The only thing better than hitting the ski slopes is what comes after–après-ski. This is the delightful experience when you don comfortable sweaters and cozy up to a fireplace with a drink in hand. While many types of wine will do, the best pairing is a lot like approaching food: what grows together, goes together. It’s natural to look for wines from a region also heralded for their ski resorts, like Italy’s Alto Adige.
Alto Adige is the mountainous region in the northern part of Italy bordering Switzerland and Austria. It’s here that the striking Dolomites rise high above picturesque valleys dotted with medieval castles. Since the Dolomites are the Italian part of the Alps and they are UNESCO World Heritage site since 2009, you’d expect to find excellent skiing akin to Switzerland. And you do. The region is home to more than 1,200 miles of slopes, including world-class destinations like Val Gardena and Alta Badia, both World Cup racing venues.
It also happens to be one of Italy’s premier winemaking regions, producing standout white wines—like Pinot Grigio and Gewurztraminer—as well as red wines like the indigenous grapes of Vernatsch (Schiava) and Lagrein. The cool climate and high elevation produce wines with zippy acidity and pleasant minerality. The white wines, in particular, are often light-bodied, making them even better for aperitif sips.
White or red, the wines of Alto Adige don’t sacrifice complexity with weight; these developed wines complement all sorts of foods, from hearty regional favorites like gnocchi to international flavors from Japan. To give you a sense of how well these wines go with an après-ski meal, Vinepair tapped chefs from across the U.S. to pair their go-to Alto Adige wines with dishes you’d want to devour after a day coasting down the mountainsides.
ALTO ADIGE PINOT GRIGIO with Charred Speck and Burrata
Speck, a style of dried pork that was originally developed in the region, is a classic pairing with wines for Alto Adige. Wine & Spirits Director Erik Nordstrom keeps it simple with charred smoked speck that is served alongside creamy burrata drizzled in chili oil. It’s an appetizer just calling out for another icon of the region: Pinot Grigio. The high acidity of the Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio cuts through the rich fat from the meat and cheese. While it does involve some spice from the chili oil, the light touch of the oil balances with the minerality of the wine so as to not overwhelm the palate. Find it at his restaurant, 1776, in Crystal Lake, Ill.
ALTO ADIGE PINOT BIANCO with Homemade Cavatelli in an Emmentaler Cream Sauce
Co-owner Bradley Anderson at Rapscallion in Dallas is just as into his wines from around the world as he is his cheeses. Rightfully so. So when it comes to making a dish to go with Elena Walch’s iconic Pinot Bianco Selezione, he gravitates to an elevated cream sauce made with Emmentaler, an alpine cheese from Switzerland. Elena Walch is one of the most well-known producers in Alto Adige and one of the most notable winemakers. Her Pinot Bianco is really something special, and something this author has ordered on several occasions when she sees it by the glass. The light, mineral-driven white wine is a super alternative to Pinot Grigio, and one that adds a hint of herbalism that this chef picks up on. To highlight the wine’s earthy notes, he adds speck and mushrooms to his homemade pasta and peppers the cheesy cream sauce with chives and arugula. Chef’s kiss.
Just as Pinot Bianco pairs with the traditional regional fare, the wine can also beautifully complement more creative dishes. Beverage Director Dave Roth proves this with an udon carbonara, which is prepared with smoky Neuske’s bacon, cream, parmesan cheese, nori, and onsen eggs at Kojo in Sarasota, Flo.The finished noodle/pasta dish is then topped with freshly grated Italian black truffles. Decadent. For him, the Alois Lageder Pinot Bianco, a more medium-bodied expression, provides a stellar sip, thanks to its orchard fruit flavors that balance the savoriness of the dish.
ALTO ADIGE PINOT BIANCO with Mid-Atlantic Chicken Milanese
If we haven’t sold you on Pinot Bianco yet, this may do it: Cantina Tramin Moritz Pinot Bianco with Chicken Milanese. Milan, the most international city of northern Italy, is due south from Alto Adige in the neighboring province of Lombardy. The wines of the Dolomites have long found their way to the foods of the Milanese, including their popular preparation of chicken. At D.C.’s Conrad Hotel, Beverage Director Nial Garcia enjoys the addition of local ingredients from the Chesapeake Bay area to innovate upon chicken Milanese. For example, he crisps a chicken thigh and tops it with pan drippings, pickled mustard, and Medjool dates. Like other pairings with Pinot Bianco, it’s the wine’s acidity that cuts the fattiness of the fried chicken to balance the palette while allowing the dates and mustard greens to shine too.
