Thursday, May 11: Bob and Maureen Josefchak picked us up to drive to Toronto Airport for our 7: 40pm flight to Venice. On arrival, we mounted our coach to drive to Trieste, capital of Friuli Venezia Giulia, a distance of some 150 km. We checked in to the 5-star boutique Grand Hotel Duchi d’Aosta, a Relais & Châteaux member property, ideally situated on Trieste’s most beautiful square, Piazza Unità d’Italia.
Those of us who didn’t opt for a nap took a walking tour of the city, which included a visit to one of Trieste’s oldest and most famous restaurants, Caffe Tommaseo, and a close-up and personal visit with the life-size statue of James Joyce on the bridge with a brass plaque inscribed with a quote from a letter to his wife Flora written in October 1909, “…la mia anima è a Trieste” (“My soul is in Trieste”). Joyce spent a number of years between 1904 and 1915 as an English teacher in Trieste. His statue, by a local sculptor, was placed there in 2004 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Joyce’s arrival in the city. There is even a James Joyce Café and a James Joyce hotel in Trieste.
Stephen Pauwels and I ducked into a local wine shop, Enoteca Bischoff – which is a must for anyone who cares about wine (21 Via Giuseppe Mazzini). We checked on wines that we would taste the day after tomorrow in our hotel.
Our 24-strong group gathered for a welcome glass of Renato Keber Grici Chardonnay 2003 before dining at Trattoria Ai Fiori. Evening’s wines: Nicos Vigna Romano Prosecco Valdobbiadene, Dom Jurosa Blanc de Blancs, Kante Metodo Classico Dosaggio Zero, Zidarich Prulke Malvasia 2020, Vodopivec Vitovska 2018, Canus Pignolo 2015, ending with a Storica Nera Grappa. A plaque of the founder of the restaurant, I was told, resembled me.
Friday, May 12: My birthday.
After breakfast, we bussed the 50-minute drive to Cantina Jermann in Ruttars. Silvio Jermann created the iconic Vintage Tunina here in 1975 when he was only 21 years old – a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia and Picolit. In addition, his Venezia-Giulia Where Dreams Have No End, an oaked Chardonnay. Here we tasted Jermann Vinnae Ribolla Gialla 2022, Chardonnay 2022, Vintage Tunina, and Red Angel on the Moonlight Pinot Nero.
Lunch at a regional institution, La Subida. This family-owned restaurant holds a 1-star rating in the Michelin Guide, which notes the restaurant “is perfect for anyone keen to sample authentic, traditional Friuli cuisine.”
When we walked in, a mechanical device was mixing the polenta over an open fire.
The Dandelion and the Egg. A pleasantly crunch bite filled with dandelion, in the yellow of the egg. Golden onion rings.
The Trilogy of Silene. The freshness of pesto, the crunchy leaves and the tortello filled with ricotta.
“Girini”, the Crumbs of Dropped Pasta. The first sprouts of the blooming fields, the rabbit and the edible flowers.
The Rabbit wrapped in the sweet Lardo of the D’Osvaldo family, with a leaf of wild garlic. Rabbit bites, grilled with asparagus and a mayonnaise perfumed with wild garlic.
The Sorbet and the Vinegar of the Sirk family.
The Deer, the Trout and the Pistachio. Venison fillet seared on the grill, pink on the inside, per our tradition. The eggs of the trout and the nutty flavour of pistachio.
It’s Time for Apples. Different textures of the apple. The scent of cinnamon, trout eggs and the acidic touch of kefir.
- Pie di Mont Sfacciato Extra Brut 2017
- Borgo del Tiglio Collio Malvasia Selezione Ital e Bruno 2021
- Ronco del Gnemiz Colli Orientali Sauvignon Iris 2021 (my favourite Sauvignon of the trip)
- Dorigo Collio Orientali Rosso Montscaplade 2005
- Livio Felluga Colli Orientali Picolit 2017
Saturday, May 13: Morning guided walking tour of central Trieste, arguably the most cosmopolitan and multicultural city in Italy, starting in the Piazza Unità d’Italia and including the Grand Canal, Roman Theatre and neighbouring streets of the old town and waterfront. The latter part of the tour involved a short bus ride along the waterfront to Castello di Miramare, a stunning seaside château and park that used to be the residence of Habsburg crown prince Ferdinand Maximillian.
Some of us lunched at Eataly on the sea front. I had a seafood pasta with
CàMaiol Roseri Valtènesi Chiaretto 2022 and Bastianich Vini Orsone Friulano 2021.
We walked back to the hotel in time for a tasting of wines we had purchased at Enoteca Bischoff: Branko Ribolla Gialla 2022, Kante Carso Vitovska 2020, San Pietro I Clivi 2021, Miani Bianco 2021 (the highlight of the trip!) and Ronco delle Betulle Pignolo.
