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South Tyrol/Trentino/Friuli – viticulture between Italy and Austria

South Tyrol/Trentino, Italy's northernmost wine-growing region, has close cultural and historical links with Austria. The vines here grow mainly on slopes and hillsides, and indigenous varieties such as Trollinger and Schiava are cultivated. Friuli/Venezia Giulia: mainly red wines were produced here in the past. Thanks to modern production methods such as chilled fermentation, however, Friuli has now been able to take a pioneering role in the production of Italian white wine.
The winegrowing regions of northern Italy produce mainly red wines, but recently they have also been producing more whites.

History of the Friuli/South Tyrol/Trentino wine region

Until 1919 what is now the Italian winegrowing region of Trentino-South Tyrol was Austrian, and it was simply called South Tyrol. The culture has remained close to Austria in many ways. German is still spoken there, for example. The history of viticulture in South Tyrol can be traced back to pre-Roman times. Excavations prove that wine was already being cultivated in South Tyrol 3,000 years ago. Records document the lively activities of monasteries and noblemen in the winegrowing region of South Tyrol since the 12th century. The production and marketing of wine as we know them today was initiated by wine trading families and cellar cooperatives at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. But this small wine area's high reputation was mainly due to the DOC regulation introduced in 1971, which increased the quality of the wine with the delimitation and upgrading of the vineyards.
Wine has been cultivated in the Friuli region in the very north-east of Italy since ancient times. The many changing influences and wars in which Friuli has been involved in the course of history did no more to change this than the advent of pests in the 19th century. Quality has improved since the 1970s. Improved cellaring methods such as chilled fermentation, which was first used in Friuli, have made it the best white wine region in Italy.

Favourable conditions for viticulture: geography and climate

South Tyrol and Trentino are officially considered to be a single winegrowing region. South Tyrol (Alto Adige) is the northern part, Trentino the southern. The Dolomites, forests, glacial lakes and the river Adige shape the area, where altitudes range from 200 to 1,000 metres. Viticulture here produces some of the best results in Italy. South Tyrol and Trentino are often referred to separately, because viticulture in the two areas is not the same. In Trentino, for example, the climate is warmer and there are fewer steep slopes, enabling a wide diversity of grape varieties to be grown on a large area.Nature favours viticulture in Friuli. Bordering Austria to the north, Slovenia to the east, the Adriatic Sea to the south and Veneto to the west, this region is so well shielded from cold winds by the slopes of the Julian Alps that the vines are not threatened by late frosts. At the same time warm breezes from Veneto increase temperatures and humidity in the vineyards. This climate has a positive effect on winegrowing in Friuli, resulting in both white and red wines that are fruity and elegant.

Grape varieties in the Friuli/South Tyrol/Trentino wine region

Winegrowing in South Tyrol/Trentino is almost uniquely diverse. Something like 20 grape varieties grow on a relatively small area in South Tyrol. Above all it is white grape varieties, which make up the largest share (55%) of winegrowing in the South Tyrol region, that are frequently found here: Pinot grigio, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon blanc, Pinot blanc, Müller Thurgau, Silvaner, Riesling and Valtellina. Among the red grape varieties, which account for almost 45% of the vineyard area, you will find the indigenous varieties Vernatsch (Schiava in Italian) and Lagrein, as well as classics such as Pinot noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Which grape varieties are permitted in the wine region, incidentally, is set out in DOC regulations, which are mandatory if the products are to be marketed as South Tyrolean wines. The permitted grape varieties in Friuli, which also predominantly produces white wines, are:

White

  • Tocai Friulano
  • Riesling
  • Pinot bianco and grigio 
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Chardonnay

Red

  • Refosco
  • Merlot
  • Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc
  • Pinot nero

Popular wines from South Tyrol/Trentino/Friuli

The dominant wines in the South Tyrol/Trentino region are classics like dry, fresh and lively Chardonnay, racy Sauvignon blanc, voluptuously tart Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Others include Trollinger, a light red which is pleasantly mild, fruity and slightly bitter and produced from indigenous Vernatsch grapes, also known as "Kalterer" or "Kalterersee". Another local wine, ruby and pomegranate red Lagrein – from the Bolzano valley basin, Überetsch and Etschtal – is a strong contender with its full, velvety taste and tart nuances.Most of the reds from the Friuli wine region are fruity, light and ready to be drunk straight away, but the region does also produce full-bodied, concentrated Cabernet wines with tart fruitiness. The white wines have experienced a smaller-scale revolution. Ultra-modern wine-production technology has resulted in fresh, fruity wines with character and finesse, the most expensive of them being sweet, hard-to-come-by Picolit.

Vineyard area and production volume:

  • South Tyrol/Trentino: About 14,000 hectares, some 1.2 million hectolitres per year.
  • Friuli: 20 000 hectares, 1.1 million hectolitres per year.

Popular wines from South Tyrol, Trentino and Friuli