Venice for the Wine Lover

A quiet spot in a city of water, a city most commonly associated with tourists fighting pigeons for space in front of the Piazza San Marco, gondolas gliding down the canals and Harry’s Bar, the birthplace of the Bellini.  There is so much to see in this city that has the look of a movie set.  For the  wine lover, Venice is so much more.

Let the Ombra Begin

There is a tradition in Venice called the Ombra. The literal translation is shade. To Venetians, it means a glass of red wine. Some say the origin of the term comes from the wine sellers who sold their wares in the shadow of the tower in Piazza San Marco. Another story claims it came from the fishermen who worked each morning in the baking sun. Once they unloaded their small boats, heavy with their catch of the day, they retreated into small bars which lined the dock for a glass of red wine or Ombra.  My favourite story, echoed by the concierge at the Hotel ai Mori D’Oriente,  is that Ombra became a noun that refers to strolling from one small bar to another for a glass of wine, a pub crawl of sorts for the oenophile as in  “We are going for an Ombra.

Paradise Found

Paradiso Perduto (Translation: Paradise Lost)  topped  the recommended list and it turned out to be the perfect place to start our Ombra. We each had a glass of the house Prosecco, gentle bubbles of the lightest kind.   Outside, tables laden with cichetti or Venice’s answer to Tapas, lined the canal.  From roasted vegetables to fried shrimp, octopus, Baccala and  zucchini flowers.  Simple, fresh and affordable. 

The Real  Wine Thing

Our  best find of the day, just a few steps away,  has clearly been found before. Vino Vero is a small wine bar  with a dozen seats inside and a few tables outside. You know when you walk into a bookstore and can tell instantly  it is run by someone who truly loves books? That’s the feeling at Vino Vero.

There are about 200-300 wines here. So much choice but somehow Esmerelda, who handles the bar, makes it approachable.  “Give me something I have never tried before,” I asked.  Esmerelda pulled out two wines to try before committing  which  goes a long way to building my loyalty.

First up:  Esmerelda suggested  a sparkling wine called MUNI made from Durella, a white grape native to  Northern Italy. It was fruity, classic and elegant – with plenty of spritz. However, sparkling wine is the only spritz you’ll find at Vino Vero. There’s a  sign on the counter that warns – No Spritz –  just in case someone was considering ordering the popular Aperol cocktail.  In case you doubted their policy – “Nospritz” is even the WIFI password .

Esmerelda then pulled out a bottle of Slavcek 2012 –  a Merlot from Slovenia –  for me to sample.  Deep ruby red, dry and delicious. She is extremely knowledgable, with a lovely blog of her own called Yeasteria.it, focusing  on Italian bio-dynamic wine and beer.

Woman of Wine: Esmerelda
Vino Vero Regulars Chris and Vivian

We shared a drink with Chris and Vivian from Queensland, who were at the bar for the third time – proof that while the wines make Vino Vero worth visiting, the atmosphere and service make it worth the trip back.

Cannaregio District:  Both bars are located in the Cannaregio district. It’s the historical Jewish quarter and far from the cruise travellers and tourists armed with selfie sticks. A 10-minute walk from the train station and 20 – 30 minutes walk from most of Venice’s most popular sights.

Vino Vero, Fondamenta Misericordia 2497, 30100 Venezia

Paradiso Perduto, Fondamenta Misericordia 2540, 30100 Venezia

The Prosecco Trail

I love prosecco.

I love it in the morning with a dash of OJ (for colour), as an afternoon palette cleanser, or a toast before dinner.

Prosecco turns any event into a celebration.

I am in great company.   More than 355 million bottles were sold worldwide in 2015 and the demand is still growing.

About 90% of prosecco comes from a region just north of Venice.  There you’ll find the  Strada of Prosecco, a 47-km trail lined with sparkling wine cantinas. 

We got the chance to tour one of the prettiest wineries in the region in late September.  And the prosecco was the lure.

Pitars is a fourth generation producer in San  Martino al Tagliamento, about 90 minutes north of Venice. 

The staff was setting up for a wedding the day  we visited. This place is so gorgeous, such a perfectly romantic setting,  it almost made me want to convince my husband to renew our vows.  Almost.  We opted instead  for a few toasts – mostly counting our lucky stars to be there.

