I left for the airport around 5:30am with a plethora of emotions. I have always wanted to go to Italy and the fact that the SOMM Foundation and the Italian Wine Consortium selected me to go on this all-expenses-paid trip was overwhelmingly euphoric. I kissed my dear husband goodbye and headed for the gate. It was there that I met Wednesday, one of my new colleagues also from Phoenix, Arizona. It turns out she is the Sommelier at the Talking Stick Resort and Casino’s Orange Sky restaurant located on the 15th floor. I have had the pleasure of dining at Orange Sky albeit it was a few years back and I am quite sure it wasn’t on a Wednesday. Still, since only 10 of us were chosen to go on this trip I’ll say it is a small world.
Our first layover was at Washington Dulles International Airport. We had just enough time for a few sips of alcohol and a quick hello with Marcella, another colleague that was accompanying us from Torrey Pines in San Diego. The next leg took us to Frankfurt Airport in Germany. We made good time and ran to the gate headed to Verona.
A driver was waiting to take us to Hotel Verona. Jaime, another colleague of Spruce in San Francisco joined us there as well. We were greeted by our tour guide Faye at the hotel and decided to take a stroll since our rooms weren’t quite ready. We had our first of many cappuccinos at an adorable little café called Dolce Locanda Pasticceria located on the cobblestone streets of Verona. Thereafter, posse avere un cappuccino porta via were the first words out of my mouth every day. Most everyone spoke English but I wanted to put forth the effort. We walked the quaint streets and observed the monuments of the Della Scala family, the notable family that ruled Verona in the 13th and 14th centuries. There is so much history here, but I must admit the simple side of me got butterflies at the sight of Juliet’s balcony. The stable was once owned by the Dal Cappello family and the house is open to tours. There is a huge bronze statue of Juliet in front of the house. Men are encouraged to touch her breast in hopes of good luck in love. I am willing to bet many men get a strange kind of thrill from the act. I, however, did join others in writing my love’s name on a piece of paper and sticking it to the wall with gum. I guess it’s the little pleasures in life.
We checked into our rooms, regrouped, and got ready for lunch. Faye took us to Ristorante Olivo Pizzeria where we sat on the patio and took in the scenes of life in Verona. Surprisingly my first drink in Verona was not red wine. Anyone that knows me would never place that bet. I ordered an Aperol Spritz, an aperitif made with Aperol, Prosecco, and Seltzer. Aperol is made of bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb, and cinchona among other ingredients. It was a very refreshing cocktail and its popularity among the Italian people was quite evident. I knew my first meal in Italy had to include some sort of pasta. It’s not something I allow myself to indulge in very often at home. Marcella and I decided to split a few things on the delectable menu. We started with the Mediterranea con polpo, patate e sedano in pinzimonioal pepe rosa. Translation, a salad with boiled Octopus, potatoes, celery, lemon sauce, and pink peppers. Then came the pasta. We ordered the Bigoli alla carbonara con guanciale di maiale e pepe nero. Translation, Bigoli pasta carbonara style with bacon from the pig’s cheek and black pepper. I don’t know if everything tasted so wonderful because I was tasting it in Italy or if it was truly that good, but I can tell you that I really don’t care to make sense of it. My meal was beyond words.
After lunch, Marcella and I decided to grab a glass of wine at Antica Bottega del Vino. A beautiful Amarone Valpolicella seemed appropriate. This was a great, busy little local hangout with a wine list the size of the bible. We went back to the room for a quick nap and met the rest of our colleagues in the lobby before dinner. Say hi to Goran from Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, Sam from Eataly in Chicago (whose striking resemblance to a buddy of mine made him endearing to me) Max from New York, Jordan from The Nomad Hotel in New York, Erik from The Little Nell in Colorado, and 22 year old George from Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta, who’s luggage did not arrive with him yet nobody would have guessed it by his sprightly personality. We didn’t know it yet but we would all miss his infectious laugh.
Dinner was at le Cantine de l’arena in the city of Verona. We walked over and ordered 3 meters of various pizzas and beers. Yes, I said 3 meters and yes, I said beer. We ordered a Bavarian beer called Marzen, or March. Jordan informed me that this is beer made in March, the last practical month for brewing. It is stored and consumed when mature in summer, fall, and beyond. Was it strange to learn something about Bavaria, a country nearly 500 miles from Italy, and beer on a wine trip? Maybe, but I love learning about different cultures so I just rolled with it. We ended dinner with a shot of Fernet, an Italian amaro, made from a number of herbs and spices which vary according to the brand, but usually include myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and saffron, with a base of grape distilled spirits, and colored with caramel coloring. Little did I know this was going to be a nightly trend. The amount of food we were about to consume this week definitely steered our attention toward a digestif before bed.
After dinner, Wednesday and I went to a charming little spot called Signorvino and shared a bottle of 2010 Amarone Della Valpolicella Case Vecie. Once again, I am not sure if this chocolate-covered raisin-like beauty of wine was so divine because it was my final glass on my first day in Italy but non mi importa. Posso avere un altro bicchiere di vino?