes prominence over the Italian on wine labels.
That said – as my old pal Frank is fond of saying – there really is no such thing as “Italian Wine,” because there is so much variation in both climate and culture as you move around the boot. Still, Italian white wine often fights the stigma that it all tastes the same, and doesn’t taste very good. Northeastern Italy is certainly to blame for that, with much bulk, inert Pinot Grigio coming out of the Veneto region, but that’s still only one perspective.
In Alto Adige, for example, although Pinot Grigio is widely grown and vinified, there’s a more serious focus on creating quality cool-climate white wines. Though many can be light and crisp due to the southern alpine growing conditions, there’s variety and quality here that is worth getting to know.
Recently I had the chance to drink through a number of wines from Abbazia di Novacella, a 12th century Augustinian abbey located less than 30 miles from the Austrian border in Alto Adige. The abbey – which, interestingly, is listed on Google maps as “Kloster Neustift”, the German name – has been crafting wine for more than 850 years, but has more recently garnered acclaim via their very own 2009 Italian winemaker of the year Celestino Lucin.
As the whites that I tried were vinified in stainless steel, there was a unity in style with regards to intense aromas and mouth-watering acidity of the cool climate grape, however they did also offer some noticeable variations in style.
The Muller Thurgau for example, is probably lightest, with a bright, citrusy flavor and easy-going personality that screams summertime white. In contrast, the Gewurztraminer is full-bodied, with lush notes of tropical fruits and Asian spice, perfect for Fall.
Novacella’s Sauvignon offers that austere, grassy note that Sauvignon Blanc is known for on the nose, but is nicely ripe and juicy on the palate. If the cat pee of Sauv Blanc turns you off, this will be no different, but it’s a very nicely done old-world style SB for those who appreciate the mouthwatering properties.
Lastly was the Kerner a hybrid grape from Riesling and Shiava that drinks like a dry riesling – great aroma, bright acidity, and perhaps just a touch of sweetness on the palate.
In the end, each wine offered something different, yet all were mouthwatering and delicious, and I’d highly recommend picking up wines from AdN or others in the Alto Adige region if and when you come across them.
Full disclaimer: Review samples of these wines were provided.