Off to the Alps for #ItalianFWT

photo of Merano in the Italian Alps by Brittany Wallace

Far, far above, piercing the infinite sky,
Mont Blanc appears—still, snowy, and serene—
Its subject mountains their unearthly forms
Pile around it, ice and rock; broad vales between
Of frozen floods, unfathomable deeps,
Blue as the overhanging heaven, that spread
And wind among the accumulated steeps;

— Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni

Can’t get away to the Alps this summer to eat, drink, and see Mont Blanc?  Travel virtually with us!


Formed when the Africa plate slammed into the Eurasian Plate over 700 million years ago, today the Alps span 750 miles in length and 160 miles in width (more or less) crossings the borders of eight countries: Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Slovenia, and Switzerland  along a ridge with high passes and with eight peaks over 14,000′ tall.

The red zone is 1000-2000 meters while the white part is 2000-4000 meters; Mt Whitney, the tallest point in the continental United States is 14,494′ — above 4,000′

When the two plates collided, for 300-400 million years, layers of rock of European, African and oceanic origins formed the mountains; for example, the Dolomites or Pale Mountains in northeastern Italy, are made of  a type of limestone while to the south and west granite makes up the Mount Blanc Massif which straddles France and Italy. Glaciers scraped away layers leaving behind piles of stone or glacial moraines which created subalpine lakes and valleys as well as influencing the large verdant plain where the Po River flows from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea.


Home to humans for over 10,000 years, these mountains shape 14 million people and unite them with strong traditions in farming, forestry, woodworking, baking, sausage and cheesemaking; the region’s steep terrain secluded and protected them so that their culture and cuisine has barely changed since the medieval period and is similar no matter which side of the mountain you are on.

During the medieval period, the Romans built roads and developed monasteries, which in the 19th century, sheltered travelers, and became tourist destinations.

Which brings us to the subject of this blog post: the wine made in the northern-most monastery and one of the oldest in Italy– Abbazia di Novella along with the cuisine from Alpine Italy to pair with it. Abbazia di Novella in Varna, Italy has been in operation for nearly 900 years; today the abbey houses 27 monks. We tasted two wines, Alto Adige Valle Isarco Kerner – 2014  and 2015 SRP $19.00 and Pinot Grigio 2014.


Along with Abbazia di Novella Alto Adige Valle Isarco Kerner – 2014  and 2015 SRP $19.00 and Abbazia di Novella Pinot Grigio 2014, for drinks, we experimented with ELDERFLOWER LIQUOR  WHICH WE MADE FROM FLOWERS I COLLECTED combined with ALTO ALDIGE GIN! Cocktail recipes below.


We were interested in doing this appetizer: creamy goat cheese with sautéed radicchio. Sue was enthused to do this gnocchi  which also calls for radicchio and blue cheese–

but I am all about POLENTA! So we added chunks of Fontal/Fontina to our Polenta.

Curious about life and cuisine in the Italian Alpine wonderland of Valle d’Aosta– just on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc Massif in France? In my research I found this delightful blog written by a fiddler from Appalachia who walked the Camino de Santiago. About halfway from France to the coast of Spain, she fell in love with an Italian and moved to his small village across the river from Aosta, a 2000+ year old town nestled in the steepest part of the Alps where she started a blog chronicling her very food-centric adventures! As I love both polenta and cheese, I enjoyed her posts about both; I didn’t know before this that real Fontina is only made in tiny Valle d’Aosta. While Annie has since moved back to Asheville bringing her husband along, her blog is chockfull of fun reads and recipes. In particular, I love her post about heirloom corn that is used for polenta as well as how to form a polenta crust that you can make into crackers!  And here’s the secret to making creamy polenta without adding a bunch of cream!

The sausage maker cuts coppa at Ventura Meat Company

Here’s our menu:

  • Ciabbata Bread from Sprouts
  • Coppa salami from the Ventura Meat Market
  • Sausage made at Ventura Meat Market:
    Italian (pork and fennel), venison, lamb (with rosemary)
    Cajun chicken, Italian, and Garlic Sriracha  from Main St Meat
  • Fontina cheese

Also known as “Fontanelle,” “Fontal,” and “Montella,” Fontina is a classic northern Italian cheese.  Made in the Aosta Valley since the 12th century, Fontina Val d’Aosta, identified by a Consorzio (Consortium) stamp is the original and most famous. According to online sources, Fontina Val d’Aosta is traditionally made from unpasteurised milk of the Valdaostan Red Spotted cows grazing on the plains of Aosta Valley. The texture and flavour of Fontina depends on how long it has been aged. The texture can vary from semi-soft to firm and the flavours from mild and rich to more robust and overpowering. Usually, fontina is aged for 90 days. The interior of fontina is pale cream in colour and riddled with holes known as “eyes”. With a fat content of 45%, the cheese is very rich and creamy which gets nuttier with aging. This versatile cheese can be used to make fondues, and similar Italian dishes. All Italian Fontina has a natural rind that turns tan to orange-brown with aging, but the other versions are much milder than the original Fontina.