Après ski fanatics know that fondue is one of the best possible dishes for refueling after the slopes, and it just so happens that fontal cheese fondue with speck and roasted apples is on offer at Denver’s Tavernetta. Sommelier Ryanna Kramer serves the gooey cheese experience alongside a bottle of Cantina Terlano-Kellerei Terlan ‘Vorberg’ Riserva Pinot Bianco Alto Adige. The mineral and honey flavors work so well with the cheese and fruit that you just may opt for round two—and another helping of fondue.
The native Alsatian grape Gewurztraminer, not surprisingly, grows particularly well in Alto Adige, and often with more acidity alongside its archetypal floral and spicy notes. New York’s Beverage Director Daniel Yeom finds himself reaching for bottles of Gewurztraminer from Erste + Neue, an environmentally conscious and sustainable producer from Alto Adige. He likes to serve it with a favorite from the restaurants winter menu at his restaurant, Loring Place: a white pizza topped with charred brussels sprouts, garlic oil, pickled jalapeno, and three types of cheese. The spicy notes of the wine pair with the roasted vegetable and complement the jalapeno too.
Alto Adige is a unique region in that it has historically been passed among empires. At times, it was ruled by the Romans, Charlemagne, Hapsburgs, and Germans. Until World War I, it was part of Austria, when it was ceded by treaty to the Kingdom of Italy. Seeing the Austrian influence in the region today—in the form of Riesling wine and Pork Schnitzel entrees—is expected. Hernan Martinez, the Managing Partner at Hampton Street Vineyard, a wine-focused restaurant in Columbia, S.C., draws on this history by pairing Falkensteiner Riesling with his traditional preparation of pork schnitzel, complete with sauerkraut. The wine’s grapefruit, apple, and honey notes bring out the sweetness of the pork and calm the sourness of the fermented cabbage, all while telling the story of the region.
For all the talk of single varieties, Alto Adige makes some stellar blends too, like Cantina Terlan’s Cuvèe Terlaner. A blend of 60 percent Pinot Bianco with 30 percent Chardonnay and 10 percent Sauvignon Blanc, this white wine blend offers stone fruit and citrus notes with a smooth finish of honey and spice. It sounds almost too good to pair with food but sipping it with a bite of malfatti, an Italian ricotta dumpling is superb. At San Francisco’s Sorello, Beverage Director Gianpaolo Paterlini puts his own spin on it by subbing swiss chard for the traditional spinach, and adding gorgonzola and speck—all things the honey aromas and flavors enhance to culinary heights.
The dark-hued, earthy-flavored Lagrein red wine of Alto Adige may not be the first glass you grab for brunch. But if you hit the slopes at sunrise, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better accompaniment to the eggs you’ll be craving. That’s the idea behind Beverage Director AJ Ojeda-Pons’s pairing of the Manincor Südtirol Alto Adige Lagrein Rubatsch alongside his egg, potato, and speck breakfast bowl at Temperance Wine Bar in New York City. It’s a bit of a sommelier trend to pour red wine with brunch foods, and with pairings like this, red wine definitely does work before noon.
Strangolapreti is a regional specialty: a traditional dumpling made from stale bread and spinach. Seattle’s chef Sabrina Tinsley of La Spiga recreates this hearty dish with her leftover loaves, serving the dumplings in a cultured butter sauce with sage and speck. The dish is a lot like gnocchi, so it calls out for a similar hearty wine. Enter: Abbazia di Novacella’s Lagrein. The deep and moody red wine offers velvety tannins and high acidity to cleanse the palate between each bite with flavors of cherries and spice.
Meet Kerner, a cross between Vernatsch (Schiava) and Riesling that produces high-acid white wines grown in high-elevation locations in the mountains. The Manni Nössing Kerner goes equally well with comfort food like potato and cheese dumplings topped with speck and herbs, made by Austin’s chef Andre Molina at Aviary. The herbs are what seal the pairing deal, which often enhances aromatic herbs thanks to its fruit-forward flavors and smoky finish. Now, imagine yourself in front of that fireplace.
This article is sponsored by Alto Adige Wines.