After the tour, hospitality director Valentino Florian led us through a tasting of half a dozen wines.  Plan to spend some time.  They have 20 wines, each worth sampling.  White grapes rule the region. Most of fields in the area are planted with Glera grapes and used for prosecco.  I loved its aromatic flavour and bubbles that tingled on the way down. I especially loved their sparkling Ribolla Giallo – a white grape gaining popularity in Canada. 

Pitars produces eight whites and  four reds. Their  portfolio includes a Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Naos, a knockout red blend.  My cousin Lindo claims the only good wines in the world are produced in this region. 

“Un minuto!” I responded. “California, France, Canada, Spain? What about Tuscany?” I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders “I suppose I will give you Tuscany,” Lindo said .

Finally, the price.  A bottle of award-winning prosecco was SIX EUROS. Even with a generous exchange, that’s $9 CDN.  A  prosecco of this quality in Canada sells for more than twice the price.

As we were leaving, my husband tried to persuade me  to take home a dozen bottles, until I reminded him he was the one who challenged me to do carry on only.

That’ll teach him.

If you find Pitars on the shelves, try it first…then let me know!

Bonus Cocktail discovery:

Italian Lemonade uncovered at a Bistro in Canmore Alberta – Amounts vary to taste but I used:

1 cup of Limoncello from the freezer

Juice from 2 lemons

1/2 bottle of Prosecco

1-2 teaspoons of sugar (optional and to taste)

Top with sparkling water.

on ice.

Wine Picks for the Weekend

SAN FRANCISCO 018This is how I felt when I walked into the LCBO this past weekend.

There are some fantastic new wine picks this week that are worthy of attention. I spent some quality time at the tasting bar and my shopping cart went from 0 to 12 faster than I could say Vino Nobile de Montipulciano.  These wines range from affordable (under $20) to downright cheap ($14.95)  and every single one of them will make you cheerful.

3_Rings_Shiraz_2007_Bottle

 

 

Three Ring Shiraz 2013, Barossa Valley, South Australia $18.95  Full-bodied plush with pepper, spicy, great buy.  The big fruity full-bodied attack down the middle at its best. This is the perfect wine for steak or stew, burgers or any kind of beef, or just for sipping.

 

 

 

 

ramitello

 

Di Majo Norante Ramitello 2011 $18.95 – Molise, Italy

Before I taste a half ounce of swanky wine in the LCBO tasting room, I always start out tasting a wine I can actually afford.   This one was a real pleasure. It is a blend of 80% Montepulciano and 20% Aglianico grapes so it carried some decent body and plummy flavours. Wine Spectator gave it 90 points.

 

 

 

10470998

 

Monasterio de las Vinas Reserva 2006 $14.95 LCBO $15.45 SAQ – Spain This is the value buy of the week. It’s a medium-bodied blend of 70% Garnacha, 20% Tempranillo and 10 % Carinena.  At that price, get a six-pack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

bila haut

 

Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2013 $25.95 – Midi, France 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 10% Carignan – – medium to full bodied with a lovely long finish. This was my splurge of the week and worth the extra few dollars.

 

 

 

 

Hope you enjoy the choices. Have a great weekend and let us know what you are drinking!

 

Tenuta Valdipiatta: A Wine of Distinction

Guilio Caporali Among His Vines
Guilio Caporali Among His Vines

 

Giulio Caporali is proud of his grapes, his wines and his daughters, and not necessarily in that order.  He grew up making wine.  His career steered him to the railway industry. In the 70s, Guilio decided to get into the wine business, buying a choice piece of land in southern Tuscany, close to Montepulciano.

Tenuta Valdipiatta is a family-owned winery producing about 100,000 bottles a year. And oh what bottles!  These are award-winning wines that have shared the spotlight with the much-heralded Super Tuscans Sassicaia and Ornellaia.

A Sign of the Times
A Sign of the Times

 

Giulio took us through the stunning grounds. He gave us a primer on the status of the vines and the way they are trained to produce the best grapes.  Everything here is done by hand.  The aging room was dug out of tufa rock. Etruscan relics found on the property are mounted on the walls. And inside the barrels… pure magic.

 

IMG_0582

 

We started with 100% Pinot Noir, unusual for this area. Critics said it could not be done but Guilio doesn’t really care about going against the grain, or the grape. He follows his own path – something his daughters learned from their father.

Miriam – an economist,  runs the winery and Cinzia, a mechanical engineer  is co-owner of La Locanda di San Francesco, the most romantic & luxurious B & B in Montepulciano with a wine bar where I first sampled Valdipiatta (in fact our group like it so much we cleaned them out of all 12 bottles that night – hey, before you get judgey, there WERE 8 of us.)

