Prosecco, Figs and Serendipity
It was serendipity that escorted us to the cantina, er, farm last year while traveling in the Veneto. It was early afternoon on a brilliantly hot day in early summer and we were leisurely driving in our rented Fiat to Asolo after visiting Villa Barbaro, the magnificent 17th century Palladian estate in Maser.
In addition to me, our small group consisted of my wife and intrepid traveling companion, Julie, our son Douglas and wife Heather, and we were ready for a rest break. With the exception of some figs that we had helped ourselves to earlier from a huge fig tree at the side of the road in a wild, uncultivated field, we really hadn’t had anything of substance to eat or drink since breakfast. However, we had the address of a restaurant in Asolo where we planned to have dinner that evening.
About 10 km outside of Asolo, we spotted a small sign on the opposite side of the road indicating a “cantina” with wine for sale. Since it was too late for lunch and too early for dinner, we quickly decided it would be refreshing to stop and have a glass of wine before dinner in Asolo. We slowed down, made a U-turn, turned onto a dirt road at the cantina sign, and drove up a hill.
The “cantina” turned out to be a rustic farmhouse rather than the "Napa-style" boutique winery we anticipated. We pulled to a stop at the end of the driveway in front of the farmhouse. A lady appeared at the window above and we called out to her in our best Italian that we wanted to buy some wine. She came downstairs and we introduced ourselves and that we were visitors from the U.S. While she spoke no English and we spoke only halting Italian, we managed to get along just fine. She was shy, soft-spoken and appeared to be fascinated by us as if though we were friendly visitors from another planet. She probably doesn't get many foreign visitors to her “cantina.”
She then led us into her house, down some steps and through a door that opened into a very unassuming cellar packed with an accumulation of farm equipment and work tools. However, there was a collection of wine bottles stacked neatly in home-made wooden wine racks along the interior wall of the room. None of the bottles had labels but she knew what was what. There was some Prosecco, Pinot Bianco, Merlot and perhaps another red wine. It was hard to understand everything she said but she was obviously proud of the wines.
We bought three bottles of the Prosecco and three of the Merlot. The total came to 18 Euros or 3 Euros each. We had not yet tasted the wines so whether this was a bargain or not was yet to be determined.
By now we were all having such a good time that we asked if we could sit outside at the small wooden table with a few chairs on the patio and drink some of our newly purchased wine. While obviously surprised, she responded positively and went upstairs to retrieve some stemless wine glasses while we retrieved some figs from the car that we had picked earlier in the day .
Although it was at room temperature, we uncapped the bottle of Prosecco, poured it into our glasses and proceeded to drink. It was actually quite good with pleasant aromas, refined bubbles, a citrusy, fruity taste and good acidity making for a nice finish. While no one would confuse it with a top-drawer Prosecco from a premier producer, this unpretentious Prosecco had good varietal characteristics and, more importantly, perfectly fit the occasion.
We drank, talked, laughed, ate and drank some more. We also tried unsuccessfully to engage the farm cat that stood a discreet distance from us but it was content to simply watch us. The bottle of Prosecco seemed to empty itself so we opened another bottle and drank and laughed some more.
Our hostess got into the spirit of things and brought us a bowl of fresh peaches and some blackberries to go with the Prosecco and our figs. We ate the fruit and toasted our good fortune, enjoying the golden idleness of a summer afternoon in the Veneto. Douglas managed to take plenty of pictures of the event – in fact, a picture of me at the table with a bottle of wine and looking like I’m having perhaps a little too much fun graces the top of my website homepage. To the right is a picture of the farmhouse with the small table and chairs where we had lunch in the shade of the portico.
As the afternon shadows lengthened, it seemed time to move on. While it was only a short drive to Asolo we wanted to get there in time to participate in the evening passagiata as well as see a few local sites such as Asolo’s town center, Piazza Maggiore, before sitting down to dinner. We reluctantly said good-bye to our hostess along with kisses and sincere thanks for her hospitality. We carefully packed our remaining bottles of wine in the car, piled in and then cautiously drove to Asolo.
We had a wonderful afternoon – not what one would call particularly exciting but relaxing, interesting and informative in that we had a chance to soak up some local culture in a truly unique setting. We couldn’t think of a better way to spend a leisurely afternoon. While it was entirely unplanned, it remains one of the most enjoyable memories of our time in the Veneto.
This is the type of serendipitous encounter that makes travel in Italy so fascinating. Such chance encounters are a fascinating and exhilarating alternative to the anonymity of everyday travel, especially with tightly-scripted tour groups. If you have even a limited sense of adventure, are willing to experiment and take some chances in traveling off the well-trod path, you can be sure to experience something new and engaging in the most unexpected places.
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