A group dinner this evening in our hotel’s Harry’s Piccolo restaurant – one of only two restaurants in Friuli to be awarded 2 Michelin stars.
Sunday, May 14: Post-breakfast departure towards our destination for the following three days: Croatia’s Istrian peninsula (passing through a small strip of Slovenia en route). Our base for the next three days is the stunningly picturesque coastal resort of Rovinj (100 km from Trieste) and the newly refurbished 5-star Grand Park Hotel Rovinj, set on the waterfront a short walk to the town centre. We relaxed while we waited for our rooms to be ready with a glass of Coronica CO Due Sparkling Wine.
We checked out the truffle market on our way to lunch at Puntulina restaurant, which serves fabulous local cuisine from a picture-perfect waterfront setting in the old town.
We learned about the history of Rovinj on a walking tour with our highly entertaining local guide, Goran Cvek.
Monday, May 15: Our visit this morning was to the multi-generational family-run winery Coronica, whose vineyards are situated on Istria’s famous Terra Rossa (iron rich red soil), conducive to the production of profound red wines from the Teran varietal. Lunch followed at Konoba Stari Podrun (“konoba” in Croatian means “tavern” or “wine cellar”). Menu: plate of prosciutto, salami and olives; pasta with truffles; beef; three desserts. The wines: Bastianich Malvazija Istarka 2022, Santa Elena Ipsa 2022 (Merlot/Refosco).
After lunch, a boat trip around the bay off Rovinj to spot dolphins. It was captained by a guy who looked like a pirate. He offered us a grappa flavoured with honey, which most of us tossed overboard and drank instead magnums of Coronica CO Due Sparkling.
Deborah and I picked up dinner at a local supermarket and opened a bottle of Vie de Romans Vieris Sauvignon Blanc 2020 and a cheese and prosciutto bun.
Tuesday, May 16: In addition to wine and truffles, another celebrated culinary product of Istria is olive oil. Rich and spicy, and arguably on par with any made in Italy, olive oil production in Istria is ubiquitous. This morning we travelled south along the coast (25 km) to the beautiful Relais & Châteaux member Meneghetti Wine Estate, where we learned about their olive oils, which have been rated among the best in the world by the Flos Olei Guide. We sampled four different oils over lunch at the estate’s fabulous restaurant and enjoyed Meneghetti’s own estate wines: Meneghetti Malvazija 2021, Meneghetti Red 2015 (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc), finishing with the dessert wine, Kabola Muskat Momjanski 2021.
We saw the sculptor Arne Quinze, the Belgian conceptual artist, oversee the placing of one of his new works in the garden of the restaurant.
After lunch we travelled 20 km south towards the town of Pula to visit Croatia’s best-preserved ancient monument, the magnificent Pula Arena – the world’s sixth-largest surviving Roman arena and the only one to have its complete circuit of walls still intact.
Wednesday, May 17: Following hotel checkout, our final winery visit of the tour this morning was Kozlović, widely recognized as one of the leading wineries in Croatia. The Kozlović family has been producing wines in the Valle valley since 1904. Today, the winery is supervised and run by its fourth generation – Gianfranco and Antonella, who took over the business in 1998. Kozlović has been a pioneer in the production of Malvazija Istarska, for which it has won an award for the best white wine in Croatia and has twice in recent years won a Decanter Platinum Award for their premium Malvazijas. Here was tasted three Kozlović Malvazijas and two Kozlović Taran 2021 and 2016 and Kozlović Muškat Momjanski 2021.
We had our farewell lunch at Morgan Restaurant.
Aperitif wine Pjenusavo Vino Villa Oro d’Istria Brut, Bastian Rosé 2021 followed by Krauthaker Zelenac 2018 (amazing Sauternes-like wine with the foie gras) and Veralda San Giovanni Cuvée 2018. Celeriac soup with celery and apple, three different ravioli pastas, followed by rack of lamb and then dessert.
After lunch, a 180 km return trip to Italy and our hotel for the final night of the tour, the elegant 5-star Almar Jesolo Resort, situated on the Adriatic coastline immediately east of Venice. We held a tasting of Livio Felluga wines in the hotel: Livio Felluga Ribolla Gialla 2021, Pinot Grigio 2021 and Friulano 2021.
Thursday, May 18: Morning check out and departure for Venice airport (30 km) for the flight back to Toronto.
(Special thanks to Tanya Schmitt of Croatia Unpacked, whose unparalleled knowledge of the food and wine culture of Croatia helped to curate an unforgettable experience for our group. See Tanya’s website at www.croatiaunpacked.com.)