The Wineries of Northern Italy – La Valpolicella and Villa Monteleone

The second stop on our tour of northern Italy’s wineries was Villa Monteleone, where we talked wine, politics, culture and travel with owner and wine producer Lucia Duran Raimondi over a splendid lunch in the estate’s protected historical garden.

Stefano and Lucia met in Minneapolis in the winter of 2012, when she was in town promoting her wines with her distributor, Wirtz Beverage Group.  Stefano and Filippo of the Butcher Block organized a spectacularly successful wine dinner, and months later when we were planning our trip to Italy, we knew that we would take Lucia up on her offer to visit Villa Monteleone.

Villa Monteleone is located not far from the town of Verona in a tiny town called Gargagnago.  A beautiful 17th century villa serves also as a bed and breakfast, and a separate two-story apartment in a historical building located on the estate is also available for travellers.  The estate’s gardens are lovely, and the view of the vineyards and surrounding villages is breathtaking.

This part of Italy is called la Valpolicella, a hilly area within the Italian region of Veneto, long known for its wine production, and especially for the production of Amarone Classico, a prestigious Italian red wine with D.O.C.G. status (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), made from Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes.  Amaro means ‘bitter’ in Italian, but Amarone is far from bitter; instead it is a ruby red, full-bodied, dry rich wine, unquestionably one of our favorite Italian reds.  It earned its name to distinguish it from another, slightly sweeter local wine, Recioto.

Villa Monteleone produces five wines: a Valpolicella, a Ripasso, two Amarones, and a Recioto.  Each is excellent, but our favorite was unquestionably the Amarone della Valpolicella D.O.C. Classico Riserva Campo San Paolo.

Lucia’s story is both fascinating and inspiring.  She grew up in Bogotà Colombia, raised her children in Chicago together with her husband, the American pediatric neurosurgeon Anthony Raimondi, and then moved to la Valpolicella with him in the 1980s to make wine, an activity that Lucia oversees on her own today.  She is strong, yet sensitive to the history and traditions of the land and the people that have given us some of the world’s best wine.  She is a business woman, but she is also a passionate defender of authenticity and quality in Valpolicella Classico wines.

But she’s the best one to tell you her story, perhaps over lunch in her garden or with a glass of wine on the villa’s terrace during your, overlooking the vineyards of la Valpolicella during your stay at the Villa Monteleone Bed and Breakfast.

The Wineries of Northern Italy – Tretino-Alto Adige and Alois Lageder

After a week of fun in Rome, we borrowed Stefano’s brother Marco’s Toyota RAV4 and headed north, for a spectacular, 6-day tour of northern Italy.  Our itinerary included tours of 4 wineries, each distinct and unique from one another, but all 4 producers of some of Italy’s best wine, and excellent examples of Italian hospitality.

Our first stop was in Trentino-Alto Adige.  Located in the Dolomite mountains on the border with Austria, this region, also known as Trentino South Tyrol, is heavily influences by its Austrian-Hungarian roots.  We stayed in a tiny city called Cortaccia, located along a road called La strada del vino, or the road of wine.  Even though we were still in Italy, this area was culturally much more German than Italian; many people we encountered were bilingual, but at our hotel we had to resort to English on several occasions because the German-speaking staff did not speak Italian.

Cortaccia sulla strada del vino is located just south of Bolzano, in the Dolomite mountains in an area known as South Tyrol.

The German influence is evident in the architecture of Cortaccia.

Nonetheless,we were welcomed and well-treated at the Turmhotel Schwarz-Adler.  The morning view from the balcony off of our room was lovely, and the boys enjoyed the swimming pool with its view of the mountains in the distance.

The view from the balcony of our room at Turmhotel Schwarz Adler

Just down the winding mountain road from Cortaccia is a sleepy little town called Magrè.  One would never suspect that it is home to the Alois Lageder winery, a sophisticated wine production facility designed in accordance with sustainable and ecological building practices.

We arrived in Magrè and even though the village it tiny, had to ask a local where the winery was.  Nothing about the town suggests that it is home to such a modern production facility.  However, Paolo our host walked us through the archway into the Löwengang estate, and we discovered a beautiful wine-producing complex.  The office space has a remarkable ceiling system that allows sunlight and cool mountain air to penetrate the space.  Commissioned artwork fills the walls and the open spaces, the most notable a permanent exhibit of three large, square glass containers containing the soils and plants of the three primary microclimates that produce the grapes used to make Lageder wines.

Entering the Lageder wine production facility with our host, Paolo.

