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Fresh and fragrant from Italian slopes

NESTLED on the steep hills of the Italian Alps is the wine region of Alto Adige. The northernmost wine region in Italy features vineyards that slope down to the Adige River and its tributaries. The combination of sloping vineyards with excellent exposure to the sun and a climate featuring sunny days and cool evenings results in some of the world's most fresh and fragrant white wines. Any connoisseur of good wines will appreciate these wines but many of my female Chinese acquaintances find them particularly appealing. No longer willing to submit themselves to the heavy tannic reds favored by their husbands and boyfriends, the upwardly mobile young female professionals of China are making their own decisions on wines. This new market dynamic is changing the wine landscape in China and benefiting fragrant white wines like those from Alto Adige.

Long history

Recent archaeological digs in Alto Adige have uncovered ancient winemaking tools dating from 500 BC. Centuries later during the height of the Roman Empire the wine trade in Alto Adige was flourishing. As the sun was setting on the Roman Empire, Frankish and Bavarian monks took over many wineries and keep the art of winemaking in this region alive. After Austro-Hungarian Empire and Holy Roman Empire rule, the region was eventually returned to Italy in 1918.


So what distinguishes the wines of this region? In one word, aromatics. Your ability to differentiate aromas is actually much more perceptive than your sense of taste. There are well over 500 aromatic compounds that have been identified in wines. Every step of the winemaking process influences the resulting aromas in a wine. Alto Adige's top wines offer a symphony of delightful smells ranging from yellow and tropical fruits to white flowers and herbs. Three particularly aromatic types of wines from this region are Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer. Good Alto Adige Pinot Grigios offer an abundance of ripe fruit scents and flavors, good weighty mouthfeel and restrained acidity. Their graceful and friendly characters have made them some of the most popular white wines globally. The Sauvignon Blanc wines of this region are more serious with more acidity and complexity. Many experienced drinkers love these wines because of their balance between fruit and acidity. And should you want to pleasantly surprise someone, offer them a Gewurztraminer from Alto Adige. Just watch their eyes as the exotic floral and spice aromas jump out of the glass. The experience shares some qualities with a German Gewurztraminer but is decidedly distinct and Italian in style. On the palate the wine may also have a slight numbing effect drawing a fascinating sensual parallel with one of my favorite meals, mala hotpot.

Food pairing

The good fruit ripeness and acidity of most Alto Adige white wines make them very food friendly. A few of my favorite combinations are simply grilled or roasted freshwater fish as the vibrant fruitiness of the wines add flavor dimensions to the dish while the acidity in the wines accentuates the freshness. The combination of ripe fruit, sometimes slightly sweet, and spiciness of Gewurztraminers from Alto Adige make them natural companions to moderately spicy Sichuan and Hunan dishes.

Top producers

Many of the best wineries in Alto Adige are small to medium in size and family-owned. Two of my favorite producers are Alois Lageder and Elena Walch. Alois Lageder is a family-owned winery with a range of beautifully made white and red wines. Elena Walch married into a family who owned two of the region's most acclaimed estates. Her wines are consistently good and feature a range of personalities that accurately reflect their variety.


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