Travaasa Austin Certified Sommelier, Edward Morgan, embarked on a two-week long journey through Italy, learning the intricacies of Italian winemaking along the way. His adventure thus far has taken him through Piedmont and Veneto. Here is an excerpt from his incredible Italian saga highlighting his time in the Veneto region.
We arrived late last night and had a powerhouse dinner with the winemaker and enologist of the Bolla Family Winery. Waking just after sunrise to get a run in, the glazed laterite stone floor was still cold from the night before as I made my way to the large shuttered window. I took in the landscape for a moment – it isn’t every day you have the opportunity to bed down in a 15th century estate with the undulating hills of central Italy as the backdrop. I have to remind myself now and again where I am on these adventures. Not because I have some sort of retro-grade amnesia or too much strong drink but because I need to remember to hold on to a moment this special.
I could still taste the Amarone and Amaro from an absolutely stellar line up the night before. Every course was paired to perfection with wines of the Soave and Valoplicella regions, known for their use of Garganega, Rondinella and Corvina grapes to respectively make white and red wines.
Dinner began with a wonderful ricotta and house made mustard seed roulade. I am told that pure mustard seed extract or rather “essence” of mustard can be blinding at full strength. This particular selection had been reduced to about 10 chops per kilo and was still quite potent. Next was zucchini flowers and house-made buccatini pasta followed by hand-made tagliatelle pasta with guineahen ragu, honey and ricotta roast duck and chimbro (a local bovine cheese from Venice) to finish. If one still had room for dessert, the staff was passing through with fresh wild strawberries and gelato during the amaro variety show.
We haven’t followed the usual tourist route thus far, and the accommodations have been very intimate and reminiscent of Travaasa. I feel more like a house guest than a patron as many of the hotels only have six to eight rooms and sit on large plots of land that are either part of a producing estate or nestled in the thick of neighboring vineyards. This leg of the trip is no exception. The hotel CorteForte was resurrected from a 600-year-old fortress intended to append attacks from the north during the peak of the Visconti power, a war amongst the Milanese, Venitian, Floretine and Papal states of Italy in the early 1400s. It was originally composed of four towers joined together by a high rock wall. Now, beautiful marble arches append the doorways and entrances to the towers, and the vineyards that surround it still grow traditional varietals of the day.
Today, we are in a small municipality in the center of the Veneto called Fumane. Let’s try this, all together now, “VEN-ETO.” I have been corrected many times on this, as my English serves only to butcher the seemingly phonetic vocabulary of the culture; just like an American to over-complicate things. Fumane is a bit easier…only so many ways to say that particular word. Don’t think FUE-MANE, think FU-MAN-EH.
This sleepy little cittá sits nestled in the foothills of the Dolomite Mountains. A quaint little municipality defining one of three valleys of the region carved out by the glaciers of the ice age. Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy, is what is left of the pristine frozen waters that once rounded the area. Fumane sits in the center of the Venatian province located in north-central Italy about 110 kilometers west of Venice. This massive region is known for its cultivation of artisan Amarone and gorgeous garganega (GAR-GAN-A-GUH), a beautiful aromatic grape that produces the white wine known locally as Soave.
The center of town, be it not for the hundreds of acres of vineyards pinned to the landscape surrounding it, would be reminiscent of a sleepy rural town of the Midwest in the 1950s. The streets are narrow with high curbs and easy sidewalks, a clock tower stands in the center of town, shop-keepers roll out their sidewalks just after the sun comes up and the hum of life begins to waft through the streets with faint whispers of espresso, violets and almonds. Children and parents meet school buses, friends greet each other on the way to somewhere and the retired or otherwise adjourn at the local café to enjoy fresh espresso and the first breath of the day’s gossip.
We left promptly after breakfast to head east. The ride up the mountain was scenic as to be expected and I could see the entire region for about 50 miles in every direction. We made a few pit stops along the way to examine aspect, tressling systems and soil content to help illustrate the success with specific varietals grown within the region. The nerd I am stopped and snapped a few pictures of the soil. When no one was looking, I took a little taste, you know, to see what it tastes like.
We arrived at The Faettini Family Vineyard located in Valpolicella, a small viticultural area inside the province of Verona; this is Amarone country baby! Amarone is a very unique wine whose history is one of accidental discovery. Its origin comes from a wine once known as recioto; a sweet wine made so by the raisinated grapes used in its production and the arresting of the sugars being fermented into alcohol. Amarone, whose name means “little bitter one,” was borne from a cask that was left to ferment long enough to convert all of the grape sugars into alcohol, creating a wine that has a whisper of sweet raisination and a girth of flavor, alcohol and spice that isn’t soon forgotten.
This vineyard is the source of fruit for the Bolla Family of wines. We toured the vineyard, examined canopy management and of course picked and ate fresh cherries from the trees as we walked beneath the pergola vines. If there is anything that one can ascertain from today’s trip, it would be that things that grow together go together. I believe the close proximity of the grapes to the cherry trees helps lend this characteristic to the wine. We toured the frutti, a large attic space where they dry the grapes to a raisinated form before fermenting them for the Amarone wines; we had a bit of fun tasting some – dried violets, black olives and candied blue and red fruit.
We left the Valpolicella and immediately headed west to Soave. I took a 30-minute power nap while Rosco, our driver, negotiated the twists and turns up the hills that lay in the shadows of the snow capped Dolomites. We met Christian Scrinzi, the winemaker at Bolla for a lunchtime rendezvous at Al Gambero – a ristorante once owned by the Bolla family located just behind the original walls of the city first cited in 934 AD. The restaurant opened a few centuries later in 1860; Italy still wasn’t a unified country when they started serving tagliatelle and fresh seafood.
We enjoyed some local faire and finished with about a dozen different types of Amaro. I am learning not to ask what the local customary alcoholic beverage is; it was definitely a sipping day. We bid our friends at Bolla a fine farewell and headed on our way. It was a beautiful couple of days and a hell of a history lesson. Next stop VERONA!