comes to Bath
A Venetian masked ball and wine dinner at
The Bath Priory
February 21, 2008 Prosecco, as every school boy knows,
is the favourite tipple of the Venetians. Go out for cicchetti – nibbles
and drinks Venetian style – and you’re likely as not to find
yourself downing quick, small glasses of this so-easy-to-drink fizz,
one small glass following another, and another, and another as you wander
happily through the alleys and canals of Venice. Prosecco used to be
the Venetians’ best
kept secret – a wine you rarely encountered outside of the watery
city because, it was claimed, those crafty and wily Venetians preferred
to keep it to themselves. No more: Prosecco has boomed big time, oceans
of vineyards have been planted well beyond the classic Valdobbiadene-Conegliano
heartland, and the world is now awash with the stuff. However, that
is to take nothing away from the best wines, the Proseccos I’d
like to think those crafty Venetians still prefer to keep for themselves.
Sometimes such wines are allowed out into the wider world. Recently
the Bath Priory Hotel, one of the loveliest, most English of luxury
hotels, was transformed, through Italian alchemy and the power of wine
to transport, into a night of warmth and wonder, Venetian style for
a Venetian evening of wine and food. The Bath Priory is located in
a 19th century private dwelling that once formed part of the Priory
of Bath Abbey. But on this night, it almost felt as if we were in a
Palladian villa in the Veneto, somewhere along the Canale di Brenta.
What a frisson of intrigue as we made our way to the splendid drawing
room, furnished with antiques and original works of art. The guests
had clearly entered into the Venetian spirit of the evening, for there
were Harlequins, crook-nosed Pulcinellas, beautiful masked Contessas,
a roguish Scaramuccia in a splendid velvet suit, a mysterious Commendatore,
stern and unyielding, there it seemed to damn Don Giovanni to the eternal
fires of hell. The company mingled, laughed, flirted, coyishly tried
to discover identities while enjoying flutes of Prosecco di Valdobbiàdene
Bisol Crede, and nibbling on cicchetti such as baccala
mantecato alla Veneziana and other typical canapés.
This Venetian evening was the launch of a year of events – talks,
lunches, wine dinners, demonstrations and more – at the Bath
Priory. Tonight’s evening was hosted by Roberto Cremonese, export
manager of Prosecco Bisol accompanied by the always effervescent Dacotah
Renneau, who looks after the company’s public relations. It was
an opportunity to get to know not just the wines of Bisol, but also
the cucina of the Veneto. Guest chef Giuseppe Silvestri, who
is the Executive Chef for Harrods and formerly at the Hotel Londra
in Venice, was working alongside the Bath Priory’s acclaimed
one-star Michelin Head Chef Chris Horridge to create a menu that was
at once authentically Venetian and also designed to show off a range
of wines from the Veneto. Vito Scaduto, the Bath Priory’s Wine
Adviser, had worked closely with Roberto and Giuseppe to select the
wines to accompany the meal as well as to oversee the service.
The Bisol family produce a range of Proseccos entirely from grapes
grown on their own vineyards, which extend over some 45 hectares located
on 16 farms across the DOC region, planted at altitudes between 250
and 300 metres. The soil of this steep balcony of hills is complex,
varying from yellow and bluish marl, calcareous clay, ash-gray marine
sand and compact clay. Vineyards in each zone produce grapes with entirely
unique characters. The Bisols are thus almost unique in being able
to produce a range of cru Proseccos that express the uniqueness
of their local habitats.
Crede, for example, is produced from Prosecco grapes together with
some Verdiso and Pinot Bianco, grown on marine clays known as ‘crede’.
This soil type allows the grapes to develop in richness allied with
varietal aromas. The wine has a good depth of flavour, allied with
delicate floral scents. Prosecco Vigneti del Fol, by contrast, comes
from Prosecco grapes grown near the Cartizze zone on clay that overlayers
a base of marine sandstone. The wine is altogether different in character,
richer, fruitier, and with a higher degree of residual sweetness that
gives it a full roundness in the mouth.
The first course was branzino Muranese e radicchio Treviso Jada with
polenta. The pan-roasted sea bass was served with a characteristically
Venetian agrodolce sauce of raisins, onions, vinegar and Treviso
radicchio, on a bed of wet polenta. The fuller, sweeter flavour of
Prosecco Vigneti del Fol matched this dish well.
Prosecco is a unique sparkling wine that has its own character and
most certainly does not try and imitate wines such as Champagne. The
wine is made sparkling by the cuvée close or Charmat method
of secondary fermentation in sealed, pressurised tanks, as opposed
to in the bottle, and this method, less costly and laborious, seems
best to preserve the gentle fruit and varietal character of Prosecco.
