La Dolce Vino

From Venice to Verona, Sara Wax­man takes pause to ap­pre­ci­ate the finer things

DINE and Destinations - - DRINK - www.kempin­­ www.aqualux­ho­

TTHE GRAND CANAL is very choppy this morn­ing as the boat speeds along to the San

Cle­mente Palace Kempin­ski Ho­tel and its 17 acre pri­vate is­land. It has had many lives since its con­struc­tion in the 12th century: a monastery, a mil­i­tary out­post, a hos­pi­tal and as a guest home for no­bil­ity. What se­crets hide within th­ese walls? An aura of still­ness and calm re­mains in its grand rooms, stately hall­ways and stair­cases. At the tall colon­naded win­dows, I pause to ad­mire man­i­cured gar­dens, court­yards and ter­races where one can sit and con­tem­plate the true mean­ing of life and love in tran­quil­ity.

Din­ner is a cul­ture shock, com­ing from Toronto’s rau­cous res­tau­rant scene to

Ac­querello, a for­mal din­ing room so sub­dued, I can hear peo­ple speak­ing in just above a whis­per. Served with for­mal flour­ishes, a six-course tast­ing menu be­gins with bright red Si­cil­ian prawns, a half moon of buf­falo moz­zarella, a flute of Val­dob­bi­adene Prosecco and re­ally good bread. I could stop right there. Cour­ses are nicely paced: curry scal­lops with cala­mari ce­viche in a pool of Asian broth pairs nicely with Frescobaldi Chardon­nay. More high­lights: ri­cotta gnoc­chi with pis­ta­chio sauce; duck breast from Bresse with mixed mush­rooms and a glass of fine Caber­net Franc. Gra­zie mille.

Next morn­ing, the grand stair­case leads me to break­fast and a feast wor­thy of a Palace. Cheeses, eggs and omelettes, meats, fish, fruits, sparkling pre­serves, beau­ti­ful breads and twirled crois­sants—and my ad­dic­tion,

sfogli­atelle. There are even seven dif­fer­ent milks in glass bot­tles. No ap­petite is left un­sated, no di­etary idio­syn­crasy ig­nored.

Ar­rived­erci Venezia, I am on my way to the Ce­sari Win­ery in nearby Verona, where I an­tic­i­pate an extraordinary wine tast­ing. Along the high­way there are neat rows of vines. Why waste space when you can grow grapes? At the win­ery, founded in 1936 by Ger­ardo Ce­sari, the hos­pi­tal­ity man­ager, Vi­viana Stagni, gives me a tour, point­ing out the French oak bar­rels and the Amer­i­can oak casks where the wines are aged. Great at­ten­tion is paid to the rest­ing pe­riod. Ex­port to Amer­ica be­gan in 1971 when 100 bot­tles reached New York, ap­par­ently to the de­light of wine afi­ciona­dos.

In the spa­cious tast­ing room, the chef has cre­ated a splen­did four-course lun­cheon for our wine pair­ings. Mara Valpo­li­cello Ri­passa, with notes of ripe fruit and cher­ries, and Ri­passo Bosan, with its in­tense pur­ple colour, hints of co­coa and toasted cof­fee, are my favourites. The award win­ning Il Bosco Amarone is made in the ap­pas­si­mento style. For three to four months the grapes lay on open crates in the fruit cel­lar to al­low for air­flow. As they dry, their su­gar con­tent in­creases to the point when they are ready to be pressed. The com­plex aroma of cherry, spices, bit­ter al­monds and ca­cao fires my imag­i­na­tion.

“In our world,” says Vi­viana, “we have a strong con­nec­tion be­tween man and na­ture. Ev­ery year is a new chal­lenge, and we have to cross our fin­gers and find a new com­pro­mise with na­ture, rain and tem­per­a­ture.” Vi­viana burns with the pas­sion that fu­els wine­mak­ers. “When you drink a glass of our wine, you need to have emo­tion, this glass must in­vite you to have an­other.” That’s an in­vi­ta­tion no wine en­thu­si­ast could refuse. Din­ner that evening at the Aqualux Ho­tel

Spa in Bar­dolino is per­fec­tion. A whole fish baked in a salt crust is lib­er­ated from its shell by a waiter with sur­geon’s skill, boned in sec­onds and served with in-sea­son white as­para­gus: a tri­umph with just a splash of or­ganic ex­tra vir­gin olive oil and a few grains of salt. Add to this, Ce­sari Soave, dry and del­i­cate with a bou­quet of ripe fruits, and a sim­ple meal be­comes a mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence. Health zealots will thrill to a break­fast that in­cludes honey in the comb, gin­ger, seeds, nuts, fruits and green drinks as well as the oblig­a­tory eggs and ba­con dishes. This to­tally self-sus­tain­ing fa­cil­ity, smart and so­phis­ti­cated with round king-size beds and elec­tronic Jacuzzi bath­tubs, runs on a so­lar sys­tem, with its own la­goon, spa and wa­ter ex­pe­ri­ences. It is in­deli­bly en­tered on my “must re­turn” list.

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