Sunday, December 19, 2010

Italy: Collio December 2010

This was a quick trip packed with as much of the local culture and history as our hosts could fit. I predict this emerging region is going to be the “it” place for white wine in the next 10 years.
After being bumped from my Memphis flight due to they typical Newark delays, I flew Continental to Toronto and then Air Canada to Munich. I managed to score an exit row or free and sat next to a lovely gentleman from Nova Scotia. The flight to Trieste was delayed so to "a problem with the plane" resulting in a net dely of 5 hours. If you have a choice, I recommend getting a seat on the left side of the plane to enjoy the beautiful views of the Adriatic and Alps as you fly in. Customs was . . . non-existent and I literally walked from the plan to the car in less than 5 minutes.
As with many of the wineries in this area, they include hospitality (aka a Bead and Breakfast). This one was closed for the season, but between the pool, the vineyards, and the rooms, this would make a lovely vacation spot during the spring or summer. After a tour by the spirited proprietor, we went to the tasting room for samplings of many Collio Biancos: Ribolla Gialla, Friulano, Ronco delle Cime, Ronco delle Mele, Pinot Bianco, and Pino Grigio Jesera.
This restaurant is on the property of the Zuani wine estate managed by an amazing brother-sister duo and their mother who was, unfortunately, in the hospital during our visit. This dinner featured a tasting of 10 different wines Collio Bianco varieties with most of the wine producers present. High notes of the dinner were the white fish with polenta crisp (this was a new preparation of polenta for me and one I would love to replicate), beet risotto, roasted pear with berries and gelato, and Italian cookies. Interesting was the pumpkin soup with oyster dish. Espresso and grappa topped off the dinner, a common combo of the region. They had an amazing Jazz trio that would bring you to New Orleans of you closed your eyes.
Ahhh, bed! And a lovely bed it was. Free wi-fi is available at this B&B/Winery. In-room TV is not. The views of the town and mountains are amazing with a pool to be built soon. Breakfast was juice, espresso/cappuccino, farm fresh eggs, crusty bread, cheese, croissants, and pancetta. If you are lucky, you will also get a visit from Vinkie the poodle. The wine cellar is beautiful with rows of barrels aging this year’s harvest and stacks of vintage bottles that have not been touched in decades. You can almost see the horse-drawn carriage pulling in to load up for market. 
Oh goody, a castle! This was a quick stop so there was not a lot of time to explore the interior, but the grounds were amazing. I imagine change of season would be the optimum time to visit., especially for golfers. They showed a movie featuring some of the history complete with John Malkovich as Casanova and a couple of girls happily picking grapes during harvest. In the great hall, I imagine many a fate was decided by politicos of the day. Good thing the dungeon, I mean barreling room, was a few feet away with a convenient automated ramp next to the stairwell! The gift shop features an excellent variety of Grappa, and I regret not purchasing a few of their specialties while I had the opportunity.
The town museum is worth a visit for the statues and trinkets of every-day life during the early ages of Western civilization. No pictures allowed and you will be called out if you try. The restoration at the Basicilia was beautiful, especially the original mosaic flooring and crypt that created some artistic dedications using the bones of martyrs, but beware of tripods and flash – you will be chastised severely if the guardians see them. Take to opportunity to walk the grounds, and stop by the local cafĂ© for drinking chocolate and lemon cookies or whatever caffeine and sweet variety you desire (especially if you need the restroom).
A devilishly humorous producer who enjoys entertaining guests and riding around town in his “Collio yellow” Vespa and glasses owns this 10-hectar vineyard. Again you will see the interweaving of art and wine – Keber is home to a cartoonish “wine god” figure created by a local artist. I had the most incredible barley soup here with homemade sausage, cheese, and bread.
This vinegar producer was vibrant, passionate, and a little salacious in an entertaining way. The evening started with Parmesan lollipops and preparation of polenta on an open fire in the dining room. The tour involved a small hike and look around the vacation cabins. Anyone interested in escaping for the holidays should consider this warm, homey, and private get-away. We sampled the two vinegars and the master developed his own “official” method of tasting since there is no established standard. When we came back from the tasting, the polenta was removed from the pot and sliced up to accompany prosciutto cut fresh from the hindquarters, hen –on-a-stick, cheese, and bread.
As if the appetizers were not enough, we went up to the private dining area for a tasting of several Friulano wines with a lovely dinner, although the things that stuck out most were the venison (both because it was nicely done and because I would have liked one of the local red Refoscos to accompany) and three dessert courses! The evening ended with a gift of aceto d’uva vinegar to all of the ladies . . . an instruction art book was included and I will not spoil the joke for those thinking of paying a visit. And you should.

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