This past weekend, there was a street fair, the Piazza Europa Treiste, with lots of booths of food from different parts of Europe, from local and other Italian specialties to Brittany and Holland and beyond. There were crafts booths as well, and I was able to pick up a nice ceramic bowl from Bassano di Grappa, which I visited around the new year while I was still staying with my brother. I had a bowl of paella for lunch down in Piazza Ponterosso, where the usual mercatino of fish, fruits, flowers, vegetables, honey, and olive oil was also in progress around the fountain.
The weather has been quite warm, and it definitely feels more humid here than it did in Seattle, so even mid-60s weather (about 20c) feels much warmer than I’m used to for that temperature range. I spent a lot of Saturday wandering around downtown Trieste looking for some light, sleeveless tops and a skirt that wouldn’t make me feel like a flower garden or that I was attempting to flash the crowds if I put it on. The tops were reasonably easy, but the skirt took a lot of wandering to find. I’m not a wearer of skirts (kilts, yes; skirts, no) and the idea of dresses appalls me, so actually wearing this was a measure of desperation. I suspect the summers are going to be like this for me from now on. All I can say is, I was really glad I was wearing that Sunday instead of my usual jeans, because it was up in the 80s through much of the day.
Sunday I got out of town early, on the 9am train to Gorizia, to meet my brother and some of his friends for the Cantine Aperte or open cellars tour of Friuli Venezia-Giulia. Over 70 vineyards participate in the day-long event, from 10am to 6pm. There’s no way any human being would make it to all of them, so we focused on the Strada del Vino of Il Collio in the province of Gorizia, right along the Slovenian border.
Our route took us to five vineyards, and past quite a number of lovely rural restaurants that were entirely booked solid for wedding parties until late in the day.
We began at Fiegl, a vineyard in operation since 1782. We each bought a wine glass for €6, which entitled us to wine samples at all the vineyards participating in the day. As we tasted our first wine of the day, someone in the crowd wished us “buona degustazione!” – “good tasting!” The day itself certainly fulfilled that promise. The only other wine tasting I’d ever been to previously was at an artist’s studio in Seattle, sponsored by a kink club, involving mostly naked people, an extensive wine list, and a well-informed sommelier, but that is a tale for another time.
The region is particularly famed for white wines, and it seemed fitting to begin with a Friulano. I know fairly little about wines, and am not usually that fond of whites, but it was a nice start to the day, and I found that I really quite enjoyed a number of the white wines on offer throughout the day, as well as the reds. This vineyard, along with several of the others we visited, had a collection of artifacts from WWI on display. I suspect most of them were found on the property, the result of battles fought in the area.
Our second stop along the route was Muzic, where cherries, apple juice, and baskets were also very much on display along with the wines. This winery had a really excellent Picolit available, sweet and strong, made from dried grapes rather than the fresh fruit. I enjoyed the taste so much that I got a bottle of it before we left. We grabbed a snack here, as well, of the local ham; I had the plate with bread and horseradish (kren), while my brother and a couple of the others had small sandwiches made with the same.
Next was Humar, located at a bend in the road. The winery was selling cherries, which are in season now, as well as their wine. They had snacks laid out for everyone, including some tasty cherry cake that I quite enjoyed. We had hoped to get a tour of the facility, which was available, but only accompanied by one of the staff. Unfortunately, all the folks there were really busy and so we weren’t able to flag someone down to take us in. All along the route, we found people doing the wine road on bicycles as well as those touring in cars or on motorcycles. There were also a couple of small tour buses taking people along the route, which I think makes a lot of sense and allows everyone to enjoy the tasting safely, even if they end up indulging slightly more than might be advisable.
Further down the road, we encountered Alessio Komjanc, where they were giving samples of the olive oil as well as the wine. I tasted an oil made of black olives, but ended up purchasing a green olive oil, which was spicier than the black. Both the oil and the wine are made there, with an orchard as well as vineyards. The entire region sees a lot of German and Austrian tourists though, apparently, not a lot of Americans despite the base at Aviano being very nearby. It’s sad that people from the base don’t get out more and see the countryside, along with all the wonderful things and people there. Quite a few of the winery websites do offer English text about their cellars and wines. There’s just so much to explore here.
By this time, everyone was getting hungry, but every place we stopped to look for food had no space for our group of seven people. Not all that surprising, really. Had it been two or three of us, it would have been more likely we’d have been able to be seated. Weddings seemed to be a thing yesterday, though Laura noted that usually Italians tend to get married on Saturday. It was a gorgeous day for it, though, so mazel tov to all the couples whose weddings were making it impossible for us to have lunch!
The heat and the sun were really becoming intense, and I’m a little sunburnt today. Our last stop was an absolute joy, as so much of it was actually inside, and the winery also had a restaurant. The food wasn’t as good as some I’ve had, but it certainly satisfied my need for something solid with the wine! This was the Gradnik winery, right on the Slovenian border. The place was just gorgeous.
Laura and my brother talked with the gent who was serving the wine; he initially thought we were German tourists and was quite surprised to find that most of the group was American. It turns out, though, that he has some family in Washington state, so small world syndrome struck again. It struck in another way as we were paying our bill for lunch; one of my friends from Trieste, Gabrielle, was also there with a friend. She’s a chef and so it didn’t really surprise me that she was out on the tour for the day as well, but to run into her randomly, out of all the wineries that were open yesterday, was quite delightful.
Through the seating area and the tasting room, there was a narrow stone stairwell, with ropes bolted to the walls as handrails, leading up to the outdoor restaurant. The view was panoramic and spectacular, and the scent of jasmine was everywhere, as it is in bloom right now. The place was quite crowded and service was slow, but there were only two people working the area and they were slammed, so I’m not surprised that it took a while to get our food. I had the asparagus lasagne, which was a little more tender than I’d usually like, but tasted okay. It was only €5, with mineral water and coffee each being €1, so I certainly couldn’t complain about the prices. They also had a strawberry mousse of some sort available for dessert, but I didn’t try it.
By the time we were done with food and coffee, we were all fairly tired. It had been a long day, though it was only mid-afternoon. I’m sure the heat had rather a bit to do with it, as well, as it was in the low 80s (28c) by the time we were done with lunch. Most of my brother’s friends departed back to the base, and he and Bob and Laura drove me to the train station at Cormòns, as it was the nearest one, and on the route to Trieste. We only had about a 20 minute wait for the train, which wasn’t bad at all, considering we’d just chosen randomly to take me there. It takes about 50 minutes from Cormòns to Trieste, and the view along the coastal part of the route really is gorgeous. You can see both Duino and Miramare castles from the train, though they do go by rather quickly between the trees and the tunnels.
It was a fantastic day, with good wine, and good company, so thanks for bringing me along, Jim!