I tried three places and mostly found Fontina made in Wisconsin so I was happy to find Fontal which is made in the Italian Alps but further north and east, in the Trento area of Italy.

For our main course our menu included:

  • POLENTA WITH FONTAL Cheese! with Fennel Pollen sprinkled on top!
  • Tomatoes on romaine with fennel pollen that I collected!
  • sautéed zucchini from our garden

We also collected FENNEL POLLEN which we combined with lemon and organic heirloom and roma tomatoes on spring greens for a salad.  I wanted to do zucchini flowers but couldn’t find any in the farmers market and we didn’t have any that would work on our plants.

Yes for this dinner I collected elderflower and fennel umbels! And I picked the zucchini from our garden!

I sprinkled fennel pollen on the tomatoes — yum!

For our interpretation of the salad, combine:

  • 2 or so ripe tomatoes  in wedges (we did one large heirloom and four small romas)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel pollen mixed in; 1/2 teaspoon sprinkled on top
  • Zest of 1 lemon — way too much!! use one half
  • Juice of 1 lemon– half lemon would be plenty!
  • 1/4 C Olive oil– be sure it is BEST quality you can afford and FRESH
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  •  Place on 1 bed of baby greens for example, baby arugula; we used red baby romaine spears.
  • Add zucchini– we sautéed in butter.
  • I would add a ripe avocado next time — if I had one (which I did…)

WINE and Spirits

Our wines and gin come from the most northern part of Italy, Alto Aldige which is also known as Tyrol or south Tyrol which butts up against Germany and Austria; in fact more people speak German in this region of Italy than they speak Italian!

Two of my favorite wines from Abbazia di Novella; the Pinot Noir is nice and I liked the Lagrein but the Pinot Grigio is exceptional and at least once in your life you should try a Kerner — and it should be this one.

Abbazia di Novella Alto Adige Valle Isarco Pinot Grigio – 2014 – 13.5% – $19.00

At Abbazia di Novella,  an Augustinian monastery at the foot of the Dolomites in the northeastern part of the Alps, monks take vows of chastity, obedience and poverty yet are able to fund their work by making and selling wine. My Italian is worse than my Spanish but in looking at the website it seems it was established in 1140.

We tasted the Pinot Grigio in November 2015 during #WineStudio. I am not typically a big fan of Pinot Grigio. Too often they are too bland, however I was so impressed with this wine I saved the bottle all this time because I knew one day I’d write about it and wanted to keep track of it! (And now I can recycle it!)

Here are our notes:

  • Nice Oyster wine
  • Goes well with salads
  • Similar to a Sauv. Blanc
  • Light, crisp
  • Nice fullness and roundness in the mouth
  • Citrus and white peach
  • Nice finish
  • Good wine – good value
  • Good character

Both wines opened up well and were very drinkable as they  warmed, but cold and crisp is best especially for the Pinot Grigio. In 2015, both wines paired well in 2015 with LaTur cheese, an Italian triple milk cheese made from cow, goat and sheep milk.

Benvenuto all’Abbazia di Novella! The vineyards and monastery. Photo courtesy of

Abbazia di Novella Alto Adige Valle Isarco Kerner – 2015 – 14% – SRP $19.00
purchased at the Ventura Wine Co for $18

A hybrid of Reisling and a red grape Trollinger, Kerner has more similarities to its parent Reisling, but it can handle the extreme weather of the Alps better than most grapes. Kerner is named for a medical doctor Justinus Kerner, a renowned investigator of psychic phenomena and a Romantic poet who often wrote about wine. Hear some of his poetry here. 

While clearly a white wine in the glass with a pretty golden tone, on the nose it offers a fascinating hit of Rainer cherry and nectarine followed by lime and baking spices like coriander and cardamom. On the palate, key lime pie leads followed by tart cherry, rhubarb, and nectarine. A zingy tartness pervades with enough acid to clean your teeth but the lengthy finish is complex and more round than expected.

When I play “wine cheese wine” with the fontal, and I really spend an inordinate time masticating the creamy cheese and coating my mouth with it, the process really brings out a delightful nuttiness in both wine and cheese. And the finish is seductive!

As the wine opens up, it gets more and more of the tart red stone fruit elements on the nose and the palate– which likely reflects the fact that Kerner was born of a cross of a red and a white wine grape.

