Colli Euganei, where Petrarch and great wine meet (and an unsung hero of the Veneto)


Above: Winemaker Luciano Gomiero of Vignalta (center), pioneer and unsung hero of one of my favorite appellations in the world, the Colli Euganei (Veneto). That’s my friend, the aptly named, Marco Tinello (right, the Veneto’s “best sommelier” 2008), who led our vinous journey to the Euganean Hills so beloved by Petrarch in mid-September.

There is no place in Italy that I feel more at home then the Veneto, where I spent many years at university and playing music. And there is no other place where my interests converge more mellifluously than the Colli Euganei, the Euganean Hills south of Padua, where my beloved Petrarch and great wines meet.

Petrarch took refuge in these hills toward the end of his life and it was here that he transcribed and edited his life’s work, including the Rerum Vulgarium Fragmenta, his fragments of vernacular things, a songbook composed of 366 poems written for Laura.


Above: La Casa del Petrarca, Petrarch’s house in Arquà in the heart of the Euganean Hills, is adorned with frescoes inspired by the narrative culled from the Fragmenta.

Petrarch’s favorite poet was the Latin writer Virgil and there’s no doubt that Petrarch knew and appreciated the line so often repeated from the Georgics, Bacchus amat colles, in other words, Bacchus [the divine embodiment of the vine] loves hills.

To understand why Petrarch loved this immensely beautiful place and why it is ideal for raising fine wines, here are a few photos.


Above: That’s a view from the hills looking eastward toward Venice and the Adriatic.

The eastern plains leading to Venice are otherwise flat but south of Padua, the Eugeanean Hills rise up suddenly and violently from the flats.


Above: Petrarch wrote that the Euganean Hills reminded him of the Vaucluse where he met Laura.

The soil types range from volcanic to ancient seabed to calcareous clay and the different growing sites deliver rich mineral flavors in the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that have traditionally been grown there.


Above: Luciano ages all and vinifies some of his wines in recycled tonneaux and barriques — no new wood here! You could hear his 2009 Alpianae fermenting again (in other words, it had been fermenting on and off, depending on the temperature of the cellar, for more than a year!)

The Colli Euganei are best know for their red wines. Luciano doesn’t barrique his wines and you never find woodiness in them. His reds are defined by their rich, earthiness and minerality, tar and goudron notes. And while I’m not generally a fan of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, I gladly drink his wines, which never show woodiness, and are extremely well priced (generally around $25-35 in the U.S.). I highly recommend them.


Above: The 2008 Sirio (dry Moscato) was stunning, with great minerality and fruit. BrooklynGuy would have loved it.

But the wines that truly fill me with emotion are his white wines, Sirio (dry moscato) and Alpianae (dried-grape Moscato Giallo) in particular. And the best news is that, like his reds, Luciano’s white wines are more than reasonably priced (the Sirio should cost about $20 retail).


Above: The name Alpianae actually came from a typo, Luciano told me. It was supposed be called Apianae, a reference to a name used by the Romans for sweet wines “belonging to the bees” (in the sense that bees are drawn to sweet wines, i.e., the best wines).

Luciano was the first to popularize dry Moscato in the Euganean Hills and he successfully lobbied the consortium and the Italian government to create the Colli Euganei Moscato DOC (previously you couldn’t write Moscato on the label). With the 2010 vintage, Fior d’Arancio (the local name for Moscato Giallo) will be the appellation first DOCG, also thanks to pioneer Luciano.

The Vignalta whites, including the dried-grape Moscato Giallo, are some of my favorite wines in the world. And I love how they are connected to a topos so imbued with cultural riches. Indeed, Petrarch’s transcriptions and collations during the last years of his life in Arquà (a stone’s throw from Luciano’s winery) are considered to by many to be the birthing of Renaissance humanism.

Like Bacchus, I love Euganean hills, too.

I posted on the fantastic lunch we had that day here.

Next up: my September trip to Italy continues with a series of posts from Friuli…

An orange, natural wine from the Veneto (and my very own mimetic desire)

Above: One of my favorite places in the world, a scene from Petrarch’s house in the hilltop town of Arquà in the heart of the Colli Eugenei (the Euganean Hills) in the province of Padua. One of my mentors, Professor Vittore Branca, believed that Petrarch spoke with a northern cadence, even though he was born to Tuscan parents in Arezzo. Petrarch spent most of his life in southern France, Milan, and Arquà. (Photo courtesy Padova Cultura.)

Nearly every Italian who’s ever heard me speak Italian will remark that I speak Italian with a simpatico Veneto accent. Some will place it in Padua, others (when I’ve got a belly full of wine) in Treviso (non è vero, Briciole?). But the many years I spent of study and touring with my Italian-based band in the Veneto profoundly informed and shaped my “Italian” identity.

When I saw that Franco had posted about what must be a truly wonderful orange, natural wine from my beloved Euganean Hills outside Padua, I couldn’t resist the mimetic desire it stirred in me.

Were they not the site of countless Sunday evenings spent with friends eating roast pollastro and patatine fritte, accompanied by side-splitting joke-telling in Veneto dialect and carafes of Malvasia and Cabernet Franc! Were they not the home to some of the most unique, distinct, and distinctive wines produced in the Veneto! Did they not abound with a dolce aura, a sweet air, and immense beauty!

The Euganean Hills would still hold a special place in my heart for it is there that my beloved Petrarch spent the last years of his life, under the protection of the Carraresi family, the lords of medieval Padua, and it is there he finished the final notes of the transcription of his autograph and idiograph version of the Rerum vulgarium fragmenta (Fragments of Vernacular Things), his song book, his 366 poems devoted to the blond-haired and fair Laura (a laical breviary, with a poem for every day of the year and a proemium). Today, that beautiful book — singular also for its humanist script and the unusual binding format — resides in the Vatican Library (Codex Vaticanus 3195). It was the subject of my doctoral thesis: I have examined it myself, I have held it in my hands and run my fingers across its vellum leaves and scrutinized their pores, and I have felt its aura.

O to see those hills again! Someday, I’ll take Tracie B to visit them and and breath in their dolce aura, to see Petrarch’s house, and to taste the wines.

And I will tell my sweet Tracie B (my Laura and my dolce aura, with her fair skin as white as ivory, her eyes as blue as the fresh, clear water that flows in the streams of trans-Alpine lands)… I will tell her the same thing the vecchiette, the little old ladies, in Monselice at the foot of the Colli Euganei say as you begin your ascent to Arquà: non dimenticare di salutare la gatta del Petrarcadon’t forget to say hello to Petrarch’s cat

Above: The famous “gatta del Petrarca,” Petrarch’s female feline, who, as Modenese poet Alessandro Tassoni wrote in the 17th-century epic poem, The Rape of the Bucket, still bars the tops from crossing the dotta soglia, the erudite threshold. (Photo by Arquà Petrarca.)

Someday Tracie B will see it, too. In the meantime we can only dream of natural skin-contact Garganega and roast poissons.

Click here to read my translation of Franco’s post.

Buona domenica a tutti!