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Report 2013: Two Splendid Weeks in Northern Italy

By Engred from Oregon, Fall 2011

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Page 6 of 14: Wine, Grappa and Olive Oil

The morning started early for Guido, with a drive back to the Venice airport to (hopefully) retrieve the lost luggage. Thankfully, J received the call during breakfast that the luggage had, in fact, been retrieved and Guido was on his way back with the suitcase securely in the back of the van. As a side note, the breakfast buffet was very good, with a nice selection and excellent cappucino. While Guido was driving back from Venice, Laura met us at the hotel and took us on a tour of the garden we missed yesterday. It was quite spectacular, with the remains of a Roman amphitheater encompassing part of the garden and one of the largest olive trees I have seen and other beautiful mature species. The garden also afforded beautiful views of the valley surrounding Asolo. Just outside the wall, next to the road, stood the ancient trough that was used to do the washing. Very interesting glimpse into the life of the ancient townspeople.

J and M were joyfully reunited with the errant luggage and we were off to a tour and lunch at the Contra’ Soarda winery, which has been owned and run by the Gottardi family for nearly 100 years. Most of the vineyards are located on a steep slope, making the most of the “bio-architecture” of the property. As a nod to the characteristics of their property, many of the wine labels depict where the vines for that grape are located on the triangular-shaped property. The winemaker Mirco led us on a nice walk through the vineyards, followed by a tour of the production facility, which is located in a cave carved into the side of the hill. The cellar, also located in the cave, has beautiful curved undulating ceilings lines in stone – quite the project that was done by hand. They also have a small (tiny) restaurant on the property. Following the tour we were treated to a wonderful al fresco lunch with a gorgeous view down the valley and their cute little dog Uva (“grape” in Italian) wearing a “cone of shame” watching us for any dropped morsels! Barrique, the other dog, was busy standing guard over the production facility.

Lunch started with an antipasti selection of local cheese, soppressata and pancetta, accompanied by wonderful bread and house-made olive oil and apricot jam for the cheese. Zucchini and bread soup followed (really wish I could remember the recipe the chef shared with me), and then we were on to the main dish, beef braised in house wine over polenta. The beef was great and very flavorful. Thankfully, the dessert was “fairly” light, just a crostata with crème anglaise! Of course, each course was paired with a different Contra Soarda wine. The wines were quite good and we were urging him to get a distributor in Oregon and Washington so we could purchase them at home!

Bidding ciao to to everyone, we drove three miles to the town of Bassano del Grappa, which is a charming town running along the banks of the Brenta river. The oldest bridge spanning the river, the Ponte Vecchio, was designed by Palladio and it a lovely covered wooden bridge that is closed to traffic so locals gather there in the evening for aperitivo. At one end of the bridge is the bar owned by the Nardini family, which has been in operation since 1779. We parked the van and wandered through the historic center of town. We visited the Museo Remondini, which is dedicated to the most famous 18th century Remondini printing house. We also toured the ceramics museum and the City Museum. We ended our visit of Bassano with a stop at the famous Nardini grappa bar at the end of the Ponte Vecchio. A member of the Nardini family led us on a short tour of the original Grapperia Nardini, which is located under the bridge below the bar, explaining the history of the company and grappa production. We had a small tasting of one of their specialty liqueurs, Acqua di Cedro, which was surprisingly flavorful and refreshing.

We drove the 30 minutes back to Asolo, and while J took a nap the rest of us had an entertaining olive oil tasting at the hotel. The tasting was conducted in a cute small room of the hotel that felt like a former wine cellar. Mr. Botter, one of the owners of Café Centrale, the main café in the center of town, led the tasting. Mr. Botter makes his own olive oil, Azienda Agricola “I Due Fratelli Botter”, which was recently judged as the best olive oil in the area. Two other gentlemen from the olive oil “industry” joined Mr. Botter and they conducted a very informative tasting. I will never look at another bottle of “Extra Virgin” again! After the tasting, J met us for dinner on the terrace of the hotel. It was a beautiful night, with a bright moon and a lovely view of the illuminated Rocca (or tower) guarding the center of town.

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