A Noble Favourite
A Noble Favourite

Each tasting came with a story of an evolution, a discovery or a philosophy.

 

A Man and his Wines
A Man and his Wines

Guilio on Decanting: 90% is theatre. A good wine, is a good wine. But if I were having friends over I would open the bottle the day before. How would you feel if you were locked up in a bottle for 10 years? You need to stretch.

 

On Super Tuscans: Great marketing strategy.

Barrels of Stories
Barrels of Stories

On Oak Barrels: Russian Oak was the thing until the Revolution and the French saw an opportunity to step in.

Today Valdipiatta uses Slavonian, French and some Russian oak.

I am not sure which I enjoyed most: the wine, which was spectacular or the conversation. Though I know exactly which wine I loved the most. The 2005 Riserva. 100% Sangiovese. So smooth. So spicy. So Savoury – with flavours that live on. When you are only allowed to bring 2 bottles each through Canadian customs, you become rather choosy about what those bottles will be, but the Valdipiatta Riserva has a permanent spot in my heart and my luggage.

Luckily Valdipiatta is available on occasion at the LCBO.

There are dozens of producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, but this tasting was one of the best. If you find yourself in the area, I highly recommend it for the wine and for the experience. Go to their web site – www.TenutaValdipiatta.it for a full list of tours and tastings available.

 

Montemercurio: On the Wings of Fine Wine

On the Wings of Paradise
On the Wings of Paradise

I am under the Tuscan Sun, the place  where magic happens, where grapes become wine, history becomes a playground, and life truly feels like this was how it was meant to be lived.

the square
The Grand Piazza of Montepulciano

Montemercurio Winery combines legend and science to create memorable wines.
It is said the grand piazza of Montepulciano was once the site of a temple honouring Mercury, the winged-God of Roman mythology. Mercury was the God of communication, commerce, eloquence (poetry) and travellers (how forward-thinking those Romans were).

Honour Thy Grandfather
Honour Thy Grandfather

 

 

In 2007, when Marco Anselmi decided to create his own brand of wine in the shadow of the hill town of Montepulciano or Mons Mercurio as it was once called, he honoured the legend and he honoured his grandfather Damo who taught him everything about wine.

 

First Place
Poetry in a Bottle

 

Last year at an informal blind tasting of producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano at the E Lucevan Le Stelle – a wine bar par excellence in the pretty hill town , Montemercurio came first. It sparked brisk sales, and my interest in getting to know their wines better. Much better.

 

Wine Tasting with Irene
Wine Tasting with Irene

 

Sommelier Irene Lesti was our guide. She drove us to the stunning fields just below Montepulciano, most planted with Sangiovese –  the Tuscan hero grape,  a little Merlot, Canaiolo, Colorino, and Barbera for blending –  along with Malvasia Bianca, Canaiolo Bianco, Trebbiano and Pulcinculo used to produce a kick ass white.

Owner and winemaker Marco Anselmi is a firm believer in traditional methods.  He respects the old ways – from the size of the oak barrels to the regional grapes.

Cementing the Future
Cementing the Future

 

His latest experiment, aging wine in a gigantic cement block as the Romans did 2000 years ago. It’s an idea that’s caught on in the last few years with Crush Pad in the Okanagan and a number of California wineries, including Conundrum and Cliff Lede, doing the same.

 

The Full Montemercurio
The Full Montemercurio

Back at the Cantina, Irene let us sample the entire production line, starting with Caduceo IGT 2012, a white even my husband Steve, a seriously dedicated red wine drinker, appreciated. It was full of all the flavour Pinot Grigio often lacks.

Irene took us on a journey through the Tedicciolo, an IGT Toscana Rosso which softens the 80% Sangiovese with 20% Merlot. “Sangiovese can be a very aggressive grape,” said Irene. “Merlot gives it a little fruit.” Steve, my official tasting companion, loved it….until he tasted the Petaso – a Rosso di Montepulciano that went down so nicely, we had to take one home. With a flavour that is equal parts intense and elegant, this is a great value wine. Snap it up if it comes to the LCBO or SAQ!

