After four hectic but productive days at Vinitaly, the Italian wine fair in Verona, my colleague Bruce Sanderson and I stole a day in Venice. The spring weather was delightful, and we wandered the city till our feet were sore, enchanted. The next morning, just before leaving, we stopped into a wine shop and café called Gia Schiavi in the Dorsoduro district.
We were attracted by the weathered wooden facade, a wall of wine bottles, and an old woman making crostini behind a marble bar. The wines were mostly from the Veneto region—Soave from Pieropan, Friuli from Livio Felluga, Valpolicella from Quintarelli. We ordered glasses of white wine, and the fellow behind the bar asked, in English, if we wanted something local. We agreed, and he filled two small goblets with Manzoni Bianco, a white variety that's a cross between Pinot Bianco and Riesling, produced in the countryside outside of Venice.
We fell into conversation. Our barman was Tommaso Gastaldi, who runs the store with his brother; the crostini maker was his mother; and his family has owned the business, which was founded by the Schiavi family more than a century ago, for 60 years. Venice has changed, Tomasso told us. The tourists bring good business—he's not complaining—but there's no room left for the Venetians.
I'm sure he's right. But I have been visiting Venice, at long intervals, since the 1970s. It has always been thronged with visitors, but it's always easy to step off the main streets and into a dreamy backwater, where the only sound is water lapping against the stone walls of the canals. At ten o'clock on a spring morning, sunlight falling through the shop window, watching mothers escorting children to school outside, I felt as if I had stepped into the heart of the city. The wine was light and fresh, lively with apples and peaches; I rated it 84 points, non-blind. The glass cost one euro; the moment was priceless.
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