I love wine. I visit plenty of wineries. I enjoy learning about the ancient elixir. Trying to pair it with meals is a delicious trial and error. I even enjoy photographing it. But I have to be honest. I don’t know that much about it. I guess I know more than the average person because of where I live here in the Okanagan wine valley but truthfully I can barely describe with accuracy the flavours and aromas. I’m not a pro which many people tend to think when you tell them you like wine.
So when I was offered the chance to tour Venice with a professional Sommelier I jumped at it.
Venetian wine with Context Travel Sommelier guide?! Sounds like a dream come true!
I think my passion for wine and all its flavours, history and variances proves that you don’t need to be an expert to enjoy wine. You don’t even need to be an expert to talk about wine. From unique and artistic labels to various regions of the world or even vintners who tend to have amazing life stories on their own…there’s lots to talk about without needing to know much about the drink itself.
But I like to talk about wine and the places is takes me. This time around it took me to Venice where I met Canadian Sommelier Tamara Andruszkiewicz who is a bonafide expert in both wine and its Venetian history (among many other topics like art!). She was to teach us a bit about Venetian wine with Context Travel.
To say the least I and my group were a little intimidated but Tamara took us under her wing and tailored the tour to our experience levels as well as our own personal histories and interests.
Context Travel offers a different kind of tour, one where local experts take you through what would be your average street and then ignite your imagination while providing cultural or historical context. From food to a gondolier making tour, Context Tours has a docent for every interest and a tour for every occasion. It being my second time to Venice I wanted to experience popular places, food and wine with the locals. No english menus with frilly looking ice cream sundaes on the menu. No € 10 glasses of wine. Just the spots the locals frequent.
Tamara met us in the lesser visited Cannaregio sestieri in the Campo Santi Apostoli, not far from the Rialto. It’s a quiet square where few tourists passed through as locals enjoyed an aperol spritz, dogs sat quietly by their owners side as pigeons vied for prime position for bread. Tamara met us by an ancient well and after introductions we set off weaving through alleys and hidden squares.
Knowing my boyfriend is a carpenter she made a point of taking us via “alley of the carpenter” rounding back to Calle de la Malvasia. Malvasia refers to what would have been sold in this area and in this case it was wine. Malvasia, typically a white wine, continues to grow in the Veneto region as well as all over Italy. When you drink Veneto wines in Venice you are taking part in an age old social activity and this is particularly the case when you visit a wine bar.
To drink like a Venetian visit a wine bar where cicchetti is served.
Our first stop was be a small bar that houses a television in the corner spurting out updates from the Fifa cup in Brazil. Behind the bar were two knowledgeable Italian men who spoke very little English and so I was grateful to have Tamara. Like a local she began to sputter Italian ordering our wines, demand the very best, question the colour if it was a bit off in the dim light, and command the best cicchetti for us all.
We began with Prosecco, probably one of the more famous wines to come out of the Veneto. It was crisp and allowed me to ease into a Venetian vibe; slow yet boisterous and always delicious like the bubbles of a Prosecco.
Tamara spoke to us all about the history of each grape that we tasted which was interesting but too much information to retain while in an atmosphere of locals while trying to sip my way through three 9 oz pours of wine. She started talking my language when she pointed out the subtle hints of what this wine bar used to be. With a mosaic of the head of a cow at the entrance floor and an eroded Italian script (also in mosaic) it only whispered that it used to be a butcher’s shop.
Venice started revealing herself to us in ways I hadn’t expected or known during my first visit. The streets, the store fronts, they all told us of the past as if displayed like an aged tattoo. I only just began to open my ears and eyes to it all.
Venice truly is a living museum.
On we went to the next wine bar. We crossed back over the Rialto bridge heading towards the Rialto Market where Tamara again put the subtleties into context.
Just above us, across from hotel I once stayed within, sat St Peter upon one of the pillars that held up the fish market. You might know this area as the spot where Johnny Depp jumped from the roof only to knock a Venetian police officer into the canal.
St Peter, normally seen with a flowing beard and keys before the gates of heaven (as is the case in the nearby Frari), actually appears as a young beardless man with tattered clothes entwined in a fishing net.
This is because he is also the patron saint of fishermen.
These small details pointed out by Tamara were making Venetian history come to life. I was better able to imagine city life as it was 400 years ago by knowing where they drank, ate and shopped. Finally, at our last stop, the Due Spade – a wine bar Casanova frequented – it hit me. Venice is a place where the past and present co-exist. Where time is muddled and you can walk in the footsteps of Shakespeare, Casanova, even the average Jewish Venetian in Cannaregio, and it would have largely looked the same as what you see today. Marco Polo himself could navigate the city with ease, granted with a bit of shock – The Banccogiro, one a place for banking, now a popular wine bar surrounded by tourists and souvenir stalls.
But what I love about Venice is that there is only one. Is there anywhere else in the world you can experience history like this?
Caping off our tour at Due Spade we feasted on Venetian specialties like fresh calamari, baked rolled sardines, lightly breaded and fried vegetables fresh from the market that day, and sipped our red wine along side. Tamara insisted we try the lesser known wines that are better than what we’d find back at home. Each Context Tour will be different, so if you like different wines Tamara or your guide for the evening will do their best to accommodate you.
Nearing dusk we said our goodbyes to Tamara, waving to us while encouraging “Drink more!” In Venice, this is always a good idea with Venetian ghosts as good company.
Want to experience your own Context Travel tour? From Edinburg to Kyoto there are tours in various countries featuring many themes such as culinary tours to political history. Click here to see more of what they offer.
Thank you to Context Travel for providing me with a complimentary tour. Although I was given the opportunity to receive a sponsored tour all opinions expressed are my own.
Thank you to GowithOh for providing my accommodation throughout my #GwOGourmands tour of Venice and Paris.
In preparation for our trip to Italy i am just reading 3 books by Marlena de Blasi, the first one being A Thousand Days in Venice. She is an American chef and food writer who moved to Venice to marry a Venetian and a thousand days later moved to Tuscany and published A thousand days in Tuscany. She candidly recounts her experience. I have been to Venice before but along time ago. Looking forward to spending a few days there on this trip. Context travel is definitely on my list now. Thanks for the post.
I would love to do a tour like this in Italy. Seems like a good way to get to know a place, especially Venice where it’s hard to know where to go since so many restaurants cater to tourists.