Uncorked and Cultivated took a listening tour of Chianti and its surrounds in advance of our tours starting September 2011.


While there is little wine production around Venezia (Venice), this utmost tourism venue is a magnet for the wines from almost all Italian regions. The closest being Soave, and it is a natural fit with the fishing activities in the Venetian region.

The restaurant of choice in front of the Rialto bridge was Al Pesador, looking quite hip at Rialto on Campo San Giacometo overlooking the tidal Grande Canal which was washing the tiles below. As expected the restaurant featured fish for lunch, and there were three types fresh for inspection.

The starters were encouraging; soft marinated sardines (lemon jest, good salt), mozarella soft in the centre and small spinach, squid in its own ink, jet black, salt cod (bacala) fluffed up as in a cream, all seeking an acidic local white Soave of which there was a choice of three including the popular Pieropan.

The drink was Filippi Brothers Castelcercino 2009 (USD 39); biodynamically-grown www.cantinafilippi.it, (86), 12.5%, quite skinny and obviously aged on its solids, needing better winemaking but this is covered when drunk with the fish of the day, porgy, a type similar to what we would call bass or bream.

It came simply grilled with peppered waxy potatoes and raddichio.

The Haitian espresso coffee was a marvel; made by a specialist roaster Gianni Frasi (torrefazione) in Verona who draws supply from some unusual and interesting sources in the Carribean.

Meanwhile accommodation was at the ancient Villa Valmarana in via dei Nani, having imposing sights of the city of Vicenza and surrounding vineyards, olive orchards and host to several running tracks, so the Vicenzians look to be a fitter lot.

The property is very imposing; part is open for public inspection with its manicured gardens while our accommodation is simply enormous. A new kitchen at one end of a very large living room is an excuse to visit the local markets to prepare fresh mussels over pasta while the local tomatoes still stay so ripe sitting on their covered trellises with barely any leaves.

Refitted bedrooms intersect the large walls and their beautiful frescos are intersected by new ceilings which cut the room height by half. We found time to enjoy the late and fading afternoon sun from the balcony and drink newly-discovered Proseccos with spiced olives.

This fizz was Desiderio JE10 Prosecco Superiore from Colmei in Valdobbiadene NV 11.5%; 90, termed extra-dry and tasting so, made by the Bisol family.

Across to Alexandria and then Alba takes you to the heart of nebbiolo grape country collectively called Langhe.

After some navigation which by-passed the spiritual city of local winemaking as well as the truffle centre, we located Grinzane Cavour, then a small area on the fringe of Diano D’Alba and accommodation at Tenuta Ottocentro under the steep hill behind the town.

The first encounter with traditional Piedmontese foods was at Trattoria nelle Vigne in via Santa Croce 17; tel 0173 468503 owned by Farioli Sabrina.

Successive courses of tuna sauce over anchovies, salad russe (one of many interpretations combining chicken, cheese, capers and iceberg lettuce), fatty pork belly, veal tartare and gorgonzola frittata, were completed with white rabbit braised in nebbiolo and onions, garnished with parsley.

A good bottle of Vietti Perbacco Nebbiolo 2007 14%; 89 (USD 22) from nearby at Castiglione Falletto soothed the nerves and the angst of such a succession of dishes on the hop. This ristorante was good value.

After a morning of tastings in Barolo town, the GPS was set for via Boschetti to locate Locanda nel Borgo Antico, an old renovated farmhouse, now a ristorante 0173 56355.

A little like taking the back roads, unsealed of course in my home country, quite a deal of navigating resulted in finding our place for a meal.

This did become a little complicated because the entry door is not signed (and there are several, some leading to derelict rooms or the cellar areas, unattended of course), and even more bizarre, the entry is kept locked, and a staff member jumps out the door from upstairs to offer admittance. Strange secrecy.

Food interpretations were quite contemporary; the veal tartare was tiny veal dices, marinated in lime juice and white truffle, dices of cheese, pimento, Dijon mustard and a single chive garnish.

The veal eye fillet was cooked pink, with green vegetable puree garnish, caramelised roasted vegetables kept to the minimum or taglitalle home-made had veal ragout, and canaraoli sauced with melted semi-hard Toma cheese.

La Morra from Locanda nel Borgo Antico

The wine choice Camerano Cannubi Barolo 2005 14%; 85 (USD 72) was simply too pretty to enjoy, so we reverted to a glass of Brezza Bricco Sarmassa 2004, 14%; 92, a wonderful wine showing little age and maximum flavour softness.In summary Locanda nel Borgo Antico scores well (16/20) for great decor, excellent service, “out-there” plate and dish presentation, super food flavours on the minimalist train, great country lunch venue and all-staff attention to detail. Check USD 104 px. www.locandanelborgo.it

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