Introductions and Footwear Preferences
My name is Evan, and you may know me from the shop where I hold down the fort on weekends, espousing my love for all things natty, usually in a reissued vintage pair of Nike Air Max. I recently spent the harvest season in Northern Italy, attempting to bridge the gap from slanging the wines in South Florida to their actual genesis and production. At any given time, we always have a lovely array of Italian selections displayed on the shelves, some sparkling, some white, red, and even orange. Therefore, it made perfect sense to pick Italy for my harvest experience. I spent nearly five years in the country while pursuing an immensely useful M.A. in Art History. I still speak fluent, albeit somewhat accented, Italian, and the wines of Italy have always held special significance for me. Despite a winemaking industry dominated by centuries of antiquated tradition, many producers operate cleanly and naturally, paying respect to their terroir and, above all, the environment. Organic viticulture is becoming increasingly widespread. And thorough attention is finally being paid to responsible practices both in the vineyard and in the cellar. The result is undoubtedly delicious wine that we can consume without worrying about the side effects on our bodies and the planet.
Before making my way to Italy, I made a point to contact several producers we feature at the shop. I hoped to arrange plans to harvest the grapes and participate in their subsequent fermentation, aging, and maybe even bottling. A winemaker can have the most incredible grape juice on the planet, but they need to match that juice with equal skill in the cellar. Otherwise, that immense quality is wasted and fails to present in the final bottling. I chose producers in the northern part of the country, particularly in the regions of Piedmont and Veneto, as they proved a bit easier to reach. I also love the Nebbiolo-based wines of Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco regions. Something about the buoyant fruit with an undercurrent of resinous herbs always proves intoxicating. These are the wines I reach for personally and recommend to customers. The subzones around Verona, specifically near Vicenza, are also home to some of the country’s most profound, complex soils and indigenous varietals. As a result, these areas produce wines of great depth, character, and above all, VALUE!
Volcanic Vines and the Boondocks of Poggio Rusco
I was pleased to discover that many of the smaller producers I contacted were enthusiastic and welcoming. I quickly hatched plans to spend a good month to fully immerse myself in the various stages of the winemaking process. I also allowed a little time for tourism because cheese and pizza. With the assistance of my good friend Alex, the proprietor of Natty Wine (an awesomely named importer responsible for plenty of our best hits from Italy and Slovenia), I arranged to shadow one of his producers, Andrea of Tenuta Armonia. Alex populates his portfolio with winemakers who pay a living wage and strive to make the most authentic, realistic product possible. Certainly not easy, and the mission to prioritize the workers, an often maligned and underpaid group, and the environment, a finite and mistreated resource, is a noble yet uphill climb. Another dear friend currently lives in Mantova, an immaculately preserved medieval city that houses countless Renaissance masterworks by Mantegna and Giulio Romano, among others. Mantova is also close to some of Italy’s best Lambrusco, so naturally, I included a visit with another producer from our shop, Fondo Bozzole. Franco and his brother naturally operate several beautiful, untouched plots of land in the middle of nowhere, Poggio Rusco. They bottle several iterations of the many (12!) varietals of still and sparkling Lambrusco found across their varying types of soil and terrain.
Haphazard Rental, Insurance and Near-Death
After arriving in Milano, a customs issue kept me sequestered in a musty, closet-like room adjacent to the baggage claim for over an hour. I was finally released from my unfortunate sequestration. I made my way to Bergamo via several bus transfers to procure my rental car. I am tolerable with a manual transmission, but knowing the mountainous, often unlit back roads of Northern Italy, I opted for an automatic. I hoped this choice would help me avoid any incidents and facilitate my travels. On my previous sojourns in Italy, I rented through a company called Sicily by Car, which required precious little apart from a valid driver’s license and credit card. I only later realized this was not typical. Upon failure to demonstrate an International Driver’s Permit (basically a glorified, ‘official’ translation of my original license), I was forced to shell out the cost of full insurance at the rental counter in Bergamo. The vehicle was quite a sight, plastered with ‘RENT ME’ across every available space. After almost tumbling off the side of the mountain and returning on a wobbly spare tire, I returned the vehicle in shambles. Only then did I discover that the “full” insurance did not even cover the tire! I now have an international driver’s license and prefer to travel the mountain roads outside Vicenza during the daytime.
After almost dying, I chose to truly dive in and appreciate my time, both in Italy and on earth. I made an effort to eat more, see more and soak up as much as possible. The fruits of that endeavor will be on display February 5, when I’ll be cooking and presenting some of the things that inspired me most. I hope you’ll join me then!
TO BE CONTINUED IN The Italian Dispatch #2
Join Us for Dinner!
The Italian Dispatch Wine Dinner with Chef Evan Kretmar
Sunday Februry 5th 5:30 and 8:00
Inspired by working harvest in Italy this Summer, our very own Evan Kretmar presents a four-course wine dinner of elevated Italian comfort foods. This one-night-only event is the culmination of his travels, documented in his Italian Dispatches. Join us as Evan shares his inspiration and the food of Italy that sustains him. Wine pairings by Tim and Evan, Food and words by Evan!
Antipasti misti (mixed appetizer plate):
Cacio e pepe arancini, Sgagliozze (fried polenta), House-cured olives, Seared cheese, Sott’aceti stagionali (seasonal pickles), Finocchiona salami
Insalata Invernale (Winter salad)
Seared radicchio, bibb lettuce, assorted citrus, castelvetrano olives, grated walnuts, horseradish vinaigrette
Lasagnette al Forno
Eight-hour bolognese and parmesan bechamel, caramelized fennel, herb salad
Torta alla Nocciolata:
Hazelnut chocolate tart, brown butter graham crust, ricotta gelato