Sexy Food: The Wines and Nosh of Alto Adige, Italy

Take an Italian journey in your glass and on your plate with these springy suggestions.

Spring is out in full force in Seattle and with it, the opportunity to eat and drink all manner of lovely things apropos of more gentle weather. Of course it’s also a time when we all wish we could stretch our wings and fly off to some far-flung global destination, but if your job and responsibilities don’t allow you to flee the floods just yet, why not bring the world to your fingertips in the form of libations and nosh?

Tucked into the hilly precipices of Northern Italy lies a region replete with 300 days of sunshine a year and over 13,000 acres of wine country called Alto Adige. The nature of the Alps means there is a huge altitude disparity from the peaks to the valleys, making it an ideal region to grow diverse grapes. Because of those 300 days of sunshine, Alto Adige has a long ripening season, which provides ideal conditions for producing fruit with intense aromas and flavors

Alto Adige produces many excellent white varieties of wine, for which they are well-respected; however there are two red varieties that are gaining popularity in the United States that are well-suited to imbibing on a spring day in Seattle. The first is Schiava, which accounts for nearly 20% of all grapes grown in the region. Wines that are composed primarily of Schiava tend to be crisp, young and light. They are often served slightly chilled, and if a wine were ever appropriate at breakfast, Schiava would be it. It’s a great gateway red, for when you want something a little more toothsome than a white, but not as punchy as a big, bold Cabernet. An excellent Schiava to search out is Cantina Bolzano Santa Maddalena “Huck am Bach” 2010 (retails for around $16). It has hints of sweet caramel, but is nowhere near cloying, making it perfect for a day on the boat or an afternoon beachside picnic.

A more robust Alto Adige grape is Lagrein, which composes 8.2% of the region’s production. Lagrein is native to Alto Adige, and is distinctive and bold in a woodsy, almost ferrous way. Lagrein is a wine that transitions beautifully from a spring afternoon to a heady August night. If a wine exists that is as versatile as Seattle’s summer, this is it. An excellent splurge is the Kellerei Kaltern Caldaro Lagrein Spigel 2010, which is a great value at around $29 a bottle.

A discussion of the splendor of Alto Adige is not complete without making mention of one of the greatest gifts of charcuterie the world has ever received- speck. Think of speck as you would prosciutto, except that it has a slightly smoky flavor that gives it the complexity and robustness to stand up to more complicated preparations than simply smattering meat on a plate with some oil. Speck pairs perfectly with the wines I’ve mentioned above. To take it to the next level, prepare it in a simple salad with burrata cheese (available now through the end of summer at Calf and Kid in the Melrose Market), speck, and fresh peas tossed in olive oil and mint. Scoop it in with slices of crusty bread and the moment you close your eyes, have a bite and take a sip of wine, you’ll swear you’re in the Italian Alps on one of their many sunny days.