Michele Marai started Cangrande Italian Wine importation and distribution around five years ago, and has recently set himself up for retail – both online and a wee flagship store in Petone named Il Doge (pronounced eel doe-jay, in honour of the Duke of Venice).
This has been in response to people continually asking to buy the Italian wines they’ve experienced at restaurants around the city and region.
The two points of different at Il Doge are the quality of the wines (his father back in Italy samples 300-400 per year and selects the top 40 for further sub-selection – that’s really taking one for the team huh!), and each being displayed with a label of its provenance, tasting profile, and most importantly, what food it goes with.
Turns out food and wine matching is a big deal for Michele (the Italian heritage), with many Italian wines drier and more rustic on their own than our Kiwi palates are used to, but wonderfully rounded with the right food. Aaaaha!
So on Fridays from 5.30 – 7pm Michele opens a wine of the week for sampling with tasty hors d’oeuvres (which I completely forgot to ask the source of, I was so entranced with the whole concept), to demonstrate just that.
We enjoyed the Isonzo del Friuli Northern Italian Chardonnay so much we subsequently took a bottle to dinner with us, and discovered it went well with Vietnamese food.
The biggest seller is the Valpolicella Ripasso from Valrona (the hinterland near Venice that Michele hails from), which ‘speaks to you about village life’ and is a gentler big red for those who aren’t into big reds. I loved Michele’s passion and eloquence when talking about his wines, totally infectious.
I ended up buying a bottle of the Amarone Campagnola (also from Verona), traditionally paired with horse meat (errr venison or rich stew), and with a slightly different production process – grapes dried indoors, macerated and oaked for three years – resulting in a chocolatey, jammy, dark minerally drop. Yet to be enjoyed, but the anticipation is great.
As well as an interesting selection of wines, you’ll find authentic Italian craft beers (the Vienna lager had a caramelly smoothness and was quite the moreish drop), balsamics, spirits and liquers – a bottle of the Amaretto very nearly jumped into my bag as well. Next time.
So pop along on a Friday evening to taste and learn, grab a bottle for your next BYO dinner (or what the hell, just to enjoy at home!), and watch out for Italian food and wine matching events at a restaurant near you.