Tony Eklof, originally from New England, has settled in Clonakilty after a career as a librarian at University College Dublin. His knowledge and passion for wine has been inspired by frequent visits to the wine growing regions of the continent, particularly Italy and France.
In early January, we flew to Verona and explored this fascinating city before travelling up into the Dolomite mountains. Verona is one of Italy’s most evocative cities with its famous Roman Arena, Arches and bridges spanning the River Adige not to mention churches with stunning Renaissance paintings and frescoes. All the more puzzling why the most visited tourist attraction is the Casa di Giulietta where thousands of visitors seem to conveniently forget the fact that Romeo and Juliet were fictional characters. Funny old world.
From Verona it is an easy train ride up on the Munich line to Bolzano, the capital of the fascinating Alto Adige region, also known as the South Tyrol, the preferred name among the majority German-speaking population. Reflecting the fact that this area was for centuries part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and only became part of Italy after WWI, most towns and cities have two names (Bolzano-Bozen and Bressanone-Brixen for example.) Both Bolzano and Bressanone make attractive holiday destinations, prosperous beautiful towns with the Dolomite mountains hovering around them. We particularly loved Bressanone high up and near the Austrian border. We took a cable car up Mount Plose for the spectacular views.
Wines from Verona are technically in the Veneto region. From Verona to the shores of Lake Garda we find the famous names of Amarone, Valpolicella and Bardolino. The latter two are light, cherry flavoured wines first cultivated by the Romans, while Amarone and Valpolicella Ripasso are much more powerful and full-bodied.
Hugh Johnson has pointed out that it is becoming more difficult to find Valpolicella because the typical grapes in the region are increasingly being reserved for the more expensive and profitable Amarone and Ripasso wines.
Wines grown in the valleys of the Dolomites where the mountains protect the vineyards from the damaging cold winds, are classified as Trentino-Alto Adige, one of the smallest and possibly the least known of Italy’s twenty wine regions. Here we find fine whites such as Gewurztraminer which are a great match for the German style cuisine, and robust reds made from unusual Lagrein or Schiava dark grapes.
I haven’t come across wines from the Alto Adige here but there are plenty of good examples of Veronese labels available, for example O’Brien’s Fine Wines carry a selection of both Valpolicella and Bardolino from the excellent growers Rizzardi while the Ripasso-style Campofiorin from Masi is widely available including from SuperValu where it’s due to go on sale, as I write.
The Duty Free at easy-to-negotiate Verona Airport is disappointing. Big wines like Chianti Classico, Barolo etc are surprisingly similar in price to what you would expect to pay in Ireland. However I did pick up a classic Bardolino and an unusual wine called Possessioni made from Sangiovese grapes not normally found in this region. Both wines are from the excellent Masi Agricola.
In summary, if you are looking for a beautiful and un-touristy part of Italy with mixed cultures and very reasonably priced and unique wines, the Italian South Tyrol could be for you.