My long time affection for wine has enabled me to eat and drink in some of the best restaurants on this planet. On my recent trip to Italy, I spent a great deal of time in the Valpolicella region of the country near Lake Garda and the city of Verona.
Verona – the fabled home of Romeo and Juliet – is a relatively small city with a population of about 260,000, but the town has an arena that was built in 30 AD and is still used to host operas, plays and even rock n’ roll concerts. The town is also the repository of Valpolicella’s best wines as well as some excellent restaurants.
On a trip to the city more than a decade ago, I was told to visit a wine bar that is considered among the very best in Italy, and with undoubtedly the greatest selection of Valpolicella wines anywhere in the world.
Antica Botegga Del Vino occupies a very narrow and long space along one of Verona’s trendy pedestrian shopping concourses. It is difficult to locate, but worth searching out as I discovered that day years ago. (Check out the website at: http://www.bottegavini.it/)
On a warm day this past June, as my traveling companions toured the arena, searched for Juliet’s home and shopped, I set off to relocate the fabled wine bar. I also wanted to do a little recon to see if the place had maintained its quality status since I had asked my companions to join me later for lunch.
The first thing you notice upon entering the establishment is an oaken bar and above it a chalk board with a listing of that day’s wines by the glass. Using my pigeon Italian, I was able to order a taste of Soave, but unable to make the bartender understand that I wanted to inspect the larger printed wine list.
After an exasperating few moments, I was approached by a nattily dressed gentleman who spoke very good English and who presented me with a Gutenberg Bible-like wine list.
Mirko Favalli, the restaurant sommelier, introduced himself and proceeded to explain that he was re-doing the list to feature bottles representing the myriad wine appellations, not only of Valpolicella, but of all Italy. All the while, Mirko was having the bartender bring me small sips of each of the wines featured on the chalk board that day.
Before long, my wife, brother-n-law and sister-in-law arrived and we were seated for lunch. Mirko sat with us for a while and then asked if he could bring a few wines for us to try with our meal. While what followed was among the best food and wine pairings I have ever experienced, the comprehensive information imparted to us by our host on the Valpolicella region was just as delicious as the meal.
Ah yes, lunch. We feasted on a cornucopia of northern Italian treats from prosciutto and figs, to all manner of pastas, to fish from Lake Lugano, to zabaione for dessert. My brother-in-law actually ordered two different pastas!
Over a period of three hours, Mirko tasted us through seven white and four red wines, mostly from single vineyard properties and all from Valpolicella. The wines were produced from both single varietals and DOCG approved blends.
While many of the bottles featured grapes of the region such as garganega (white) and corvina (red), we also tasted ones produced from obscure varietals like turbiano, a white varietal grown on the shores of Lake Lugano.
While I have always appreciated Valpolicella, particularly the reds such as Amarone and others produced in the ripasso method, I was shocked at the world-class quality of some of the single-vineyard wines of the region we tasted that day in Verona.
After lunch, Mirko guided us down into the catacomb-like cellar stacked from floor to ceiling with wines from all around the world. Here in this subterranean cathedral of the vine, we toasted each other with the House Grappa and said Arrivederci to Antica Botegga Del Vino.