Looking for a different taste of Italy in a large glass? Then head to the north-east, writes Christine Austin.
Think of Italian wines and the mind naturally moves to the rolling hills of Tuscany or Piedmont. But if you go there in summer there are more British cars than locals and you will probably find yourself elbow to elbow with a coachload of Brits at the local trattoria.
So even if your travelling is confined to the glass in hand, armchair variety, instead of heading to the obvious vineyard regions in Italy, why not go north and take in the scents, scenery and flavours of the magnificent lakes, mountains, rivers and vineyards of Trentino? This is in north- east Italy, north of Venice and Verona, and east of magical Lake Garda. There is a sense of purpose and hard work here, particularly when it comes to wine. This is a region where they make some of Italy’s best sparkling wines, as well as crisp, lively white wines and some stunning reds.
What makes Trentino different is the looming presence of the snow-capped Dolomite mountains which surround a central valley and pockets of vineyards, creating sheltered spots for grapes to grow. The altitude of this region means that grape flavours are always fresh and vibrant and so they integrate perfectly with food. The soil types are mainly calcium-rich remains of an ancient inland sea and granite-type volcanic deposits, and provide structure and finesse in the wines. Grapes are often grown high on pergolas.
This is a region of small family properties with just a few hectares of grapes to look after. Local co-operatives are the lifeline of these communities and provide high technical skills and a route to market for many producers.
This region is home to Italy’s foremost wine research station and wine school, San Michele, which means that vineyards and wineries are full of highly skilled winemakers and it shows.
Grape varieties here embrace the usual Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco with Gewürztraminer, Müller-Thurgau and Moscato Giallo adding new flavours in the whites. The reds focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir with striking additional flavours coming from Schiava, Lagrein and my personal favourite, Teroldego.
This is what Trentino does best. It was Guilio Ferrari who brought the Chardonnay grape and the technique of sparkling wine production to Trentino back in 1902. The style of Trentodoc, as it is generally known, is crisp and clear, with a fine balance between nutty, toasty flavours and crisp apple fruit. Made in the classic way, with a second fermentation in bottle, Trentodoc is aged on its lees for at least 15 months but in many cases for more than five years.
Wines to try:
Ferrari Trentodoc Maximum Brut NV, Hic! Wine Merchant, 01977 55004, £23.50: 100 per cent Chardonnay. A clean, crisp wine with notes of hazelnuts and toast.
Ferrari Perle Nero Extra Brut, 2005, Ake and Humphris, Harrogate, £50: A top-of-the-range, 100 per cent Pinot Nero wine, aged for at least seven years on lees before being disgorged. This is a dry, structured, elegant, food style of fizz, with deep complexity.
The most intriguing white wines from Trentino are those made from grapes that seem to need the warm days and cool nights of this region to bring out their character. Local grape Nosiolo has crisp, clean flavours. Müller-Thurgau manages more character here than it ever does in Germany while Gewürztraminer is linear and has more peppery flavours than spice.
Wines to try:
Nosiolo, Terrazze della Luna 2014, Cavit, Field & Fawcett, York and Hoults in Huddersfield, around £7.99: Try a new grape variety in this crisp, ripe apple and pear-style wine.
Gewürztraminer Alta Luna 2015, Marks & Spencer, £9: Fresh and aromatic with lychees and rose petal aromas, backed by crisp, white pepper notes.
Finest Pinot Grigio 2015, Trentino, Tesco, £6: Ripe pear fruit flavours with the bite of lemon peel on the finish.
Between the mountains of Trentino the gravelly plain of Rotaliano is a tiny part of the Trentino region, and this is the best place to grow Teroldego. This historic grape captures morello cherry and blueberry flavours with a streak of earthy, warm character. It has been taken to other parts of the world, mainly by Italians hoping for a taste of home, and so it is found in tiny quantities in California and Victoria, but it is at its best in Trentino. Other red grapes include deep-flavoured Merlot and Cabernets while Lagrein has dark plum and chocolate flavours with soft, supple tannins. Marzemino is one of the stars of the region, juicy and full of red cherry and redcurrant flavours.
Wines to try:
Finest Teroldego 2014, Tesco, £5.50: Juicy dark cherry fruit flavours with just a hint of spice make this an easy-going wine to enjoy with pasta.
Wine Atlas Marzemino 2014, Asda, £5.97: Easy drinking, lively cherry and raspberry fruit with soft, juicy tannins. Serve chilled in sunshine.
Lagrein Dunkel 2013, Bottega Vinai, Halifax Wine Co, £9.95: Dark plummy fruit, layered with chocolate and savoury tapenade.
Maso Cervara Teroldego Rotaliano, 2010, Halifax Wine Co, £17.95: Grapes for this wine come from the tiny Rotaliano plain and so have good concentration and depth of flavour. Dark plummy fruit with spice and soft tannins, this goes well with braised lamb.