#Giro2021 Stage 17: Scaling the Dolomites and Sipping Wines from the Schiava Grape

Wow, did anyone else get up before sunrise to watch Stage 16? The one that’s been touted since the race route was announced, promising four categorized mountain ascents culminating at the summit of Cortina d’Ampezzo?

Gabe and I set our alarm for zero dark thirty, not wanting to miss a single kilometer of the stage that might determine the ultimate winner of the maglia rosa. But, alas, the cycling gods had other plans – for the peloton and for us spectators.

The promise of wintry conditions on each of the four climbs gave race organizers pause. They consulted with the team managers and the riders’ association and came up with a plan: eliminate two of the four climbs, thereby shortening the time on dangerously slippery slopes.

As disappointed as I was to hear about the decision, I realized it was the correct one. We’ve already watched too many riders exit the Giro because of serious injury; removing a perilous part of the stage was a no-brainer.

Here’s the recap of Stage 16, including Egan Bernal’s powerful victory:

What’s Up on Stage 17

We’re riding north again, this time through the Trentino and Alto Adige regions. Early in the day, the race route skirts the large mountains; a bit further on there are three categorized climbs, including the Passo di San Valentino, which reaches an ugh-worthy gradient of 14%. And, of course, the stage culminates in a mountain finish, just over 1,200 meters to the Sega di Ala.

Stage 17 Profile Map (www.giroditalia.it.en)

Midway through the stage, the peloton pedals through the town of Trento, home to the lovely sparkling wines of the Trento DOC. If you’ve got a bottle on hand, why not pour a glass to celebrate the climbers and the tough road they’re traveling?

100% Chardonnay, this brut sparkler from Ferrari is worthy of a celebration!

Winemaking in the Dolomites

Vines have been grown here for centuries, from native grapes like Schiava and Lagrein (both red) and international varieties like Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. Alto Adige has an Alpine/Continental climate modified by the mountains to the north (wind protection) and warm air currents that rise from the valley during the afternoon.

Most vineyards lie at altitudes between 300m and 700m above sea level, where they have maximum exposure to sunlight and get the benefit of a large diurnal shift in temperature. Grapes ripen fully and retain acidity, important for well-balanced, refreshing wines.

Schiava aka Vernatsch

The Schiava family of grapes (20% of current production) dates back at least to Roman times. In fact the name Schiava derives from a roman term cum vineis sclavis, meaning “with vines enslaved”; a reference to how the vines were trained to an external support or stake. Evidence of viticulture during medieval times suggests that early Schiava wines were white – interesting because no white Schiava grapes exist today.

If you manage to find a Schiava wine, chances are it will be a blend of the three sub-varieties with perhaps another native grape thrown into the mix. Local DOC regulations don’t require that the Schiavas be listed separately. Here’s what each contributes to the final wine:

  • Schiava Gentile – highly perfumed; light-bodied; high acidity; important in rosato production.
  • Schiava Grigia – taking its name from the thick bloom that gives a grayish tint to the berries, this Schiava is renowned for being the most refined as a (rare) varietal bottling.
  • Schiava Grossa – the most common and highest-yielding of the three, it has more delicate aromas and higher acidity than the others. It’s also the parent (with Riesling) of the Kerner variety, used in the hallmark wines of Köferhof, Pacherhof, and Manni Nossing, also in the Südtirol .

In general, Schiava wines are fresh, with moderate to intense aromas of strawberry, almond, and violet. They tend to be light-bodied and are pale ruby in color. Most are intended for early drinking alongside the lighter dishes of this Alpine region: air-cured bresaola, cheeses, and salads featuring local apples.

Schiava is a thin-skinned red grape native to the Alto Adige region.

Castel Sallegg Bischofsleiten DOC Alto Adige Lago di Caldaro Scelto Classico (13% abv; about $12 retail)

Located in the Oltradige area around Lake Caldaro, Castel Sallegg occupies land that belonged to the Bishops of Trento nearly 1,000 years ago (hence the name of this wine: Bischofsleiten). Vineyards have been in the hands of the Counts von Kuenburg family for nearly 100 years, and they have tried to make the most of the unique climate here, a combination of Alpine and Mediterranean influences.

This wine is 100% Schiava, from grapes grown in a single vineyard on a traditional pergola canopy system. Schiava’s thin skin makes it prone to sunburn during the long, sunny days of summer. The pergola system provides protection to the grapes, allowing them to ripen without being scorched by the sun.

Fermentation and aging were conducted in stainless steel vats.

Color: Pale ruby, fading to barely-pink at the edge.

Nose: Just-ripe red fruit – cranberry, pomegranate, sour cherry – and a little herbaceous note, maybe grass or crushed leaves.

Taste: Tangy acidity, tart red fruit as promised on the nose, mild tannins. I found myself reaching for my glass again and again. Light in body but highly enjoyable with a range of foods.

I hope you enjoy Stage 17 of Giro 2021. We’re in the final days but it still feels like anything could happen – especially when the peloton rides through the mountains. Stay tuned: I’ll be back with a recap of Wednesday’s race, plus some recommendations for what to sip as we watch on Thursday.

Ciao!

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