Hiking & Wine in the Dolomites

alto adige

I can hardly believe my trip to the Dolomites is coming up in June. I’ve always dreamed of visiting the Dolomite mountains, which are in northern Italy, in the region called Trentino-Alto Adige, near the border of Austria and Switzerland. The area is known for skiing in the winter months, and hiking in the spring and summer. I have my plane tickets, global entry card, and hiking boots, as well as my Backroads hiking trip reservations, care of my trusty travel agent at Go Your Own Way Travel. The few things left to do include brushing up on the Italian (and German) language and studying up on the wines of the region. Also, getting in a few hikes before the trip might be a wise idea.

Trentino-Alto AdigeTrentino Alto Adige breaks out in to the mostly German speaking Alto Adige in the north and the Italian leaning Trentino in the south. I’ll be meeting my fellow hikers in Bolzano, which is in the north and is the capital of Alto Adige, also known as South Tyrol or Südtirol.  For perspective, Bolzano is about a three-and-a-half-hour trip from both Milan and Venice.

As I read about the difficult grape growing conditions in Alto Adige, due to the steep slopes and mountainous terrain in the region, I can only imagine I’ll be earning that glass of wine at the end of each day of hiking. As in many other European wine regions, the vineyards are planted on the slopes along a river, here the Adige River, and the best wines come from grapes planted at around 1,500 feet. At this altitude, the grapes are high up enough to get the benefits of the varying day to night temperatures but are not so high as to be overly exposed to frost.

Alto Adige is in a unique position, where the Alps to the north protect vineyards from cold winds, and the open valleys to the south enable the warm air in from the Mediterranean. There is plenty of sunshine (300 days per year!) but also ample spells of rain to benefit the grapes.

There will be a great variety of wines to try because Alto Adige grows not only more well-known international grapes, such as Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder in German) and Gewurztraminer, but also lesser known grapes prominent in Germany and Austria, including Kerner, Muller Thurgau and Sylvaner.  These grapes all make white wines, which is what Alto-Adige’s cool climate excels at. There will be reds to sample too, including Pinot Noir, and the local stars, Lagrein and Schiava.

I have tried wines from Alto Adige in the past, with delightful results.  For instance, I had never even remotely enjoyed a Pinot Blanc (or Pinot Bianco) until I drank one from Alto Adige. I always found Pinot Blanc to be flat and bland and, in comparison, Pinot Bianco from Alto Adige is bright and flavorful. Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige seems to have more character to me as well. Lately I have been trying to seek out Kerner, in anticipation of my trip, which is a hybrid of Schiava and Riesling, and beautifully aromatic.

In terms of the reds, I had never heard of Schiava until about five years ago, but once I discovered its bright red fruit and slight tartness, I was hooked. Lagrein I always found to be like Merlot, but I have not had one in ages.

I look forward to doing more exploring of the wines before my trip, and of course during my hiking and wine experience. I’ll report back; and I’m sure you’ll hear all about the food from this hungry hiker as well!

Beets and Bigoli in Boston

If you’ve been following along, you may have caught on to the fact that I’m just a little obsessed with trying all the Barbara Lynch restaurants in Boston. After eating at The Butcher Shop and reading Lynch’s book, “Out of Line”, I basically made it my dining mission of 2018. Last week I was able to try No. 9 Park, Lynch’s flagship restaurant in Beacon Hill.

The townhouse space at No. 9 Park is polished, but the vibe is casual enough that you would feel as comfortable elegantly dressed as you would in your best jeans. Me and my best jeans arrived on the Acela from NY, checked in to The Godfrey Hotel, and made my way over to the restaurant. Since I would be dining by myself, I asked for a seat in the bar area and readied myself to study the menu.

The mere thought of dining alone used to horrify me. Since working in wine sales, however,  I have learned to embrace it, even enjoy it. One downside is that I can’t try as many menu items, and narrowing down my order to only a few things on the No. 9 Park menu was going to take all my decision making prowess. My first order of business was finding a wine to sip while perusing the menu, and I ordered a lively little glass of bubbles from Austria, a Sparkling Brut Rosé of Pinot Noir from Szigeti. A perfect aperitif, the wine was delicious, with red cherry notes and a touch of vibrant spice.

The other drawback to dining alone is that sometimes servers treat you like a pariah that is going to amount to half the check size of a party of two, and therefore half the tip. Not so at No. 9 Park. My server was very welcoming and helpful and didn’t make me feel weird at all (thanks Lee). Glass of sparkling empty, Lee poured me another and we decided that the beet & chicory salad with banyuls vinaigrette and black olive crumble was a fitting accompaniment for my first course. It did not disappoint. Banyuls is a fortified wine made from the Grenache grape in southern France, and the banyuls vinegar gave the dish a slight nutty taste. The black olive crumble was the perfect savory crunch.

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I saved up my carb intake for pasta and couldn’t pass up the Bigoli with peekytoe crab, grilled pepper butter, and lemon panko for my main course. Bigoli is a pasta originating in Venice. It’s a longer, thicker version of spaghetti and, besides, it’s really fun to say (Bigoli, Bigoli, Bigoli).  I felt like moving on to red wine, and when I saw that the pasta sauce was also red (from the red peppers), I decided on a lovely Bourgogne Rouge from Tollot Beaut.  The Pinot Noir’s herbal notes paired well with the earthiness of the Bigoli. The wine was also the only thing that that kept me from devouring the Bigoli without taking a breath.

I could easily have had another glass (or 2) but decided to call it a night and contemplate my meal and the day ahead. I still have four more Barbara Lynch spots to try, but Ill be back to No. 9 Park for the tasting menu, and a bottle from the extensive wine list, of that I am sure.

No. 9 Park

9 Park St, Boston, MA 02108

(617) 742-9991

http://www.no9park.com/