Just One Street Over: A Cicchetti & Wine Tour of Venice

Venice really does sound like something out of a fantasy novel. It’s an historic city of small islands in the middle of a lagoon, a pattern of criss-crossing canals and labyrinthine streets. It is a city traversed only by foot or water. You might find Venice swollen with thousands of masked and costumed revellers, or perhaps with the supernatural tides of the acqua alta. Venice is art and music and elegant decay.

Venice is cicchetti, and Venice is wine.

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We met Elisabetta in Campo de la Maddalenna late in the morning along with three other couples eager for a taste of the real Venice. It was clear that Elisabetta was a character; she was perpetually smiling and had a vigorous affection for the city she called home. She promised to show us the side of Venice many travellers miss, imparting a simple philosophy: ‘just one street over’. Yes, the city might seem crowded and touristy to those on the well-worn sightseer’s path – but divert as little as one street over and oftentimes you’ll find yourself in a whole other Venice. 

With that we slipped into this other Venice: cool and quiet streets where Elisabetta revealed her font of local knowledge. She led us to the Grand Canal where we crossed standing in a traghetto – a gondola used by locals simply to cross the Grand Canal when there is no bridge nearby. On the other side was the Rialto Market and here we explored the inspiration for all great dishes in Venice. This is the place where Venetian chefs shop for fresh, local ingredients on a daily basis – except for Mondays, when the market is closed (and this, Elisabetta urged, is why you should never eat at a Venetian restaurant that serves seafood on a Monday). 

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Most of the day’s catch had long disappeared by the time we arrived, but a few stalls still glistened brightly with octopus and crab, squid and scallop. It was precisely this moment in which Mat and I knew that upon next visit to Venice we would most definitely be staying in an apartment with a very well-equipped kitchen. Outside, the produce section was vivid with colour: red radishes and purple plums and more sun-dried tomatoes I’d ever seen before.

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It was quickly time to delve into the part of the tour we’d all been most eager for. Again, Elisabetta led us away from the throng – and yet not so far at all – to the door of our very first bàcaro, a special type of wine bar indeed. Bàcari are the home of cicchetti, Venice’s answer to tapas or pintxos. 

Cicchetti is perhaps the heart of Venetian food culture. Cicchetti bars began popping up around the Rialto Markets as a place for Venice’s fishermen and market workers to finish their day’s work with a quick bite and a glass of wine – no matter that these customers would, of course, be finishing their day’s work still very much in the morning hours. And for this, cicchetti is traditionally a daytime offering, extending to early evening at the latest and often with a closed period during the afternoon. 

Elisabetta magicked us through four different bàcari, each with its own unique history and personality. The cicchetti came thick and fast: little deep-fried sandwiches, toothpicks pierced with cured meats and pickled vegetables, polenta and crusty breads topped with all manner of fresh, seasonal ingredients. The cod paste was a wonderfully surprising favourite. You see why we eased into bàcaro life so very comfortably. In these small, hole-in-the-wall bars our little group hovered happily, a piece of cicchetti in one hand and a glass of local wine in the other.

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By two o’clock we’d arrived at our final cicchetti bar, where a sparkling Raboso wine enchanted a stay far, far longer than anticipated. It is indeed the custom to hop from one bàcaro to the next, but it seems we found ourselves rather content to while away the rest of the afternoon in this one. Elisabetta eventually sang her goodbyes, but the cicchetti and wine did not stop flowing at all. I would certainly recommend not planning anything for the rest of your day should you partake in this tour. The lovely folk at this cicchetti bar took care of us very well.

It is a very special kind of bliss to slow down and explore an incredible place like Venice through its food, and even moreso to be guided by the hand of a kind, passionate local. To spend a day learning and eating and drinking our way through the city centre’s quiet little corners, Elisabetta at helm and flanked by fellow foodies from across the world – this was one of those beautiful, perfect travel days that makes my heart swell just to remember. If you have but one day to spare for Venice, honestly – find a way to squeeze this tour in. The cicchetti trail waits for you too. x

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DETAILS:

I booked this tour through Urban Adventures, a wonderful little company that runs day tours all over the world. I have been on several UA tours now (including one in my hometown!) and absolutely adore them.

