Ancient lore notes that after the fall of Troy, Antenor, a comrade of Aeneas, and a group of Trojans settled in what is now Veneto. Initially, the Veneti people were similar linguistically and culturally to their southern Etruscan neighbors. Around 300 BC, the Veneti began what would become a long and lasting involvement with the Roman Empire. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the region (at the time called “Venetia”), was ravaged by Goths, Visigoths, Huns and a motley assortment of barbaric tribes. After many invasions, the Veneto was absorbed by the Holy Roman Empire. By 1200 AD, the Holy Roman Empire was dissipating and Venice formed its own republic, which lasted for almost 600 years until Napoleon invaded in 1797. During World Wars I and II, the Veneto was a site of many battles and bombing runs.
The Veneto has long been regarded as a cultural mecca of Europe. The Middle Ages saw construction of churches on a massive scale. Medieval church art gave way to the high, vaulted arches of Gothic architecture, which can be seen in the Doge’s Palace in Venice. During the Italian Renaissance, the Venetian city of Padua was one of the cosmopolitan centers for artists like Donatello, Giovanni Bellini, Giotto, Titian, and Tintoretto. Art’s love affair with Venice was soon exported through art depicting the scenic waterways and surrounding pastoral landscape. Before long, romantics the world over were flocking to Venice to be serenaded by gondoliers while floating through the canals. To this day, that image remains.
Some of the most iconic Italian foods are of Venetian origin. Asiago cheese, from just outside the town of Asiago in the Alto Adige, is consumed widely in the United States. Polenta, a creamy corn-based grits-like dish, is a staple food in the wide agricultural plain that is formed further inland. Apart from polenta, much of the Venetian cuisine is dominated by rice. Two dishes, risi e bisi (rice and fresh peas) and risi e figadini (rice and chicken livers) are the most famous of these rice-based dishes. That said, a discussion of Venetian cuisine would not be complete without mentioning the creamy meat and broth-based risotto. Risotto al nero di seppia (a black risotto made by cooking cuttlefish whose ink-sacs have been left intact) and risotto primavera (risotto made using freshly-picked spring-ripening vegetables) are international symbols originating in Veneto.
Without question, Valpolicella, Amarone, and Ripasso are the three defining red wines of Veneto. DOC Valpolicella wines are produced from a blend of Corvina and Rondinella and can vary from light and fruit-forward to rich and concentrated depending on the producer. DOCG Amarone della Valpolicella is produced using the same blend of Corvina and Rondinella, however, the grapes used are dried for a minimum of three months prior to vinification. Amarone tends to be a robust wine with gamey aromas complemented with chocolate, mocha, and bacon fat. DOC Valpolicella Ripasso is produced by refermenting DOC Valpolicella on the unpressed skins and lees of Amarone or Recioto della Valpolicella. The resulting wine is typically reminiscent of both Amarone and Valpolicella.
One of only a handful of sparkling wines to come out of Italy, Prosecco is a perennial consumer favorite due to its finessed flavors and typically low price. Apart from its popularity, Prosecco is one of the most food-friendly wines produced in the world. Served with spicy Asian cuisine, Prosecco can calm the spice and bring out some of the otherwise-muted flavors. Prosecco typically shows bright green apple, lime, and mineral characteristics. The best Prosecco can be similar in taste and style to good Crémant de Bourgogne and Vouvray Mousseux.