Adventures in a Little-Known Italian Wine Region


Faith Willinger

This is part three of Faith's multi-part series about her travels in Italy's Northeast. In part one, she visits one of Venice's best restaurants; in part two, she samples the wines of the Italy/Slovenia frontier. This time, she continues her explorations and learns a recipe for ravioli-style cookies filled with carrot-orange preserves.

We began our day at the Vodopivic winery, creators of the Vitovska (a local varietal) that perked my initial interest in the Carso area of Italy's Northeast. Winemaker Paolo Vodopivic wasn't home, so his brother Walter showed us around. We visited the stone cellars and admired the sunken-into-the-earth amphorae—old-style, new-wave, all-natural winemaking techniques. We tasted a few vintages and were impressed, loving the wine's mineral-y, stony, sapid flavors.

Then we headed for our next appointment, with Sandi Skerk—I was familiar with his Vitovska, and my friends Cathy and David had it on their wine list (PDF) at Nostrana, their restaurant in Portland, Oregon. We met at the Skerk osmize, their tavern, and it was around lunchtime. Sandi asked if we'd like a simple snack. How could we say no? He sliced prosciutto by hand like a pro, and served us a platter of salumi—homemade salami, pancetta, and the terrific prosciutto. We drank Malvasia and Vitovska, both winners that seemed to evaporate from our glasses, and finished with fresh and aged cheese drizzled with honey.

Gabriella Cottali's cooking still relies on local, seasonal specialties like game, mushrooms, truffles, cheese, and produce from the family farm.

We were joined by Diana Candusso, from the food and wine promotion division of the Friuli Venezia Giulia tourist board, who was picking up wine for an event. She told us about a Vitovska tasting, Mare e Vitovska, held in the Duino Castle in June, with wine tasting and food from all the great regional restaurants. I need to go. Then down into Sandi's rock cellar, with some walls that looked as if the stone had been sliced away by a huge buzz saw.

After a day of cellar, barrel, rock, and wine, I needed an espresso. We weren't far from coffee-centric Trieste and illy's headquarters. Trieste is also the home of the Università del Caffè, which offers short sessions for those interested in espresso and its preparations and longer programs for professionals. I'm a graduate (courses in both Italian and English) and I've got diplomas and a red UdC baseball cap to prove it.

I talked our way into the company coffee bar, and shopped at the company store (it's open from 1 to 3 PM on weekdays for guests and those who have signed up for courses) for some early holiday presents: perfect pitchers for steaming milk, works-of-art espresso cups.

We returned to Devetak for dinner—I invited Benjamin Zidarich, Marco the stonemason, Sandi Skerk, and Edi Kante to join us. Gabriella Cottali's cooking has grown more sophisticated over the years that I've been frequenting her trattoria, but she still relies on local, seasonal specialties like game, mushrooms, truffles, cheese, and produce from the family farm. We feasted on gnocchi, hearty soups, and duck—served whole, accompanied by the wines of our new friends. Agostino Devetak, host and extraordinary cellarmaster, who knows everything about local wines and spirits, was distressed, since he was having blood tests the next day and couldn't sample our wines.

Gabriella gave me a jar of her carrot preserves and her recipe for rafioi, folded-like-ravioli cookies that use her preserves as a filling. If you don't want to make your own carrot preserves, use any quality preserves or marmalade. The dough seemed improbable (no liquids?) but, to my surprise, worked.

Next stops: autumn vineyards, lunch in Slovenia, light truffle dinner, visit to the lord of prosciutto on the way to a trattoria lunch, dinner, and overnight at a truly amazing Slovenian inn.

Recipe: Rafioi With Carrot and Orange Preserves

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Faith Willinger is a chef, author, and born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and has spent over 30 years searching for the best food from the Alps to Sicily. More

Faith Heller Willinger is a born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and was seduced by Italian regional cooking. Faith has spent more than 30 years searching for the best food and wine, as well as the world beyond the table from the Alps to Sicily. She has no regrets about mileage or calories. Faith was awarded the prestigious San Pellegrino award for outstanding work as an ambassador of Italian cooking. She lives full-time in Florence with her Tuscan husband, Massimo. Her son Max lives in Milan. She's the author of the bestselling (9th printing) guidebook Eating in Italy, the cookbook Red, White & Greens, and the narrative recipe book Adventures of an Italian Food Lover. Faith teaches in her kitchen in Florence on Wednesdays, supplied with freshly picked produce from her favorite farmers. Check out her web site at

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