The Northeast

northeastTaste of the Future in the Venezie
The three northeastern regions, known collectively as the Tre Venezie or simply the Venezie, set the pace in Italy in the crafting of modern wines from a great range of varieties both native and international. They began in the 1970s by introducing new techniques for production of white wines, following up in recent decades with ever more sophisticated methods for reds.

Two of Italy’s leading wine schools are located in the Venezie (at San Michele all’Adige in Trentino and Conegliano in Veneto). The world’s largest vine nursery is at Rauscedo in Friuli. The nation’s most important wine fair, Vinitaly, is held each spring in Verona.

Veneto leads the way, after recently replacing Apulia and Sicily as the largest producer of wine among the 20 regions, while increasing its leadership with the volume of DOC, due in large part to the Verona trio of Soave, Valpolicella and Bardolino. Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige are modest producers in terms of volume but boast enviable percentages of classified wines in the total.

The determining quality factor in all three regions is the climate influenced by the Alps, of which the Venezie are on the sunny side, protected from the damp cold of central Europe. Vineyard conditions range from cool at high altitudes to warm near the Adriatic Sea and along the valleys of the Po, Adige, Piave and Tagliamento rivers.

Although the culture of the Venezie, like the name, was determined by the ancient Venetian Republic, strong influences can be felt from Austria and the Balkans. One result is a cosmopolitan mix of vine varieties.

Growers here work with an amazing assortment of native and imported vines to produce what are indisputably a majority of Italy’s fine white wines and a multitude of reds, ranging from the young and simplistic to the aged and complex.

In contemporary times, white wines, led by Soave and Pinot Grigio, had become popular around the world. But producers in Friuli and Trentino-Alto Adige have fashioned wines of depth and style to dispel the notion that Italian whites are by nature light and fresh. Recently the trend that had favoured whites in the Venezie has started to reverse with increased plantings of varieties for red wines.

Verona’s Soave, Valpolicella and Bardolino derive from native varieties. But in the central and eastern Veneto and Friuli imported varieties – such as Merlot, Cabernet, the Pinots, Chardonnay and Sauvignon – share vineyard space with the local Tocai, Prosecco, Verduzzo, Refosco, Schioppettino, Ribolla Gialla and Raboso.

In Trentino-Alto Adige red wines still prevail, dominated by the ubiquitous Schiava or Vernatsch, though the more distinguished Teroldego, Lagrein and Marzemino hold their own against Cabernet, Merlot and Pinot Nero. White varieties have gained prominence there, led by Chardonnay, the Pinots, Sauvignon and Gewürztraminer.

Since so many varieties are grown, the practice in all three regions has been to group wines under a single DOC name for a large geographical area, such as Veneto’s Piave, Friuli’s Collio and Colli Orientali and the province-wide appellations of Trentino and Alto Adige. Though the lists may be long, this geographical identity seems to aid consumers in connecting places with types of wine.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Friuli-Venezia Giulia The compact region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, commanding the northern Adriatic Sea with borders on Austria and Slovenia, continues to set the pace with modern Italian white wine. Drawing from worthy native varieties and the choicest of the international array, Friulians have applied studied vineyard techniques and avant-garde enology to the production of highly distinctive whites, as well as some eminently attractive reds.

Friuli has two DOC zones of exceptional status in Collio Goriziano, or simply Collio, and Colli Orientali del Friuli, adjacent areas that follow the border of Slovenia from Gorizia west and northwest to Tarcento. The exchange of air currents between the Alps and the Adriatic has created a highly favorable habitat for vines on the terraced slopes called ronchi. Carso is a unique zone in the hills above the seaport and regional capital of Trieste. The other six DOC zones cover low hills or plains, but quality there can be convincing, most notably from Isonzo, which rivals Collio and Colli Orientali for the class of certain wines.

Trentino-Alto Adige
Trentino-Alto Adige Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy's northernmost region, is walled in by the Rhaetian Alps and the Dolomites, so that only about 15 percent of the region's land is cultivable and much that is produces fruit and wine grapes. The difficulty of growing vines on steep, often terraced hillsides compels growers to emphasize quality. About three-quarters of production is DOC and a major share of the wine is exported.

Trentino-Alto Adige, with borders on Austria and Switzerland, is split into two distinct provinces. Trentino, around the city of Trento (or Trent) to the south, is historically Italian in language and culture. Alto Adige, around the city of Bolzano (or Bozen) to the north, is known as Südtirol to the prominent German-speaking population. The South Tyrol, historically part of Austria, is officially bilingual.

Veneto Venice's region has emerged in recent times as Italy's largest producer of wine with a major share classified as DOC or DOCG (more than 300 million bottles a year). Leading the flow is Verona's trio of Soave, Valpolicella and Bardolino. But since DOC represents less than a third of the region's total, the Veneto also figures as a major producer and exporter of IGT wines, often of moderate price.

The Veneto has three general areas of premium wine production: the western province of Verona in the hills between Lake Garda and the town of Soave; the central hills in the provinces of Vicenza, Padova and Treviso; the eastern plains of the Piave and Tagliamento river basins along the Adriatic coast northeast of Venice.