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Lou's Summer Passport - Second Stop: Alto Adige, Italy

Lou's Summer Passport - Second Stop: Alto Adige, Italy

Ahh… Here I am in Alto Adige, Italy!

Don’t be jealous because you can join me right now! All you need to do is pour yourself a glass of wine, and I’ll do the rest! I’ll be sipping on a few different wines on this trip — all of which positively transport me to this German-speaking part of Italy where the signature wines of the region speak to me with no need for an interpreter!

One of my all time favorite whites from this region has to be Pinot Blanc.

Just like in South Africa, it’s a variation of Pinot Noir that is touring me on my first stop on my Italian adventure. There are so many things to love about a Pinot Blanc. It’s a bountiful grape that appears on the vine in tight clusters, which make it necessary for it to live in cooler climates to prevent mildew during its growth cycle. But once it’s harvested, the winemaker’s journey with these grapes unleashes flavors and textures you’d almost never expect to experience in a white wine.

I love the velvety texture and the almond-like flavors of a well made Pinot Blanc. This wine has a slightly creamy mouth-feel to it which makes it uniquely different from other white wines you may have experienced. Often called “Chardonnay’s understudy,” this is a heartier white wine that showcases the quality of the grapes and the winemaker’s skills — which is why enjoying one from Alto Adige is such a great way to explore this region.

Just so you know, Alto Adige isn't the largest producer of wine grapes in Italy — in fact, it’s a very small producing region when compared to Piedmont and Tuscany. But it has averaged four times as many Tre Bicchieri awards — which is Italy's most prestigious wine competition — than any other growing region in the country, and so experiencing any wine from this region is sure to impress you in every way!  

But if you’re looking for a Pinot Blanc to transport you to Alto Adige, then I’d like to recommend you ask your local wine shop owner to point you to a DOC level Alto Adige Pinot Blanc. This will ensure the wine is of top quality, and the experience you have won’t disappoint!

As Meredith and I say all the time, in Italy, wine isn’t just an add on to a meal. It’s a central part of it, and so Pinot Blancs from this part of Italy always make me hungry for Northern Italian dishes! Fontina cheese and Cotechino with lentils taste amazing, but so does a roasted chicken with creamy pasta! But with that strong German influence, a perfect pairing with Pinot Blanc might be Spinach Spätzli with Sage.

However…

If I’m going with Spätzli, I’d almost rather have a bottle of my other favorite white wine from this Alto Adige: Gewürztraminer

I am a huge fan of Gewürztraminer, and when I sip on one from Alto Adige, the experience feels even grander! A well made Gewürztraminer from Alto Adige has notes of cloves, lychees, and tropical fruits — but it can also have a spicy and sometimes musk-like quality which is incredibly delicious to explore.  On the palate, the texture is one of the standouts of this varietal for me. Silk and velvet are two sensations that come to mind because this wine lingers on the palate in an almost sensual way.

Tramin (or, Termeno in Italian) is partly responsible for the name of the Gewürztraminer variety. The word "Gewürzt" in German means spicy or musky, and "Traminer" is the grape variety, and when born and made in this part of Italy, this aromatic white is one of the most sought-after of all of Alto Adige’s wines.

I particularly enjoy sipping on this wine when it’s perfectly chilled. It’s unique flavors don’t get lost when served cold the way some wines can, and in fact, it tastes even better this way — especially in the summer. I’m known to pair my California Gewürztraminer with Thai and Indian food, but when I’m keeping my experience in Italy, I absolutely love the way this wine pairs with a risotto!

But no trip to Alto Adige is complete without exploring one last wine: Schiava

For all of you red wine lovers, Schiava is a wine you’ve really got to experience for yourself. I know I could totally blow your mind with facts and details about this grape variety that’s grown at this complicated junction between France, Germany, and Italy — and if you’re interested in going that deep, I’ve got a terrific resource for you right here! 

But I’m on vacation here, and so for me, I think it might be more fun to talk about a few ironies about this light and lively red!

Schiava is the primary name we usually use for this wine that actually encompasses several different clones — and since I love exploring clones, this is where I am inclined to do my exploring! You’ve got Schiava Grossa, which, even if you don’t speak Italian, you can pretty much tell implies it has larger berries; Schiava Gentile, which you can thank for this wine's distinctive aromatics; Schiava Grigia, which, it turns out is quite difficult to grow so it’s kind of special in-and-of itself; and, Schiava Tschaggel, which is a notoriously uneven ripening grape that somehow manages to produce some truly sought after and notably good wines. So, as you can see, Schavia is a wine that is very much like me this summer:

It's all over the place!

But that’s one of the things I absolutely love about Schiava. It’s never a one-note experience, and depending on the vintage and the winemaker, a Schiava from Alto Adige is going to dazzle you differently every time you pull the cork. One of the many things I adore about this wine is how many hidden notes you can find in every sip, and when you’re “tripping” on a wine in your mind the way I do, the discoveries are pretty exciting.

But experts who try to explain the experience of drinking a Schiava have been known to fixate on the foundational similarities to a light bodied Pinot Noir (are you seeing a theme here?) but with sweeter notes. Sometimes cotton candy and  bubblegum notes rise to the top, and I’ll be honest, in any other wine, that would be a terrible experience in my book. But it’s all of the other ways the elegant fruit flavors and bright acidity come together to compliment those sweeter top notes that makes this a wine I truly admire.

It’s a beautiful thing when you explore a wine region and come out of it with three wines you don’t want to live your life without, and for me, that’s what a trip through Alto Adige offers me.

Arrivederci!

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