The Cicchetti and Wine Tour of Venice runs twice a day: 11.30am for the morning tour and 5.15pm for the evening tour. Tour duration is 2.5 hours. The tour does not run on Sundays or during the low Winter season.

Cost of the tour is currently $108.34 (AUD) / $84.80 (USD). Believe me when I say it is worth every penny and more.

Raspberry & Innocent Bystander Moscato Sorbet

Last summer Mat introduced me to the wonderful world of homemade ice-cream. With the help of his little Sunbeam ice-cream machine, we happily snacked our way through flavours like chai choc-chip, peppermint, espresso choc-flake and cinnamon frozen yoghurt. Despite the soaring temperatures this year, however, we’ve been very lax in pulling out the ol’ Sunbeam bowl from the freezer. Well, no more! I’ve decided I’m determined to churn out some delicious new creations before the season ends. To kick-start it all off, Mat suggested a delicious twist on a Raspberry-Rosé Sorbet favourite from last summer – and so it was. Introducing: the Raspberry-Moscato Sorbet, using our much-beloved Innocent Bystander Moscato.

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David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop is a veritable bible for home-made ice-cream makers, and his Raspberry-Rosé Sorbet was a smash hit in our line-up last summer. The whole thing became particularly memorable when I Instagrammed the latest batch one night and the man himself chipped in with his endorsement:

 

 

On the other hand, this year Innocent Bystander’s famous moscato has become a delightfully refreshing go-to for hot summer nights. If you’re ever in Healesville in the Yarra Valley, you seriously must go to the Innocent Bystander winery and restaurant. It’s a big, beautiful warehouse-style dining hall that feels industrial yet wonderfully warm and cosy – and most importantly, the food and wine is stunning. We visited again over the New Year’s period and finished off a night of indulgence with a glass of the signature moscato – and so the love affair began. It’s sweet (but not so much to set the teeth on edge) and smooth and packs a candy pink punch – and incorporating it into a favourite sorbet recipe was an exciting prospect indeed.

I actually ended up using Lebovitz’s Raspberry-Champagne recipe – it’s very similar, but makes a smaller batch and includes a little water. Being a bubbly wine, I thought the usage of moscato might need to follow this method too. I could be wrong, but I was very happy with the results – so I suppose that’s all that matters! Lebovitz actually encourages experimentation with the sparkling wine used in this recipe – so definitely have a go at subbing in your own favourite bubbly!

This Raspberry-Moscato Sorbet is an excellent expression of Innocent Bystander Moscato – wonderfully fresh and sweet, with a little hint of tartness that tickles the whole mouth.

Raspberry & Innocent Bystander Moscato Sorbet
Adapted from: David Lebovitz’s ‘Raspberry-Champagne Sorbet’, The Perfect Scoop

during

Makes approx. 500ml (about 3 little bowls of sorbet). Cup measurements according to American standards.

  • 310ml (1 1/4 cups) Innocent Bystander Moscato
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) water
  • 100g (1/2 cup) sugar
  • 220g (2 cups) raspberries, fresh or frozen (I used frozen!)
  1. Add the moscato, water and sugar to a medium, nonreactive saucepan (I used a stainless steel Scanpan saucepan; anything made of stainless steel or lined with stainless steel is fine!). Bring to a boil.
  2. Remove from heat and add the raspberries to the mixture. Cover saucepan with lid and let sit for at least 10 minutes. This allows the raspberries to soften so that you can…
  3. Pour the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl. Use a flexible spatula to press the raspberries through the sieve. This is my favourite part! Keep at it until you’ve pressed through as much juice as you can. Discard the pink lumpy mass of seeds left behind. Give the mixture a little stir to make sure everything is combined well.
  4. Cover the mixture and pop into the fridge until chilled. I left mine for a couple of hours.
  5. Freeze the chilled mixture in your ice-cream machine as per instructions. I use a basic freezer-bowl Sunbeam Snowy machine, and churned the mixture for a good 20 minutes. Because of the alcohol content, it takes on more of a slushie-like consistency – so don’t be too worried if it doesn’t look like it’s freezing enough in this type of machine! It will firm up in the freezer.
  6. Pour sorbet into a container, close and pop into the freezer. I left mine to freeze overnight – though if you’re super keen I’m sure a few hours would do!
  7. Before serving, take out of freezer and let stand for 5-10 minutes (depending on how long it’s been in freezer). Home-made ice-cream and sorbet generally appears to set quite hard, but it softens up quickly and still has an amazing texture.
  8. Enjoy!