Of Gods and Great Wine
Of Gods and Great Wine

Messaggero Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2008 was my favourite. It was big, bold and beautiful – a delicious blend of 95%Sangiovese and 5% Canaiolo. The reason this vintage was special – Marco did not think the selection grapes met the standard for their premium wine, DAMO, so all the grapes meant for DAMO went into the 2008 Messaggero. Essentially a Riserva without the price tag. This was only the second harvest for the winery. The good news is Messagero is coming to the LCBO – so keep an eye out for it.

Finally, DAMO, Montemercurio’s premium wine is a blend of the best grapes of the vineyard. 80% Sangiovese, 20% Canaiolo, Mammolo, Colorino and Barbera. Named after Damo, Marco’s grandfather and inspiration. Irene let us try the 2007 – the first vintage and the 2008, a complex blend that opens with age.

Montemercurio produces 30,000 bottles a year, 80% is exported. Thankfully that means you don’t HAVE to return to Tuscany to try it, HOWEVER  this is where the magic happens so I highly recommend it!

Saluté

Two Glasses Half Full
Two Glasses Half Full

 

Fine February Wine Picks

august 19-2014 152
Thrilled about New Italians

I know it’s going to be a good weekend when the message from VINTAGES in my inbox says Hot New Italians (okay I may be using a little poetic license – but that’s how I internalized this week’s theme…Only in Italy: 11 Native Grapes).

My brother in wine, Rob, who curses and blesses me for turning him from a beer guy to a wine lover, went shopping for “a” bottle…or 5.

Some of our worthy picks this weekend:

BIg Beauty
BIg Beauty

Beni di Batasiolo Riserva Barolo 2006  – One of my favourite words in the Italian language – this Barolo it was more than worthy.  It could last for 10 years or more. We decanted for about an hour. Sight, Sniff and Savour all got top scores.  It was a slow sipper because we wanted the goodness to last as long as possible $39.95

 

 

A Price-friendly Wine from Piedmont
A Price-friendly Wine from Piedmont

Marenco Suri Dogliani 2011 – just a few kilometres from Barolo in Italy’s Piedmont region, it is a whole lot friendlier to your wallet.  I really enjoyed this wine. It is a well-balanced medium- bodied wine that I would gladly have with a plate of charcuterie or some Italian meatballs.  $17.95

 

 

Salcheto Vino Nobile de Montepulciano  2011 $29.95 – Love this wine. A sommelier once told me that a wine often tastes 20% if you have been to the winery. I agree if you like the wine. A great experience will keep that winery in your heart and on your shopping list forever. But it can work in reserve too.  I have been to a few that, in my opinion, were way overrated  and in those cases, I rarely give them a second chance. Salcheto was the former. I have been there a number of times and each time was better than the last…and each visit our wine order was bigger than the last. One of the most environmentally- conscious wineries in Europe. If you are going to be in the Montepulciano area – don’t miss it.

Enjoy and let us know if there is an Italian at your table worth sharing.

 

 

Red Carpet Stars

Well another year of TIFF has wrapped up and Toronto has seen many stars walk the red carpet for their film premieres.

But besides the usual suspects there was another celebrity in town. Famous in his own right, 2-star Michelin Chef, Oliver Glowig was also here. He rolled out the red carpet for a special chef’s table dinner at the Ritz Carlton’s TOCA restaurant and Lis and I were lucky enough to be two of the eight people invited.

The food was a delight to the senses, with bright, vibrant colours that were a feast for the eyes. The sizzle as the swordfish hit the grill signaled another delicious dish was coming and watching the chef hand make the ravioli let you know only the freshest ingredients were being used. As six courses were presented over the evening the flavour explosions brought a taste of Italy to our mouths thanks to the skill of Chef Glowig and his amazing team.

For every course there was a terrific wine pairing and one of the delights of visiting TOCA means you get to try something you won’t always find at your local liquor store.  We started off the evening with a deliciously light sparkling Falanghina Brut DUBL from the Campania region of Southern Italy served by sommelier Taylor Thompson.  Each dish was accompanied by a wine chosen to bring out the flavours of the food and they didn’t disappoint.

Getting rave reviews was the “Ravioli Capresi” stuffed with caciotta and marjoram, served with a cherry tomato and fresh basil sauce. Maybe it was  because Chef shared the secret of how the delicate ravioli were made but I’m pretty sure it was because they tasted truly amazing.  Some of the eight at the table were even willing to give up dessert for another crack at this dish and I was in total agreement.

While chef Oliver Glowig has now flown back to Italy to handle the affairs of his own restaurant in Rome, you can enjoy the menu he created for TOCA any time at Toronto’s Ritz Carlton.