When I traveled home to Missouri from Italy two Christmases ago, I was hanging out with my mom in her apartment, who asked me if I wanted some wine. "Of course!" I answered, because of course I did. We drink socially quite a bit, especially around the holidays. My mom handed me a personal-sized, plastic, screw-top bottle of Sutterhome. I didn't bat an eye. I like all wine, I told myself. I poured the wine from the miniature bottle into my wine glass (because I had standards that day and guess I chose not to drink it straight from the tiny plastic bottle), and immediately upon tasting, screwed up my face and just said, "No."
I don't mind being a snob about some food things. I think all frosting should be homemade. I believe you should taste all food before you salt or season it. But give me a bag of Doritos and I'll finish it off. I think Cool Whip is an exception to the frosting rule. I black out upon being given a box of Thin Mints. So I never imagined that I would turn up my nose at something with alcoholic content. I could not drink this Sutterhome — could not bring myself to do it. Italy had ruined me for wine. For the better, clearly.
I've been to my fair share of wineries in my time in Italy so far. At first, I only ventured to the ones that everyone went to — the safe ones, with the English-speaking owners and the Facebook pages and the large selection of dessert wines. But the more I ventured out, with a lot of help from my ride-or-die wino friends, the more I realized that there was so much out there. Like, so much good wine that I was not drinking was out there. Is still out there. And really, someone at every winery spoke English. So what was I all worried about? Check out these fantastic Veneto wineries — there are 11 on this list, and they're all fantastic, because, after all, they all serve Italian wine. And there are no plastic bottles in sight.
WINERIES TO VISIT:
- Piovene Porto Godi: I wrote about this winery in the round-up of my favorite Vicenza restaurants. And okay, so it's not really a restaurant, but it remains one of my favorite wineries in the region. Their tasting costs nothing (if you buy wine, which you will), and they'll literally let you try whatever you want. You'll get a short tour of the wine cellar, and the winery even has special events, like free operas periodically when the weather is nice. They don't have food to serve with their wine, so just plan accordingly so you don't go hungry or get the wine feels too soon. The staff couldn't be nicer, their hospitality is top notch, they have beautiful farm grounds and cellars, and they have fantastic wine. Go immediately.
What to buy: Tai Rosso, a red regional specialty
Where to find them: Via Villa, 14, Villaga VI | +39 0444 885142
Go for: the great wine, hospitality and beautiful grounds
The tasting: Call ahead to make sure they're around, but you can probably just show up. No snacks.
- Ca'Bruzzo: If you're into small-scale, organic wine that is carefully and meticulously made with care, make it out to Ca'Bruzzo. If you don't care about any of that, still go. We had the most amazing night during our tasting at Ca'Bruzzo, which we scheduled with Alan, who lives and runs the small vineyard with his wife, Sarah, and sometimes his retired father, Aldo. Alan, who speaks beautiful English because he spent part of his adolescence in America, gave us a tour of the property during a foggy fall day, telling us about the entire viticulture process. When we returned to the cozy tasting room, he served antipasti and his wife brought out handmade gorgonzola gnocchi with walnuts, which I still dream about to this day. We tasted each of his four wines, and I could not decide which one I liked the most, so I bought them all. After our tasting, Alan hung out with us for the rest of the night, and after a casual mention that we were mildly musically talented, he brought out a set of drums and a guitar and we spent the rest of the night in an impromptu jam session. It was amazing wine, entertainment and a great meal all in one.
What to buy: All of it! Seriously.
Where to find them: Via Cavallo, 7, 36040 San Germano dei Berici | +39 0444 868055
Go for: a fantastic date night and a memorable experience with good wine
The tasting: Definitely call ahead. Served with a meal.
- Prà: Because I'm a military spouse, friends are constantly coming and going. One of the scrambles before every person gets ready to move is the wine shuffle — go to as many wineries as possible before they pack your house up so you can ship a ton of wine home, because God forbid you be stuck with American sticker prices on Italian wine once you move back stateside. One of my friends, before she left, told me she had to go back to Prà to stock up on their white wine before moving back. I wasn't really that interested, because I'm not a white wine lover, but another friend insisted that we go (it's summer — white wine season — after all), so we made an appointment. Guess what — completely changed my mind on white wines. Their Otto is inexpensive, so easy to drink, and wonderfully refreshing. We had an easy tour of the grounds (with some fantastic erotic murals), accompanied by the most playful Border Collie, and afterwards, sipped white wine in the beautiful weather on the back porch, overlooking the hills.
What to buy: Otto, a very easy white that's perfect for summer
Where to find them: Via della Fontana, 31, 37032 Monteforte d'Alpone | +39 045 761 2125
Go for: the white wines while you relax in the beauty of the surrounding hills
The tasting: May be able to just show up, but call ahead to be safe. Served with meat and cheese.
- Rocco Sveva: This winery is actually part of a very large cooperative, Cantina di Soave, in the charming town of Soave. Rocca Sveva, located right outside of Soave's beautiful castle walls, is home to the cantina's "boutique" wines. The have a very informative tour of their wine cellars, with information on regional wines, finished off with a tasting accompanied by snacks. After that, you'll be let loose into their huge wine shop, complete with shopping carts. The wines are well-priced and they have a great selection of wines local to the region.
What to buy: Durello, which is Soave's answer to Prosecco, and local dessert wine, Recioto
Where to find them: Via Covergnino, 7, 37038 Soave | +39 045 613 9845
Go for: a fun, informative group tour and a large selection of wines
The tasting: Bread snacks. Call ahead for a tour.
