At a Castle, In a Bunker, Listening to Opera, in the Footsteps of Casanova, Castello Spessa, Collio

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Walking the sprawling grounds of Castello Spessa, in Capriva del Friuli, Collio , I was immediately drawn to the path winding through the woods surrounding the castle. There is something about a path, a sense that there is something worth seeing at the end. Perhaps, it is the fear of missing out that lures people down a path.  A path says there is something to go to, to see.  Castello Spessa is very old, it dates back centuries. Many feet across the years had trod these grounds. Soldiers had come through this peaceful, beautiful place, as I would see later as I toured the deep wine cellar, previously a bunker.  The shade, the woods and plaques lining the paths, sparked my curiosity and drew me in, as I walked with a glass of cool, crisp, friulano to one of the plaques standing among the trees.

Today, the Castello is a sprawling resort, owned by the Pali family since 1987,  encompassing vineyards, a winery, a golf club, restaurants and a hotel.

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The plaques contained quotes from the famous writer, adventurer and lover, Giacomo Casanova , who stayed at the castle, then owned by his friend, Count Luigi Tomani in 1773.  Casanova, a prolific writer, was constantly getting himself into “situations” with women, and his visit to Spessa, occurred during one of those times that he was banned from Venice. Even back then, Casanova noted that the white wines from the vineyards surrounding the castle were quite good. Casanova knew his women but he also relished good food and wine. The current owners of Castello Spessa honor the literary history of the place and use it as a center to recognize literary excellence.

I was there on a media trip as part of the  Enjoy Collio Experience and this was the final night celebrating the achievements of the region but I am still thinking about the food and wine.

Collio is one of the main legs of the ham (prosciutto) highway and I am not a huge pork eater but the ham served at this reception with the traditional grated cren (horseradish) was one of those items, I would put on a list for my last meal on earth.

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Smoked ham by the Dentesano Family

The slice was a beautiful pink color, the outside showed the bread crust and rind, the taste was sweet, delicate and slightly smoked. No milk derivatives, polyphosphates, flavor enhancers were used in the process. Everything is done by hand. This style of ham is typical around the area of Trieste. The Dentesano family sources the meat from local farmers. When you visit this area, you must seek out one of these hams.  The pairing of the crisp white wines with the slightly salty, smoky, moist ham, from being encased in bread, was a pairing for the books. It basically is the caviar of pork. The aged prosciutto was just as good. You could design a trip to the area just focused on the many styles and types of ham. It basically is ham like no other. No wonder Casanova wanted to hang out in Collio for a year. The climate, sea and mountains so close to one another, the foothills, creates an environment, where animals and produce thrive and have thrived over the centuries despite all the wars.

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I can’t omit the Montasio PDO, raw, unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese.

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So as the sun set and we celebrated the achievements of winemakers, writers and businesspeople, we headed into the gala dinner.

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But wait!!! Before sitting down, the current owner, Loretto Pali, gave us a tour of the 2 wine cellars. The upper cellar dates back to medieval times. The second cellar built in 1939 and 18 meters deep was occupied by the Germans and then the Americans during WWII. The cellars now house Pali’s extensive library of wines made at the Castello. It was very eerie walking in the depths of the bunker which extends under the grounds of the Castello. It felt like the air, dust on the walls still had microscopic remants of the soldiers who were there years ago.

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Out of the depths of the wine cellars and into the beautiful Baroque dining room full of mirrors and pictures. It felt like a fairy tale room.

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My documentation and description of the stupendous meal by Chef Antonia Klugmann, is limited. I get caught up in the wines and the good food and just stop taking pictures and enjoy the moment.

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The first course was tomato soup, Judrio truffles and bruscandoli. Bruscandoli as cited on Boroughmarket.org.uk are “the end tips of the hop plants which are found in profusion in the Venetian countryside, and while they are thrown away in other hop-growing areas, there they are a seasonal delicacy.

The second course was risotto, butter and sage. Third was pork rib, cedar, black garlic and mustard. All too good, picture taking forgotten.

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Dessert was chamomile ice cream,  lemon Italian meringue and ginger crumble. The dessert was not too big, very delicate, yet lively, crisp and delicious just like the Collio wines.  But aha…. the best part was to come, Picolit wines taking the win for the pairing. Colli Orientali may have the DOCG for Picolit dessert wines made from dried grapes but the wine from Cociancig Winery, 2018 had a golden yellow color, strong floral aromas of citrus and acacia, notes of hay and scents of dried fruit, stunning!

The full menu:

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It was such a pleasure to taste the Picolit and in the case of Vino dolce Perle, the Verduzzo grape which in the Veneto is a DOCG in Ramandolo. It is hard to find the time at the end of a meal and just to find the wines in the US. So if you ever see these wines, buy them and save them!

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As the meal drew to a close, we heard singing outside. The Italian love their opera and they love opera in the Collio. A glorious end to a great day. I just hope to visit again!!!

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And then there is Trieste, Trieste…….

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That’s all folks! I just really want to go back, there is so much more to explore, learn and enjoy!!! Cheers!

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