Travel in the Tre Venezie: Driving Italy’s Northeastern Wine Country

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Lebenberg Castle, Merano and environs -Copyright, Clemens Zahn
Lebenberg Castle, Merano and environs -Copyright, Clemens Zahn

 

At the top-right of Italy’s boot, lies the “Three Venices”: a remnant of an ancient Venetian empire, channeling Germany-by-proxy, and bordering all-things-Alps (Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia). The Tre Venezie  is really three distinct wine regions lumped together. You can rush the entire area in three-days, or stretch out a glorious 7-10 days of vino exploration.

NOTE: Terrible, guilt-inducing confession: this visual haunted me every time I looked at the map.

larryYes. Larry. Of 3 Stooges fame.

If tilted, his face + hairline are a ringer for this region’s layout:

Right hair patchFRIULI-VENEZIA

GIULIA (or FRIULI for short)

Left hair patch TRENTINO-ALTO ADIGE

Face & head – The VENETO (focus on face more than ‘head’)

Fun Fact: “Italians drink the most vino per person” of ANY country in the world!* And while the Tre-V provides just [15%] of the globe’s Italian wines, one third of the entire country’s DOCs come from here, (‘denominazione di origine controllata’,or “original location certified”—France’s AOC equivalent.)

Other label flags and what they indicate:

  • DOCG (Add garantita, or “guarantee” to above.)
  • IGT (Loosey-goosey fun or experimental collaborations between areas.)
  • Vino da Tavola (“Table wine” – but meant as a middle-finger to the Establishment: a badge of honor to some old-school producers. Viva l’Italia!)
  • Superiore (Indicates either: high-alcohol, a great sub-region, or both.)
  • And finally Vigna, or Vigneto (equal to France’s “Cru” meaning “growth”, implying vineyards of quality.)

Overall, thank the area for Italy’s highest-quality Whites—pretty much top of all Pinots: Grigio/ Gris/ and Bianco; Sauvignon Blancs; and Chardonnays; PLUS numerous crazy-delicious hard to find Reds.

Venice (in the VENETO) was merely our arrival/start point. The adventure starts in the far right, FRIULI. We drove about 90 minutes to ‘get our history on’ before hitting FRIULI vino. First, a pit-stop in long-neglected Aquileia to scope out ancient Roman ruins. Then food and drink in Grado, another Roman leave-behind on the Adriatic coast.

route-in-italy

1. The Friuli

One expert refers to these as ‘snappy whites’—and it fits. Friuli’s reputation may be built on whites, but don’t skip the FOOD: San Daniele’s prosciutto, frico (fried cheese+polenta), and seafood. (By the way, half their total wine production is actually red.)

From near-Slovenian border, moving inland:

WHITE:

Ol’ Reliables: Pinots…  Grigio  &  Bianco, + Chardonnay

New Experiences: Ribolla Gialla  &  Tocai (rhymes with “high”—NOT related to Alsatian Tokai or Hungarian Tokay…)

NOTE: Experts also intentionally seek out Silvio Jermann’s Vintage Tunina, a blend including Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon, and Chardonnay  in the $45+ range. Click here to contact them for tasting appointments.

RED

Ol’ Reliables: Merlot, Cabernets…  Franc  &  Sauvignon

New Experiences: Refosco & Ronchi di Cialla’s Schioppettino

Schioppettino Grapes on the Vine - Photo by Ivan Rapuzzi
Schioppettino Grapes on the Vine – Photo by Ivan Rapuzzi

Also visit this beautiful abbey-winery combo where you can taste to excess, and then immediately confess your gluttonous sin in the chapel: Abbazia di Rosazzo (Abbey of Roses.)

2. The Trentino-Alto Adige wine region

Go to Alto Adige first, (the top one as you leave Friuli, temporarily passing through Veneto.)

ALTO ADIGE

Bordering Switzerland & Austria, the Alps rise dramatically behind vineyards tucked underneath. Locals speak mostly German. Main wine hub is Balzano near the South Tyrol Wine Road (also known as Südtirol or Suedtirol). Save the hassle of coordinating tastings on your own; consider purchasing the Winepass: 3 or 7 day, 35/ 40 euro.

New whites for your tasting repertoire: Traminer (Gewürztraminer relative), Vernatsch, Müller-Thurgau.

Sparklings: Spumante (look for Ferrari label); and I personally love the cold, much-maligned Lambrusco (fizzy red), but that’s just me.

Normal dining included local enotecas or grazing on regional foods bought en route. We also tried the LUNA hotel, this time stuffing ourselves with gnocchi, speck and the regional specialty: fish poached in wine. (It looked nice, though we did not stay.)

TRENTINO

We started seeing Trentino wineries about 25 minutes south from Balzano, (appointment only.)  The city of Trento is another 25 minutes down from there, perched in front of the Dolomites at the top part of Lake Garda. Mama mia! (Back to Italian-speak in these parts.)

We enjoyed two cooperative tasting experiences to make it easy:

Cavit  a cooperative of 11 producers in Ravina, near Trento.

Palazzo Roccabruna a palace situated in the center of town offering multiple local producers.

Be legit—try these palate-expanders: Teroldegos, Schiava, Lagrein, Trentodoc (the last one’s a sparkling.) Most are fantastic pairs for the Lucanica sausage found everywhere. Cured like salami or cooked fresh, the fennel & chile mixture in this pork + lard-based treat is unique to each village, let alone enoteca.

Trentino Planning resources,  breadcrumbs: Home >Things to do >Sip and Taste

Vigneti in Valle dell'Adige - Copyright Romano Magrone
Vigneti in Valle dell’Adige – Copyright Romano Magrone

3. The Veneto

The eye-candy doesn’t stop!

Hug the ridiculously gorgeous lake and try not to drive off highways. Head for Verona.

First order of business – check the local white off your list: Soave (hit-or-miss, but don’t dwell on such details.)

Next,wrap your head around Bardolino (a lighter red), Valpolicella (red) and Amarone (a complex, full-bodied red dessert wine.) Amarone actually uses Valpolicella grapes prepared in the recioto  fashion:

  • grapes hang on vines longer;
  • once harvested, spread out on racks or mats;
  • then left in cooled ‘drying lofts’ to concentrate the sugar and flavors for three to four months.

Seriously, I spent an entire day hiding in our AirBNB with a bottle and a plate of strong aged cheeses (Asiago and Grana Padano are from here.)

Oh–I almost forgot–PROSECCO! Yep, that’s from here and we had many of those, too.

Dietary summary: mouthwatering seafood, creamy risottos and polentas, platters of carpaccio and white asparagus, and 10 versions of tiramisu in three days…? I dare ANYONE to stay skinny!

Once the “slim-down” started, we graduated to Grappa, clear brandy made from grape pomace. It is a staple here. The insanely beautiful bottles are works of art all by themselves–even better once a couple of shots have made you fuori di testa (crazy in the head)!

We’ll wrap here with a final winery often sought out by experts. If you have the time, drive straight north of Vincenza, south of Asiago and visit MACULAN   By appt only.

Veneto planning resources: http://www.veneto.eu/home

Salute! Cin cin if you’re fancy…

UP NEXT: PIEDMONT, ITALY

*Source: 2015, Vinexpo: 13th annual International Wine and Spirits Research report

 Lori Stevens, former wine magazine food editor has worked for wineries and traveled extensively through most of the world’s wine, craft beer, cider, and scotch-producing regions. Author of Wine: A No Snob Guide: Drink Outside the Box, Berkeley: Rockridge Press, 2015; she currently lives in Seattle.

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