Wines & Spirits
Venice After Midnight
Exploring the bacaros
May. 4, 2005 11:00 AM
From traditional to contemporary, Venice’s many wine bars provide not only fabulous tastings, but a true insight into the local culture as well.
There are lots of ways to further your wine education, but perhaps none so delightful as spending an evening in Venice wandering from wine bar to wine bar. Venetians call this exercise the giro di ombre, after the small glasses – ombre – that are typical of the more traditional bars.
A fine place to begin is an intimate square just steps from the famously knick-knack-bedecked Rialto Bridge. On a Friday evening, the campo Cesare Battisti fills with chatter and laughter as people (and dogs) spill out from competing wine bars. In front of Marcà, a wine bar that is little bigger than a newsstand, the svelte crowd sips wine and nibbles on Venice’s wide repertoire of bar snacks, known as cicheti. To an Italian, wine is almost unthinkable without food.
Here, you can order a glass of slightly minerally Tocai Friulano. Hinting at dried orange peel, it’s a typical white wine of the nearby region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. A taste of bright round chardonnay from Trentino-Alto Adige will give you a sense of the transformation Italian wine making has undergone over the last two decades. And for something from the Veneto that you’ll never find at home, order the Raboso Fiore, a lightly sparkling red wine with nutty contours and a hint of raspberry. If you wish to continue the lesson, Marcà has some 37 wines to choose from.
These three regions, which make up the northeastern part of Italy are usually lumped together as the Venezie and have been in the vanguard of Italian wine making since the 1970s when they introduced international grape varieties, new technology, and ever more sophisticated approaches to wine making. Here, the whites tend to be crisp and refreshing and the reds fruity and medium-bodied though it’s hard to generalize about a region that extends from Alpine crags to the hot fertile valley of the river Po. Yet despite the shiny new stainless steel tanks and French oak barrels, most of the wine produced here is made of grapes you’ve never heard of.
For a taste of tradition, a five-minute walk will take you to Do Mori, supposedly Venice’s oldest bacaro, as the wine bars are called. Here, locals compete with a more international clientele for the barkeep’s attention. An ombre of light, fruity Soave is a fine introduction to the most traditional white wine of the Veneto. Soave is vinified from a mix of Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave grapes. It is particularly delicious paired with the grilled and stewed sea creatures displayed on little plates behind the counter.
A platter of cheese or dried salami would probably go better with an equally traditional Valpolicella, a confusing wine that goes under many names depending on how it is made. This red wine is typically made with Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara and Negrara varietals. However, as Bardolino, it is a light, unassuming wine characterized by bright cherry fruit. As Valpolicella Classico and/or Superiore it is a medium-bodied wine that retains the cherry fruit but with more depth and tannin. To create Recioto della Valpolicella, the grapes are first dried to concentrate their sugars, resulting in a dense, slightly sweet wine. Finally to make Amarone, the same grapes are dried further for a wine reminiscent of port with the slightly musty taste of ancient Venetian decadence, almonds, and musk.
To get a sense of more contemporary Venice, sidle up to the bar at Naranzaria where sushi and foie gras have usurped the place of more traditional cicheti. To wash these down you can choose between a half dozen incarnations of bubbly and the latest in international wine trends. A particularly successful experiment is Livio Felluga’s Vertigo, a merlot-cabernet blend from Friuli. The aroma hints at violets, the flavor at plums and dried fruit. It’s an altogether happy companion to the crostini with goose sausage.
If you hear the bells of St. Mark’s in the distance, remember they only strike at noon and midnight. Consider the lesson finished and ask for a glass (or two) of Venetians’ favorite tipple: the effervescently frivolous, invariably pleasing Prosecco. Venetians never seem to tire of this sparkling wine with its suggestion of almonds and hazelnuts from the valley between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene made of the prosecco grape. It will, no doubt, help you appreciate why Venice is at its most gorgeous after midnight.