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A very grape escape: Mixing pinot noir, pistes and perfect powder on a 'Sommelier' ski day in Italy's Alta Badia

  • Alta Badia is a ski resort up in the Dolomites, in the Italian region of Alto Adige
  • It offers 'Sommelier on the Slopes' ski days where visitors can try local wines
  • Participants ski between piste-side bars, and sip local vintages with an expert

Hubert Kastlunger has just pulled a Superman move.

Admittedly, he has not leapt a tall building in a single bound. Nor has he keeled over in the presence of kryptonite. But he has whipped off his civilian clothes to reveal a far more striking outfit hidden underneath.

Five minutes ago he was scything down Sponata, a pacey red run in the Dolomites ski resort of Alta Badia. Now he is standing in the middle of the piste-side bar La Munt, his orange jumpsuit removed in favour of a formal trousers, smart black apron, crisp white shirt and a bow-tie.

Superman in a ski-suit: Hubert Kastlunger prepares to pour a few glasses of sauvignon blanc
Superman in a ski-suit: Hubert Kastlunger prepares to pour a few glasses of sauvignon blanc

Superman in a ski-suit: Hubert Kastlunger prepares to pour a few glasses of sauvignon blanc

Better still, he is holding a bottle of pinot bianco, which he is about to pour out to the 10 members of his tour party, who are currently listening to him carefully.

“This is a very fruity wine,” he says, decanting the nectar within.

“Take a sniff. What do you notice? Green apple? That’s typical of a pinot bianco. It’s a wonderful wine to go with a fish course”.

If Hubert sounds like a wine expert in a top-end restaurant, then that is partly the point.

He is the focal point of “Sommelier on the Slopes” – one of Alta Badia’s innovative approaches to the winter.

The idea is simple – a three-hour guided jaunt that showcases the slopes of this Alpine hotspot, but also some of the best wines that are produced in this viticulture-friendly area of northern Italy. Staged seven times between December and March, the concept has proved popular – this is the third ski season it has been offered.

However, the end-game is not to glug down as much plonk as possible. The emphasis is on sampling a fine recent vintage or two, and testing their flavours.

“This is a typical sauvignon blanc,” Hubert continues, uncorking an outrider from the 2016 batch of said white wine at nearby producers St Michael-Eppan.

“It’s soft, with a light touch of acidity. You can drink this with chunks of parmesan cheese, as an aperitif.”

A popular place to spend the winter: Alta Badia has some 81 miles of pistes

A popular place to spend the winter: Alta Badia has some 81 miles of pistes

There are appreciative murmurs – plus palate-cleansing cheese biscuits and glasses of water. Then, suddenly, we are off again. Hubert re-dons his ski-suit, and we are out onto the snow, taking a chairlift upwards – before swishing down a series of red and blue runs to Utia L’tama, a mountain hut where a log fire is burning in defiance of the chill outside.

But we are heating up nicely anyway as Hubert unveils a second pair of bottles – a Gewurtztraminer, a Dolomites white-wine staple, all delicate fragrance and floral notes, and a Sudtirol St Magdalener.

The latter, a punchy red, smells vinegary on inspection. “But wait,” Hubert says. “This wine improves as it warms up.” A few sips a few minutes later prove him correct. “See,” he laughs. “Before, it was a €5 wine. And now it is a €10.”

It is tempting to burrow in for the afternoon, taking any one of these bottles along for the ride. But Hubert directs us outside once more. There are further twists and turns, the pace sufficiently unhurried that the whole group can ski as one, before the Rifugio Lee bar beckons as a final port of call.

Here, Hubert – once again in his sommelier attire – unleashes a regional pinot noir (“you find berries and strawberries. It’s a good wine to go with pasta”) and a Lagrein Gries Riserva – a splendid peppery red which has him purring.

“The best lagrein is produced around Bolzano,” he nods. “Forty or fifty years ago, this would not have been not so good. But now it is one of the best wines in the South Tirol.”

And with that he is gone, zipped up, whizzing down the hill, this Superman on skis. I watch him go, then retreat to the bar. I know I should follow. Laced across the mountains around me are 81 miles of blue, red and black pistes – the slick, angled thoroughfares with which Alta Badia tempts plenty of winter-sports lovers to its idyllic corner of the Alps every season.

I should go and tackle them. And I will. But the bottle of pinot noir is still winking, there on the table. Just one more glass, I think. And then I’ll hit the slopes. 

Travel Facts 

The “Sommelier on the Slopes” ski-tour costs €28 per person. It will be run six further times this winter (January 18 and 25; February 22; March 1, 15 and 22). Booking is recommended – at an Alta Badia tourist office.

See altabadia.org for further information.

Ski passes at Alta Badia cost from €43 per day.

A four-night half-board break in Alta Badia in March, staying in a junior suite at Hotel La Majun including return flights and transfers, costs from £1,839 per person through Powder Byrne (020 8246 5300; powderbyrne.com). Rooms at La Majun (0039 0471 847 030; lamajun.it) cost from €132 per person, per night – two sharing, on a half-board basis.

British Airways (0344 493 0787; ba.com) and easyJet (0330 365 5000; easyjet.com) fly to Venice and Innsbruck from UK hubs. Alta Badia is a two-hour transfer from either city.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR celebrityrave

Journalist, writer and broadcaster, based in London and Paris, her latest book is Touché: A French Woman's Take on the English. Read more articles from Agnes.

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