Beautiful South Tyrol
The North American Wine Spectator magazine recently featured some South Tyrolean wines and farms and ranked them highly. Reason enough to pay them a visit since I was venturing to Europe anyway. South Tyrol is the German speaking autonomous province of Italy in the Alps, close to Austria. Once called “Hitler’s gift to Mussolini”, the history is actually a bit different and a lot more complicated, as it already went to Italy after WWI. Going forwards and backwards between Austria and Italy, South Tyrolean people are fluent in both the German and Italian language, and do speak English as well to make things easier for international guests. The majority of the tourists, however, are Germans, with Italians only lately travelling North across the invisible language border at Salurno.
Meran (Merano), the jewel in the South Tyrolean crown.
Never mind the politics and its history, South Tyrol, or Alto Adige as it is called in Italian, has a fantastic cuisine. It is half-way between the Italian super antipasti we all love so much and the rich and hearty food of Southern Germany. Besides that, it has a very favourable climate for growing wine, and has done so quite successfully since Roman times with relatively unknown grapes, especially on the red wine side. Varieties like Lagrein, St. Magdalener and Vernatsch are not commonly known outside the region, but are very popular here. Pinot Nero (Noir), Cabernet and Merlot have also found their way into South Tyrol, just like in Tuscany. And just like there, the blending with the Lagrein seems rather successful, if not quite like the Super Tuscans with San Giovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Nevertheless, some of the top producers got the thumbs up in the American Wine Spectator.
One white wine grape that is universally known has its origin here. Maybe it only bears the name of the town, but the floral and lychee-flavoured Gewürztraminer is commonly associated with the French province of Alsace. Not too far away from South Tyrol, this is possibly because of better advertising by the French, but certainly not because of better quality. Drop the ”Gewürz” (engl.: spice), and what remains is the name of the town of Tramin, one of the wine capitals in the region around Kaldern.
Wine tasting with varietal name on paper ring, and speck and the local bread to enjoy
Apart from the world-wide common single row trellising, you find ancient ways of training of the vines. Pergolas are the often seen in South Tyrol, making a roof-like canopy over two rows of support. Nevertheless, about 60% of the abundant fruit needs to be cut before harvesting for quality purposes and the rules and regulations of the appellation about the maximum yield per hectare.
Pergola-style training of the vines
The favourite thing to eat in South Tyrol is the Speck. Speck is a cured ham similar to a Parma or Serrano Ham, but with distinct juniper berry, rosemary and bay leave flavours, apart from the salt curing and smoking. Best served sliced with a few pickles, walnut bread and good helping of Lagrein, it is the perfect nibble after a long day of hiking in the beautiful hills of the region.
Traditional wooden board with Speck.
The Südtiroler Tris (South Tyrolean Tris) is another favourite of the region. It comes with three different types of dumplings. The basic recipe is a bread-dumpling refined with spinach, diced speck and lots of cheese. We tasted the spinach variety, but the spinach was replaced with nettles. It was very healthy, and unexpectedly delicious. If you like dumplings then these varieties will elevate you into culinary heaven.
South Tyrolian Tris with Nettle dumpling, Cheese dumpling and agnolotti (half-moon shaped ravioli,