If you are looking for fine Italian wine and food, consider the Trentino-Alto Adige region of northern Italy. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you’ll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour.
Trentino-Alto Adige is located in the center of Italy’s northern border. It touches both Switzerland and Austria. Among its tourist attractions are the Dolomite mountains, called “the most beautiful work of architecture even seen” by the famous architect Le Corbusier, glacier lakes, and Alpine forests. In fact the region is composed of two parts, Trentino in the south and Alto Adige in the north. Alto Adige belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire for centuries, where it was known as Südtirol. Like many other parts of Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige was often invaded. Unlike most other parts of Italy, this area is officially bilingual; a sizable portion of its population about 925 thousand is German speaking.
Trentino-Alto Adige has plentiful forests, and the hillsides are covered with fruit trees. This is Italy’s major apple-producing region. Only about 15% of the land can be cultivated. Agricultural products include corn, wheat, oats, barley, and rye. In addition to beef and dairy cattle, mining and manufacturing are prevalent.
Trento is the administrative center of Trentino and Bolzano is the administrative center of Alto Adige. Both are tourist towns. Trentino was the site of the Council of Trent lasting almost twenty years in the middle of the 16th Century with a major impact on the Catholic Church. Both these cities, and many others in the region, have numerous churches and secular sites of interest to tourists.
Trentino-Alto Adige devotes about thirty thousand acres to grapevines, it ranks 16th among the 20 Italian regions. Its total annual wine production is about 25 million gallons, giving it a 14th place. About 55% of the wine production is red or rosé, leaving 45% for white. The region produces 8 DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine. A whopping 79.1% of Trentino-Alto Adige wine carries the DOC designation, by far the highest percentage in Italy. Trentino-Alto Adige is home to almost four dozen major and secondary grape varieties, about half white and half red.
Widely grown international white grape varieties include Gewürtztraminer, Pinot Bianco, often called Pinot Blanc outside of Italy, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, often called Pinot Gris outside of Italy, Sylvaner, and Müller-Thurgau. In fact, some say Gewürtztraminer originated in the Alto-Adige town of Termeno, known as Tramin in German. Italian white varieties include Nosiola, and Moscato Giallo, Trentino-Alto Adige’s version of the international Moscato (Muscat) grape.
Widely grown international red grape varieties include Pinot Nero, called Pinot Noir outside of Italy, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The best known strictly Italian red varieties are Schiava, Lagrein, Teroldego, and Marzemino.
Before reviewing the Trentino-Alto Adige wine and cheese that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region.
Start with Ravioli della Val Pusteria, Rye Pasta with Spinach and Caraway Seeds. Then try Gulasch de Manzo, Beef, Potato, Onion, and Paprika Stew.
For dessert indulge yourself with Krapfen Tirolesi, Fried Pastry with Marmalade and Powdered Sugar. Did you notice that these specialties seem as Austrian as Italian?
OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY While we have communicated with well over a thousand Italian wine producers and merchants to help prepare these articles, our policy is clear. All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.
Concilio Pinot Nero Reserva 2002 12.5% alcohol about $15
I’ll start by quoting the marketing materials: “Pretty aromas of strawberry, pepper and earth lead to flavors that are soft and velvety. Good varietal characteristics demonstrated here in ths light-to-medium bodied, long finishing wine. Match to a grilled salmon or tuna.
And now for my thoughts. This wine has a cherry and tobacco nose and is mildly acidic. It tastes of tobacco. The wine is round, mouth-filling and somewhat robust. It is a bit older than most of the wines in this series, and frankly, it shows. Like many Pinot Noirs, it tasted of earth.
Once in a while I follow the producer’s suggestions. I felt this Pinot Noir was an excellent accompaniment to a grilled Atlantic salmon with steamed asparagus. The fish brought out the wine’s fruit flavors, and the wine did a great job of cutting the fish’s fattiness. I still remember the first time that I drank a Pinot Noir (Oregon, I believe) with salmon at the suggestion of a excellent fish restaurant. It’s a great combination when both the fish and the wine are high quality. I ended this meal with almond milk chocolate, washed down with a bit of wine. This latter combination is not classical, but the result was more than satisfactory.
My next tasting included beef stew and potatoes, zucchini and onions in a tomato sauce, and a commercially prepared moderately spicy “Turkish” salad based on red pepper, tomato, and onion. The wine was round, mouth-filling, a bit complex. The dominant taste was tobacco. But I was disappointed, the wine was short.
Asiago is a cheese whose characteristics differ widely depending on where it is made, and its aging. I happen to love a local Asiago that my neighborhood supermarket carries once in a while. It is relatively sharp. I am told that Wisconsin Asiago cheese typically has butterscotch undertones. The imported Asiago tasted with this wine was nutty and pleasantly acidic, but frankly not as good as the local version. The cheese brought out the earthy characteristics of the Pinot Noir. Interestingly enough, the wine immediately changed its flavor and became more acidic in the presence of a commercially prepared roasted butternut squash dip.
In a close call, my initial reaction was not to purchase this wine again. Then I changed my mind, I would purchase it again, but be quite careful in pairing the wine. There is a simple solution, serve it with a grilled, preferably Atlantic, salmon.
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Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. His wine website is www.theworldwidewine.com .
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