Food+Drink: Italian Days 

Land of Art, Charm, History, Tradition and Wonderful Wines.

Italian Days on the Drive
Italian Days on the Drive.  Photo: d. king

rosesauce2rosesauce3For three days in a row I enjoyed little Italian touches and some major ones, not in a physical sense but in other gratifying ways.

I made a typical Italian Rosé Sauce on Saturday.  The kind I’ve been craving for ages; nicely rich & full of flavour.  Simple and satisfying.

Because I wasn’t sure if I’d be eating
Italian on “Italian Days” the following day, Sunday.  They have Italian Days in many cities across North America where they close the streets to traffic, put up white tents to sell odds ‘n ends by storefronts, have staged live music, many food vendors and crowds where you can hardly walk without bumping into someone and wait in line forever to get something you can normally get on any other given day.  Anyway, in Vancouver it took place on Commercial Drive (aka “the Drive” on the East side of town ) in what used to be a mainly Italian neighbourhood but now houses an International variety of cuisine.  I think I did notice a few Italians here and there but most of them probably left for the day. It was fun for a few hours especially from where I sat, comfortably under a heat lamp on a side street enjoying a glass of wine while watching the passersby and a plate of calamari. The real Italians were elsewhere, sitting inside one of the many Cafés sipping espresso.


Then yesterday (Monday) I spent part of the afternoon at the Vancouver Club with real Italians flown in fresh from Italy especially to educate the trade about the wonderful ancient wine growing regions for Prosecco & Valpolicella and of course to promote the wines.

A short history of Old World Wine Country:

italiandays10The VALPOLICELLA territory has ancient origins, natural beauty and artistic value.  In Roman times it was known for its fascinating landscape and its tranquility.  Ancient palaces and noble villas are among the most attractive historical monuments in the area.  During the rule of the Most Serene Republic of Venice, large land tenures were established: country houses turned into splendid villas, decorated by the best artists of that period, and became the place where aristocracy and intellectuals had their cultural gatherings.  There are architectural jewels in the valley of Valpantena. Rural and town churches are spread all over the territory, enriching Valpolicella building panorama, made of small villages, courts, towers, capitals, fountains and dry stone walls.  All these monuments were built by local peasants, whose technical mastery turned country labour into ART.italiandays11Valpolicella “Superiore” is made from selected grapes grown in the best locations. It is aged for a year minimum thus obtaining its characteristic ruby-red colour with garnet shades; the nose is slightly ethereal with hints of vanilla.  Its flavour fine, harmonious, dry and velvety.  Especially fine when paired with second courses of red meat and medium seasoned cheeses.

Prosecco: not just a name.

chilled Prosecco bottles
chilled Prosecco bottles

Prosecco with friends: when I have a special occasion (which almost everything is a special occasion) I like to start the evening off with an Italian Prosecco. I never think too much about it, just that I like a nice tasting, tall cool glass of bubbly.  But now I know a bit more about Prosecco Superiore and realize the refinement of the region it comes from. Apparently it makes a difference between various types of soil, climate and the skill of men (yes, men) who have passed down the art of their hand-crafted labour from one generation to the next. It is thanks to this experience that they can cultivate the steep slopes of the hills that they have adorned with manicured vineyards, creating an environment so spectacular that it is now a candidate to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  So there is a “Superiore” for every occasion in three versions that vary in their residual sugar content. Brut, the driest style, Extra Dry, the most traditional version, and  Dry.  The sparkling wine also differs according to where it comes from within the region.  So the best advice I can give is to try them all and find out which one(s) you love best.

Amarone Amore:

(ps: the individual bottles shown in photos are my picks for this week)italiandays5

Amarone Wine: The Patriarch of Valpolicella
italiandays6amarone3Many wine lovers know Amarone on a first name basis, though relatively few are personally acquainted. This is most likely due to the high entrance fee. Perhaps you’ve seen him lingering at the bottom of a wine list next to other recognizable stars such as Brunello di Montalcino or Barolo and wondered:italiandays9

What is the story on this dude? Is he worth it?

Yes.  Amarone is worth the minimum $50-$60 ++ bottle price. While some wine prices are artificially inflated, there’s a practical explanation as to why Amarone is one of Italy’s top red wines. – and one of mine too.  It comes with a good story: To tell it properly, we must begin at the end, with Amarone’s family name: Valpolicella. Like Romeo and Juliet – it is in fair Verona where we lay our scene…

Verona is a jewel of a city in northeastern Italy, an hour and a half due east of Venice by car. The town is home to an immaculate, picture-perfect medieval center, as well as one of the most untouched Roman amphitheaters in the world, where concerts and events are still held.amarone4amarone2

The 5 Levels of Valpolicella Wine

  • Tier 1:Valpolicella Classico
  • Tier 2:Valpolicella Superiore
  • Tier 3:Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso
  • Tier 4:Amarone della Valpolicella
  • Tier 5:Recioto della Valpolicella

amarone1amaroneWhy is Amarone Wine so Expensive?

After harvesting the grapes for ‘Tier 1’ Valpolicella Classico, they are immediately crushed and fermented. This is a light, high acid red wine; it generally sees no oak aging and provides a perfect match for the traditional local appetizers.  In Verona, everything tastes  amazing when accompanied by delicious Valpolicella.

By contrast, the fruit destined to become Amarone takes quite a different journey before reaching the bottle. He is, after all, the family Patriarch – most wineries will select their older, more mature vines for this wine. Grapes are picked a bit later to ensure ripeness – usually in mid-October. Then, they are left all winter to dry into raisins.

What goes into Amarone:

  • 2x as many grapes as normal wine
  • 45+ day slow fermentations
  • Long term aging at winery (similar to Rioja)
  • Expect to spend $50-$80

Viva Italia!

Photos: d. king

Source for Amarone:







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