When I opened the draft itinerary for last month’s Zonin Prosecco trip, I flicked the link to Tom and a couple of my friends who couldn’t quite believe what they were looking at. The utilitarian excel spreadsheet was juxtaposed with incredible hotel names and exotic Italian destinations, sure to impress even the most affluent tourist. I took to the internet to do some research, and quickly confirmed that, it was I who would be playing the role of said affluent tourist, and doing so as a guest of the Zonin family. What ensued was a week long adventure, fuelled by flowing Prosecco, luxury hotels, incredible dinners and a handful of Italy’s most beautiful cities.
Following a lengthy stint in the Qantas Business Class lounge in Hong Kong I arrived in Milan via Helsinki with a classic 33,000ft hangover. We met with Alex our chaperone for the trip and headed into the city, checking in at the delightful Westin, and heading straight to Corso Como for lunch in the beautiful courtyard. That evening our heavily food focused trip kicked off at EXPO, a gargantuan Trade Show where more than 140 countries showcase technologies associated with sufficient food production. We started with VIP treatment at the Zonin 1821 lounge, then headed to the EXPO’s top restaurant for a signature menu created by Michelin starred chefs from around the world.
As we closed in on Venice the next day, the van was buzzing with anticipation, as not a single one of us had visited the city previously. Climbing aboard our water taxi from Piazzale Roma and taking the 15 minute boat ride to Hotel Monaco and Grand Canal, was one of the most exciting traveling moments I’ve ever experienced. The city obviously needs no introduction, but the wave of awe and sheer beauty that engulfs you, is certainly worth noting – it is nothing short of spectacular. We checked into the hotel and walked to Venice’s most celebrated hotel, The Gritti Palace, for lunch and Spritzs in the sun at Club del Doge restaurant. The 500 year old bar, complete with original artworks by Pietro Longhi (apparently worth roughly a million a piece!) complement what must surely be, the most spectacular canal terrace in the city.
With a belly full of Prosecco we retreated to our hotel, freshened up, and headed straight back to the bar to wait for our esteemed guest for the evening, Francesco Zonin. Francesco is essentially the face of the Zonin family business, somewhat of a celebrity in Italy. He and his two brothers work alongside their father Gianni, who has helped build what is now the largest privately owned vineyard holding in Italy. We soon found ourselves back in the water taxi heading for the rooftop bar at the Hilton Molino Stucky on Guidecca island, where we enjoyed Prosecco, canapés and great company, complemented by a stunning sunset.
Piling back into our trusty van we hit the road for Vicenza, where the Zonin family is based, via their headquarters in Gambellara for a museum tour and family style lunch. The Zonin family has an impressive history dating back to 1821, when the Zonins began producing wine in the area. Since 1821 seven generations of the family have run the company, expanding operations to many of Italy’s most famous wine regions, as well as Virginia in the USA. After our tour we joined the Zonin A-team for a wonderful lunch created by the on site chefs, who cook original dishes for all the Zonin employees daily!
We regrouped in Vicenza, a city that captured my affection almost instantly. The comparatively unknown city is as beautiful as it is vibrant – a genuine Italian city off the tourist trail. Our evening started with a private tour of the Andrea Palladio’s amazing Teatro Olimpico, which begun construction in 1580 and still operates today. We then walked to the recently restored Basilica Palladiana, also designed by the brilliant Palladio (the architect behind the majority of the cities most significant structures) and enjoyed Zonin family wines, with Zonin family company, paired with the best view, and pizza, in the city.
My second trip to Firenze couldn’t have been more different to my first. A far cry from the hostel that housed me ten years earlier, we checked into the Ferragamo family’s Art Hotel, only a 100m walk to the Ponte Vecchio. Our first evening involved a cooking class at the Mercato Centrale food hall, where we created a delicious Prosecco based risotto. The following day I toured some of the city’s menswear highlights before a phenomenal lunch at Caffè dell’Oro, followed by dinner at Trattoria Al Fresco in the gardens of The Four Seasons hotel. I must confess, I was undeniably smug as I walked out of the bar and into the pristine gardens of the Four Seasons Florence, with my $50 Talisker in hand, welcomed into the restaurant by smiling waitstaff for one of the standout meals of the trip. It’s an experience I’m unlikely to forget (or replicate).
Enroute to Rome the following day, we stopped at Zonin’s Rocca di Montemassi Estate in Tuscany for a tour of the winery. Fortunately we arrived on harvest day, and got to witness the grapes being picked and processed, which was a first for me. We then sat in the garden, by the dam, playing with the epic dog whilst drinking Prosecco, before heading inside for a fabulous home made lunch paired with some sensational wines produced by the estate. We tasted the delightful Vermentino (which I later found out can be purchased at Dan Murphy’s), followed by the even better Astraio Viognier and finally the family’s most acclaimed wine, the Toscana IGT. All I can say, is that it’s a damn shame we don’t get have more access to these wines in Australia, as I’m sure they’d be a huge success.
When we arrived in Rome later that day we jumped in taxis and headed straight to our chaperone’s favourite spot, atop the Rome Cavalieri hotel, with 360 degree views of the city. After a solid photo session we made our way back into the city for dinner, casually passing a handful of the city’s most famous sights.
Our last day was left for further sightseeing (unfortunately the Trevi was closed for restoration), and of course two final meals, lunch at the Sofitel rooftop, and dinner at Francesco’s favourite restaurant. Tucked away within the foyer of the modest Hotel Rex is Luciano Monosilio’s restaurant Pipero. Monosilio is commonly regarded as the king of Carbonara, a pretty hefty claim in the capital city of Italy. Francesco insisted that we try it as a part of our tasting menu for the evening and it was. Out. Of. This. World. Francesco went on to tell us the Carbonara at Pipero isn’t sold by dish, but by weight so it’s dedicated fans can purchase it in bulk. Our tasting menu was divine and expertly paired with Zonin family wines. Unfortunately the restaurant was uncomfortably warm, but I couldn’t fault the meal at all, and if you’re a Carbonara fan, it’s a must.
When I boarded the plane I reflected on a once in a lifetime trip, one with no expense spared. The hospitality of our new friends the Zonin family, and the dedication to the finest details by our chaperone Alex, provided us with the opportunity to experience Italy like I’d never dreamed. Topping the experience off was an endless flow of Zonin Prosecco, which coincidentally, I’m having withdrawals from, and a handful of stunning culinary experiences enhanced by great Zonin wines.
*I’ve since conquered my withdrawals, and I’m sure the $18.99 1.5L Zonin Magnum will be my bottle of choice for summer soirees.