Monday, February 27, 2012

From Venice to Wineries with Giulia

Judit of Pra winery and Giulia of From Venice to Wine
In my last entry, Toto We're not in Tuscany Anymore, I told the tale of my fantastic trip to Venice last week.

The fun didn't end there, as the next day I left Venice with Giulia of From Venice to Wine, and we headed to 3 different fantastic wineries, all in one day.

Giulia met me near my hotel and we walked to the van outside the train station. From there, it took about an hour or so to get to the first winery, Pra'.

I sipped on a few Soave whites and tried their Valpolicella Classico. We were served sopressa, which in their neck of the woods is a soft, crumbly salame a lot like the sbricciolona of Tuscany minus the fennel seeds (both are delicious!).

Dried river bed on the way to the 2nd winery.
The next stop was at a much smaller winery, run by a Capricorn named Ettore. This guy is awesome. He has his way of doing things and that is just how it is going to be! For starters, the winery is in an area outside of the Valpolicella Classico (the original part of Valpolicella wine zone). As we drove up I thought "Where the heck are we, on the moon?"


As soon as we walked into the winery I realized this was another world, and another type of wine making.

Years back, Ettore was accidentally sent a barrique made of American oak. He decided to give it a try instead of sending it back. Since then, he uses only American oak to age his Valpolicella Superiore.

Also, Ettore wants nothing to do with Ripasso. He refuses to produce it, even though he constantly gets requests from his exporters and wine reps.

Ettore preparing our glasses for tasting.

The winery also doubles as a sort of art gallery. All the works were chosen by Ettore and his brother, and represent his beliefs on life and wine making.

This represents our personal worlds. The colored dots are our friends and loved ones who help and the white dots are the rest of the people we do or do not know who cannot be counted on.

I'll just throw in some more photos randomly, since I got a bunch at this winery that are worth sharing.

Giulia and Ettore above the steel tanks used for fermentation.

Black crates seen are used for semi-drying grapes before producing Amarone.

Ettore sniffing his fantastic Recioto.

Before moving on to lunch and the next winery, I would like to mention that upon trying his Recioto, I exclaimed "cazzo che buono," which I will not translate but let's just say it wasn't very ladylike!
This dessert wine is amazing.

I bought a bottle, and Ettore had a huge grin on his face to hear my candid reaction!
After a couple of glasses of wine, and me talking like a sailor, Ettore decided to join us for lunch.

Boiled beef, tongue, and other things...

The three of us had a meal of Bollito Veronese, boiled meats of Verona. While they look and sound quite boring, quite the contrary.

Horseradish, Green Tomato Mostarda, and Salsa Verde to dress meat.

A Veronese dish made with bread, broth and bone marrow.

All washed down with a Volpolicella Classico chosen by Ettore (drats! I didn't take a photo of the label!) By the time we were done I was in a total food coma.

We hopped in the van, I fell asleep, and next thing I knew I was on the highest point of the Valpolicella at the 3rd winery.

Can you imagine the hard work that goes into caring for the vines and harvesting the grapes on a terrain like this?

The first thing I noticed about the winery was this, which of course reminded me of Ettore's circle of friends. The wine had me quite philosophical by this point of the day and I of course felt a strange sensation when I saw the circle again...

This winery is much bigger than Ettore's. Alessandro has been at it for about 10 years now. The production he's running is quite impressive.

Alessandro showing us the wooden crates.

I'd say the most important thing to note is that Alessandro still uses the wooden crates instead of the plastic ones to dry his grapes. They involve more labor, they cost more, and they are even complicated to stack and move around... but he believes they are the best material in which to dry the grapes.

Crates he bought from another winery who now uses plastic.

Alessandro does make a Ripasso in addition to his Amarone, his Recioto, and his Valpolicella Classico. We toured the winery and saw the rock below the vines (there is a wall on display that even has fossils from the time this area was under sea level).

Fossil seen on tip left quarter of this photo.

The end of the tour, seeing Alessandro's private cellar.

I was pretty tired at this point, so I only tasted the Valpolicella Classico. The rest is pretty much a blur. I remember waking up in Florence in my own bed : )

Joking aside, I'd like to mention the sacrifice and hard work the wine makers put into these wines. Ettore uses modern methods but refuses to make a modern Ripasso style red, while Alessandro clings on to the more old fashioned wooden crates but makes the wildly popular Ripasso in addition to his selection of tradition wines.

Both have been making wine for about a decade, and both have very clear visions (and make nice wines!).

If you are coming to Venice and/or Tuscany, I highly recommend joining Giulia for a wine tour in the following areas: Soave, Valpolicella, Montalcino, Montepulciano... but contact her directly since she can organize other wine trips and classes.

...and be sure to contact me for a food and wine tasting class or intinerary in Florence, Italy.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Toto, We're Not in Tuscany Anymore!

To say I love Venice would be an understatement! I often go alone to soak in the city, the Venetian accent, and a considerable amount of "ombre," or little glasses of wine...
This time I decided to treat myself to a first class view of the city and surrounding areas.
I contacted certified Sommelier Giulia at From Venice to Wine to show me around town, and to hire a private NCC for me to visit some wineries in Soave and Valpolicella (ie: the homeland of Recioto and Amarone, and the widely popular Ripasso).

Sommelier Giulia
She got me in contact with a travel agency she uses and they handled all the transport details. A private boat, and a "NCC" car were arranged to get me from point A to point B and still be able to taste wines without worrying about drinking and driving.

