A Wine Tour Of Italy

A Wine Tour Of Italy
A Wine Tour Of Italy

Population 57,300,000
Languages spoken Italian (official), German (common in Trentino-Alto Adige)
Currency Euro (1€ = $1.28 USD)
Average temperature Summer: 80° to 90° F (27° to 32° C)
High season April to June or September to October -- Forget about August, all the locals go on vacation for two weeks right in mid-August, so everything is closed.

This summer's wine touring has already taken us to France and California, but we'd be fools not to sample the "Vino" of Italy. Like our previous features, we have just three days to sample some of the country's best, so we'll make the most of our time by touring Veneto, Trentino Alto Adige and Friuli Venezia Giulia -- known together as the Tre Venezie area in northeastern Italy.

Day 1: Say “Ciao!” to Venice

Upon your arrival at Marco Polo airport, a few miles outside of Venice, grab your rental car and hit the road. It'll be tempting to see the sights of Venice, but try to resist for now. The Veneto region is home to some of Tre Venezie's best vintners, and you won't have to drive far to find out. Verona awaits, home to the world-famous Bolla Wines. Their 100-plus years of experience come through in the wine, which you're welcome to sample in their tasting room. Also closing in on a century of experience is Fabiano Wines. They're certainly worth visiting and they’re easy to find, as they are halfway between Verona and Lake Garda.

By this point, you're probably ready for a quick dinner so you can recharge for tomorrow. Since you're in Italy, "quick dinner" is a wholly relative term. Luckily, you can check into the Color Hotel in Bardolino (about $233 a night) so you can take as long as you want to wine and dine and you won't have to drive anywhere afterward. You can dine in either the Veranda or Aranciaia restaurants. After dinner, try to rest well, because tomorrow will be a full day.

Day 2: High altitude, high expectations

After breakfast in the hotel, prepare to get high. You'll be entering the mountainous Trentino-Alto Adige region and your expectations should be elevated as well. Today you'll focus on great wineries around Trento and Bolzano. Don't be surprised if you taste wines more suited to Austrian or German pallets. After all, neither country is far away. In fact, Trentino-Alto Adige is bilingual -- something you may not have expected from Italy.

Our first tasting finds us at Cavit, in Trentino. Cavit is somewhat unique in that they are a cooperative of smaller area wineries. Some will question the integrity of wine from different vineyards and growers, but one taste will wash away any doubts. By this time, lunch probably sounds like a good idea, so wander into town for your midday food fix. There are a number of options around Piazza del Duomo, and it's a nice place for people watching also.

Experience grappa and learn a few tips on wine tasting in Italy...

Back on the road, you’ll rejoin the northbound 101. In less than an hour, you’ll be in Windsor. The Russian River Valley is the setting for Olivet Grange Vineyards. The Inman family is very welcoming and enthusiastic about its pinot noir and pinot gris. Chances are you’ll like your surroundings enough to stay a while. You’re in luck because you can spend the night in a renovated farmhouse for $275 per weeknight, or $350 on the weekend. But first, dinner. Restaurant Mirepoix is one of the area’s best-kept secrets. Locals and informed visitors love the French bistro that’s high on quality and atmosphere yet affordable, considering the area. Excluding wine, two can easily dine for under $100. Standouts include the Beef Bourguignon, Croquet Madame with mornay and the roasted trout.

Day 2: From Sonoma to Napa

It won’t be easy leaving the Inmans and Olivet Grange, but duty calls, and it begins with a dilemma: You could choose to drop by Davis Bynum Winery in Healdsburg, less than 10 miles away. Their tasting room opens at 10 a.m. daily and is a genuinely nice place to visit. The folks here are serious about their craft and gracious in sharing the fruits of their labor.

On the other hand, the well-known Gallo Family Vineyards are in Healdsburg as well. Although many prefer to discover small producers rather than large-scale operations, just as they would rather dine in a mom-and-pop restaurant over a chain, feel free to drop into Gallo if you like -- if time is on your side. Gallo promises an extensive, hands-on tour with tasting at the end. On the other hand, it’s $45 per person, and gets underway at 9:30 a.m.

You can’t leave Healdsburg without experiencing J Vineyards & Winery. Here you can not only tour the facilities, but J’s tasting room pairs actual food with their wines, not just crackers and cheese. It’s not a meal, mind you, but they’re deliciously thoughtful pairings nonetheless. If the tough-to-please New York Times gave a positive review, you know it’s worth a visit.

