The One High Altitude Wine Region You Must Try #ItalianFWT

Alto Adige gets about 300 sunny days per year – perfect for high acidity retention in grapes. It’s where snow capped mountain slopes meet a Mediterranean climate and pristine blue skies. And it’s where distinctive wines are produced.

The Italian Food, Wine, and Travel authors (#ItalianFWT) virtually travel to northern Italy for Alpine Wines this month. And, in fact, Alto Adige (SouthTyrol) is one of Italy’s main alpine wine regions. We’ll be on Twitter Saturday, August 5th at 11 a.m. EDT to chat about Italy’s Alpine Wines using hashtag #ItalianFWT. Scroll down to see where others in the group went this month.

Located in northeast Italy, Alto Adige is bordered by Switzerland to the northwest and Austria in the northeast. The area was controlled by the Holy Roman Empires and Austria-Hungary for generations until annexed after WWI. An enticing mixture of Germanic and Italian cuisines is the result. It’s a great thing both cultures came together to make wine!

Alto Adige, a.k.a. South Tyrol or Südtirol is in the northern province of this territory; Trentino is in the southern province.  (Photo source: Erik Wait, World of Wine Review)

A small area- just 1% of Italy’s wine production- it’s about extremes and diversity: climate, altitude, terrain and grapes. Alpine vineyards, lake valleys, and foothills as high as 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) mean steep slopes with hands-on vineyard care: sustainable, organic and biodynamic farming are popular.

For those who like the out-of-doors, there’s a plethora of activities: hiking, cycling, water sports, wind surfing, and climbing. Yep, I could see an active morning followed by afternoons filled with wine and food exploration. The Südtiroler Unterland Tourist Board has an excellent website.

A whopping 98% of Alto Adige wine is DOC quality with most of the remainder IGT. They’re known for white wines- 60% of production- Pinot Grigio, Gewurtztraminer, Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco, but red wines are deeply imbedded in the region too.

Take note! Alto Adige Pinot Grigio (Ruländer in German) is not the simple light wine often associated with this grape but instead a high quality complex wine.

The Schiava grape (Vernatsch in German) dominates red wine plantings. It produces light colored, beautifully delicate wines with herbal characteristics and just enough soft tannin for structure. They say it’s the red for rose wine drinkers. Whoot! Whoot!

Another mysterious grape, the indigenous Lagrein is genetically related to Syrah and Teroldego, and possibly a grandchild of Pinot Noir, per DNA profiling. Full-bodied and fruity wines with a fresh acidic structure are made. While a high acid grape variety that can make big, tannic wines, many are taming it producing structured, elegant wine.

Cooperatives in this region stood out – I contacted one of the youngest, Cantina Colterenzio located in the Bolanzo growing area.

Why Cooperatives?

The average vineyard holding is small, just 2.5 acres- not enough to make a sustainable living. Coops have the means to purchase grapes, make wine, and create and export wine brands.

Established after WWI to help farmers, greater quantities of lower quality grapes were produced early on due to volume based pricing. Things changed in the 70’s and 80’s bringing quality based payment. This was taken further in 1988, whereby the coop winemaker and agronomist regularly visit member vineyards for quality checks. Coops were also instrumental in Alto Adige becoming an appellation in 1975, pushing the move to a reduction in yields, higher quality production, and technology.

Alto Adige Production Stats

  • 70% from coops (there are 12 co-ops with 120 to upwards of 300 members)- Amazing!
  • 25% from high-quality wine estates
  • 5% independent winegrowers

Cantina Colterenzio, a.k.a. Schreckbichl-Colterenzio (Schreckbichl in German, Colterenzio in Italian) was started by 28 growers in 1960. People thought of them as rebels but they were into quality and felt teaming up was best. Today about 300 grower/winemakers belong to the Coop with 300 hectares of vineyards located in various areas of Alto Adige- 35% red, 65% white.

100% of the electric power they use is certified green and 70% of hot water requirements are provided by solar panels and a heat recovery system.

On My Table

Puiten Pinot Grigio Südtirol Alto Adige 2015 (14.1% ABV, $14)

A lean style wine fermented in stainless tanks, aged 10 months in large oak casks with lees stirring. The attack is zippy, slowly mellowing to a lingering bitter almond. Quite palate cleansing, we sipped it while making dinner and nibbling Grana Padano, a P.D.O. cheese from northern Italy. A nice wine that continued to show character as it sat. Good quality to price ratio.alto adige pinot grigio

  • Eye: clear, pale lemon (this picture makes it look darker than it was)
  • Aromas: medium+ intensity, Meyer lemon, cantaloupe, after 10 mins orange blossom, dreamsicle
  • Palate: mineral driven with a bitter almond finish
  • Body: medium
  • Acidity: medium
  • Length: medium

Menzen Vernatsch (Schiava) Südtirol Alto Adige 2016 (12.9% ABV, $14)

My first taste of this indigenous grape Schiave- old vines here- fermented on the skins in stainless tanks followed by 4 months aging in concrete vats. Like a dry, light red bordering on a meaty, deep rosé, we had it slightly chilled. Enjoyable surprise with a touch of bitterness at the end, like eating a small piece of 70% dark chocolate. It went well with pan-seared salmon in chunky cherry, tomato, Cresenza sauce over mixed greens. (see recipe below)

  • Eye: pale ruby
  • Aromas: medium intensity strawberry, sweet cherry, rose
  • Palate: bright and lively
  • Body: light
  • Acidity: medium
  • Tannins: low
  • Length: medium

Mantsch Lagrein Riserva Südtirol Alto Adige 2014 (13% ABV, $18)

Another indigenous grape, another first, another enjoyable wine. Garnet in color with a ruby rim, the medium intensity blackberries and mulberries, and forest spice aromas were intoxicating. A nicely balanced palate with a dusty mouth feel and rustically silky tannins, this wine lingered on. Medium body, acid and tannins.

gorgonzola alto adige winePerfect with mountain Gorgonzola slathered on olive fougasse. In France, a cheese plate commonly finishes a meal. Here I slipped in Italian cheese! Speck, the lightly smoked and cured South Tyrolean version of Prosciutto was a hit too.

These Cantini Colterenzio wines show the quality coming from this cooperative. An enjoyable, eye opening,  Alto Adige adventure!

Disclosure: Although the cooperative provided the wines, I was not compensated and all comments are my own.

Other #Italian FWT alpine wine adventures:

Jill Barth at L’Occasion has a Winemaker Rendezvous: Ivan Giovanett of Castelfelder.

Previous Winemaker Rendezvous features include Melissa Burr of Stoller Family Estates, Greg Rowdan of Matua and Theresa Heredia of Gary Farrell.

Jennifer from Vino Travels (and the champion of Italian Food, Wine and Travel) will share vineyards of the Dolomites with 2013 Castel San Michele Alto Adige.

Jennifer is the author of Planning Your Dream Wedding in Tuscany. Her perspectives on Rias Baixes DO, Villa Maria winemaker Helen Morrison and Italian red wines for summer are recent blog highlights.

Susannah from Avvinaire covers White Wines from Aosta Hit High Notes.

Recently, Susannah has written about underrated Molise, the Italian varietal Marsanne Bianco and the Argentinian winery Dona Paula.

Katelyn of  Throne & Vine presents Divinely Apline – Exploring the Wines of Elena Walch.

Throne & Vine has recently covered South Tyrol’s wayside shrines, wickedly cool castles in South Tyrol and reasons for visiting Alto Adige.

Lauren, the Swirling Dervish tells the story of Hearts on Fire: A Summer Tradition in Alto Adige.

Visit Lauren’s blog for comprehensive coverage on wines from the Tour de France route, the summer wine blend of Verdicchio + Vermentino and the Burgundian region of Mercurey.

Camilla of Culinary Adventures With Camilla cooks up Beef and Barolo, Two Piedmontese Darlings.

Peach-tomato salad with herb vinaigrette, grilled Porterhouse with pea-shoot pesto and Arròs Negre {black paella} with allioli a la catalana are some of the fresh features on Camilla’s blog.

Jeff Burrows author of Food, Wine, Click gets into Unique Mountain Wines of Alto Adige.

Organic Natura wines, Vignobles Brumont, a Madiran producer in Southwest France and Italian Wine 101: Intro to Italian Wine and Chianti are topics Jeff has on the blog now.

Martin Redmond over at ENOFYLZ provides A Taste of Lugana; 2013 Tenuta Roveglia “Vigne di Catullo” Lugana Riserva #ItalianFWT.

Martin covered ten white wines from Lodi for summer, his wines of the day picks and a highlight of Southwestern France’s Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh.

Gwendolyn the Wine Predator writes about Heading Off To The Alps For #ItalianFWT.

Gwendolyn has published over 600 posts on her blog – this summer she covered the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, Spanish white wines paired with tacos and how to taste and pair wine + cheese.

Lynn from Savor The Harvest shares One High Altitude Wine Region You Must Try #ItalianFWT.

I recently covered a summer French rosé tasting, the French Basque wine region of Irouléguy and the bubbly Italian wine Franciacorta.

Pan-Seared Salmon with Cherry Tomato Cresenza Sauce
Recipe type: Main dish (plat)
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2 servings
A quick, easy small plate (entrée) or main dish (plat), full of flavor. Acid in the lightly cooked tomatoes works with acidic white wines, but also reds with a bit of acidity as long as they are not too tannic. This dish was great with both the Cantini Colterenzio Vernatsch (Shiava) ad Pinot Grigio.
  • 2 6-ounze pieces of salmon, center cut, skin on
  • sea salt
  • olive or coconut oil
  • ½ cup yellow onion, finely chopped
  • splash of red wine
  • 1 cup chunky tomatoes in juice
  • handful of cherry tomatoes
  • Cresenza cheese
  • Black pepper
  • mixed baby greens for two
  1. Heat a teaspoon or two of oil in frying pan over medium-high. Sprinkle the salmon with sea salt, then pan sear, flesh side down, for a minute or two. Turn and sear the skin side. Depending on thickness, this will take 3 to 6 minutes. You want the flesh to get slightly browned while the middle remains pink. Remove the skin and set aside uncovered.
  2. Wipe out the pan, add a little oil and heat to medium. Sauté the onion until soft and translucent.
  3. Deglaze with a tablespoon or two of red wine- you want most the wine to evaporate.
  4. Stir in the tomatoes and their juice, season with sea salt. Add the cherry tomatoes.
  5. Turn the heat down to medium-low and let the tomatoes cook 3 to 5 minutes, partly covered. The mixture will have some liquid but you want it thicker and not too runny.
  6. Cresenza is a soft cheese. Scoop about ¼ cup of cheese into the sauce and stir. It’s OK if it doesn’t melt. Taste and adjust seasoning adding more sea salt and black pepper as desired.
  7. Place the salmon in the sauce while you quickly process the greens. Breaking the fish into chunks is nice.
  8. In a large bowl, toss the amount of greens you want for two with a smidgen of nice olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Divide between two plates.
  9. Using a large spoon, spoon the sauce and fish over the greens. Enjoy immediately with your favorite bread and wine.
I previously made this with Feta cheese and trout, also delicious.


13 thoughts on “The One High Altitude Wine Region You Must Try #ItalianFWT

  1. Lauren Walsh

    An informative and enjoyable post, Lynn. History of the co-ops was very interesting – considering the challenges inherent in growing grapes here, it’s a wonder any wine is produced at all! My favorite part of your post, though, was your proposed itinerary for a day in the Sudtirol: actively enjoying the sunny weather and beautiful surroundings in the morning; kicking back with a nice glass of wine in the afternoon. I’ll see you there!

  2. Pingback: A Taste of Lugana; 2013 Tenuta Roveglia "Vigne di Catullo" Lugana Riserva #ItalianFWT - ENOFYLZ Wine Blog

  3. Martin Redmond

    Your salmon looks fantastic Lynn! And I really enjoyed reading your post. Spending the morning hiking, followed by an afternoon of wine and food exploration is my idea of a perfect day!

    1. Lynn Post author

      Glad you enjoyed the info Martin. Food, wine and hiking is the theme of all our vacations, certainly makes for perfect days 😉

  4. Jeff

    I’m so surprised at the percentage of cooperatives in the region! Gratifying that they have realized quality is the way to go.

    1. Lynn Post author

      I was also surprised Jeff, it would be great to visit a few of them and see / learn first hand.

    1. Lynn Post author

      Ha! More recipes to come! I hope you were able to find a wine from Alto Adige to enjoy with the dish?!?

  5. john

    Love learning about the world of “nooks & crannies” when it comes to wine, its grapes and regions. Alto Adige is one and enjoy its offerings.

    Would like to learn more about DOC, DOCG, IGT etc…

    Great post!

  6. Jill BARTH

    I love hearing the perspective of the local co-op… this is a bit if insight into life in the South Tyrol. Such a culture gem, and beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Kate

    Both the wines and the Cresenza sound like absolute perfection. The Lagrein is calling my name especially. Love wineries that focus on sustainability and balancing the importance of the environment. It’s so impressive that they 100% of their electric power is certified green and utilize solar power. Such a great article!


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