December is not usually the time to head back to the continent and start dipping into wine regions. There's normally far too much festive madness in the air to spare the time. But, a charming invitation to escape landed from Sutdio Cru in Vicenza - a few days to discover the ethos behind Vin Natur, as well as take a peak at how Bardolino is trying to shake off its reputation for cheap drinking wines. Needless to say, a gap opened up in my schedule.
Checking into Locanda ai Capitelli, a charming boutique hotel on the edge of Soave, I settled down to prepare my schedule over some local dishes. In these situations I love to choose a random wine from the menu; you can learn a lot from the entry level restaurant wines.
In the morning I was reminded of the season as it took several minutes to unfreeze the car but under a glorious morning sunshine it gave me a few moments to take in the views. Soave is a village completely dedicated to the vine and wherever you look you feel steeped in wine culture.
Determined to put my hire car through its paces, I was on the road early and heading to Azienda Agricola Inama, one of the key names leading the charge against the kind of generic bulk wine that has massacred Soave's international reputation to such an extent. Inama are known for their gradual acquisition of single vineyards in the hills of the Soave Classico area. One of their smart moves was to plant Sauvignon Blanc around the village of Foscarino. The results were excellent and the idea proved the point that high quality wine could be made in the Soave territory.
Inama are now up to half a million bottles a year, so not so small anymore, but nevertheless their wines are up there with the best in the region. In recent years they've also expanded into the Colli Berici area just to the east. In these rolling hills Merlot and Carmenere ripen nicely to create soft, jammy wines that (at the moment) offer fantastic value for money.
My good friend Fabio Mecca (Basilicata's most up and coming winemakers) put me in touch with the guys at Tomassi. As dusk fell myself and local wine personality Magda Bevari rolled into the car park for a freezing cold look at this historic estate.
The cellar was impressive. Although not particularly pretty, it was clearly one that had seen many many years of everyday commercial use. The history was tangible.
There was time to finish off the day with some wonderful food at Tomassi's restaurant in the heart of Verona.