Category Archives: Consuming Venice

Locales, what to eat, how to eat it.

Tenuta Sella Wines at the Bistrot de Venise

There is a free tasting today, but these rare wines will also be offered at a special price for the next two weeks as well. If you’re in town and are any sort of a wine enthusiast, it’s a definite Don’t Miss. Location and map link are below.


Thursday, November 12th, 2009
4.00 p.m. – free admission

With the joint aim of promoting “Venice: Wine Capital” and to spread awareness and encourage tasting of their excellent, typical qualities, for two weeks the Bar and Restaurant of the Bistrot will be offering the wines of Northern Piedmont at a “flat rate” We invite you stop by and take advantage of this tasting opportunity.


The Sella family has been producing wine in the Lessona DOC area since 1671, making it one of the oldest Italian wineries still in operation. La Tenuta Sella has been dedicated to small-scale, high-quality production since its inception, and maintains its original artisan size still today. (Some wines are produced from high-quality, extremely low yield vines of over 80 years of age, for example.)

Sella is a producer of Lessona and Bramaterra DOC wines from a delimited area located about halfway between Torino and Milano, inching up toward the lakes and the Alps – far north of their more widely known Nebbiolo relations of Barolo and Barbaresco. This is instead the western part of a ring of extremely fine denominations that continue in the neighbouring Gattinara, Ghemme, and Boca.

Northern Piedmont is one of the three classic areas of Nebbiolo (called Spanna in this area, just to keep us confused.), along with Langa and Valtellina. Here the noble Nebbiolo vine is never monovarietal, but always alternated with rows of Vespolina, Croatina or Uva Rara varieties. For this reason, the Lessona and Bramaterra are made with a predominant base of Nebbiolo and lower percentages of these ancient local vines.

(If you spot a wine called “I Porfidi,” make sure not to pass it up…)

Bravo Le Bistrot!

Presentation by Gioacchino Sella and the oenologist Cristiano Garella
Coordinators: Giovanni Vazzoler and Sergio Fragiacomo
With the support of AIS, the Italian Wine Sommeliers’ Association – Venice

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Le Bistro de Venise

San Marco
Calle dei Fabbri 4685

Located halfway between
Campo San Luca and the
Piazza San Marco

Be sure to check their website for on-going event information at the Bistrot.

Venice means fish…but which is which?

rialto_fish.jpgAlmost every travel guide will rightly advise you that for dining in Venice, don’t skip the fish. It’s good advice, and perhaps you’re coastal and are already familiar with the myriad of shapes and sizes seafood comes in: crustaceans, mollusks, and regular fish that range from pinky- to thigh-size.

But if you’re a landlubber or are simply more familiar with freshwater fish, I thought I’d run a series of short posts focusing on the fish and seafood waiting for you both on the menus in Venice and in the Rialto Market should you care to visit them before you consume them.

canoce_cicala_di_mare.jpgCANOCE: Mantis Shrimp

The first don’t-miss fish is a crustacean that has an official name of Pannocchia, but that is referred to in Venice as the canocia (in Rome and Tuscany, cicala di mare). The English nickname is Mantis Shrimp, referring to both its front appendages and the sweetness of its meat.

These canoce are from the high Adriatic, and so are generally smaller in size that those you might find fished from larger seas. In fact, all fish from this area are scaled to the Adriatic’s size. And according to some pescivendolo (fishmongers) are sweeter as a result. I’m staying out of that argument, however.

At the market, all the canoce‘s undersea defenses are easily identifiable: the fake eyes on the tail, the front legs poised to strike, and a shell that’s pointy from stem to stearn.


Canoce are often served as part of an antipasto (but can take part in many a seafood dish, including risotto). Although they’ll be unarmed by the time they reach your plate, you’ll still need some technique to extract the meat from the remaining shell. For best results, hold the tail with your knife, and strip the meat from the bottom shell with your fork (or vice versa). It should separate easily, but if not, don’t hesitate to ask your server for a demonstration. (In the photo, the canoce is on the lower right.)

So, if they’re indeed in season, don’t let your unfamiliarity with the canoce‘s looks or name stop you from ordering these tasty morsels…you’ve come too far for that!

Taste Wines of the Colli Euganei – Gratis

Taste the wines of fifteen producers from the Colli Euganei
at the sumptuous Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista

Monday, 26 october, from 2 p.m. til 7:30 p.m.

coverintro.jpgThis is what one might refer to as un’occasione. In an effort to let enthusiasts get a real sense of the wines produced in thsi Veneto zona DOC, fifteen producers from the Colli Euganei are gathering in the beautiful Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista (c. 1251) next Monday afternoon. If you’re in town, and you’re at all interested in wine, please do stop by.

What to expect?

