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Alto Adige

Alto Adige (or Sudtirol to the German-speaking two-thirds of its inhabitants) is a wine-producing province of farthest northern Italy. It constitutes the northern half of the Trentino-Alto Adige wine region (the southern half being Trentino). Immersed in the Southern Limestone Alps, Alto Adige is bordered by Veneto to the east, Lombardia to the west and the Tirol region of Austria to the north.

Stretching up to a latitude of 47 degrees north and altitudes of well over 10,000ft (3,050m), Alto Adige is a region of topographical and climatic extremes. The region's key vineyard zones trace the north-south path of the Adige river, and are planted on the valley floor and the slopes above, many of which are incredibly steep. They run from Merano in the north down to the provincial border with Trentino in the south. Also significant is the Isarco river valley (Eisacktaler), which runs north-east to south-west and feeds into the Adige at Bolzano.

The vast majority of wines produced in Alto Adige are covered by several DOC titles. This is quite unique among Italy's wine regions, as the proportion is typically between 5% (e.g. Puglia) and 40% (e.g. Piemonte). To complement the DOCs there are also several IGT titles such as Mitterberg and Vigneti delle Dolomiti (Weinberg Dolomiten in German).

The Alto Adige DOC, which covers the majority of wines made here, was granted in 1975 and is sub-divided to district and commune level, creating more than 30 possible provenance statements, each with Italian and German versions. Alto Adige Santa Maddalena, for example, has seven località (further geographical sub-divisions) which may have their name included as part of the DOC name, and also its German translation St. Magdalener. This means that a wine from the village of Santa Giustina (St. Justina) within the Santa Maddalena sub-zone, sold under the Alto Adige DOC, will have a full DOC title of Alto Adige Santa Maddalena Santa Giustina. There are efforts underway to simplify this system.

Most wine made here is produced by co-operatives, which, through the need for efficient harvesting, winemaking and marketing, have become known for consistent quality and reliable quantity. There is now a growing number of independent producers also making a good name for themselves.

In addition to the dominant local varieties Schiava and Lagrein, the key wine grapes used in Alto Adige are a combination of Germanic varieties, which reflect its history as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and "international" varieties, mostly of French origin. The former category includes Müller-Thurgau, Sylvaner and Gewurztraminer (although the Tramin village from which "Gewurz" takes its name is actually located here in Alto Adige), while the latter is populated by increasing quantities of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio.

The most widely planted variety of all is Schiava (Vernatsch in German, and historically also known as Farantzer and Vernetzer), which makes mid-bodied, pale-hued wines with low levels of alcohol and tannin. Modern consumer preference has moved away from this style of wine in favour of fuller-bodied red and white styles, meaning Schiava is often blended with the more robust Lagrein to bring it a little depth and power.

Wine was made in this area even before the Romans arrived, and some evidence suggests production dates as far back as the Iron Age. It continued throughout the Middle Ages and advanced, as in Burgundy, Alsace and Switzerland, thanks to the devoted care and industry of monasteries. Today Alto Adige is the only Italian viticultural zone whose area under vine actually increased during the 1980s and 1990s; with this came technological advancements in both winemaking and viticulture. Thanks to the presence of the highly respected winemaking school in San Michele all'Adige, this trend has continued into the 21st century.

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