Lesson 15 – Northweast Italy
The next stop on our Tour of Italy takes us to the Northeast part of the country. This area comprises of Trentino – Alto Adige, Veneto, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Their white wines are typically acidic, crisp, and fresh. Their reds can full-bodied. Like with many areas, there are some really exceptional wines here along with the very ordinary. There are also many Austrian/German and Slovak influences here in style, varietals, and names. There are even some “foreign” varietals that we are familiar with from France.
First, the basics. To the north you have the Dolomites; a part of the Alps. To the south there is the Adriatic Sea. The eastern part of the area shares the border with Slovenia. The climate here is similar to Northwest Italy; hot summers and cold winters. And just like Northwest Italy, lots of fluctuations in climate vintage to vintage. The soil here is a mixture of sand, gravel, and sediment deposited during the Ice Age. You’ll find clay, sandy clay, and marl.
Let’s start with the Trentino – Alto Adige part. Here you will find a mixture of Italian and Austrian/German cultures. Many towns will have dual names. The Alto Adige area itself is also known as Südtirol. You will very likely see both names on the label. In fact, many of the people living here speak German rather than Italian.
Description: Map of the region Trentino Alto Adige
It is also home to the city of Tramin. Now why would I and just about anyone else writing about the area mention this? It is the anecdotal home of the Gewürztraminer varietal. The thinking is that it gets its name from Tramin. However, there is much confusion as to the true origin as the varietal produces different wines from Germany, Alsace, and Alto Adige.
In addition to Gewürztraminer, there are many other varietals. The most important for our purposes are these:
- Teroldego Rotoliano
- Malvasia (aka Malvasier – the red version)
- Schiava (aka Vernatsch)
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Cabernet Franc
- Pinot Nero (aka Pinot Noir and Blauburgunder)
- Pinot Grigio
- Pinot Bianco (aka Weissburgunder)
Another anomaly with Alto Adige is that wines from Bolzano can also label its wines Qba. This stands for Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete [kvah-lih-TAYTS-vine behr-SHTIHMT-tuhr ahn-BOW-geh-beet]. This is the middle level of wine quality in Germany. We will get to that in a couple months.
To the south we have Trentino or Trento. Here the wines are said to be softer than those to the north. It also has a long list of varietals available to use; most of which are the same as above. One thing to note is that if the label does not list a varietal, then it is likely a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco for whites and Cabernet and Merlot for reds.
Moving on, we go to Veneto. This area extends from the Po River to Austria smack dab in between Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. As the name suggests, this area also includes Venice – it was part of the Venetian Empire from the 7th Century AD to 1797. Other well known cities here are Verona, Vicenza, and Padua. This is from where most Veneto wine comes.
Description: Map of the region Veneto
You may recognize one of the better known white wines from here – Soave. Prosecco is another wine that comes to mind. In addition to these whites, Valpolicella, Amarone, and Bardolino are the reds to make note of.
Soave is made from the Garganega varietal. Typically it’s 70-100% of the wine. In those that are not 100% Garganega, Trebbiano and Chardonnay are blended. The Soave DOC is perhaps the best known and might be the first experience most people with have with Italian white wine. Though Pinot Grigio is also a likely first experience (it was for me). Soave DOC is the first level and many are not very exciting. In an effort to improve the quality two other sub-appellations were created. They are Soave Classico DOC and Soave Superiore DOCG.
Prosecco is another wine that many are becoming familiar with. It is made from the Prosecco varietal. It is a dry sparkling wine. For many it’s a cheaper alternative to Champagne. However, it’s not produced in the traditional method. The second fermentation happens in large stainless steel tanks. It is currently a DOC when using the names Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene or Prosecco di Valdobbiadene. However beginning with the 2009 vintage, it will be “elevated” to DOCG.
Next we’ll talk about Valpolicella. Another wine that has had its share are poor showings, but if you look hard enough you’ll find some good ones. The varietals used here are Corvina, Veronese, Rondinella, and Molinara. If you are looking for the better quality versions, seek out Recioto and Amarone.
Recioto and Amarone are made using the straw method (aka Ripasso). The grapes are laid out on straw mats to dry and become raisin-like. This concentrates the flavors. For Recioto this becomes a sweet red wine. For Amarone, this is a dry red wine.
Bardolino uses the same varietals as Valpolicella (except for Veronese). However it’s a different style of wine. It will use less Corvina and more Rondinella. Also, up to 15% of Rossignola, Barbera, Sangiovese, and/or Garganega can be used. It’s not considered a top wine, however it’s usually included in the conversation about Veneto.
Finally it’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The farthest northeast corner of the country, it borders both Austria and Solvenia. It was also part of the Venetian Empire as the name implies, but the area does not include Venice obviously. Back during the phylloxera outbreak in Europe, many of the native vines were ripped up an planted several “foreign” varietals including Merlot, Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Bianco. White wines are again the better known here, some considered among the best Italian white wines.
Description: Map of the region Friuli-Venezia Giulia
The DOCs to pay attention to here are these:
- Collio or Collio Goriziano
- Collio Orientali del Friuli
- Isonzo or Isonzo Del Friuli
The Collio DOCs seem to produce some of the better wines in the area. Red and white blends are made depending on the DOC. There are also single varietal reds and white made.
Carso Terrano must contain at least 85% of the varietal Terrano. There is also a Carso Malvasia which is a white wine rather than the red Malvasia of Alto Adige. Isonzo is similar to Collio in that it uses quite a few varietals for both its reds and whites. Both blends and single varietals are made.
That’s going to wrap up today’s lesson. As you can see, the Veneto region has probably the best known wines to the average person. Trentino-Alto Adige also has some notable wines. Friuli-Venezia Giulia is mainly known for white wines and becoming more known.
The next lesson will continue south to the Central part of Italy. This will include Tuscany, Latium, Umbria, Emilia-Romagna, Abruzzi, and the Marches. It will very likely be a very long lesson as Tuscany alone can be its own lesson. However, to cover Italy in 4 weeks, I’ve decided to compress both the Eastern and Western parts of Central Italy.
I hope to have this done next week (as I always) promise. However it seems like it takes me two weeks for each of these now with my “real life” schedule. In all actuality I should be able to record the next lesson on 11/18 and live on the 19th, so I shouldn’t miss a week.
Thanks for spending your time with me this week. Be sure to let your friends know about both 1337 Wine TV and Sommelier School if they are interested in wine. And don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions. And for those of you that can, feel free to click the either Donate button to contribute to the site. Either a one-time donation of any amount, or a 12-month $2 subscription.
Mark V. Fusco
Aspiring Sommelier in Training