And yet, yet: one senses that producers here cannot resist the temptation
to try gild gold. While on the one hand proclaiming the uniqueness
of Prosecco and wanting to establish its own identity and place in
the marketplace, at the same time they may yearn for the prestige that
comes from sparkling wines made by the metodo classico.
We sampled two such wines. The first was Bisol’s Talento Riserva
Brut 2001, made from Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Pinot Nero. This
was a golden, rich wine with biscuity flavours and character that seemed
almost oaky (though apparently the wine has seen no wood). It was powerful
in the mouth, full-bodied but, being older, lacked somewhat the freshness
and fruit, and, yes, the charm of the Proseccos.
Our next course was another Venetian classic, a risotto made with
Vialone Nano rice, squid ink, and scampi. This was partnered by another metodo
classico wine, Talento Rosé Brut 2001. This 100% Pinot
Nero rosé had a lovely delicate colour, and an attractive nose
of soft fruits. On the palate, it was perhaps too dry to accompany
the food, and it seemed to lack the fruit and the fuller roundness
of the Prosecco. Perhaps if we had sampled it first, it would have
shown better, as it is often difficult to follow a sweeter wine with
a dry. It is not that either of these wines were in any way deficient.
It’s rather that, on this Venetian occasion, both seemed somehow
out of place and I would have been far happier to drink Prosecco throughout.
Of course, it is always difficult to create an entire meal around
sparkling wines, and I’m glad to say that for the next course, faraona or
guinea fowl braised in red wine, we were able to enjoy a pair of reds
from the Valpolicella. Guinea fowl is a much undervalued bird: this
was full of flavour, cooked to perfection, and with a rich winey sauce
that was deeply satisfying. We sampled “Seccal” Valpolicella
Classico Superiore ripasso 2004 and “Nicolis” Amarone della
Valpolicella Classico 2003. The former, made by refreshing the wine
over the lees of Amarone grapes to add a layer of richness, partnered
the guinea fowl beautifully. The Amarone, richer, with deep, baked
raisiny fruit from the heatwave summer of 03, was definitely more of
a contemplative vino da meditazione, a complex and powerful
wine simply to savour and sip on its own, without the distraction of
either food or company.
Prosecco di Valdobbiàdene Cartizze is a wholly unique and special
wine, as invigorating as it is charming, and it was a perfect wine
to keep the evening exciting and vivid. The Cartizze denominazione applies
to selected Prosecco grapes cultivated on the well-exposed Cartizze
hilltop, a unique microclimate and terrain characterised by stony soil
that remains humid throughout the summer. Here, the Prosecco grapes
ripen slowly, yet reach a very high degree of ripeness, resulting in
a particular style of Prosecco that is highly prized – and commands
prices to match.
Cartizze is always lightly sweet, almost honeyed in
bouquet and flavour, with a complexity and depth that belies its immediate
charm. It can be enjoyed as an aperitivo or as an accompaniment
to desserts, as in this case, paired with a not-too-sweet torta
di mela alla grappa.
Finally, to finish, a delightful deconstructed version of the Venetian
classic tiramisù (‘pick me up’ in Venetian
dialect): a rectangular plate with three different glasses and Savoiardi
biscotti. The idea was to dip, first into a magnificent sweet ‘Duca
di Dolle’ passito Prosecco, then espresso, and
finally into a zabaglione made with the same wine. In truth,
enjoyable though this dessert was, the magnificent passito rarity
was far too good for dunking and best sipped on its own, complex, caramelly,
rich in flavour yet only lightly sweet, an outstanding contemplative
What an evening of Venetian foods and wines, served with terrific
style and efficiency within the splendour of the Bath Priory. And what
a magnificent opportunity to experience the Bisol family’s crus Proseccos
and other sparkling wines in all their variety.
What, then, of the stern and unforgiving Commendatore? I wonder, did
he enjoy the evening? After a night of sparkling company and wines,
such exquisite Venetian flavours, and the comfort and splendour of
the Bath Priory Hotel, I can confirm, with the utmost certainty, that
The Bath Priory Hotel has a season of events and special programs,
while in November, it hosts an Italian Festival of Food and Wine. For
further information, visit www.thebathpriory.co.uk, telephone 01225
331922 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further information about Prosecco Bisol wines visit www.bisol.it
or contact Dacotah Renneau telephone 07956 66813 or email email@example.com.