As I savour another spectacular artisan wine from Wines With Stories, I am intrigued to find out more about the charismatic couple Sherril and Thomas Solomon who are at the helm of the enterprise, and how it all began.
Thomas Solomon had lived and worked in Venice for 20 years before he met Sherril, who was over on a visit from her native Northern Ireland where she lived.
The magic of Venice combined with Thomas’ knowledge of some of the City’s most enchanted secrets, was a recipe for success and was the beginning of their own love story. Sherril and Thomas have now been married for over ten years and have a thriving artisan wine company www.wineswithstories.com where they share their love of wine with a supreme understanding of fine dining.
Sherril is passionate as she recalls the first time she savoured the unforgettable experience of the real Venice, away from the tourist traps and the adventure of dining with the locals against a backdrop of history, art and ancient architecture.
She shares a taste of food relished by the locals and a glimpse of the mysterious Piazza San Marco at night, with the mist rising from the lagoon, and the dazzling spectacle of dancing in the square from the local community.
‘You are now in Venice – so what are you supposed to try if you want to eat like the locals? Cicchetti with an ombra in a bacaro, of course!
What are cicchetti, ombra e bacaro?
Cicchetti: these are small snacks, similar to Spanish Tapas, even though they are not quite the same!
It is a centuries long tradition of the city of Venice, which has now extended to the rest of the province and even in some other parts of the region.
From the Latin “ciccus”, the word literally means small amount.
Venetians eat Cicchetti before lunch or dinner sipping a glass of wine or a Spritz, as an aperitif.
You start with a small egg with an anchovy on top and a glass of white wine, then you take a bit of polenta with baccalà mantecato and another glass and so on.
Ombra: walking in Venice, you will often run into a group of Venetians saying: “Andemo bèver un ombra” (Let’s go and drink a shade).
Follow them and you will see them enter in a bar and order little glasses of wine.
What does Ombra mean?
It means shade and it is a typical Venetian word, used for centuries. It was born in Saint Mark’s Square, Venice’s top meeting place.
People loved to stand in the square just to talk. But standing in the square under the sun made them thirsty, so local wine sellers offered small glasses of wine from their stalls!
To keep the wine fresh and in the shade, despite the summer heat which suffocated the whole city, they used to move their stands around the Bell tower, following the shade of the Campanile.
Hence the name Ombra. So try an Ombra di Bianco (a glass of white wine) o di Rosso (red wine) and grab yourself a selection of fish or meat cicchetti. You really can’t go wrong with wine in Venice, as the island is surrounded by one of the finest wine production zones in the world. Those in the know, would ask for a ‘vino buono’ for a bit of an upgrade, but whatever they serve you will be good locally produced artisan wines.
Bacaro or Osteria is the name given to the small bars selling Cicchetti and Ombre.
The origin of the name has been lost in time, but I like the most common idea which links the word “bacaro” to the word “Bacchus”, The God of Wine, since these were the places where Venetians could buy and drink lots of wine.
Many closed during the 80/90s, but now, since “andar per bacari” (our equivalent of going on a pub crawl) has become fashionable again, more and more small little taverns have opened everywhere around Venice and our Paladin and Bosco del Merlot wines feature very strongly in a great many of these places. Our Paladin Raboso Fiore sparkling red wine served chilled, is a big favourite in Venice. It’s a lovely dry Brut style with aromas of Morello cherries and wild violets, but it pairs perfectly with chocolate, so when in Venice try it with their chocolate salami.
We love to stop in at a few Osteria for cicchetti and vino buono, before dining at a restaurant owned by one of Thomas’s friends such as Trattoria Al Gazzettino a 4 minute walk from Rialto bridge, for really authentic Italian fare made by Reda’s Venetian wife in the tiniest kitchen we’ve ever seen.
Our destination after dinner is always Piazza San Marco, to enjoy a final aperitif of beautiful DOCG Prosecco in front of the historic Florian Café, which Napoleon once called ‘The finest drawing room in Europe’. We sit in the square and listen to the supremely talented musicians playing in their soul stirring café-concert style, known also with the name of café-chantant, with classics such as the Vie en Rose through to rousing operatic arias.
In the winter months, when the tourists have virtually all returned home, Piazza San Marco is an even more mysterious, often with the mist rising off the lagoon then rolling through the square and tiny streets. Very often, you can hear the click clack of stiletto heels like an acoustic effect in a Hollywood movie, before you ever see the wearer. The ethereal atmosphere in Saint Mark’s Square is further enhanced, as people begin to leave their tables at the Florian and Quadri Cafes to waltz in the middle of the square along to the music. Most Italians grow up learning professional ballroom dancing, so this is really quite a spectacle to behold.
We were lucky enough to have some of the Florian Café musicians, play at our wedding celebration on a boat that left the Grand Canal and toured the Venetian islands for the day.’