I arrived in Venice on Wednesday to find Giulia waiting at the station. She'd planned a surprise extra trip to a small island where a French man is making an unorthodox but incredibly complex white wine. We hopped on a boat and arrived on a tiny island where most of the inhabitants drive bicycles or tiny trucks (that I love!) called Api.
Api parked on the island.
Sommelier Giulia came along to teach me about the wines. She is not only a Venice native, but she also worked in a prestigious winery in Tuscany's Montalcino zone. Who better to teach you about wine than someone who knows how to make it with their own hands?

Arriving at the winery, a cross between an old farm house and a beach house.

Michelle, the owner, promptly showed us the vines and explained the way they work the soil. No chemicals are used at his winery.
Skillfully talking with cigarette in mouth.


Then we headed inside to see the first of two buildings and visit the fermentation and aging rooms. I got distracted by this amazing image:

Venetian light meets French ingenuity and style. I couldn't resist snapping a photo.

Above you'll see a photo of wine bottles that formed a perfect photo. These are the kinds of things the French are great at. Utilizing light and found objects and bringing them to life. I was already sold, then Michele announced he'd be taking us to the other building by Ape. I squealed with joy and hopped in the back!

My dream come true: riding in the back of an Ape.
View of the main building from Ape truck. Note vines along road, mountains in the distance.

Arriving at the second building, I was even more impressed and excited by this crazy mix of wine country and fishing and gardening community. I felt like I was on another planet from Florence's stones and Tuscany's rolling hills. Toto, we're not in Tuscany any more.

Stuff that Van Gogh paintings were made of...
Michele served us a glass of wine, and we passed the afternoon talking about wine, the superiority of French pastries (in Michele's defense, I brought it up!), wine making, wine tasting, beautiful women...
This wine is young but has a vibrant golden yellow color.
This wine has nice body, persistence, and longevity. It would be fantastic with soft shell crabs, which the locals eat when the crabs are in molting season. I plan to bring a bottle back to the States and try it with friends in North Carolina over a crab dinner.

The day was quite warm for February, and we were able to enjoy the breeze with our coats off. Isn't that the greatest moment of the year? The first time it warms up and you have to take your coat off...

Michele simply being cool. He was born that way and it shows!

As the sun began to set, Giulia and I hopped back on our hired boat and headed to Venice to drop off the wine I got from Michele and get ready for dinner. On the way out of the hotel I noticed gondoliers having dinner and couldn't resist snapping a photo. I love seeing people off duty in their uniforms. Kind of like when you were a kid and you ran into your teacher somewhere outside of school.

Gondoliers on their dinner break!
Giulia walked us to her family's photo shop, which has been around for decades. During our time together, we discovered we both have similar interests, including black and white film photography.

This famous photo was taken by Giulia's father and colleague!
We waited for her father and brother to close the shop, and I passed time looking at all the camera gadgets, old cameras, and photos in the store. That's when I discovered that Giulia's father was one of the photographers who took this famous photo in San Marco Square!

Like all true Venetians, her father closed up shop and suggested we go for a cicchetto, a bite to eat, with a Spritz, a typical aperitif of Venice. We had cicchetti in two different places.

Then, her other brother called and asked if we should all grab dinner. After much consideration, they decided we'd go to a place called I Promessi Sposi, not far from my hotel.

Chatting over cicchetti.
We were all in the mood for seafood, and mostly ordered pasta and fried fish. The fried fish was well executed: not too heavy, not too greasy, and piping hot. The julienne cut carrots and zucchine were a nice contrast to the shrimp, calamari, and blue fishes.
Fried fish, baby!

Needless to say, I was ready for bed after a full day of fresh air, lots of wine, new friends, and a hearty dinner. When I got to my room, I heard several men singing opera somewhere below the hotel.

Frustrated that I would probably not sleep well, I text messaged my friend to complain that yet again I'd be having a sleepless night in Italy due to random people singing. She replied, "why not go down and join them?"

I decided she was right. By the time I got out of the shower though, they'd stopped singing. Oh well. At least I got a good night's sleep!

I'll continue this story in another blog entry, since Day 2 is pretty intense!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Somming It Up, Week Two

Well, week two didn't go so well. In order to attend class again I need the following ugly uniform:

Grey pants or skirt, Navy blue blazer, Black Dress Shoes, White dress shirt.

Grey, black and navy blue, all in the same outfit????? And a neck scarf that is navy blue and yellow.

The outfit sounds like a flight attendant from the 1980's.

I'm breaking down and buying the stuff tomorrow so I can go to class again tomorrow night. Once I finally wear it I'll post a photo.

In the meantime, I figured I'd share a quick recipe that I love.

This recipe could easily have come to me in NYC. But, please know that the idea to use an apple came from Natalie at a little wine place called Uscio & Bottega here in Florence, Italy. She does all kinds of great stuff with fresh ingredients.

PS: How do you say cream cheese in Italian? Filadelfia!
You'll need:

Sliced bread, soft or toasted (your choice)
High quality smoked salmon
Crisp Granny Smith Apple
Lemon juice (from a real lemon, I beg of you, not the lemon juice sold in bottles!)
Cream Cheese
Before assembling the sandwich, marinate the apple slices in lemon juice for a couple of minutes.
Assemble sandwich: bread, cream cheese, salmon, slices of apple

That's it. And it is freaking delicious.

You can also make an open-face version, crostino style. I've served this at parties and people flip for it. A nice glass of Muller Thurgau or a fruity Prosecco and you're all set.