Tony Eklof, originally from New England, has settled in Clonakilty after a career as a librarian at University College Dublin. His knowledge and passion for wine has been inspired by frequent visits to the wine growing regions of the continent, particularly Italy and France.
Was there ever a more exotic figure than Marco Polo? He was born c1254 in the Cannaregio district of Venice, near where the famous Rialto Bridge stands. At the youthful age of 18 he set sail for Mongolia where he spent 20 years as a court diplomat to the Emperor Kublai Khan. When he returned to Venice in 1295 he brought riches untold and exotic stories of his travels in the East. Many Venetians treated these tales with some scepticism. Italians dubbed him ‘Marco Il Milione’ or Marco of the million lies!’ The little courtyard where his family lived is still known as Corte del Milion.
What distinquished him from other travellers to the exotic east was that he left a detailed account of his adventures (The Travels of Marco Polo) written while imprisoned after being captured during the war between the powerful city-states of Venice and Genoa. While the authenticity of the work will long keep scholars busy, its legacy and the influence it cast are undisputed. Christopher Columbus was among other explorers known to have been inspired by the work. When he died in 1324, after setting free a Tatar slave he had brought back from Asia, Marco Polo was buried in the Church of San Lorenzo in the Castello district of Venice.
I wonder if he ever tasted the wines of the Veneto? Perhaps a nice glass of Amarone with his beefsteak? After all, the Etruscans and the Greeks were known to produce wine in the region even before the Romans planted their first vineyards in the 2nd century B.C. (Wine drinking was prevalent in both ancient Greece and in the Roman Empire, although in the latter it was frowned upon for women to partake!)
The Veneto wine region includes Venice and Verona, and is famous for cooler climate whites grown in the northern part such as Pinot Grigio, Soave and Bianco di Custoza, and warmer climate light reds such as Bardolino and Valpolicella grown on the shores of Lake Garda, and for the powerful and much sought after Amarone. (Look out for 2011 on the Amarone label, it is being hailed as the best ever vintage!) Aside from these traditional varieties, wines are now being produced in the region with grapes not usually associated with the area, such as Cabernet and Chardonnay producing promising results.
Veneto wine recommendations:
Masi Campofiorin. Lovely Veneto red, like an expensive Amarone without the lofty price tag. Widely available, €19.99 O’Brien’s Fine Wines or €14.99 on sale in SuperValu, Clonakilty, and other West Cork branches.
Poeta Chardonnay. €11.49, Curious Wines. A nice example of the use of an atypical grape variety in the Veneto region. A bright, modern, unoaked white wine.