Acidity: Low to medium
Age: Drink while young and fresh. The best wines have an aging potential ranging from 2 to 5 years.
Aka: Also known as Vernatsch (fehr-NAHCH) in northern Italy and Trollinger (traw-ling-er) in southern Germany.
Schiava (SKEE-AH-vah) is believed to have originated in the northern Italian region of Alto Adige, and is widely grown there today, as well as in neighboring Trentino. The earliest recorded reference to the grape is from the 13th century, but its presence in the region is likely to date back to at lease Roman times, and probably earlier. This northern region of Italy, incorporating Trentino-Alto Adige, is also known as the Südtirol (South Tyrol) and was part of Austria up to the end of the First World War.
The Austrian influence is still very prominent today, to the extent that much of the region is predominantly German speaking. Consequently, many towns have a German, as well as an Italian, name and this is reflected in wine labels, which may be written in Italian or German, or both. There is also a local Ladin language, whose origin dates back to a time when Roman soldiers settled in remote valleys in this region.
Schiava is the Italian name for the grape, which means “slave” and may refer to “Slavic”, leading some to believe that the grape could have originated further to the east. The German name given to the grape in this region is Vernatsch, meaning “vernacular”, and indicates that it is probably of local origin. At some time in the past the grape arrived in the southern regions of Germany, possibly brought by the Romans or by monks during the Middle Ages, and was given the name Trollinger, which appears to be a corruption of the word Tirolinger meaning of, or from, the Tirol.
There are several clones of Schiava in the Trentino-Alto Adige region. The best wines are produced by the Schiava Grigia (Grauvernatsch) clone, which is difficult to grow, and the lower yielding Schiava Gentile (Kleinvernatsch) and Tschaggel (Tschaggelvernatsch) clones. The most commonly planted clone is the higher yielding and somewhat less distinguished Schiava Grossa (Grossvernatsch). Generally, Schiava is vigorous and therefore needs to be well managed in the vineyard to ensure that yields are kept in check to maintain quality.
The grapes are thin-skinned and tannin is naturally low. Acidity is low to medium, but can be elevated if yields are allowed to get too high. The wines are light in body, with a soft texture and usually have a pale ruby color (can be as pale as a Rosé). Aromas of red berries with notes of almonds, herbs and violets are followed by flavors of raspberry, strawberry and cherry, leading to a refreshing bitter almond – and sometimes slightly spicy – finish. Many can also display delicate mineral and earthy notes.
These wines from Trentino-Alto Adige are unpretentious, easy drinking and intended to be consumed soon after release, when they are young and fresh. At their best, from producers such as Kellerei Nals Margreid, they are elegant, refined and absolutely delicious, as well as representing exceptional value for money. They are also excellent during the warm summer months, as they can be served slightly chilled. These wines have often been compared with those from Beaujolais in France (see Gamay in the Fruity style), and while this comparison is valid, they do have their own individual character.
In Trentino-Alto Adige, Schiava is often blended with the more robust local Lagrein variety (see Lagrein in the Smooth style) and makes very highly regarded Rosé. In the southern German region of Württemberg, Trollinger– the name the Germans have given to Schiava – is the most planted red grape variety. The light wines it produces here are generally made slightly sweet and much of the harvest is devoted to Rosé. Most Württemberg wines are consumed within the region and, therefore, very few are exported.
It is interesting to note that Schiava, along with Riesling, is one of the parents of Kerner (see Kerner in the Aromatic style), which was developed in Württemberg in 1929 by crossing these two varieties.
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