Thursday, February 24, 2011


As we continue to tear pages from our calendar, we welcome our new readers - thanks and welcome to both of you! You are joining an elite fraternity of people dedicated to the enjoyment of all things Italian. And when I say elite, I mean dozens!

We are well into our second week of our five week journey in Italy, enjoying our final day in the Collio wine zone of northeast Italy's Friuli region. It has been a wonderful introduction to the area, and we are already turning over ideas in our heads on how to get back here as soon and as often as possible.

The lifestyle of this region, as we have been able to perceive it during our too brief visit here, seems perfectly adapted for this territory's particular unique characteristics, and it has worn well with us over the past five days. Our focus has been, naturally, on food and wine, which this area is well suited to showcase. We came here to learn about and enjoy the great white wines that this region is known for and we have not been disappointed. Every day and at every meal - lunch, dinner, breakfast - we have been overwhelmed by eye opening new sensations - taste, smell and sight - that these truly remarkable wines provide. But it has become clear to us that these incredible success stories are not accidental or simply inevatible given the climate, soil and sun, but rather are the result of an intentional philosophy of minimalism practiced by the great winemakers of this region, a philosophy that seems perfectly in tune with the region. Winemakers here, both big and small, are confident in letting the grape determine the wine, not overly interfering with nature in the field or in the winery, paring back human intervention to that which is absolutely necessary and working tirelessly and efficiently to do all that is possible to ensure success.

Yes, at the risk of oversimplifying and overstating, our great personal discovery over the past several days comes down to this - this seems to be a region where there is great respect for nature, a strong work ethic and a sense of serenity and confidence that one's efforts, if made with a conviction borne of thoughtful contemplation will be justly rewarded. Or that such honest efforts are a reward in themselves.

In this way, our journey of wine discovery may have taught us much not just about the wine of this region, but about the people and the place itself. And that same spirit of adapting to and harnassing the very best that the land provides, is a hallmark of the character that we have seen in Italians in every region of this country that we have visited and which provides such a wonderful tapestry of regional difference, that is bound together by this principal of terroir.

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Piazza Unita d'Italia in Trieste
Having spent four days driving in the compact and accessible countryside of the Collio, we decided to go see the coast and to eat some seafood. So off we went on an hour long drive to one of Italy's largest seaports - Trieste.

Trieste has a complex and interesting history and, like much of the areas we have visited in northern Italy on this trip, Trieste is a border city that has changed nationalities numerous times times and where many cultures mingle freely. Border crossings into Slovenia are found all along the route to Trieste and road signs announce towns, exits and points of interest in both Italian and Slovene. That Slavic influence is felt throughout Friuli and can be seen in the names of the Collio's wine producers - Branko, Russiz, Radikon, Picech, Gravner - in place of the more prototypical Italian Antinori, Banfi, Tabarrini.

But the most jarring impression of Trieste is just how big it is. Like other Mediterranean mega portopolises (my word) such as Marseilles or Genoa, it is a sprawling city that takes a half hour or more to span. Much of it is grimy and industrial, with cranes and towers darkening the skyline, smoke belching from the loading and unloading of cargo that is the city's lifeblood. Like Marseilles and Genoa, Trieste too has some, if not many, rough neighborhoods and in our short visit here we were glared at by a few locals who sent shivers down our spines. We also stumbled into a caffe that looked and smelled like it probably was a den for some illegal drug trade (the coffee wasn't very good either).

But our too brief visit brought us to two lovely spots, ones which we would gladly return to any time, the suburban fishing village of Muggia and Trieste's main piazza, the Piazza Unita d'Italia.

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On the waterfront in Muggia
Our first stop was actually the main reason for our visit to Trieste - lunch in Muggia, a quiet fishing town just on the outskirts past Trieste. Here, along the Adriatic coast, just across the Gulf of Trieste from the port town itself, Muggia is a quieter version of Trieste. Our destination was the trattoria Risorta, a nondescript looking building from the outside with an unremarkable interior as well. But what arrived on our plates for the next hour and a half (as well as what kept disappearing from our wine glasses) made the extra twenty minute drive well worthwhile.

By now, I am sure our reader(s) are getting either used to or bored by my food descriptions and my (perhaps) overzealous enthusiasm for every course. But let me assure you that this is no false emotion. The food is really as good as I describe and that was definitely the case at Risorta. We started out our meal sharing a plate of pesce crudo - raw seafood - which is as well described by the photo as it could be with words. Several different types of shrimp - gamberi, scampi - lightly tossed in a light olive oil,their soft, delicate texture and subtle, not fishy, flavor an absolute delight. Strips of raw branzino, slightly chewy and creamy. And the ginger slices, tangy, yet understated, at once crunchy but moistened by some slightly acidic ingredient (vinegar?). What a great way to get the palate ready for what followed.

And what followed was two pastas, a traditional spaghetti with vongole verace (little clams), the salty, fishy taste of the clams completely infused in the velvety softness of the pasta and a tortelle stuffed with pureed roasted leek and topped with large chunks of roasted lobster in a surprisingly compatible brown sauce that reminded one of a beef broth. The effect of the leek puree with the sweet lobster and the broth was nothing short of sensational.

All of this was, meanwhile, being washed down with the most beautiful floral Friuilano wine (the one formerly known as Tokai), a pretty yellow wine with a strong acidic bite that literally did wash down the food, after first fusing with and enveloping it.

Trattoria Risorta
The final delight - a plate of fritto misto, an assortment of crustaceans and tentacled creatures fried in the lightest and most delicate batters imaginable. Among these treats were, we think, an oyster or two, which sent off shivers of delight.

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Inside Caffe degli Specchi
After lunch we took a brisk walk through Muggia's streets, stopping off at the meth den for a cup of coffee and then for the short drive back to Trieste. Our objective was to get at least a brief glimpse at the historic center of this sprawling city and to enjoy some coffee at a couple of the city's famous coffee houses. This town, which is the home of Illy coffee and, with its position as a gateway to central Europe and the orient, was one of the first place where coffee was introduced to the west, and today it is home to some of the oldest and most well known coffee houses in Italy. We soaked in the atmosphere at two of them - the Caffe degli Specchi, overlooking the Piazza Unita since 1839 and the nearby Caffe Tommaseo, which has been in operation since 1830. Both reeked of history and atmosphere (unlike the meth lab coffee house in Muggia, which simply reeked) and the delicious strudel we had at Tommaseo fortified us for our return drive to Capriva del Friuli.

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Today, our last full day in Friuli is being dedicated to (you guessed it) food and wine. We'll fill you in tomorrow before heading just an hour and a half down the road to Treviso, our stopping off point for a couple of days before taking in Carnevale in Venice.

Stay tuned. Both of you.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

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