La Dolce Vino
From Venice to Verona, Sara Waxman takes pause to appreciate the finer things
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.