Trollinger is an Italian / German red wine grape varietal which is thought to have been first cultivated in the wine region of South Tyrol and Trentino, Italy. But today is almost exclusively cultivated on steep, warm sites in the Württemberg wine region of Baden-Württemberg in Germany. It is primarily known under the synonyms Trollinger in Germany, ‘Vernatsch’ and ‘Schiava’ in Italian wine regions.
As a table grape the varietal is sometimes known as Black Hamburg, which is regularly confused with the Black Muscat, a varietal which is actually a cross of Trollinger and Muscat of Alexandria. While the grape is likely northern Italian in origin, the synonym Schiava is related to the Italian word for ‘Slave’ and may hint at Slavic origins.
Records show that the grape has been growing in the Trentino-Alto Adige region since at least the 13th century. The synonym ‘Vernatsch’ (used in Austria) appears to have a similar origin as Vernaccia in having the same root word as ‘vernacular’ or ‘local’. The German synonym Trollinger appears to be a corruption of the word Tirolinger meaning ‘of Tyrol’.
At some point the grape migrated north to the southern regions of Germany though the exact date of arrival is unknown. In Württemberg, viticulture has existed since at least the 8th century when monks from Burgundy established monasteries and vineyards in the region. The earliest records for Trollinger growing in the Württemberg region date back to the 14th century.
In the Trentino-Alto Adige region, several sub-varietals have been identified. These include the large berry Schiava Grossa (also known as Grossvernatsch and Schiava Grigia) which is probably the highest yielding clone, but tends to produce light bodied wines. The smaller berry Schiava Gentile (also known as Kleinvernatsch), produces more aromatic wines and Tschaggle, which is the lowest yielding clone, but often produces the most acclaimed wines. Other known clones include Schiava Media and Schiava Piccola.
In Württemberg, Trollinger was crossed with the white grape Riesling to produce the cross Kerner in 1929 (received varietal protection and was released for general cultivation in 1969). In 2010, DNA analysis suggested that the Emilia-Romagna wine grape ‘Uva Tosca’ maybe a natural crossing between Trollinger-Schiava Grossa and Crepallochi.
In Germany Trollinger is a late ripening variety, often being harvested much later than Riesling. The vast majority of the nearly 2,300 hectares of Trollinger in Germany are grown in the Württemberg around the town of Stuttgart and throughout the Neckar Valley. The region is the fifth largest in Germany with nearly a third of all plantings in Württemberg being Trollinger, with the varietal being the 4th most planted varietal in Germany. While there are several clones of the varietal in Italy, nearly all of the Trollinger found in Germany is the high yielding Schiava Grossa cone, and is often blended with Lemberger.
In Italy it is a permitted varietal in several DOC’s including the Santa Maddalena DOC located east of the city of Bolzano in the Alto Adige region. Some producers will often use the German name 'Saint Magdalener' on the wine labels.
The wine produced from the grape is mostly red, though some dark coloured rosé style wines are also produced. In Württemberg, the wine is often slightly sweet with some residual sugar leftover after fermentation is completed. Most wines produced Trollinger are often consumed very young, usually within a year of the vintage. Italian styles of Schiava tend to be similarly light but are more often dryer and more noticeably higher in natural acidity.