The Colli (hills) Euganei region lies south and just east of Padova, and is formed roughly by a triangle of the three towns of Vo, Torreglia, and Arqua Petrarca (a lovely stop if your winding your way through the Veneto, by the way). The wines are young, a mix of spumante and still, red and white, dry and sweet. The whites are pleasing, fresh, and aromatic; the reds structured but not imposing. You’ll find varieties you recognize, like Chardonnay, Riesling (Italico), Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and others you may be less familiar with:

  • Pinello (recent white, fresh, dry, still or spumante)
  • Serprino (similar to Prosecco)
  • Tocai Italico
  • Cabernet Franc

The Bianco DOC may consist of any or all of the white varieties in specified percentages; the Rosso DOC will combine reds that may even include Barbera. Look for the fresh spumanti like  Fior d’Arancio, a famed moscato giallo, whose sweetness is balanced by a fresh acidity and an exploding bouquet, and the rarer Moscato Rosso di Parenzo, a red aromatic that you must try should it be offered.

You may also find less familiar ways of vinifying these wines, but do adventure there as well: some of the passiti, dessert wines fermented from what might be termed as raisins, with round concentrated fruit balanced by higher alcohol, yet still-fresh acidity.

The producers you’ll find are:

  • Alla Costiera
  • Ca’ Lustra
  • Ca’ Orologio
  • Castello di Lispida
  • Colle Mattara
  • Conte Emo Capodilista – La Montecchia
  • Il Filò delle Vigne
  • Il Mottolo
  • Monteforche
  • Montegrande
  • Sengiari
  • Vignalta
  • Vigna Roda
  • Vignale di Cecilia e Villa Sceriman

I do hope you can make it. Salute!

Venetian Spritz Recipe (or, once an ombra…)

spritz_nan_mcelroy.jpg I call it the National Drink of Venice.

The Venetian Spritz is not, shall we say, an “important” thing. Drink. Whatever. It’s red, for crying out loud, and composed of any unassuming white wine, sparkling water, and your choice of mixer: Aperol, Select, or bitter (Campari, SanBitter or even the herby Cynar). Although the first Spritzes filtered down from Austria and were made with white wine and seltzer only, the newer, flashier red version is a Campari creation that has become a Venetian (and Veneto) habit: as one of its many Facebook-dedicated pages states, is “not just a drink, but a way of life.”

That appealing shade of florescent orangish-red, however, makes the Spritz extraordinarily entertaining; when you witness late afternoon Venetian sunlight angling through the glass, firing it the color of icy embers, ti viene la voglia – it just makes you want one. This is by design of course, and a quantifiable phenomenon. Ask anyone.

P1000700.JPGIt would seem obvious, then, that you should order at least one Spritz during your stay, if for no other reason than to stare in compania, to hang out and blend in. It’s even safe to “try this at home” (although I must to warn you: it won’t be the same).

Thanks in no small part to furious commercial efforts on the part of Campari (who also produce Aperol and Cynar, fancy that), this unpretentious, borderline silly libation is aiming to be the National Drink of Italy. But the Spritz (or ‘Spriss’ in Venessiàn) will always be best enjoyed on its home turf, perhaps Al Chioscchetto on the Zattere, as the sun retreats and the Giudecca Canal sloshes vigorously before you, while everyone at surrounding tables sips theirs, chattering away, catching up with a friend they’ve connected with by chance or by appointment, in who-knows what language. Maybe there’s live music; maybe not.

The Spritz fa il suo effetto (has its effect) on most everyone who tries it; and the result is una marea of requests for the recipe; and although I’d rather recommend a good wine, it just makes sense to post it once and for all. Evvia.

My favorite Venetian Spritz recipe is stamped on the canvas bags made by women in Venetian prison – it’s one of the ways those inside support themselves. Keep an eye out yourself for kiosks located in a number of campi in the city, selling these charming, handy bags in a variety of designs.


“Official” Spritz recipe


1 part white wine

1 part Aperol (medium sweet) OR Select (less sweet) OR Campari or San Bitter

1 part seltzer/sparkling water (it helps if you can blast it into the glass)

Combine the above with

a little ice,

an olive, and

a slice of orange / lemon / lemon

respectively, according to your choice of aperitif mixer.

For maximum effect, add late afternoon sunlight and

consume near a large body of water.

If you do try making them yourself, let me know how they turn out, won’t you?


ONE FINAL NOTE: Don’t forget, when ordering your Spritz, you must specify the mixer. For example, “Spritz con Aperol,” “Spritz with Select” (pronounced SELect), etc. If you don’t, you’ll be asked which you prefer.

* Aperol (made by Campari) has now decided a Spritz is made by combining it with Prosecco, which is convenient in that it supports Prosecco production and can reduce the number of Spritz ingredients to two (or creates a too-fizzy concoction). The hold-outs among us prefer the original, and to enjoy our Prosecco in purezza, by itself.

