Next week WineZag (me) hits the roads of Northeast Italy’s wine provinces. What else should an American father do when his Copenhagen-based-twenty-one-year-old son suggests joining up for some Italian wine and food immersion? Faced with a shrinking window for these father/son adventures at a stage of life that everyone warned comes too quickly, you count your blessings, pinch yourself hard, buy a plane ticket, and begin organizing a purposeful visit aimed at camaraderie, memory making, and mutual discovery.
Italy, from head to heel-and-toe and then outward to its islands, has close to twenty distinct wine regions. More internationally popular Italian wines like Barbaresco, Barolo, Super Tuscans, and Brunello come from the Piedmont and Tuscan regions. Scratch them for excessive venerability, we craved current day discovery. 180° opposite to the south, Sicily competed for our immersive visit with its many winemakers that have just recently captured the attention of global wine enthusiasts by reversing the overproduction encouraged by the Italian government last century. A new generation and breed of winemakers are suddenly producing artisan wines showcasing indigenous grape varieties through a uniquely sunny, ocean infused, volcanic, and mountainous terroir. Maybe with a mistakenly Northern Italian bias, we passed.
So why Northeast Italy for our father/son trip? Well, Italy has a short, but important, story in my ever evolving life of wine enthusiasm. When I fell hard for wine back in 1985, I was not paying attention to Italy and got busy drinking France’s and America’s loose hierarchical equivalents of Barbaresco and Barolo; Bordeaux, Rhone Valley, and California Cabernet. That was how I cut my teeth. At a time that I was simply trying to educate my palate, it was so much easier to comprehend Bordeaux and California Cabernet producers than a seemingly more complicated web of Nebbiolo producers in Piedmont’s villages and vineyards. As a result, I experienced very little of Italy’s prettiest vinous gifts except for drinking the magical, mysterious, and sublime wines made by Giuseppe Quintarelli in Valpolicella; smack in the heart of the Veneto just outside Verona. Compared to the Bordelaise and Californian landscape of plenty, there were not a lot of Quintarelli’s making superior Amarone and Valpolicella and I continued to shamefully ignore Italy.
Only recently have I submitted, influenced by new and younger wine friends with fierce palates, to some of the most exciting regional Italian wines I have ever tried. So much of it is northeast Italy wine; specifically from the Trentino, Alto Adige, Veneto and Friuli-Venezia-Giulia regions. Orange wines from the Italy/Slovenia border, Pinot Grigios from Alto Adige, Soaves from the Veneto, Friulanos from Collio, and the list of discoveries goes on. It was Northeast Italy where almost thirty years ago I had a quick glimpse at the potential of Italy’s fruit in the hands of a master like Quintarelli, and it is now at an advanced stage of wine enthusiasm that I am learning like a young man would, all over again. This is where Alex and I will go together. He should begin where I spent a life ending up.
We can use all the advice and tips we can get on where to eat and drink in Italy’s northeast. Feel free to leave a comment here or send directly to me at awjapko-at-gmail-dot-com. All your help is greatly appreciated.
I want to thank some of my knowing friends and personal thought leaders of Italian wine and culture who have already shared their kindness, knowledge, cultural experience, kindred palates, and hospitality with me during the initial planning phase of this visit including Jeremy Parzen, Matteo Mollo, Ivo and Carlotta Cubi, Valentina Vason, Francesco Grigoli, Doug Cook, Rich Schnitzlen, and Franco Tomassi. You have all helped two wanderers, one late in life Italian wine convert, and a couple of eager students of a new world of Italian wines. You have contributed in big and small ways that Alex and I are certain to reap the benefits of over the next couple weeks, and never forget for a lifetime. My only hesitation is having to leave my wife and other son, Matt (to right in photo), back home to respectively help a school tennis team prepare for their season and take care of sick patients; maybe one more father/son trip if I am really lucky. In any event I am excited to share, right here over the next weeks, all of the camaraderie and discovery of Italian culture your advice will certainly afford this father and his son.