Shielded by the Alps’ towering, snow-capped peaks lies Alto Adige, Italy’s northernmost wine region. There, a blend of influences yields delicious results. German — not Italian — is the most common language spoken in the verdant, sprawling vineyards. The most prodigious grapes tend to be French, and shaped by local Italian know-how in the form of expert growers and inventive vintners. This confluence of cultures has helped propel Alto Adige to international renown, as well as some especially delectable indigenous grape varietals, like the dark-skinned Schiava, and Lagrein, a grandchild of Pinot. Today, the region’s world-class wines are beloved not only for their complex flavor profiles, but also their chameleon-like ability to pair perfectly with a wide range of ingredients and cuisines.
Across the globe, chefs and restaurateurs have taken note, tracking down Alto Adige bottlings for their wine lists and designing whole menus around them. Want to recreate the same Alto Adige magic at home? Here’s how a handful of American restaurants and bars impressively pair dishes with Alto Adige wines.
Macaroni and Cheese with Müller-Thurgau (Bar Covell, Los Angeles)
At Los Angeles’s intimate Bar Covell, a candlelit wine and beer bar filled with low wooden tables, macaroni and cheese is crowned with ribbon-like slices of speck and demands a bracing wine to cut through its rich, creamy layers. Enter Müller-Thurgau, an acid-forward cross between crisp Riesling and Madeline Royale grapes. Grown on steep, stony inclines, the grapes translate to bottlings with pleasing minerality and aromas of lilac, citrus, and black currant. “It washes your palate to make you ready for the next bite,” says Bar Covell beverage director Matt Kaner.
Jagerwurst with St. Magdalener Classico (Table, Donkey and Stick, Chicago)
Bright on the palate with bold, red fruit flavor, St. Magdalener Classico — a DOC reserved for wines made with grapes grown in St. Magdalena, St. Justina, St. Peter, Rentsch and Leitach — is a tempting blend of local Schiava and Lagrein grapes. The wine’s savory, earthy tones are a pitch-perfect match for smoky links of homemade jagerwurst at Chicago’s Table, Donkey and Stick. The inn-like gathering place specializes in the mountain cuisines of France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and Slovenia. “The wine and the dish are both rustic, honest, and irresistibly delicious,” notes Table, Donkey and Stick proprietor Matt Sussman, who rounds out the pairing with a pillowy mound of German-style potato salad anointed with shaved fennel. “They go together perfectly.”
Spiced Beet Yogurt Dip with Kerner (Maxwell Park, Washington, D.C.)
Served alongside crunchy wisps of pink salt-dusted, kettle-style potato chips, the creamy spiced beet yogurt dip at Maxwell Park is refined in its own right. But when the swanky wine bar pairs the dish with Kerner, a late-budding cross between Schiava and Riesling grapes, it becomes otherworldly. “The acidity in the wine matches the tangy acidity of the dish, creating a lively, mouthwatering combination,” says Maxwell Park founder and sommelier Brent Kroll. “The slight spice is contrasted by the juicy white peach notes in the wine. A zingy, intense, and all-around crunchy pairing!”
Roasted Swordfish and Taro Root Dumplings with Sauvignon Blanc (Commis Restaurant, San Francisco)
There are Sauvignon Blancs, and then there are Sauvignon Blancs from Alto Adige. Juicy, delicate, and mineral-rich with aromas of ripe apricot and passion fruit, these wines channel a fine acidity and sturdy structure. At Commis Restaurant in San Francisco, it’s just the thing to elevate roasted Pacific swordfish beside tender taro root dumplings. “It has the weight (and a hint of oak spice) to stand up to the meaty swordfish, but retains a slight savory herbal note — I think a perfect match for the array of herbal accents in the dish,” says Commis Restaurant beverage director Mark Guilladeau, noting the dumplings’ hit of perilla and green onion. “Just as the dish provides a full spectrum of herbal flavors, the wine matches with an equally broad array of secondary aromas — and an equally broad texture,” Guilladeau concludes.