How else did the Kerner pair and fare? Very well!

The peppery fatty intense copper thin sliced by the butcher who made the sausages at Ventura Meat market? More please! Brings out more lovely stone fruit. It tames the spice, it rocks the fat: this would be a fantastic wine with an Italian sandwich!

With the polenta made with chicken broth then with Fontal melted into it and fennel pollen sprinkled on top, the Kerner exhibits exciting nutmeg characteristics. It stood  up to the intense lemony notes in vinaigrette in the tomato salad. I would usually think a red wine with sausage but NO: the Kerner loves the fennel in the Italian sausage and rolls with the rosemary and cuts the fat in the lamb sausage… and that sausage goes wild with the wine!

Right now I can not think of a wine I would rather have with a Thanksgiving dinner. Plus it has a great story and over-delivers at this price point.

But wait there’s more! We made cocktails using a gin from Alto Adige AND a liqueur from elderflowers I collected!

Here are a four cocktails using Alto Aldige gin and elderflower liquor to consider (which I found here):


2 oz gin
1 oz Elderflower Liquor/St-Germain
½  oz lime juice
1 dash absinthe I REPEAT A DASH
a little absinthe goes a LONG WAY

Garnish: Lime twist
Shake with ice, strain into an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass.
Source: Robert Hess (2008)


2 oz Gin
1 oz Elderflower Liquor/St Germain
.5 oz fresh squeezed lime juice, (squeeze of half a lime)

Glass: Coup/Martini
Method: build ingredients in your shaker, add ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled coup or martini glass and garnish with a lime wedge or wheel.
This is a very graceful and easy to enjoy cocktail. Our homemade Elderflower 
liqueur could even make this a dinner beverage.


1½ parts Gin or Vodka
1 part Elderflower Liquor/St-Germain
½ part Meyer lemon juice (I used one half of a Meyer lemon)
Top with  tonic water

Build in a Collins glass with ice. Stir lightly with StG spoon-straw.
CREATED BY Jamie Boudreaux
refreshing! And I sacrificed half of my very last Meyer lemon to make this drink! And no I don’t do a Collins glass because this one is more beautiful and was already dirty…


2 parts Alto Aldige Gin
½ – 1 part Homemade Elderflower Liquor (or St-Germain)
¼ part dry white wine

Shake all ingredients with ice and fine strain into a chilled Martini glass.
Garnish with lemon twist.
I didn’t want to lose the beautiful Kerner in a cocktail! So I didn’t try this.
I do think this would be a good cocktail with Prosecco because the bubbles would be a great addition!

In May 2017, my friend Brittany Wallace traveled by bus from Austria to the Northern Italian town of Merano. Here are a few of her photographs. See more photos and read her blog post here. 

For more about wine, food, and travel in the Italian Alps, join us on Twitter at 8am PST following the hashtag #ItalianFWT. You can also read our posts:










16 thoughts on “Off to the Alps for #ItalianFWT

  1. Pingback: Unique Mountain Wines of Alto Adige #ItalianFWT | foodwineclick

  2. You got me with your menu, I decided next time #ItalianFWT does Alpine Wines I’m going to knock on your door for dinner! Then the Alpine Gin cocktail with Elderflower liquor showed up! Appreciate the historical aspect of your article, always learning from the group.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There is always something extra in your posts that goes way beyond wine! It’s why I always look forward to reading about your experiences. Here we have a beautiful poem that puts us in the Alpine state of mind, followed by the tale of an itinerant fiddler, and finally a table full of delectable dishes and elegant wine. Thanks for a virtual, yet fully satisfying trip!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Hearts on Fire – A Summer Tradition in Alto Adige (#ItalianFWT) – The Swirling Dervish

  5. This is such a beautiful, packed post… I sense that the topic engaged you and this has made for an incredible resource for your readers.

    Thank you for sharing so many lovely inspirations, techniques, impressions and recommendations. Looking forward to sharing this one. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Such a delicious article! I’m also a huge fan of polenta. Love that you experimented with not only the wine and food, but other types of liquor as well. Kerner and Pinot Grigio are a couple of my favorites, so I’ll definitely be giving this a try. Unfortunately we weren’t able to make it to Abbazia di Novella on our last trip, so it is high on the list for the next one!


  7. Such a delicious article! I’m also a huge fan of polenta. Love that you experimented with not only the wine and food, but other types of liquor as well. Kerner and Pinot Grigio are a couple of my favorites, so I’ll definitely be giving this a try. Unfortunately we weren’t able to make it to Abbazia di Novella on our last trip, so it is high on the list for the next one!


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