From Venice, station or airport, crossing the Veneto plain we reach the Marca Trevigiana, and keep going beyond Treviso. We cross the Piave river, and reach the first low hills emerging from the plain, “like breakers against the high cliffs of the southern Alps. Young Pliocenic terrains against the hard limestones of the Dolomites. The full appellation is a kind of tongue-twister: “Prosecco di Conegliano e di Valdobbiadene”, yet, it points the two places which are the origin, and the heart of the production. This is where we look for our first tastings, in the smaller and older estates, in the higher part of the valley, where fine wines have always been made, as the Italians and the Germans know since 1000 years at least, if not already since Roman times. The Prosecco domain, is all here in front of us. Our first tastings is in the southern belt, the Vidor-Conegliano area, the Counts of Collalto former feudal domain. The wineries, small or large, some new, some ancient, are sparse between the Vidor Abbey, dating back to the Crusades, the impressive San Salvatore Castle in Susegana, and Conegliano, with a delightful old town, and the prestigious Enology School, started in 1876, the first in Italy. The second day we visit the northen belt, between the Revine Lake, the beautiful Follina Cistercian Abbey, and Valdobbiadene town, one of the finest terroirs in the area, where some of the best wineries are waiting for us.
The area around Vicenza, conceals nice townam, and more fine wines to discover and taste: Asolo, Bassano, some of the more artistic Venetian Villas, the volcanic Euganei hills, with their relaxing spa hotels.
Along the Alpine foothills road, we reach the Breganze wine zone and Bassano del Grappa, home of the best Grappa production in the world. This little known area, still boasts 15 different wines. Asolo, is a delightful town of art, since in 1400 it was the last “kingdom” of exiled Caterina Cornaro, former queen of Cyprus. We take time to see the center of town, shop, or visit the artistic garden that Freya Stark, explorer and writer, created when she was living here.
The countryside around reveals the first Venitian Villas, in the celebrated neoclassic style of architect Palladio, which inspired so many stately mansions in USA and UK. Villa Barbaro di Masér, or Villa Emo di Fanzòlo, or Villa Sesso Schiavo, for example, record the late glorious age of the Venitian Republic. Some are still, very stilish, wineries. Therefore, we can at once visit a Villa, or just have a look at it and to its garden, and taste the wines that they make.
A Breganze tasting includes Cabernet, Chardonnay, Vespaiolo, Pinot Nero, Bianco and Grigio, Marzemino
abs, Merlot, several whites, and Torcolato, the local special sweet wine. They can be perectly combined with the Asiago cheeses from the nearby Alpine plateau.
In the main city Vicenza, we can have lunch and taste the creamy baccalà alla vicentina, or just a coffee and have a look at the center of town. It boasts masterpieces of Andrea Palladio, the unmistakable Basilica, and the Logge del Palazzo della Ragione, while not far from the city, we see Villa Capra the more famous one. Called La Rotonda too, this small jewel was the model for T. Jefferon home, for the White House and for the Capitol. Going back to our wines exploration, the next zones are the Colli Berici Hills, and the Euganei hills, just south of Vicenza. The Euganei are some steep volcanic cones, that pop out of the completely flat plain, like islands, their beautiful landscape is a remnant of an old rural Veneto. However dormant, the volcanoes generate some well known hot springs, so that we can choose to lodge here, in Montegrotto, and enjoy the relax and the comfort of its celebrated spa hotels. Their more typical wine, produced in very few estates, is the Serprino, a fresh, mineral natural sparkling wine, close to the Prosecco, just not as famous like it. The Berici wines, in turn, comprise a wide choice of Cabs,Merlot, Syrah and many whites. In the afternoon we head west, to our next accommodation, in Valpolicella or Verona, and get ready.
The elegant and beautiful Verona, home of the Vinitaly worldwide famous wine fair, is encircled by three great, and different wine zones: Soave, Valpolicella, and the intriguing, less known wines of the Garda Lake: Bardolino, Garda, Lugana and Custoza. The Valpolicella Wine, a jovial ruby red wine, with a balance of fruit and spice. Once unpretemptious and affordable, versatile with many dishes, it is very likely the more popular red wine in Veneto. And one of the more popular abroad too, especially due to the overwhelming reputation of its big brother, the Amarone. A landmark of the Italian wine world, this is at once a flattering and challenging, raisin wine, a perfect meditation red. Not properly affordable, it still stands as a mythical bottle not to miss, and it will remain as the cherry on the cake of our Veneto wine experiences.
