Italy 2018 - Friulli
In terms of global tourist destinations, VCE or Venice, in non frequent flier talk, has to be one of the world’s most popular, even cliché. But this trip, for all its proximity to famous touristy Italian spots, was far from your usual tour of Venice, Florence and Rome.
Instead of jumping on some fabulous boat for a tour of the nearby canals, we loaded 8 kid-rearing, medicine-taking, achy-back-having adults into a 9 person van and headed 3 hours toward the Slovenian border in North Eastern Italy. We were here for wine and food, not piazzas and paintings. And so fittingly, our first night was spent at La Subida, the restaurant and auberge that helped inspire Bobby Stucki’s vision for Frasca.
La Subida has some incredible guest houses, which we took advantage of for our first night in Friulli, and which I think we would all highly recommend. As we would the food. I had always heard the “inspiration for Frasca” thing rattled around, so expectations were high, although I wasn’t quite sure what to expect after checking out their website and finding an entirely more folksy and Old World vibe than sleek and sexy Frasca.
In reality, the physical space at La Subida was somewhere between the two. Entirely Old World in it’s intimate architecture; grand old wood burning fireplace, kischy alpine folk decor and resident pair of Weimaraner house dogs lazing around at breakfast, post romp in the woods. But it also welcomes you with a modern metal, wood and glass entry room, and the staff, cellar, and menu are clearly inspired and motivated by an intimacy with other cultures and lands.
A leisurely tour of Mitjya’s wine cellar under the restaurant (special shout-out to cheese popsicles for wine tasting) proceeded our first dinner in Italy at this most iconic of spots. Sat around a large round table next to the roaring fireplace, we embarked on a culinary exploration of meats, cheeses, pastas and more that all came from the hills and plains around where we sat.
The food here was different than anywhere else I’ve been in Italy, charmed with a rustic feel but overlaid with unarguable sophistication. Savory delicate flavors of the earth delicately accentuated by the sweet pop of fruit or honey. Service that remained at the same time invisible and omnipresent, that perfect combo that is so easy to miss. This was clearly a spot deserving of it’s Michelin star, which we finally found on our way out of dinner, subtly displayed in a spot near the front door, but only if you looked for it. La Subida isn’t about showing off.
VENICA & VENICA
On our second day in Friulli we loaded up in the van and headed over the hill, crossing through Slovenia for the better part of 47 seconds, before arriving back in Italy near Venica & Venica, one of the regions foremost wine producers. Venica, like La Subida, offered up some amazing guest rooms which we moved into before continuing on to a tour of the property.
Someone in the Venica family is clearly a motorhead, as there was a theme of cool wheels around the property. A Tesla Model X and a plug-in Mini Countryman were proudly parked out front, but as we walked about we saw two air cooled 911s, an original Audi Quattro coupe, and a collection of vintage tractors, all maintained so that they looked like they’d rolled off the production line yesterday. A bright red Porsche had stopped all of us in our tracks, and as we marveled at the incongruousness of the machine, Mr. Venica himself cruised over and offered the simply logic, “it is better to work the fields from a Porsche convertible than a Fiat, no?” Hard to argue with that.
Lunch at Venica was easily on par with the best of our trip. Hand cut prosciutto, truffles over farm fresh eggs, hand-made pasta, and a line-up of wines which at the end looked like they must have belonged to a dinner party of 15, not a lunch for 8. Dinner at La Subida is a hard act to follow, but if you’re going to try I’d highly suggest a private tasting at Venica.
After lunch it was off to a visit with Christian Patat, one of the minds and hands behind Ronco del Gnemiz wines. Christian is easily one of the most respected winemakers in Friulli, but he’s also in the class of producer that is clearly the humble farmer before showy winemaker. Tasting at his house involved sitting around a large wooden table in front of a truly epic built-in wall of shelves that was 100% dedicated to his collection of CDs, and in the middle of which beat it’s heart, a delightfully analogue stereo and speakers. Other than the table, about 37,000 compact discs, and us, there was only room left for wine. Sitting on the floor, on the scarce other furniture, and in a gaggle of bottles on the table. The space reminded me of hanging out at one of my parent’ friend’s hippy houses in Crested Butte in the 80’s. Except for the wine. They never had that.
Christian rarely sat with us. Instead he hovered at the door between his dining room, where we were sitting, and his kitchen. Moving in close to pour glasses, then retreating a few paces away from the table, into the slight shadows, to tell us about what we were drinking and how he’d made it. Christian literally brims with excitement and passion for what he creates, and hanging out in that humble, homely space was a highlight of the trip.
The morning we left Venica the sun managed to work its way through the clouds and give us a tiny glimpse of the hillsides around which we’d been driving the past couple days. A stunning visual treat to cap off our time in Friulli.
To split up our drive to Piedmont, 6 hours if you were to do it straight, we had planned to stop for lunch in Verona. At this point in our narrative it should be becoming clear that ‘lunch’ basically means 4 hours, minimum. Some might say that adding a 4 hour lunch to a 6 hour drive doesn’t really make anything shorter, but that’s the flow of this trip and who are we to argue?
We were headed to eat at a famed seafood restaurant in the city of Romeo and Juliette, and it was a meal that was worth it’s detour and then some. Cold metal plates of delicious, succulent and tasting-of-the-sea oysters from Normandy, and a handmade pasta who's sauce was made primarily of fresh sea urchin, are dishes I’ll remember for a long time to come.
If you’re in the food and wine world it seems no visit to fair Verona is complete without a visit to Antica Bodega de Vini, and we dutifully, no, happily, did just that after lunch and a ‘passagiata’ (Italian for walking comically slowly around town after a meal). The wine list there is like flipping through the dead sea scrolls, and it’s an environment that never disappoints it’s visitor.