25 Jun Please The Palate Pick of the Week: Ten Top Picks in Südtirol (Alto Adige) and Collio in Friuli, Italy
Spending the week in Italy, I was in Südtirol/Alto Adige for two and a half days and in Collio in the Friuli region for two and a half days. Within those five total days, the list of activities, wines tasted, and delicious food eaten, it is absolutely impossible to pick the single Please The Palate Pick of the Week. So, instead of one pick of the week, there are 10 Please The Palate Picks of the Week!
After landing at the Verona airport, we were driven two hours into the mountains to the Berghotel Jochgrimm Hotel, a mountain hotel in the Dolomites. Located between two South Tyrolean peaks, the Schwarzhorn and the Weißhorn, the Berghotel Südtirol is located 2,000 meters above sea level. The room was minimal but had a modern mountain charm. When I first arrived, I went straight to the indoor pool where I relaxed while looking out at the panoramic view.
The next day, I took a hike up towards Corno Bianco located in the northern part of the Sarentino Alps which was just out the door of the hotel. The views from this hotel were breathtaking as we could also see the Dolomites.
Cantina Tramin Epokale Gewurztraminer Vertical Tasting
Cantina Tramin is a cooperative made up of 300 producers in Alto Adige. They produce many wines but Gewurztraminer is their flagship wine. One of the Gewurztraminers they produce is Epokale. The goal of this wine was to do a different style and for this wine, it is aged in an old silver mine where the elevation is high and the temperature is cool. We were the first people to do a vertical tasting of Epokale, tasting six vintages (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015).
Train Ride into an Old Silver Mine where the Epokale Gewurztraminer is aging
The next day, after doing the vertical tasting, we drove up the mountain to the old silver mine. After suiting up in wellies and a helmet, we took a train 3.5 kilometers into the the old mine and then walked an additional 100 meters to where the bottles of Epokale are aging.
Walk around Lago Di Braies
After visiting the silver mine, we took the train to Villabassa Braies where a driver picked us up and took us to Lago di Braies. This lake is surrounded by the Dolomites and is one of the most picturesque places I have ever been. Everything looked like a postcard. Crystal clear turquoise waters, white rocky beaches, Alpine forest, and the Dolomite mountains…pictures do not do it justice. We walked around the entire circumference of the lake (approximately 2.5 miles) and in one section we stood on the pure white rocks at the foot of the Dolomites.
Dinner at Laite Restaurant in Sappada
Two hours from Lago di Braies is Sappada, the highest village in Friuli, sitting 1300 kilometers above sea level and facing direct views of the Dolomites. This charming town of 1300 people is home to a Michelin starred restaurant, Laite, owned by Fabrizia Meroi. We were joined by Mateja Gravner for an exceptional meal featuring locally-sourced ingredients, including foraged items. From the first bites of the amuse to the millefoglie of eggplant with sour ricotta from Sappada and tarragon, we knew were were in for a treat!
Lunch by L’Orto Felice in the vineyards at Gravner
The next day, we drove two hours to Oslavia in Collio in Friuli, next to the Slovenian border. We met up with Mateja Gravner at her vineyard and then enjoyed a vegetable driven (almost vegan) menu prepared by friends Caterina Romanelli and Alessia Beltrane who run L’Orto Felice. Caterina’s family has had an organic farm since 1988 and she returned to the family farm four years ago where she started selling vegetable boxes. She and Alessia, a trained chef, met during Covid and started creating meals with the fresh vegetables and fruits. Our lunch was so fresh and healthy which was perfect as we sat in the vineyard on a very hot day.
Visiting Gravner and meeting Josko Gravner
Gravner Wines are renowned around the world. Josko Gravner was the first person to skin-ferment his Ribolla Gialla in amphora. It was in the 1980s and 1990s that he was selling out his wine but was not satisfied. He wanted to make wines with character. In 1997, he began fermenting the grapes on their skins and found that he recognized the taste of the Ribolla Gialla grape in the wine. By 2001, Josko Gravner began using amphora. Today the Gravner wines are sought after and relished by those who know them. Not only was visiting the winery special, but so was meeting Josko Gravner.
And it was a real treat to be able to taste so many vintages of the Ribolla Gialla (2014, 2013, 2011, 2009, 2007, 2005), as well as the 2005 and 2007 Pignolo, the 2009 Bianco Sivi (Pinot Grigio), and the 2012 Bianco Breg.
Staying at La Subida Hotel
While in Collio, we stayed at the relaxing La Subida Hotel, owned and run by the Sirk family (Josko and Loredana and their children Tanja and Mitja). Located in the countryside in Cormons (in Collio), there are 21 rooms, each with a different theme and décor. My room was a large studio called the Room in the Tree Leaves. The room was modern and spacious but also natural, honoring the environment. A delicious breakfast is served each morning and dinner is prepared by Chef Alessandro Gavagna who is married to Tanja Sirk in the Trattoria al Cacciatore, which has One Michelin Star! They also have the Osteria de la Subida across the road where the rooms are located. I had a delicious lunch there. This is a great spot to stop for lunch or dinner or an Aperitivo and they also sell local food products. And they make their own Ribolla Giallo Vinegar which is quite delicious.
Gravner Wine and Tea Pairing
We were joined by Ciro Fontanesi, from the ALMA Wine Academy in Parma, who took us through a paring of tea with Gravner wines. Ciro and Mateja drove north, close to the border of Austria, where the Isonzo River starts to collect water. This river runs through Slovenia, past the Gravner vineyard, and to the Adriatic. He selected two teas, Oolong and Oriental Beauty, that he got in Taiwan. He made the two teas and we paired the Oolong with the 2005 Gravner and the Oriental Beauty with the 2007 Gravner. The pairings really worked! There was the buttery nose of the Oolong and the smooth honey sensation of the 2005. Both the wine and tea have the same tannin structure and both have notes of aromatic herbs. As for the Oriental Beauty, its floral and fresh notes paired with the 2007 Gravner that had tea notes and honey and wood sensations. These were innovative pairings and fun to try.
Our last dinner of the trip was in Slovenia, just over the border from Italy, at Hisa Franko, a Two-Star Michelin Restaurant. Service from an international team was impeccable. We had 15 courses and each bite was a creative, flavorful, piece of art. Almost the entire menu was eaten with our hands and after a few courses, different finger bowls were presented so that we could wash our hands. What as even more unique was that our meal was paired with different kombuchas, as well as one course with a Gavner wine. And entire meal with kombucha had us feeling satisfied and energized.
So, now do you understand why I could not pick just one standout from this past week? I will be writing more detailed stories about these experiences so stay tuned!