Pop the Prosecco! (Just don’t call it Champagne.)

vendemmia_costapiane18.jpg“Oh, it’s like Champagne!” is the inevitable, completely innocent response to almost anyone’s first sip of Prosecco, the lively, loveable libation from the Veneto, now known and enjoyed worldwide.* Unless you’re the sort of person who likes giving other people fits, however, try to avoid making this comment within earshot of someone who actually produces Champagne. Reactions can range from mildly indignant to downright apoplectic.

Pourquoi, you ask? Is it because all Champagne producers are snobs? Because they don’t like Italy? Because they don’t like you?

It’s none of the above, of course. It’s more because first, you’re talking about their life’s work; then, they realize that for whatever reason, you have not (yet) drunk enough sparkling wine to understand that although Prosecco bubbles like Champagne and is perfectly palatable and pleasing…the resemblance, mon cher, ends there.

Don’t feel bad. La Difference between Prosecco and Champagne (or the Italian metodo classico produced the same way) is obvious to no one who hasn’t either grown up with wine or made an effort to get to know it better. However, it’s fun to know, a good thing to understand, will contribute to your own enjoyment of both bubblies, and make it easier to choose which might be appropriate for a particular occasion.

I give up. Why isn’t Prosecco like Champagne?

vendemmia_costapiane11_prosecco.jpgThe obvious reason is because it’s not made in Champagne, France. Then, Prosecco wine is made from the grape Prosecco (now named Glera), and not from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and/or any of the other varieties used in Champagne — none of which are Prosecco/glera. Most importantly, however: these sparklers are produced using two completely different methods: one short and efficient, the other long, complicated, more labor intensive, producing a more complex wine. The results are two very different sparklers, each to be enjoyed and appreciated for its own merits.

See if the following, somewhat over-simplified explanation helps clarify things a bit.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.


For both types, we’ll start with a still wine that’s highly acidic, created especially to be undergo a second, induced fermentation.

In one method, a yeast/sugar concoction is added to the still wine stored in large stainless steel tanks, or vats. These tanks are sealed for the second fermentation, however, trapping the resulting carbonation in the wine. It will remain in the vats for three months or more (depending on a variety of factors), and remian under pressure continually even as it is bottled. The resulting spumante will be ready for consumption from about six to twelve months later.

ferrari_metodo_classico2.jpgIn the second method, the specially formulated mixture is again added to a still wine. It will not remain in vats, however, but will be bottled and capped (not yet corked) for the second fermentation which will take place inside each individual bottle. For the next eighteen to thirty-six months, the bottles are regularly rotated (manually or mechanically) and gradually up-ended, shuttling the spent yeast (the lees) down into the cap in the process. At the end of this refining process, the neck is flash frozen, the cap is removed, and the now-solid lees pop from the pressure. The bottle is immediately topped off, corked, and packaged for retail — although it will still be a minimum of six months before it should be drunk (it’s recovering from the shock, you see). Sparkling wines produced this way also have a much longer “shelf life.”

Which is which, then?

The first method is called Charmat, or Martinotti after the men who created/established the process; the second, champagnoise — or in Italy, metodo classico, the classic method. The choice of method depends on a multitude of factors, not the least of which is the variety itself; in any case there is no shortage of bollicine, or spumanti (the term that refers to any sparkling wine), both established and innovative, being brought to life from regional varieties throughout the country.

dreamstime_10251196_LucaFabbian.jpgThis is very good news, and offers us the opportunity to become quite adventurous in our sparkling explorations. Do your own taste tests. The next time you have a dinner party, have the local wine expert help you select both a Prosecco (Foss Marai, a Cartizze, perhaps?) or other “Charmat” along with an Italian metodo classico: a Lombardia Gatti Franciacorta, a Piedmont Gavi Soldati di Scolca, a Balter from Trentino. As you sip each, see what you find different…and the same…between them, in the visual, the nose, and in the taste. The goal is not to look for which method is “better;” but instead to identify the distinctive qualities of each — with the enjoyment of the wines, the meal, and the company taking priority always, of course!

The truth is, Prosecco will always remind us of Champagne…and it’s fine to say so. But now, the next time you head for your local enoteca to choose a sparkler, you’ll have no problem chatting up the wine expert and selecting just the right sparkler for the occasion. And remember, it’s not just for New Year’s anymore…



* Prosecco has also become popular enough to be ripped off, evidently: there are reports that only one in ten versions of wine sold as “Prosecco” is produced in Italy – e questo non si fa, that will simply not do. To control this menace, as of the 2009 harvest, the Prosecco produced under either of two new DOCG classifications

  • Prosecco Conegliano-Valdobbiadene
  • Prosecco Montello-Colli Asolani

or under the larger Prosecco DOC zone will guarantee you of its rightful Veneto origin. To complicate things further, the Prosecco variety will now be called Glera…but that’s a whole other post…


photo credit, last image: Luca Fabbian.