Thursday, May 18th: The jacket I wanted to pack for our trip to Italy is at the dry cleaners. When I went to pick it up there was a notice on the door saying the landlord had taken possession of the building because the tenant had not paid rent. Tried to reach the bailiffs by phone but their message machine was overloaded. Wonder if I’ll ever see that jacket again.
Lots of last minute details to attend to before the car comes at 2:30 pm to take Deborah and me to the airport. And much drama ensued. One of our party for the annual Pauwels-Aspler wine tour lost his passport and was unable to board. The Air Canada Rouge flight to Venice was full. I took a sleeping pill, put on an eye mask and forgot about dinner.
Friday, May 19th: Arrived in Venice at 9:10 am and with most of our party made for the bus that would take us to Verona and the Palazzo Victoria Hotel. After quickly settling into our room for a quick snack of salami, prosciutto, pizza and mozzarella, we bussed over to Romano Dal Forno for a tour and tasting conducted by Michele Dal Forno.
Michele Dal Forno
Impressed by vacuum tanks and the drying rooms with their automated fans that move on tracks over the boxed grapes to help the drying process for Amarone.
Grape drying fans at Dal Forno
The company produces 20,000 bottles of Amarone on average and 40,000 Valpolicella. Their 26 hectares of vines are planted 13,000 plants per hectare. The fruit of 10–12 vines produces one bottle of Amarone. They use 100% new oak each year and age their Amarone 2 years in oak and six years altogether before release.
Dal Forno’s cellar
- Dal Forno Valpolicella Superiore 2007: intense purple-black colour; spicy, new oak nose, rich black plum and cherry notes; full-bodied, dry, concentrated black stone fruit flavours with rose petal and dark chocolate notes, finishing with ripe tannins. (93) There was no Amarone made in this vintage because of a hail storm in August.
- Dal Forno Amarone Monte Ladoletta 2008: dense purple black in colour; intense, spicy nose of plum, roses, raisins, tobacco, vanilla oak and new leather; full-bodied, intense and concentrated, rich and porty with floral and gamey notes. Great balancing acidity. An amazingly complex and rich wine, full on the palate with a lovely mouth-feel; still youthful with well-integrated oak though the cocoa-powder-like tannins are soft and pliant. Couldn’t spit this wine! 16.5% alcohol. (60% Corvina and Corvinone, 15% Croatina, 15% Rondinella) (97)
- Dal Forno Vina Seré Passito Rosso Vino Dolce 2004: dense purple colour; high-toned nose of plum jam and cinnamon with beautifully integrated oak notes; intensely sweet but wonderfully balanced with lively acidity; rich and port-like with sweet plum and blackberry flavours. Well-structured with youtfull tannins. Needs 5–10 years. (94–96).
Verona pastry shop
An early evening orientation walking tour of the city centre hosted by local guide and sommelier Laura Cesari, whose family owns the boutique estate Brigaldara, which were the wines served during dinner at the Antica Bottega del Vino. But first a group welcome drink in the hotel lounge – Cantine Produttori Prosecco (photo)*.
I have a great affection for Bottega del Vino, a wine bar-restaurant I first visited in 1982 and where Deborah and I had lunch on our honeymoon in 1997 (over a bottle of Quintarelli Valpolicella 1991). This evening out host, Laura Cesari served Brigaldara Soave 2016 with plates of prosciutto and speck with parmesan and epoisse (melted in a pot). Next course: risotto cooked with Valpolicella Ripasso with Brigaldera Il Vegro Vapolicella Ripasso Superiore 2014.
Risotto with Amarone
Then braised beef cheeks with mashed potatoes with Brigaldera Amarone 2012. Dessert – Tiramisù (the best I’ve ever tasted) (photo)* with Brigaldera Recioto della Valpolicella 2014. Laura also opened a bottle of Brigaldera Valpolicella 2015. Finished the meal with the traditional crumbled biscuits – sbrisoluna, made from corn flour, sugar, lard and almonds.