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Innocent Bystander Winery on Urbanspoon

Soumah of Yarra Valley

Discovering the magic of the Yarra Valley was a big highlight of 2013. After an incredible all-day wine tour with Vinetrekker in February, Mat and I found ourselves drawn back time and time again. It’s easy to forget just how close it is – but from Parkville it’s often less than an hour’s drive before the sprawling green vineyards make the big city feel a world away. We recently took the opportunity to spend some time in the Yarra Valley over the New Year period to relax and see in 2014 with our good friends, Food and Wine.

A visit to the Soumah cellar door was recommended to us by Ozzie, one half of a delightful duo that helm Tuck Inn – a gorgeous bed and breakfast in Healesville of which I cannot speak highly enough. Ever eager to make their guests’ stay in Healesville an enjoyable one, Donia and Ozzie are a wealth of knowledge on the area and love to give recommendations and advice on how best to make use of any time in the Yarra Valley. Small and no-fuss, Soumah sounded like the perfect place to begin a lazy day amongst the vines.

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Soumah is located less than ten minutes’ drive from Healesville in the town area of Gruyere. We arrived just before midday and will freely admit to the excitement of finding the place to ourselves!

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The Soumah brand was launched in 2010, and takes on the cool climate of the Yarra Valley with a Northern Italian varietal twist. The winery’s pride at the moment seems to be the award-winning ‘Savarro’ – a white wine made from Savagnin grapes with an interesting story behind its name. As the lovely lady taking us through our wine tasting told, apparently Australian grape farmers and winemakers mistook the Savagnin Blanc grape as another variety, the Albarino, for years! Only recently has it come to light that most ‘Albarino’ vineyards are in fact Savagnin Blanc. The Savarro name gives a nod to both varieties. To be honest I’d not heard of or tasted either – but the 2012 Savarro we tried was a really pleasant change from some other Yarra Valley whites we’d tasted. We ended up buying a couple of bottles ($26 ea.) and some surprisingly delicious Chardonnay cleanskins ($15 ea.) as well.

The cellar door tasting consisted of a generous eight or nine wines, and is free of charge for groups under six. As the only visitors at the time, we were really able to take our time tasting each wine and listen to the story behind each. In the end we picked a glass each of the 2012 Pinot Noir ($10 ea.) and set up on the outdoor seating area with an Italian cheese board of Black Truffle Pecorino, Buffalo Parmigiano, quince jelly, fruit, nuts and lavosh ($18).

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The vineyard view from the outdoor seating area was beautiful, and can definitely still be enjoyed in cooler months from the rear indoor seating area (there’s even a wonderful wood fire for winter visitors!). It certainly depends on what you’re looking for when choosing which wineries to visit in the Yarra Valley, but the quiet, relaxing atmosphere of Soumah is something we really loved. If that sounds like your style – or the Domaine Chandons and Yering Stations of the ‘Valley have simply got you a bit worn out – I’d definitely recommend a trip.

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Soumah of Yarra Valley | 18 Hexham Road, Gruyere, VIC 3770
http://soumah.com.au/
Open | Mon – Fri : 11:00am – 4:00pm, Sat – Sun : 10:00am – 5:00pm

Soumah of Yarra Valley on Urbanspoon

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