- Fratelli Giuliari: The only reason I even know about this winery is because one of my friends is obsessed with it, and she found it after visiting the fantastic olive oil mill, Bonamini, next door. Take a trip out to Soave and spend the day tasting olive oil and buying excessive amounts of pesto, and then head next door to Fratelli Giuliari. The tasting is free (and we've just popped in for a tasting before, no reservations), English is spoken, and they've got a plethora of wines to try.
What to buy: Nemm, or either of their whites.
Where to find them: Via Santa Giustina, 3, Illasi | +39 045 783 4143
Go for: an impromptu, affordable wine tasting
The tasting: Okay to just show up. No snacks.
- Zonin 1821: This large wine house offers two things that many other local wineries do not. Firstly, they have the ability to share a selection wines found in many different regions of Italy because they have nine different wineries all throughout the country. Secondly, the guide there will give you a class on how to taste wines as you sample them, and he's very animated and quite the comedian. Get ready to learn the right — and wrong ways — to open a bottle of wine, how to hold a glass correctly, and where wine affects your palate. It's one of the more unique tastings in the area, and you'll walk away with newfound knowledge!
What to buy: Prosecco or Insolia, a summery Sicilian white
Where to find them: Via Borgolecco, 9, 36053 Gambellara | +39 0444 640111
Go for: the class on how to taste wine and to get a diverse selection
The tasting: Schedule it. Served with lunch.
- Salvan: When a lot of Americans come to Italy, they have visions of Lucille Ball in their heads — they want to go to a grape stomp, they say! Well, apparently, that beloved episode of "I Love Lucy" is as Italian as fettuccine alfredo. However, apparently enough Americans have asked about this "Italian" tradition, because local wineries are starting to organize grape stomps, and Salvan is one! The wine harvest is in September, and it's a blast. You're first given a basket to collect the grapes in the vineyards (free labor, maybe?), then the grapes are dumped into large stainless steel troughs, and folks are invited to get to stepping! You can sample wines while you stomp, as well as buy food and also just laugh at the folks who slip among the grapes. It's a great time, even if it's not authentically Italian, and will make for many great memories.
What to buy: Tickets to their grape stomp!
Where to find them: Via Mincana, 143, 35020 Due Carrare | +39 049 525841
Go for: a unique "Italian" experience
- Villa Sceriman: This is one of the more popular local wineries, and while people like to talk smack on their wine selection, I think it's a great and accessible place to just go grab a plate of cheese, buy a bottle of wine, and enjoy the weather. The place is absolutely breathtaking in the spring, as their patio is blanketed in hanging wisteria, and their snack game is on point. It's no wonder they're a popular spot — even if their wine isn't the best in the region, it's worth the trip.
What to buy: Dessert wine Fior d'Arancio, sparkling or still, or their rosso.
Where to find them: Via dei Colli, 1084, Vo' | +39 049 994 0123
Go for: an accessible way to drink wine in a pretty place
The tasting: No reservations necessary. Lots of snack options.
EVEN MORE WINERIES:
- Allegrini: The thing that sold me on this winery was the pictures of their villa, Villa della Torre, with it's seriously amazing fireplaces. The tour of the villa gives you a great look at some interesting Italian architectural features, and the fireplaces are the highlight. They also have some seriously fabulous, high-end wines. If you like reds like Valpolicella and Amarone and don't mind paying for it, this is the place for you. I had a bit of sticker shock when I was there, (mostly because it's very easy to find bottles of wine under 10€ at many wineries), but if you're looking for special-occasion bottles, this is a great place to go.
What to buy: Amarone
Where to find them: Via della Torre, 25, 37022 Fumane | +39 045 683 2070
Go for: the fireplaces and for dropping big bucks on special wines
The tasting: Schedule for the tour. Meat and cheese served.
- Villa Canestrari: Our tour at this winery was a bit pricey, but our tour guide was incredibly sweet and took us through their "museum" of wine, where they've put together a small exhibition of the tools used throughout the years to create wine. I was a bit underwhelmed until we started the tasting, and really fell in love with their Valpolicella Ripasso, which was surprisingly smooth, without the alcoholic, back-of-the-mouth bite that the wine often leaves. I definitely walked away with a few bottles. They also have some refreshing white wines, and make a mean cheese plate.
What to buy: Valpolicella Ripasso
Where to find them: Via D. Broglio, 2, Colognola ai Colli | +39 045 765 0074
Go for: some high-quality, affordable Valpolicella
The tasting: Comes with a meat and cheese place. Schedule for the tour.
- Le Pignole: This winery is the go-to place in Vicenza, and though there's no fancy amarone here, the owners, Paolo and Gianna, are seriously sweet people. Their full wine tasting, which includes pizza pairings and costs 25€ a person, is what brings the Americans out, and it's worth the potential wine hangover (and their asparagus pizza is what dreams are made of). It's a great place for families, as they offer horse-back rides, and though their wine is fine, the sweet owners and great experiences and events they throw are what keep folks coming back.
What to buy: Pizza/wine pairings and Toréngo, their version of the local Tai Rosso
Where to find them: Via Meucci, 87, 36040 Brendola | +39 0444 405440
Go for: group meals, the sweet owners, and the fantastic pizza
The tasting: Just show up to buy bottles to drink there, and maybe order cheese or a pizza. Call ahead to schedule the full pizza-pairing tasting.
Photos and text © Katie Currid, 2016. All rights reserved.