Saturday, May 20: After breakfast a guided walking tour of Verona with the obligatory stop at Juliet’s balcony. The walls here are covered with graffiti – love notes, chewing gum and band-aids (photo). Our hotel lobby had a wall of the same:
Graffiti wall at the Palazzo Victoria
A delicious trattoria lunch at Enoteca della Valpolicella, Via Osar 45, 37022 Fumane. The first wine: Ca dei Frati Lugana 2016 with stuffed zucchini flower (photo), parmesan risotto made with Valpolicella Recioto and chocolate (photo), followed by duck breast with a Recioto sauce, accompanied by Corteforte Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore 2009.
Duck breast with Recioto sauce
Next, our first winery tour – Azienda Agricole Zyme. Zyme, as our guide Marco Quintarelli (photo) explained, is Greek for “yeast.” The winery is carved out of a fifteenth-century sandstone quarry. He told us that the symbol of the winery is a pentagon, symbolic of the five elements that go to making wine: water, soil, sun, the vine and man. And that it takes three kilos of grapes to make a bottle of Amarone.
Entrance to Zyme
We started with Zyme Metodo Classico 2011, 100% Pinot Noir. Then an interesting white wine from a mutation of Rondinella – Zyme Black to White Rondinella Bianca 2016 (with 15% Gold Traminer, 15% Kerner and 10% Incrocio Manzoni). Then Zyme Valpolicella Classico 2016, followed by Zyme Valpolicella Ripasso 2013, Zyme Cabernet 602020 2011 (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot), Zyme Oseleta 2010, Zyme Amarone 2009, Zyme Kairos 2012, Zyme Harlequin 2008 (a blend of Garganega, Trebbiano Toscana, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Teroldego, Croatina, Oseleta, Sangiovese and Merzemino!). And then the heavens opened.
Bussed back to Verona for a group dinner at the Michelin-starred Il Desco (www.ristoranteildesco.com) in a private room. The meal was prepared by the father and son chefs, Matteo and Elia Rizzo.
Matteo and Elia Rizzo
The meal began with a sparkling wine, Enrico Gatti Franciacorta Nature (photo). Instead of butter, a blue cheese and mascarpone spread. Then individual plates of green pea bread, bean cannoli, asparagus with polenta and chip crisp (photo) with Vicentini Augustino Soave 2015. Next course, deep-fried scampi with a raspberry vinaigrette (photo); then, lobster risotto with coriander and lime (photo), followed by sea bass with anise cream and fennel gratinée with Tenuta Santa Maria Torrepieve 2014 (Chardonnay). Desserts: Lemon foam with cinnamon and cherry eau de vie (photo), pineapple and chantilly cream, lemon ice cream with a chocolate and licorice biscuit followed by petits fours (photo).
Sunday, May 21st: Took the train to Venice, where we had a guided tour. Erica, our guide, told us that Venice has a population of 55,000 and receives 18 million visitors. I think they were all there with us that morning. She also said that open fires and barbecues are forbidden in Venice.
A group of us lunched at Tavernetta San Maurizio. I ordered a bottle of Valle Ribolla Gialla 2016 for my alle vongole and octopus salad, then a bottle of Inama Soave 2015. Stopped for a gelato and the ladies bought handbags.
Seen in San Marco square
The group met on the terrace for the Gritti Palace hotel for Bellinis before taking the water taxi to the railway station for the return trip to Verona.
Deborah enjoying a Bellini
Only Deborah and I missed the train because we were buying baby clothes for our granddaughter. We took a later train and waited 35 minutes for a taxi at Verona station to take us to the hotel.
Dined with James and Aina at Trattoria Tre Marchetti (photo) behind the arena where a group called Nek was performing (loudly). I ordered a bottle of Roberto Anselmi Capitel Foscarino 2016 for my pasta dish (photo) and a bottle of Le Ragose Le Sassine Valpolicella Ripasso 2013 for steak with truffles. Stopped into a bar for a grappa nightcap (photo).
