There’s a beautiful walk to be done from our house. You cut through the old vineyard, leaving the vegetable patch and the beehives to your left and the chicken coop and the row of hops to your right. In the springtime, this vineyard is in constant motion as butterflies and other insects flutter from one flower to another.
Once you read the end of the vineyard, you find yourself on an old shepherds’ path. It skirts another of our vineyards before heading up the hill into the woodland. Admire the makeshift wall of volcanic rocks as you go. No-one but us walks up this path anymore so brambles may be an issue occasionally. Just 20 years ago, as many as one hundred sheep and goats that were led to pasture up on these hills would have cut them back for us. The owner of the vineyards, however, my father-in-law, is pleased that there are no sheep or goats anymore; they didn’t always stick to munching on brambles.
Stop for a second to smell the flowers on the quince trees which have only just opened up. They were still tight buds just a couple of days ago but now they are in full bloom and the fragrance is glorious.
Before the baby arrived and my daily routine changed beyond recognition, I did this walk everyday. It takes about 10 minutes, depending on how actively you take on the slopes. It’s a good work out because in some places, there’s a 40% gradient.
Arriving at the top, the effort is justified. Any beads of sweat (quite common in the summer) get brushed away and forgotten once you set your eyes on the two magnificent castles in front of you.
They are the original Romeo and Juliet castles, dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries, which inspired an injured soldier turned novel writer named Luigi Da Porto to write a story, which was later plagiarised by the copycat William Shakespeare.
I like the idea that Luigi da Porto was able to construe something which became as significant as the story of Romeo and Juliet from the confines of his chair. Who knows what could be created during this period of enforced isolation?
On days with good visbility, beyond the castles, you’ll spot the snowcapped peak of Monte Grappa. Standing at 1775m high, this mountain is the main focal point on the skyline for miles around and it looms menancingly above the castle ruins, itself a reminder of war and struggle.
During the First World War, Monte Grappa was the main point of conflict between the invading Austro-Hungarians and the Italians protecting the Venetian plain. Being such a strategic place, many lives were lost.
I don’t know if that was still playing on my mind when I chose which wine to open last night because it was “Muscat Freyheit” 2017 from the Austrian winery Heinrich.
Composed of muscat (70%) with a small part (25%) of pinot blanc and even smaller amount (5%) of chardonnay, the back label also reveals some secrets of the vinification: 14 days skin contact, aged in oak barrels and bottled with no SO2. I was wary of the cement bottle from this biodynamic winery because previous experience has taught me to watch for hot-ass reduction. In this case, I needn’t have worried; it’s perfect.
It has a wonderful suggestive and exotic nose, which conjures up images of faraway places, warm evenings and heady spices. There’s preserved lemon, camomile tea, cardamom and lime cordial. Mouth is very slightly off-dry (there’s a hint of the syrup that comes with a tin of peaches) but finishes with a whisk of salinity which works perfectly with the spread of food that’s on the table this particular evening. We drink glass after glass of this wine, enjoying its abundance of texture and character. To some people wine is superfluous and extravagant but to us, at this particularly strange time, we’re appreciating the good things in life and savouring every sip.
To read more about the Heinrich winery, Valerie Kathawala recently wrote a very comprehensive overview on Grape Collective.