Roasted Pork Chops with Lagrein (LaLou, Brooklyn)
Blurring the line between sweet and savory, the roasted pork chop at LaLou, a petite, romantic wine bar in Brooklyn, requires a precise wine to cut through its layers. Topped with an electrifying agrodolce that marries the concentrated sweetness of prunes with a snap of bitter tardivo radicchio, the dish is a study in contrasts. LaLou Co-founder David Foss likes to pair it with a dry and savory Lagrein. “The weight of this wine cuts through the richness of the chop,” Foss says. “The Lagrein’s bright cherry notes bring out the fruit in the prune agrodolce.”
Grilled Swordfish and Artichoke Barigoule with Chardonnay (Hampton Street Vineyard, Columbia, S.C.)
Alive with fruity flavors, the Chardonnays of Alto Adige deliver notes of white flowers, stone fruit, and pineapple capped by a fine minerality. It’s just the thing to go with the sturdy grilled swordfish at Hampton Street Vineyard, an American take on the French brasserie set in downtown Columbia, S.C. Beverage director Hernan Martinez seeks out serious Chardonnay bottlings with rich textures and bright acidity that can stand up to the meaty fish, which is served over a bed of artichoke barigoule. Martinez emphasizes that the dish’s vegetable element “is finished in a white wine and butter sauce, and complements both the freshness and creaminess of the wine.”
Chicory Salad with Pinot Grigio (Four Seasons Philadelphia, Philadelphia)
Chicory, with its inherent bitterness, is not an easygoing ingredient. It requires careful balancing, which is achieved at the Four Seasons Philadelphia with the addition of jewel-hued citrus segments, creamy slivers of avocado, and a tart pomegranate vinaigrette. It goes without saying that the wine must perform the same balancing act. Alto Adige Pinot Grigio, often a hue of light straw and emitting aromas of ripe melon and apple, is just the thing. It offers “the freshness to match the citrus and phenolic bitterness to match the chicories,” says beverage director Jill Davis.
Pepperoni Pizza with Lagrein (La Dive, Seattle)
Aromatic wines from Alto Adige famously pair well with gooey, melted cheeses. Anais Custer, owner of La Dive in Seattle, uses this to her advantage by serving her shop’s old-school, thin-crust pepperoni pizza with a full-bodied, fresh Lagrein. “With notes of boysenberry, wet stone, lillies and black tea on the palate, we call it the ‘new comforter’ wine because it’s soft but not yet broken in!’’ Custer said. “It’s a perfect wine for when your pizza is salty and hot.”
Tarte Flambé with Grüner Veltliner (Bludorn, Houston)
At Bludorn, a dreamy New American eatery with a sprawling open kitchen, the savory tart flambé is not to be missed. This French-inspired take on a pizza conveys creamy fromage blanc, crunchy bacon lardons, and slivered Brussels sprouts. Wine director Molly Austard likes to accompany it with a structured Grüner Veltliner. “Brussels sprouts can be hard to pair!” she says. “But the slight green notes of the Grüner are a perfect match, while the zippy acidity cuts through the fat of the lardons and the ginger tones complement the truffle honey.”
Steak and Potatoes with Lagrein (Apt 115, Austin, Texas)
At Apt 115, which describes itself as a “retro fancy wine bar,” the “steak and potatoes” aren’t your average steak and potatoes. Here, dry-aged Wagyu beef tartare sits atop a petite crostini round crowned with a nasturtium leaf and smashed tri-colored pee wee potatoes. It’s finished off with umami-rich truffle butter and a sprinkling of fennel fronds. Beverage director Joe Penebacker finds that the dish is an excellent match for Lagrein. “It holds up nicely to the tartare, and the acidity balances out the richness of the truffle butter on the potatoes,” he said.
Antipasti with Grüner Veltliner (Barolo Grill, Denver)
Antipasti is serious business at Barolo Grill, a hotspot for authentic northern Italian fare in the heart of Denver. One of the most popular platters is piled high with fatty speck, zingy horseradish-spiked crema, toasted pistachios, bitter greens, and crispy sunchoke chips. Barolo Grill sommelier Erin Lindstone likes to pair the plate with bottlings of dry, full-bodied Grüner Veltliner, which pack notes of peach, fresh-cut herbs, and white pepper. “The herbaceousness and spice of the wine play so well with the flavors that accompany the speck,” Lindstone notes. “Speck itself is an ingredient of Alto Adige and naturally pairs with the wines of the region.”
This article is sponsored by Alto Adige Wines.