Victoria Moore, The Guardian, May 3, 2013
An hour's drive north east from Venice, the rolling vine-clad hills of the Collio region boast an outstanding selection of white wines and some surprising reds too. These can be followed on a narrow, winding Strada del Vino that runs for 50km from Dolegna del Collio, past the regional "wine capital" of Cormòns, as far as San Floriano del Collio. Winemakers are very happy to receive visitors, and many offer B&B accommodation too. The distinctive local cuisine is hearty mitteleuropean rather than classic Italian, and every month sees some kind of wine event – from Cantine Aperte at the end of this month (26 May) to Jazz&Wine, (25-27 October). The great white wines here are malvasia, ribolla gialla, pinot bianco, friulano and sauvignon, but there are also interesting local reds such as refosco and pignolo, as well as the luscious dessert wine picolit.
Venica & Venica, Dolegna
It is easy to miss the sign for Venica & Venica's cantina, down a tiny road surrounded by vineyards. This is one of the Collio's classic family-run wineries, founded 80 years ago by Daniele Venica and run today by his grandsons Gianni and Giorgio. The brothers produce some outstanding whites – pinot bianco, malvasia and pinot grigio. Be sure to try their collio bianco, a top-end blended white. The cellar is always open for tastings (except Sundays), but call ahead and you can book a two-hour tour, with a detailed explanation of how the wines are made. There is a nominal charge of €8 for this, but for those who then buy wine – and most do – the fee is waived. Even better, stay in the sprawling B&B (doubles €100), which has a big pool and a tennis court.
• +39 0481 61264, venica.it
Paolo Caccese, Cormòns
You can't miss Paolo Caccese's cantina, sitting atop a vine-covered hill with, at the entrance, the three tall cypress trees that appear on his wine labels. He is a true eccentric who makes perfect, elegant wines on a small six-hectare estate. "I grow wonderful grapes here on a rich soil in an incredible position on the hillside," he says. "So I just do the minimal in my cantina. The grapes are already perfect, and I prefer to let them create their own magic." He makes a dozen wines, including oddities such as a fruity müller-thurgau, an aromatic traminer and a delicious passito, a late-harvest verduzzo, and a few reds; merlot and cabernet franc. Prices begin at €8.50 a bottle, and although Paolo is not an email person, he is always ready to let people taste his wines if they give him a call first on his mobile.
• +39 348 797 9773, paolocaccese.it
Franco Terpin, San Floriano del Collio
Franco Terpin describes himself as an artisan winemaker but he is also the guru of a band of increasingly vocal natural wine producers on both sides of the border. Their wines have none or very little sulphite and are macerated for a long period using only natural yeast. Terpin's vintages spend one year ageing in oak barrels, one year in steel vats and then three years in the bottle before going on sale – heresy to most other winemakers. But Franco is open to discussion and tastings with enthusiasts who call to make an appointment. "Quite frankly," he says, "natural wines are the only ones I drink now. I can't stand a chardonnay with a banana aroma that is chemically induced." His pinot grigio has an incredible colour, half pink, half orange, his 2006 sauvignon has none of the usual characteristics, and he has launched a very affordable range called Quinto Quarto, at €10 a bottle.
• +39 0481 884215, francoterpin.com
WINE BARS AND OSTERIE
Enoteca Regionale di Cormòns, Cormòns
Cormòns is the capital of the Collio region, and before deciding which winemaker to visit, stop off at this wine bar that represents 34 neighbouring producers. There are over 300 vintages in the cellar and almost all can be tried by the glass, from €1.60. Plates of affettati, from €8, include salami, cheeses, smoked trout and boiled ham with freshly grated horseradish. The place is always packed with local viticoltori trying each other's wines.
• +39 0481 630371, enotecacormons.it, closed Tuesday
Osteria Cantiniere, Cormòns
This rural osteria is owned by a cooperative, representing 150 winemakers. The quality may not be quite as high as at family-run vineyards, but the prices are very competitive with bottles from €4. This is a rendezvous for everyone in the Collio, from vineyard workers to estate owners, lawyers and industrialists. A small lunchtime menu changes daily, with everything freshly prepared, from spaghetti with sausages, pork knuckle and sauerkraut, or tender roast veal. Wine is €1 a glass, a plate of pasta €5, mains from €6.
• +39 0481 60579, cormons.com, closed Tuesday
Osteria Koršic, San Floriano del Collio
You'll probably need a satnav to find this osteria just 100m from the border. It does not look much from outside, but this is a serious gourmet restaurant with a chic dining room and inventive menu by young chef Damjam. The biggest surprise though is the reasonable prices, with a four-course tasting menu at €25, featuring dishes such as traditional biechi (hand-cut squares or triangles of pasta) with turnip greens, and smoked ricotta. The wine list is also impressive, with every producer from the neighbouring villages of San Floriano and Oslavia represented, from €12 a bottle. If Koršic is full, a fun nearby alternative is Agriturismo Stekar (Via Giasbana 25, +39 0481 391929), a pig farm and vineyard that doubles as a weekend restaurant, serving home-cured salami, pumpkin and wild mushroom orzotto and gallo in umido, a rich capon stew.
• +39 0481 84248, korsic.it
Borgo San Daniele
Brother and sister Mauro and Alessandra Mauri make some of the most elegant Collio vintages, and their three guest rooms have designer decor, modern art and subtle avant-garde lighting. There's a pool, a luxuriant garden and a grand salon where everyone sits in the evening tasting the award-winning wines. Jiasik, a surprising mix of riesling and malvasia grapes, ia very well-priced at €10. They also host poetry readings, art exhibitions and concerts.
• +39 0481 60552, borgosandaniele.it, double with breakfast €85, free bikes
Azienda Agricola Picech
After young winemaker Roberto Picech built a new farmhouse and state-of-the-art cantina, he and his wife started last year to rent out three rooms. The decor is rustic, and each room has a to-die-for terrace overlooking rolling vineyards. Breakfast is served in the kitchen at a long wooden table, where evening wine tastings are also held, and guests really feel part of this friendly young family. The wines are good value at €11 a bottle, including an especially potent malvasia.
• +39 0481 60347, picech.com, double with breakfast €80, free bikes
La Subida, Cormòns
Josko Sirk is probably the best-known personality in the Collio who does not make wine. The son of refugees from Yugoslavia, he transformed La Subida, his father's homely osteria, into an elegant Michelin-starred restaurant with a brilliant wine list. His designer wooden chalets in the surrounding woods are the most original place to stay in the Collio. But his real passion, il mio hobby, as he says, is vinegar. He uses his own ribolla gialla grapes to make a deeply flavourful aceto aged in oak barrels. A half-litre bottle costs €15 and there is a spray for €7, perfect for spicing up dinner parties.
• +39 0481 60531, lasubida.it, chalets from €90 a night
Azienda Agricola Zoff, Borgnano
Part of the fun of tasting wines in the Collio is that the viticoltore invariably offers a tempting plate of local ham and cheeses to accompany the wines. Everybody urges you to try the D'Osvaldo family's famous prosciutto crudo, smoked in cherry wood and laurel (dosvaldo.it), and the formaggi made at Giuseppe Zoff's farm, where there's a farm shop selling freshly made ricotta and yoghurt, tangy aged latteria cheese, and caciotta flavoured with wild herbs and flowers. There's also a five-room B&B with "natural breakfasts" made with farm products.
• +39 0481 67204, borgdaocjs.it
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk