Wine: Northern Italy has much in common with its neighbour

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ONE OF Italy’s most beautiful regions is, strangely, its least-known and least-visited. Up in the far north, hugging the Austrian border, Alto Adige has the potential to compete with the world’s most vivid aromatic whites in its high-altitude mountainous vineyards.

With only 15 per cent of this region cultivable amongst its towering peaks, it focuses the growers’ mind towards quality. Aromatic grapes thrive on higher slopes of Valle Venosta and Valle Isarco with plantings at 800 metres plus, but this is winemaking on the edge. On lower slopes and into the southerly Trentino area, just north of Lake Garda, the popular international grapes of chardonnay and pinot bianco (weissburgunder) dominate, but compared to other Italian efforts with these grapes, Trentino-Alto Adige’s style is minerally, crisp and cool climate compared to Tuscany or Umbria.

Alpine pastures might not sound like suitable red wine country, but in Alto Adige (and Trentino just to the south) you find something very different. While simple red grape schiava is still widely planted, we are now seeing winemakers such as Georg Ramoser produce excitingly crunchy aromatic red from fine local grapes like the lovely red lagrein on the hillside slopes. Pinot noir here near Montagna can be very elegant and stylish (see Franz Haas).

Head south into slightly warmer Trentino, you find even more rare red varietals with teroldego and marzemino. As you head further south you find merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon with the best examples from Gert Pomella at Weingut Milla in southern Alto Adige and the high-flying Tenuta San Leonardo estate in southern Trentino. Independent producers’ names to follow here are Tiefenbrunner, Lageder, Franz Haas, Elena Walch and Milla and Otmar Mair. For some of Italy’s best co-operative wines look for Cantina Isarco and Cantina Tramin.