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A suitable long-stemmed glass is a must. A serving temperature between 8 and 12 degrees is recommended. And the number of ideal pairings with food is considerable, from grilled vegetables to risotto, as well as oven-baked desserts. No, we are not talking about wine, but apple juice.
Not any sort of apple juice, but the one (or rather the ones) produced by Thomas Kohl in Auna di Sotto, South Tyrol. The autonomous province of Bolzano – South Tyrol, in North East Italy is the largest “apple orchard” of Europe, with 18,000 cultivated hectares and as many as sixteen different varieties, of which no less than thirteen are PGI products. In other words, one apple out of ten grown on the Old Continent comes from this area.
In the largest "apple orchard" of Europe
From Bolzano, it is necessary to negotiate a fair number of hairpin bends and climb hundreds of metres to reach the Troidner sul Renon fruit farm. At 900 metres above sea level, the temperature drops and the vineyards are no longer to be seen, but apples grow and ripen perfectly – as well as, if not better, than down in the valley – with an optimal exposure to the sunlight and a fresh wind blowing down from the mountain tops.
It was Thomas’s father, more than twenty years ago, who started to plant the first apple trees on his estate. Then, following his studies in agricultural science, Thomas decided to take on the management of the family farm. Not content, however, just to cultivate the usual Golden Delicious variety, which had started to tire the palates of most Italians, he began to experiment in order to find out which apple varieties could adapt best to a mountain climate. Today, he grows eight varieties on his ten hectares and produces around 350,000 litres of apple juice every year.
wine? no, apple juice
In Kohl’s product range, six labels are mono varietals, this being a concept that is certainly more common to wine-talk. His objective, in fact, is use high quality and all-natural methods to produce a beverage that has often been underestimated in the past and restore it to its rightful status in the eyes of consumers.
It differs vastly from any industrial product of its kind: the apples are hand-picked, one by one, only when they are perfectly ripe and, thanks to a gentle pressing, the extracted product amounts to about 70% compared to an average of 92%; the juice is unfiltered and contains no additives, preservatives or added sugar. The in-mouth sensation is amazing. The first prize however goes to Rubinette, a little-known variety – a cross between the American Golden Delicious and the English Cox Orange – with a compact, crisp and very juicy flesh. An elegant and complex juice, with a fair amount of acidity mitigated by a well calibrated sweetness. Its perfect pairing? With grilled asparagus or oven-baked fish. The Rouge variety – whose flesh is also red – owes its colour to a high anthocyanin content.
How to use and pair apple juice
Ideal for detoxifying the body, this is the juice with the lowest sugar content and most pronounced acidity, which makes it a particularly interesting ingredient in Japanese or Thai cuisine. A large yellow apple with a very juicy flesh, the Gravensteiner offers a practically perfect balance between sweetness and acidity. This variety was created by chance in South Tyrol in the XVIII century and, ever since then, has always been cultivated in small quantities. Its juice has such an intense and engaging scent that it is even possible to attempt an audacious pairing with seafood.
As to the rest of the product range, Pinova juice is at its best with gorgonzola cheese, no less, while Jonagold is excellent with unfermented cheese and Elstar, with its almost lemony flavour, works well with risottos and traditional South Tyrolean desserts. Just a few bottles and only in great vintage years, Grand Cru is produced from two traditional cultivars – Ananasrenette and Wintercalville – which deserve a magnum bottle and the best glasses. Then we have the mountain cuvée – with another name reminiscent of the world of wine – in which the apple demonstrates its immense versatility by teaming up with pears, apricots, carrots, blackcurrants, blueberries and elderberries. Excellent variations on a theme but less of a surprise when compared to the purity and personality expressed by mono varietal juices. For some time now, certain local restaurants have been adding Kohl juices to their wine lists, among the Chardonnays and Lagreins. And it is quite likely that others will soon follow suit since it has become customary today for many sommeliers to present unusual pairings, often of a non-alcoholic type, in their fine dining proposals.