The legendary Alps mountain range spanning 750 miles across six European countries is world famous for its awe-inspiring natural beauty, top-notch ski slopes, and a certain movie in which Juile Andrews spins around singing “The Hills Are Alive.” What might not be as famous, at least at first glance, is the culinary scene that winds its way through the loose assortment of Alpine mountain towns. Despite regional differences, the isolated life in rural villages inspired the creation of a rich cuisine intended to sustain people through long winter months. Cheese, meats, potatoes, and more cheese are the staples of the hearty comfort food.
Many wine regions dot the Alps, but possibly none more famous than Italy’s Alto Adige. The region lies in a glacial valley in the northernmost tip of Italy, just south of Austria. This strip of land was the main thoroughfare for people traveling to Italy from the rest of Europe before the advancement of flight travel.
Today, the high-altitude vineyards in the region produce some of the world’s best white wines, with the historic Kettmeir winery taking the lead. Giuseppe Kettmeir founded the winery in 1919, the same year Italy acquired the former Austro-Hungarian territory of Alto Adige. The winery takes its status as one of the region’s pioneers seriously as winemakers aim to create bottles of wine that exude the subtle details of the Alpine terroir. As a result, each bottle pairs perfectly with select regional dishes that are easy to recreate.
The Wine: Pinot Grigio
Kettmeir’s Pinot Grigio hails from Italy’s northernmost wine making region of Alto Adige in the Dolomites and Rhaetian Alps foothills. The crisp Alpine continental climate with long, sunny days provides an ideal climate to grow with inherent high-acidity grapes. The grapes grow in altitudes up to 1,640 feet, or 500 meters, before being hand harvested. The stainless-steel-fermented wine remains on its lees for several weeks to acquire volume and complexity before bottling. The result? A straw yellow wine with ripe apple and citrus aromas, a vivid acidity, and mineral-driven finish.
The Appetizer: Fondue
Dairy products have been a central component of Alpine cuisine for centuries, none more so than cheese. Fondue, meaning “melted” in French, is a selection of local cheese metered together and served with a side of bread for dipping. A fondue made with the sweet Gruyère cheese pairs well with Pinot Grigio’s delicate mineral overtones. Gruyère comes from the small town of Gruyères in Switzerland and is considered a must in Swiss comfort food.
The Main Dish: Ravioli Stuffed With Brown Butter Sauce
Throughout the ages, several counties have laid claim to the Alto Adige region. As a result, the area is home to a diverse population. German is a prominent language spoken in many of the towns. Dishes that marry both the Italian and German cultures work well with the multifaceted Pinot Grigio. A ravioli stuffed with Alpine cheeses like the German Allgäuer Bergkäse in a brown butter sauce would be a wonderful dinner during cold winter months. The vibrant acidity of the Pinot Grigio cuts through the nutty nature of the cheese while the wine’s savory tang pairs with the brown butter sauce.
The Wine: Pinot Bianco
Kettmeir’s Pinot Bianco vineyards are planted in the steep hills west of Lake Caldaro. The area’s soils have a loose texture with calcareous elements, enhancing the wine’s freshness. The grapes are aged in a stainless steel vat leading to a wine that has a dry palate with good acidity, persistent and delicate minerality. The wine’s racy acidity makes it easy to pair with an endless array of savory dishes while its crispy green apple and floral finish helps cut through the richest of desserts.
The Appetizer: French Onion Soup
Soups can be tricky to pair with wine, especially a soup with flavors as bold as French onion soup. The hearty soup is made with beef stock, caramelized onions, bread, butter, and cheese. But the high acidity in Kettmeir’s Pinot Bianco cuts through the richness of the soup, while wine’s mineral finish enhances the caramelization of the onions.
Main Dish: Roast Chicken with Knödel
Knödel is the German word for dumplings. The traditional German homemade dumplings can be made from flour, potatoes, or old bread and are usually served as a side to a meat dish. Serving Pinot Bianco with an oven-roasted chicken and dumplings creates the quintessential Alpine comfort meal. The weight and texture of the wine match up with the roasted bird while the acidity cuts through the dumplings.
The Wine: Müller-Thurgau
Müller-Thurgau is a white grape created in 1882 by crossing Riesling with a now-extinct grape called Madeleine Royale. The dry white wine is enjoyed predominantly in Germany. However, Kettmeir grows the grape on high- elevation vineyards in Northern Italy for its wine. The grapes come from a single farm that overlooks the city of Bolzano high in the Italian Alps. The vineyards’ porphyric soil enhances the differences in daytime and nighttime temperatures to slow the grape’s maturation process. The result is an intense wine with complex notes of stone fruit, citrus, and mountain flowers.
The Appetizer: Raclette
Raclette is a Swiss cheese dish (you can never have too much cheese in the Alps) popular in Alpine ski regions. Raclette is a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese meant to be melted then scraped over boiled potatoes, thinly sliced cured meats, fruits, and bread. The acidic nature of Müller-Thurgau is a refreshing complement to the creamy cheese’s nutty flavor.
The Main Dish: Spätzle With Parsley and Parmesan
Spätzle is a type of egg noodle or dumpling similar to gnocchi. Much like gnocchi, spätzle can be served as a side dish or on its own as a hearty main course. Translating to “little sparrows” in English, it takes less than 10 ingredients and 15 minute to make the Alpine-style dish. Kettmeir published its own recipe that pairs perfectly with a bottle of its Müller-Thurgau to create an authentic German evening.
This article is sponsored by Kettmeir.