Friday, April 8, 2011

La Vena di Vino - Eating and Drinking Like a Tuscan

La Vena di Vino - Via Don Minzoni, 30.  56048 Volterra, Italy.
+39 0588 81491

I’m going to reminisce about Italy one last time before I completely veer off the topic. Here I want to recall an awesome day trip we had with Paolo, our first in fact, to a Medieval Tuscan town called Volterra. Established in the 11th century by the Etruscans, Volterra is located in a hilly region close to San Gimignano and Lajatico, the birthplace and still home place of famous tenor, Andrea Bocelli.

While in Volterra, Paolo showed us all around, taking us to ancient squares, cathedrals, and most interestingly to artist’s shops that sell alabaster works. Alabaster, a mineral, discovered by the ancient Etruscans, was and still is the most popularly used element to make art. We were enamored by the versatile uses this stone had – from musical instruments to mirrors, jewelry, toys and more.

After some great sight seeing and absorption of history, we stopped for lunch and a wine tasting at a local restaurant/pub called La Vena di Vino. Paolo is well acquainted with the owners, boisterous, good-natured Italians who extend their hospitality with gusto and like to share their passion for wine. We dined in their quaint wine cellar at the only communal table, which felt both intimate and special.


When you first walk into Vena, it feels very much like a bar – a casual pub actually or a dive bar as us Americans would say. What classifies it as a dive? Well the myriad of bras hanging up all over the ceiling and walls in the main room, for starters. This gave us a good laugh and broke the ice quickly, at the same time making us wonder, “Where did Paolo take us?” But like everything else we experienced that week, what you first saw was not what you really got.

We proceeded downstairs to their cellar, where we’d have lunch and a proper local wine tasting. I loved the cellar immediately because it emanated with history and old, cool-looking things. Gone was the kitsch from the upstairs room and in came the tasteful vintage décor such as an old scale, shelves of what looked like precious wine and also an antique dentist chair that was used to surf the web (OK…I guess not all the kitsch was gone).

Food and Wine:

As it happened, the menu was in Italian so Paolo graciously ordered for us. But I had a feeling this would’ve been the case regardless of the language on the menu. Despite meeting him just the day before, we trusted him to order something good – I guess last night’s dinner he cooked proved to us that he understood good food.

Ribollita (Zuppa Volterrana)
– Since it was still pretty chilly outside (the only cold day we had, luckily) we were delighted when the ribollita, a steaming bowl of thick soup arrived. Packed with vegetables such as zucchini, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and bread as its thickening agent, it absolutely hit the spot. It was deliciously hearty and flavorful, making me think of an Italian version of chili. Paolo described it as the epitome of peasant food because it used simple ingredients and really stretched them to the max.

Cured Meats and Cheese Plate
– Now this is how I like to eat lunch – a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and some crusty bread to go along with it. The plate of goodies we received was impressive, boasting 4 types of meats, 3 cheeses, spicy red pepper jam and a crostini with chicken liver. I adored everything and especially the fennel salami that proved to be as earthy as it was primal. The red pepper jam was lovely to spread onto the crusty bread, which was then further topped with a rustic slice of fresh sheep’s mozzarella cheese. As you can see, the portion was quite generous, and even though my eyes are usually bigger than my stomach, I managed to polish off the whole thing. I think you would’ve done the same.

– We had a great time tasting three types of local red wines, one was a Chianti (most commonly known in Tuscany), the other a moltepulciano and the final a Francesa Romana Terenzi. The pairing was perfectly matched with what we were eating – full bodied, red wines with full bodied feel-good food. Our bellies were satisfied and our psyches, needless to say, were relaxed, producing laughs and ridiculous tangents that turned into more laughs.


Since we were with Paolo, a native Italian, we received wonderful treatment and lots of detailed explanations about the wine and the food. Bruno, Vena's gracious owner, recited an interesting history of where the wines came from and also about the cuts of meats we were enjoying. I felt really happy and lucky to be where I was at the moment, enjoying the good things in life and being in the company of genuine, interesting people who shared my interests.

If you ever find yourself in Volterra, I couldn’t recommend this place more – just ask for Bruno or mention Paolo. You’ll get the red carpet rolled out for you.

3 full bellied Mmmms

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