We start, of course, from the first, and best area where the wines were perfected, the “Valpolicella Classica”, the Negrar, Marano, Novare, and Fumane valleys precisely, close to Verona. Since Roman times - everyone here knows - their steep calcareous, hills slopes are the best place. The breezes from the Adige plain, or from the Garda help the grapes to ripen, and later favour - in case - to dry to make sweet Recioto of the majestic Amarone.
We drive up to Marano, and down the Fumane valleys, in a loop that touches an amazing sequence of top wineries. The only issue would be which ones “not” to pick! The older ones perhaps? located in nice villas, like S. Sofia, or Villa Guerrieri Rizzardi, with an historical garden too. Or the real family wineries, managed like a farm by genuine vintners, venerable patriarchs at times, or their children. They don’t seem to care much for the market trends, the barriques, or the how many points their wines could score. What they make are, afterall, the wines that they like, much more than most people could dream. Some of these places have also a trattorìa - wine and food go toghether is it? - and give us the chance, and the pleasure of a tasty lunch, with a great, casual tasting of all the wines of the house. Take, for example, our favourite El Pendola. Last but not least, we may visit at least one star estate, like Allegrini, Masi or Bertani, which - more or less big and famous - are the flagships and the best ambassadors of Amarone and Valpolicella in the world.
In the evening you are in Verona, a walk downtown is but an introduction to the highlights of this classy old city, which has a rich Roman and Medieval heritage, which has naturally been a trade city, between Italy and northern Europe. Verona, in addition is a wine lover’s dream, not only for being surrounded by several great wine zones, but because in every month of April, it stages the Vinitaly, the more important wine fair dedicated to Italian wines.
From the Arena, the massive Roman amphitheatre that in summetime hosts the legendary open air Opera festival, we walk to the center of medieval life and business, Piazza delle Erbe. We explore the less crowded little streets, toget an aperitivo tasting in a little wine bar, and find our dinner in a welcoming trattorìa, where the local people like to meet.
We spend a whole day by the Garda lake, between Bardolino, Garda town and Peschiera. This lake enjoys a milder climate, and is definitely more welcoming that the other famous Italian lakes, Como and Maggiore. With its little beaches, the olive trees and above all the the vineyards that form 4 appellation zones, is appears like an island of Mediterranean in Northern Italy. Which seems to be confirmed by the Austrians, and the Germans who migrate every year to the lake, filling the beaches and the restaurants, drinking the Marzemino, and the other wines.
Our tour starts south of the lake, in the Custoza and Lugana zones, are located on the lake morains soils. We discover gentle and perfumed wines, ideal to start the day - the whites especially - and awake our taste buds. Next we go to Garda town, and to a beautiful, traditional winery nearby. We drive east, we see Sirmione, on the thin, little peninsula, and reach the Bardolino town. For lunch we stop in one of the picturesque restaurants on the lakefront to taste, expectably, some lake fish based specialty.
The Bardolino wines, red or chiaretto, are blends of mainly Corvina Veronese and Rondinella grapes, similar to the Valpolicella. The ruby red is a classic Italian wine a tutto pasto, fragrant, with red fruits and gently spicy. It matches with vegetables, light meats, as well as with the lake fish, that you will try here in one way or another. The chiaretto, instead, has more flowers, and perfumes of citrus and wood berries, it is perfect as aperitivo, and great, more generally, with the lighter cuisine of the summer months. Peschiera del Garda can be our last stop on the way back. This town, which is practically a large fortress of the Austrian Empire, has always been a major strategic point at the end of the adige valley, in recent as well as in Roman times.
Suggested Extensions. SUDTYROL
• From Trento to Bozen on the Sudtyroler Weinstrasse. Discover the utmost Sudtyrolean wines elegance: Blauburgunder/Pinot Noir, Kaltersee, Gewurtztraminer, St. Magdalener, Vernasch, Lagrein, Sauvignon. • Crossing the Dolomites: Cortina, to Pordoi, Canazei and Bozen, in the world's most beautiful mountains,
Suggested Extensions. FRIULI & SLOVENIA VINEYARDS
• Friuli and Slovenia. Udine and Trieste. Collio and Colli Orientali, Fine Cab, Merlo, Refosco. And the more exclusive whites ever: Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Ribolla Gialla, and the rare, sweet Picolìt.
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