Dinner wines at Tre Marchetti
Monday, May 22: This morning we toured the cellars of Masi Agricola. Our visit included a tour and tasting at the adjacent Serego Alighieri estate, where historically they have given their wines a final ageing in cherry wood barrels.
Valpolicella and Amarone’s major grape
Staircase at Serego Alighieri
Then on to an al fresco lunch at Sandro Boscaini’s Tenuta Canova estate, where the following wines had been pre-poured for us: Serego Alighieri Possessioni 2014 (Corvina, Molinara and Sangovese), Serego Alighieri Monte Piazzo Valpolicella 2013, Serego Alighieri Vaia Amarone 2011 and Castel del Ronchi Recioto della Valpolicella 2013. At the lunch of cheeses, salumi and prosciutto we drank Masi Moxxé 2016 (sparkling version of Masianco – a blend of Pinot Grigio and Verduzzo), Masi Costasera 2012 and Masi Campofiorin 2013, finishing with Serego Alighieri Vaia Amaron Grappa di Amarone (photo).
Fireplace at Allegrini
Next stop, the Villa della Torre estate of Allegrini. Our hostess told us that Valpolicella means the “valley of many cellars.” The estate with 100 hectares is one of the largest in the Valpolicella Classico region. The tasting: Allegrini Soave 2016, Valpolicella 2016, Allegrini Palazzo della Torre 2014 (40% Corvina, 30% Corvinone, 25% Rondinella, 5% Sangiovese), Allegrini La Grolla 2014 (90% Corvina, 10% Oseleta), Allegrini Amarone Classico 2013, Allegrini La Poja 2011 (100% Corvina) and finally, Allegrini Recioto Giovanni Allegrini 2012.
Dinner at Trattoria al Pompiere with Lisa Anselmi, who brought along her father’s wines: Anselmi San Vinceno 2016, Capitel Croce 2015, and the marvellous dessert wine, I Capitelli Recioto 2015. For a red wine, I ordered Tedeschi La Fabriseria 2012. The menu, mixed salumi, asparagus risotto and (my main) salt cod two ways with roasted polenta.
Tuesday, May 23rd: Today: the Alto Adige and the regional capital of Bolzano (Bozen), with its arcaded pedestrian streets, beautiful piazzas and colourful facades (photo) (photo). A visit to see “Ötzi,” the world’s oldest preserved Neolithic “iceman,” dating back 5,000 years. Ötzi was found by hikers on a nearby glacier in 1991 and now is lying in state in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology – complete with his beautifully preserved bearskin cap. Lunched at Franziskaner Stuben in the market area with a couple of bottles of Terlan Winkl Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (I had veal schnitzel).
Veal schnitzel in Bolzano
Next winery visit: Cassiano-Manincor, a 400-year-old estate with a stylish new underground winemaking facility run on biodynamic principles. The vineyards are sprayed with different herbal teas to ward off insects – nettle tea, horsetail tea and chamomile tea. Count Michael Goess-Enzenberg led us through his wines after a tour of the vineyard.
Count Michael Goess-Enzenberg
He showed us how his workers collect the sap from the vines by attaching a bottle to the canes (photo). From this sap he manufactures a line of cosmetic face creams. Then a tasting of Manincor Moscato Giallo 2016, Manincor Sophie Chardonnay, Manincor Schiava Kalteresse Keil 2016, Manincor Rubattsch Lagrein 2014, and Manincor Cassiano 2015 (50% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Tempranillo and Syrah).
Our second appointment was with Tiefenbrunner at their spectacular property with its own Roman Gothic fairy tale castle dating back to the 12th century. Owner Christof Tiefenbrunner toured us up a ridiculously steep hill for a view of the valley (photo). Then we sat down outside for a tasting of Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio 2016, Gewurztraminer 2016, Feldmarshall Von Fenner Müller-Thurgau 2015, and Turnhof Lagrein 2015.
