It took my dad literally seconds to decide where he would like to spend his 65th birthday weekend; it didn’t take him very much longer to rustle up a few Ryanair tickets and to book a hire car. Eventually the weekend rolled around and we hopped on a plane to Bergamo before following the autostrada right into the heart of the Valpolicella region. You can take it as read that we ate in a suitably memorable fashion – nothing overly elaborate or creative, but everything was the finest that the area had to offer, prepared simply and elegantly, cooked to perfection.
Equally unsurprisingly, the accompanying wines were not too bad either. I wasn’t especially adventurous in my vinous choices, preferring to stick with firm favourites instead of taking a gamble on unknown labels. Plus I wanted to order wines that I knew dad would order if he hadn’t decided to leave me in charge of the wine lists. We’re already familiar with many of Valpolicella’s finest, and with most of the better bottles (read: “those we wanted to drink”) of Amarone priced at €200+, the esoteric yet typical wines of Zýmē featured heavily on our tables.
Col Vetoraz, Prosecco Extra Brut
I’m not going to describe all we consumed in case you think I’m gloating, but our first night’s meal really stood out even amongst it’s peers. On our first night we ate and stayed at Trattoria Dalla Rosa Alda, before relocating to two other valleys for the second and third nights. Things began very well, with a couple of bottles of Col Vetoraz Extra Brut Prosecco drunk with homemade grissini under a trellis of vines in the evening sunshine. A sweeter, softer style, its fine bead and creamy mousse perfectly complemented the stone fruit, pear, apple and white blossom flavours.
Dinner began with a selection of tiny antipasti bites which, lovely as they were, only made us realise just how hungry we all were. Il primo piatto quickly evolved into i primi piatti, as it was suggested that we all try two of the restaurant’s own specialities: Tagliatelle Embogoté, tagliatelle dressed with a borlotti bean sauce, followed by a taste of a risotto flavoured with local wild asparagus. Both were spectacular. We drank Zýmē’s 2010 From Black To White Il Bianco (13% ABV) with both of these dishes and it paired them beautifully. An unusual wine, made predominantly from a white mutation of the black grape Rondinella (60%), blended with Golden Traminer (15%), Kerner (15%) and Incrocio Manzoni (10%). White fruits and flowers, a hint of grapefruit; full, rich and zesty with a touch of pithiness to the finish. Not hugely complex, but an absolute delight.
Most people plumped for the Amarone-marinated grilled beef for their secondi piatti, but, as nice as this dish is, I can make it at home. My mum and I plumped for a local speciality: Pastissada De Caval, horse meat braised in red wine and served with polenta. And what a choice it was. Beautifully tender, slightly gamier than beef, coated in a rich red wine sauce and served with the most phenomenal polenta I have ever tasted. Served quite a lot wetter than I make my mine, this was old school, long cooking polenta that tasted so fresh it had a vanilla scented sweetcorn flavour that blew my mind. I love it when such a nominally simple dish transcends even the highest expectations you might have had for it.
Zýmē’s From Black To White Il Bianco 2010 (l) and Oz Oseleta 2007 (r)
A second wine from the stellar Celestino Gaspari worked like a charm with all of our main courses: Zýmē’s 2007 Oz (13.5% ABV, 100% Oseleta). Oseleta is an old grape variety, native to the Valpolicella area, but it is only in the past fifteen years or so that any vineyard area has been specifically devoted to growing it. Its rustic character and firm structure mean that it is often blended with other grapes, reminiscent of Mourvèdre in France, but Zýmē manages to tame it a little with plenty of oxygenation during its maturation and with twenty four months in a combination of second fill (70%) and new oak (30%) barriques.
The wine was a purple tinged, deep ruby colour which had a cocoa, black fruit, savoury/meaty nose with a salty twang – if something can smell salty. The palate was dry, with plenty of fine grained yet quite firm tannins whose slight bitterness worked nicely with the cocoa, bramble fruit and meaty flavours. A real food wine, but long, graceful and not at all overblown or over extracted. Leanne described this as a “furry” wine, and I know exactly what she meant. I’ve loved this wine ever since I first tasted it out of a cask at Celestino’s winery some years ago and I’m very happy to report that my opinion was not at all altered this time around.
As is my wont, and my waistline, I passed on dessert but the cherry semifreddo and the Pissotta (an olive oil cake that is the specialita della casa) were demolished at various points around the table and both tasted wonderful. Last but not least, we moved on to an espresso or two and a little grappa to help everything settle. I had given the old man a selection of Distilleria Gualco’s grappas for his birthday, and he very kindly brought a bottle of the Moscato-based Rubinia along: needless to say the advantages of a restaurant with rooms were soon very apparent as we gradually drifted our way off to bed, grinning and replete.