Located just to the east, Calistoga signals your entry into California’s famed Napa Valley. A good place to start is August Briggs Wines. The free tasting room is only open Thursday through Sunday, but it’s worth a visit. Briggs has only been producing their wines a couple years, but it appears they’re definitely on the right track and are happy to prove it to you.

Wine and fast cars are usually an awful pairing, but perfectly normal at Bennett Lane Winery. Co-owner Randy Lynch’s has a passion for racing. He sponsors a NASCAR West team, and one of their cars is on display in the cellar. Together with his wife, Lisa, Lynch has put Bennett Lane on the map in only a few years of ownership. Wine Spectator and Wine & Spirits each gave 90-plus points to many of their varieties, including their must-try Maximus blend.

Drinking wine Francis Ford Coppola style…

After eating, it's time for more driving. Point the car toward Bozen and drive to Tiefenbrunner Wines. One variety of particular interest is the white Gew├╝rztraminer (we did mention the crossover of cultures, right?), which is light and fruity, even if the name doesn't quite roll off the tongue so delicately.

Nearby Alois Lageder manages to produce some tasty wine too. In an example of timeless quality, Lageder produces wine at two wineries: one, at an ultramodern facility built just 10 years ago, and the other, the centuries-old Cas├▓n Hirschprunn estate. His two wineries may be a little contradictory, but the finished product comes out high-quality on both ends of the spectrum.

Your hotel for the night is historic as well. The Parkhotel Mondschein Luna has been around for centuries, but thankfully it has been modernized with creature comforts. For about $120 a night, it's a steal. Another example of cultural lines blurring, the hotel's restaurant, led by Chef Karl Unterhofer, offers Italian and Southtyrolean cuisine alike.

Day 3: Full circle

Our final day will complete the loop we've more or less made around the Tre Venezie area. But to do that, we first have to drive to the Friuli Venezia Giulia region to the east. For our first tasting, we'll drive toward Pordenone. When we first learned about Genagricola, the name conjured images of soy-based soft drinks. Fortunately, they're into fermenting grapes, not soybeans. Based between Spilimbergo and Pordenone, the winery produces Borgo Magredo, which we've found to be fruity with notes of citrus on the nose.

With time crunching down, we'll need to sneak in one more tasting, and it'll be a short drive to Fantinel. This producer is still a newbie in contrast to its peers, having been established in 1969. We've tasted their wines and certainly feel they're doing it right. While you taste, make sure you sample their innocent-looking, punch-packing grappas as well. It'll be a good punctuation to the conclusion of our wine tour, making you want to return for a grappa tour next year.

Tips and advice
What's up DOC?

During your visit, you may hear or read about DOC zones. The acronym stands for denominazione di origine controllata, which means, "original location certified." Similar to France's Appellation d'origine, wines' name locations are regulated by law.

Avoid the state-issued wrist jewelry.

Italy's posted speed limits often seem like mere suggestions, and you may see the polizia race passed you at a deathly speed for no particular reason, but driving under the influence is a serious offense. If you're the wheel man, keep this in mind through the tour, and don't be afraid to spit the wine out if you feel it getting to your head.

Pack light, but be prepared.

Even during summer, higher altitudes can get chilly at night. Make sure to include a light sweater in your travel wear to chase the chill without bulking up your luggage. Bring an umbrella along, too, as summer afternoons are prime times for out-of-nowhere rain showers. In general, dress comfortably but look sharp during your stay. Many Italians dress better for doing their gardening than Americans do for going to church.

Call your Italian connections.

To help make any necessary arrangements and answer questions that you might have about Veneto winemakers, call the Azienda di Promozione Turistica at 045-8068680.

Do your homework.

If you need a refresher before you get to Italy, you have a long plane ride to peruse books like Wine for Dummies and Wine Spectator and Wine & Spirits magazines.

Since we took you on three-day wine tours of California and France, there's no way we could ignore Italy. The Tre Venezie-area producers give us wines both high in quality and unique in taste. Three days is hardly sufficient to see and sample everything, but it's more than enough to encourage you to come back for more. Viva l’Italia!

From: http://uk.askmen.com/fine_living/keywords/wine.html

A Wine Tour Of Italy


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