The drive north from Verona along the eastern side of Lake Garda past Trentino toward Bolzano is one of the most scenic drives in Northern Italy. Once you are in the Alto Adige, it is difficult to believe that you are still in Italy. The area is also known as Sudtirol or the South Tyrol. The people call themselves Tyrolians and German is their first language. It is the land of Italy’s majestic northern Alps and thousand-peaked Dolomite mountains, bordering on Austria and Switzerland.
We were invited by the Hotel & Spa Rosa Alpina (www.rosalpina.it) in the village of San Cassiano, in the Alta Badia region of the Dolomite Mountains for a wine and food pairing in NYC. Our host was Hugo Pizzinini, General Manager and owner of the hotel.
The menu was prepared by Norbert Niederkofler the Executive Chief of this Relais & Chateaux Hotel. The restaurant in the Hotel is the two-star Michelin St Hubertus, named for the patron saint of hunters. It is not often that I get to taste food from this region and was looking forward to it. Chef Niederkofler prepared a special menu with matching wines.
The first course was speck, the traditional smoked ham of the area, served with horseradish, mustard and bread from the Dolomites that was light and crisp with a hint of anise. What better wine to match this with than the popular red Schiava 2007 from Peter Solva. Schiava, also known as Vernatsch, is the most planted grape in the region. Schiava means female slave in Italian. Native to the Alto Adige, it is one of the most consumed varieties and is looked upon as the own home grown grape. This wine was light in style with fresh fruit flavors and it was served chilled. Needless to say it was a perfect match with the Speck.
The next course was char, a salmon-like fish cooked in mountain herbs with potatoes and ramp (wild leek) puree. The fish was cooked to perfection and the potatoes with ramps made the dish. It was paired with a 2007 Terlan Terlaner made from Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay. This wine was much better with the food than by itself.
This was followed by crisp red mullet on tartar of scallops with sautéed calamari and coconut coriander sauce. There is a lot going on in this dish but the flavors were subtle and there was just a hint of coconut. 2007 Riesling from Weingut Koferehof was paired with it. This is a very aromatic wine with a hint of pineapple that worked with all of the flavors.
The next dish was risotto with Dolomite pine needles served with gently cooked breast of guinea fowl.
I asked the chef about the pine needles and he said that they are only used for risotto. He said that they come from the tender green tips of the low-rowing mugo pine branches, pureed and blended with sweet butter and stirred into the risotto. The dish worked and it was perfect with a crisp 2007 Chardonnay from St. Michael Eppan with good acidity.
Venison with white asparagus, pea puree and fresh morels followed. The venison was perfectly cooked and the tender asparagus were the essence of spring. This was paired with the Pinot Nero “Barthenau Vigna S. Urbano,from Hofstatter. I found the wine to be too oaky for my taste and for the venison.
For dessert the chef prepared rhubarb soup and warm chocolate pudding and fromage blanc ice cream. I loved this dessert and I loved the wine with the dessert, the 2006 Moscato Rosa “Schweizer” from Franz Hass. It had just the right amount of fresh red fruit flavors and aromas to compliment the dessert.
For more information on the food at this event, see my wife Michele’s blog at www.MicheleScicolone.com.