Wednesday, June 13, 2012

La Dolce Vita on The Drive

Once again, it's time to celebrate all things Italian on The Drive. Commercial Drive and our little East Side neighbourhood closed the street to the 2012 version of Italian Day and an estimated 50,000 folks turned out to revel in La Dolce Vita for the afternoon.

In years past, I remember locals referring to the Commercial Drive community as Little Italy. With the abundance of older gents watching soccer games in the coffee bars, numerous pasta and pizza restaurants, fashionable Italian tailors and all the shops specializing in pastas, salumi and oils, it wasn't all that hard to imagine yourself in a little bit of Italy.

Nowadays, however, the community is a virtual United Nations. In addition to the still-present taste of Rome and Venice, you're as likely to go shopping for El Salvadoran pupusas, Ethiopian injera, sushi or butter chicken. The Drive is still chock-a-clock full of those old Italian coffee bars - and a gaggle of upstarts. Long before Starbucks arrived in Vancouver with its omnipresence, The Drive was alive with Vancouver's coffee culture. If one bar's full, you only have to walk a block for another.

Indeed, activities on The Drive are often food-centric and Italian Day ramps it up another, big notch. Between local restaurants moving into the street, the recent arrival of food trucks and various charities setting up grills for the celebration, a single day would never allow you to sample everything that calls out to you.

Boo, Mr. D. and I took a wander over to The Drive to check out the scene and nosh a little. We didn't catch any opera on the big stage this year but we did watch a messy final of the spaghetti eating contests - no hands, of course - saw gladiators fighting it out in the street and marvelled at just how many Italian soccer jerseys and different Italian t-shirts there are in the city. The fact that we're in the throes of the 2012 Euro Cup might have played into the fashion statement just a tad.

It wasn't the sunniest or warmest of days but at least it didn't pour with rain like it did a couple of years back. All that walking built up our appetites and - despite having already succumbed to the odd nibble here and there - we stopped in at the new Falconetti's butcher shop and picked up a grab bag of sausages to grill at home. By taking them home, we'd not only get to sit while eating but we could wash the sausages down with some wine. Italian, of course.

1170. 2009 Tenuta Maggiore - Amphorae (Oltrope Pavese IGT - Lombardy - Italy)

I grabbed this bottle a while back at Marquis Wine because it featured another varietal that I could add to my Wine Century Club tally but, lucky for us, the folks at Marquis recommend that "this wine would be perfect with an Italian sausage." Italian Day on The Drive. Italian sausage on the plate. Italian wine for sipping. Works for me.

Tenuta Maggiore is found in Lombardy, the Northwestern part of Italy. The pre-eminent grape in the region is Croatina - although the best known DOC (or appellation controlled) wine using the varietal is called Bonarda, not to be confused with the grape of great stature in Argentina. The Amphorae is a Croatina wine that is blended with Barbera and Shiraz - hence its production under the IGT label instead of being a DOC wine. The other two grapes are used mostly to counter the strong tannins that are characteristic of the Croatina grape.

It may not be a varietal that I see very often, but there was no doubt that we could have used more of it at the moment. Not having a second bottle, we moved on to dessert and to Boo's version of that quintessential Italian treat - red velvet cupcakes.

1171. 2010 Poderi dal Nespoli - Bradamante Vino Bianco da Uve Stramature (Emilia-Romagna - Italy)

This was a favourite of mine from this year's Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival. A Passito wine where the grapes are dried and raisinated, the result in this instance is a rich sweet wine. It was a perfect way to end the Grand Tasting room at the Festival and just as enjoyable here at home.

The vineyards and winery are found just inland from the Romagna coast, in a river valley that connects Forli to the Apennine mountains and Tuscany on the other side and Poderi dal Nespoli is seeing its third and fourth generations of the Ravaioli family own and manage the farm.

An added bonus, for me, is that the wine sees a blend of 60% Albana, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Sauvignon Blanc - so I, unintentionally, get to add a second new varietal to the Wine Century Club. The history and genetic history of Albana is largely unknown but it is primarily grown in the Emilia-Romagna region. I don't know if you're likely to find a dry Albana wine, but I think you'd have a difficult time convincing me to give up this Bradamante for any still white.

And thus ended another Italian Day in the neighbourhood. Viva Italia!

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