Fantasy grotto at Tiefenbrunner
Wednesday, May 24: We left the Veneto region travelling west into neighbouring Lombardy. Our base for the following three nights was the picturesque wine region of Franciacorta. En route we stopped in Bergamo with its medieval upper town, where 16th-century Venetian walls encircle a charming maze of cobbled streets.
Lunched at La Cantina del Donizetti – the same outdoor restaurant we lunched at 12 years ago. I ordered a caprese salad and penne with anchovies, black olives and capers. Our table of twelve demolished three magnums of Tiefenbrunner Pinot Bianco Anna 2014.
Cathy and Steve with a magnum of Tiefenbrunner Pinot Bianco
Late afternoon arrival at our hotel for the following three nights, the 5-star Relais L’Albereta, a Relais & Chateaux member owned by the Moretti family, overlooking Lake Iseo. After settling in, we visited the adjacent Bellavista Estate for our introduction to Franciacorta’s sparkling wines.
Bellavista’s range of bottle formats
Dinner at the nearby Michelin-starred Due Colombe restaurant. The meal began with a glass of Contadi Castaldi Brut. (photo) (photo) (photo) (photo) (photo)
Thursday, May 25th: Late morning scenic private boat cruise around Lake Iseo before stopping for lunch at a waterfront restaurant, Locando al Lago, on the pedestrian-only Monte Isola, the largest lake island in Italy.
Sulzano on Lake Iseo
Fishing boat on Lake Iseo
Isola di Loreta on Lake Iseo
Lunch menu on the lake
(photo) (photo) (photo)
The lunch wines: San Cristofor Bianco (NV) and Brolettino Lugana Ca’ del Frati 2015.
Back on the mainland, a VIP tour and tasting at Ca’ del Bosco winery (www.cadelbosco.com).
Entrance gate to Ca’ del Bosco
Ca’ del Bosco’s Carmenere
Our guide showed us the gigantic machines that wash and dry the grape bunches (photo). She had an unfortunate speech pattern that involved putting the sound “meh” at the end of every phrase. At the end of the tour we tasted Ca’ del Bosco Cuvée Annamaria Clementi Riserva 2007 from magnums (55% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Bianco and 25% Pinot Noir – an exquisite sparkler).
Elena Mestriner opening a magnum on Ca’ del Bosco
A group dinner back at our hotel this evening prepared by their renowned chef. (photo) (photo)
Dessert at our hotel dinner
Friday, May 26th: Drove into Milan for a guided tour of the Sforza Castle dating back to 1358 (Ludovico Sforza was the patron of Michelangelo), the Duomo cathedral and the Galleria (to see the place where Campari was invented, Biffi ristorante where the first panatone was made, and the first Prada shop opened) and then an obligatory stop at Peck, the food store that makes Pusateri’s look like Loblaw’s.
Interior of the Duomo
Milan’s best food store
Lunch at Il Salumaio di Montenapoleone (www.ilsalumaiodimontenapoleone.it) (photo) (photo). The wines: Bellora Soave 2016 and Claudio Alario Montagrillo Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba 2015.
Did some shopping and met the group in a square near the Galleria dominated by a statue of Leonardo da Vinci for the bus ride back to our hotel.
Statue of Leonardo da Vinci
A final gathering of the group on our last evening with wines we had collected during the tour. Deborah and I dined in the hotel’s bistro, sharing a caprese salad, San Daniele prosciutto, spaghetti and a bottle of Anselmi Capitel Foscarino 2016 before packing for departure in the morning.
Saturday, May 27: The bus took us to Milan Malpensa airport for our 2:15 pm flight to Frankfurt and 5:15 pm connecting flight to Toronto. Another great trip.
*For those who would like to see a lot more pictures of the trip, my editor, James Harbeck, was unable to set down his camera for the duration and has uploaded a detailed visual record to Flickr. I’ve linked to a few of them in the article for additional illustration of some things I’ve mentioned and menu items.