The roof of the Lageder office space lets in sunlight and the cool mountain breeze.

A living art exhibit captures the soils and plants from the three main microclimates.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Lageder winery is how the vinification facility was designed to leverage the force of gravity in the handling of the grapes, must and wine, to render the winemaking process as efficient, gentle and ecological as possible.  This was done through a 17-meter tall vinification tower located at the heart of our winemaking facilities.  Grapes are deposited into the top of the tower, and are cellared in free fall, with gravity pulling the must down into tanks below without the use of pumps or other mechanical transport systems.

Lageder vinification tower. Photo from http://www.aloislageder.eu/en/cellar

Two labels make up the portfolio of Lageder wines.  The Alois Lageder label includes wines made partly from grapes grown in Lageder biodynamically farmed vineyards, but predominantly from grapes purchased from local growers.  The Tenutæ Lageder wines are made entirely from grapes that are grown in the Lageder estate vineyards, which are all biodynamically farmed.  Lageder produces an unusually high number of wines, mostly whites such as Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, but their Pinot Nero is notable, as well.

At the end of our tour, Paolo guided us through a tasting of nearly 20 of those wines and came home with a 2009 LEHEN Sauvignon, a 2011 BETA DELTA Chardonnay – Pinot Grigio, a 2008 KRAFUSS Pinot Noir, and a 2000 COR RÖMIGBERG Cabernet Sauvignon that Paolo pulled out the Lageder cellar for us.

Magrè is home one of the 3-4 oldest vines in the world, dating back to the 1600s.

Read more about Due Spaghetti’s trip to Italy in our previous posts: Date Night in Rome, and Il Cinquino di Zio Marco and Ciao, Roma!, and  check out our Due Spaghetti Facebook page for more trip photos.

Pasta fredda al salmone e sedano (Smoked Salmon Pasta Salad)

It’s been a few weeks since we’ve posted a new recipe on Due Spaghetti.  The pace of summer is supposed to be slower and more relaxed, but June has been a whirlwind so far.  On a positive note, we are getting closer and closer to moving back into our house.  Our friend Tiet, a true artisan cabinetmaker, is almost done making our walnut kitchen cabinets, and they are beautiful.  The hardwood floors are in, and we’re picking out paint colors.  If all goes well, we will return from our July trip to Italy and move back in.

We are looking forward to that trip, to spending time with family and friends and to finally slowing down.  We’ll spend a week in Rome with Stefano’s family, celebrating the 3rd birthdays of our nephews Davide and Flavio, and catching up with our 8-year-old nephew Damiano.  Nonna Maria will have all 5 grandsons home at once, and the cousins will be happy to be together again.

We’ll spend the second week touring Northern Italy.  Our first stop will be Trentino, in South Tyrol along a road called the Strada del Vino  in the midst of vineyards and wineries.  The kids will stay with Nonna Maria and enjoy the pool at Schwarz Adler Turm Hotel, while we will tour the Alois Lageder winery.  The next day, we will travel down to Veneto and have lunch with Lucia from Villa Monteleone winery.

Next, we’ll head east towards Piemonte, and Barolo country.  We will stay at Albergo Castiglione, with its pool overlooking the vineyards of the Langhe countryside, and visit the winery of Paolo Saracco, producer of fine Moscato and Pinot Nero.  Finally, we’ll end our trip in the Cinque Terre, where we’ve rented a small apartment in Riomaggiore right near the sea, from Signora Edi Vesigna.

This weekend we made a summer pasta salad that reflects the the simplicity and the slow pace of the warm months.  Smoked salmon is the primary focus of this pasta salad. Chopped celery gives it a mild, cool flavor and lemon zest and juice provides a hint of summertime freshness.

Ingredients
1 box of Farfalle or any other short pasta
200 grams (7 ounces) smoked salmon
1 stalk of celery
Zest and juice of one lemon
1 handful of coarse salt
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Directions
Place a large pot of water over high heat to boil.  In a large bowl, break the smoked salmon into small pieces.  Chop the celery finely, and add it to the bowl with the salmon.  Add the zest and juice of one lemon, and set aside.

When the water boils, add a heaping handful of coarse salt to the water, and then the pasta.  Cook al dente according to the time on the package.  Drain the pasta and rinse it well under cold running water, mixing it with your hands until it is evenly cool.  Drain well.

Transfer the pasta into the bowl with the salmon mixture.  Stir in the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. The pasta salad is best when eaten right away.

Pasta fredda is the perfect summer time lunch or dinner.  Here is another Due Spaghetti pasta fredda recipe you might like.