Tuscan sunsets, Amalfi inlets, Umbrian hills, Sicilian peasants, Venetian waterways. The enduring popular depictions of “Italy” fall mostly south of the nation’s midline and rarely include mountains.
But Italy is not a country. It is a collection of dozens (hundreds?) of countries somewhat awkwardly smushed together, shockingly diverse despite a common language and small geographic footprint.
The nation-within-a-nation of Trentino, in Italy’s northeast, is dominated by the jagged, steep, rather unromantic southern Alpine range of mountains known as the Dolomites. Dolomite history is liminal, wrapped up in the histories of Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, war.
Today the Dolomites are known for skiing, mountain climbing and extreme sports. They’re not known for wine, because how the hell do you plant vines in a mountain range?
It’s not all mountains. The five hectares of Azienda Agricola Gino Pedrotti are nestled among peaks surrounded by so much water that the area is known as the Valley of the Lakes, primary among them Lake Garda. This confluence of features – altitude and its cooling effects, stony soils, Mediterranean vegetation due to the water – produces grapes unlike those anywhere else in the world. Pedrotti’s beautiful wines, made in small quantities, are thrillingly expressive and unique.
Indeed, Trentino wines share official classification with the area’s more enologically famous northerly neighbor, Alto Adige, but the more my love for this region’s wines has deepened, the more I’ve come to realize how distinct Trentino is.
“I hate when people use ‘Trentino/Alto Adige’ as a single category,” Pedrotti’s American importer, Jeannie Rogers, told me. “The Loire Valley and Trentino are the only places in the world I can think of where you get such a perfect combination of total ripeness, total dryness and low alcohol.”
Alto Adige, which like Trentino produces its best reds from the native grapes schiava, teroldego and lagrein, usually presents firmer, more compacted, tannic wines. Pedrotti’s Schiava Nera is gossamer, quiet, pretty, with a compositional purity like pinot noir’s, at 12.5 percent alcohol. The white, from the native nosiola grape, is both robustly mineral and surprisingly rich, and clocks in at 12 percent.
This is not an arcane, technical matter. Luxuriant, deeply satisfying wines under 13 percent alcohol are (or should be) the holy grail for anyone who conceives of wine not as isolated trophy, but as an integral part of all-around living and dining.
Giuseppe Pedrotti certainly does. He farms biodynamically, making all his decisions based on the full life-cycle of his land, vines and family. He plants fruit trees and vegetables among the vineyards. He works hard, but less to make the wine than to make the wine happen.
“Giuseppe is not caught up in the final product,” Rogers explained to me. “He just respects what his father, grandfather and great-grandfather did, and wants to continue it, and loves each moment of the process.” The wines ferment with only their native yeasts, in stainless-steel and concrete tanks without temperature control. They are neither fined nor filtered, and receive scant sulfur at bottling, which occurs months later than is the norm.
(When I asked Rogers whether the unexpectedly lush white wine from nosiola undergoes the softening effects of malolactic fermentation, she replied, “I guess so. He doesn’t really do anything, and he bottles much later than most people, so it probably does.”)
Wines that undergo more manipulation by their human attendants (which is to say, the vast majority of the world’s wines) express more of those humans’ personalities. That can be a beautiful feature to follow, but I hold a special place for wines that seem to drive on their own. Pedrotti’s wines traverse a broader emotional spectrum than I’m used to sensing in a single producer, since Giuseppe’s approach to them is so humble.
Interestingly, the red is the easiest-going of the wines: fun to drink, lively, transparent. (Rogers told me that many Trentino producers make schiava with 5 percent lagrein, which deepens the wine and, I’d argue, risks unnecessarily complicating it.) The white is serious: though not demanding, it dials back the more conventionally prominent aspects of whites, namely acidity and fruit, leaving the mineral intensity and viscous mouthfeel at the forefront. Then, there’s the Vino Santo (keep reading).
Gino Pedrotti Nosiola 2011 ($22, Devenish). If flavor notes are your thing, here are some guideposts: limes, lime pith, subtle tropical fruit, orange rind, toasted hazelnut. But the secondary elements are where the real action is. There’s an incredible saline kelp-iness, immense mineral presence, all in a cozy, soothing, silken package. So often one needs to choose between precision and richness, but not here.
Gino Pedrotti Schiava Nera 2011 ($22). When the bottle is first opened, the wine comes off a bit prickly and forward, more akin to an Alto Adige teroldego. Twenty minutes later, a tremendous transformation begins, and it’s like a tree exhaling oxygen. After an hour you feel yourself in the presence of an exceptionally kind soul. The wine softens, opens, calms itself. You take in that initial rich cherry aroma, but its seamless, gorgeous grace, uninterrupted by tannin, is what lasts.
Gino Pedrotti Vino Santo Trentino 2000 ($80, 375ml). That’s a lot of money for a small bottle of wine, and simply out of reach for most of us. But we can dream. And the wine itself seems to materialize out of reach, in our dreams. The other two wines are recognizably human: I think of the Schiava as a best friend, and the Nosiola as a cherished mentor. But the Vino Santo (made from the best nosiola grapes, some of them affected by botrytis, painstakingly harvested in several passes, left to dry on screens before being gently pressed) is not human anymore; it’s cosmic.
There are recognizable components in this end-of-the-evening wine, to be sure: tarte tatin, caramelized peach, burnt-orange marmalade. But while it starts in the sweetness register, it middles in a spice route from centuries ago, and ends amidst a future realm of untold stories, hidden conversations of time and space, fractal.
This is what is commonly called a “meditazione” wine, but meditation selfishly considered as something we ourselves can “do” is not meditation at all, only a behavioral simulacrum. Pedrotti’s Vino Santo somehow is itself a state of meditation. It knows me better than I know myself. It abides. That can be deliciously scary, to feel that something or someone is offering only a portion of what it perceives, certain there are things I’m not mature and wise enough to hear. But that’s the perfect final expression from a winemaker whose respectful presence is what allows him to get out of the way and listen.
Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog is soulofwine.com, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org