My two initial attempts at reservations a week beforehand were not successful; the restaurant was booked for both its seatings for the midweek evening that suited the group. There were nine of us, which did not help, a big table at a very popular destination with international renown. I was resigned to just visiting for glass of wine or two sometime during our time there.
I did that with a couple others on our first full day in the area. On lookout for its sign, “Bottega Vini” tucked away on a side street off the marble-laden ritzy retail pedestrian street, Via Mazzini, we finally found it. Thin and festooned in dark wood, and really not much to the ground floor interior but with an feel of comfort bereft of much fanciness much less pretentiousness, we walked in past the glass case of appealing cicchetti, the area’s version of tapas, just inside and gazed up at the chalk boards behind the bar to decide on the first wine of the visit. There were thirty whites, rosés, reds and sparklers plus a bakers’ dozen of Amarones, one from each of the houses that own the restaurant - this is certainly the best spot to sample Amarones. Both an impressive and inviting list of wines by the glass, with neat choices from nearby but also further afield especially from Champagne. The prices were friendly, too, ranging from €5 to €19, though for an Amarone Riserva, most were well under €10 for wines that might be three times as expensive at restaurants and wine bars here.
We started with Bardolino Chiarettos and a Franciacorta Satèn, a rosé from nearby Lake Garda and the lower pressure bottling of that method champagne method wine, and sat down at one of the tables that were empty before the dinner service that begins at 7:00. The couple at the neighboring table were drinking a rich Valpolicella Ripasso, ignoring the temperature that neared ninety with sufficient humidity. It was certainly a good wine. And they turned out to be practiced imbibers, English, saying that they had visited Antica Bottega del Vino on fifteen or so trips to Verona over the past couple of decades, if I heard them correctly. We soon got shooed outside because of the necessary preparations for dinner and found space at one of the few tall tables set out in front. Another round ensued, different, chilled wines to sample. It was a very pleasurable introduction to the place. I could readily understand why we could not get reservations for dinner: there are maybe eighty seats both inside and out on the street just outside its door. Maybe. And it was quite well known to many people who liked wine well beyond Verona.
The restaurant was also a favorite of the owners of the villa, Giorgio and Alessandra, we had rented in the hills of the city. Fortunately for us, they lived in an adjacent property and had mentioned in one of our first conversations with them there our inability to get a table and they had some strings to possibly pull there. They couldn’t promise anything but would try. Alessandra notified the next day that she was able to get a table for all nine of us at nine that night under her name. It’s good to have connections.
The visit was prefaced by aperitivos at one of the crowded cafés a few blocks away on Piazza Erbe as my friend suggested. The aperitivo is welcome part of near-daily life in Verona and much of northern Italy these days, it seems. Then after one bitter starter, we ambled near the storefronts for Gucci, Burberry, Bottega Veneta and Dolce & Gabbana, we made it to the more humble one for the restaurant.
We were seated at the long table not far from the entrance where we initially were the other night when the place was much emptier, greeted with the first side of The Clash's "Combat Rock" in the air seemingly spun from vinyl. The dinner that night was a lot of fun, one of the highlights of the trip. As we sat down and begin to order, the street in front of the restaurant and small area near the front of the counter began to fill up with a festive crowd, seemingly mostly locals, not too young nor too old. Mostly single, at least for the evening, it seemed. Seated nearby, the indoor dining area is not much, it was a fun environment for a wine-soaked meal.
Antipasto, pasta with truffles as the primo or the house specialty Risotto con Amarone for me next – “Fantastico” was Alessandra’s description – then the meats and finally dessert. We did it up in the indulgent tourist fashion. Plenty of wine, too, of course. It was a joy to thumb through one of the oversized wine lists to try to select the wines, at least once with help from one of its sommeliers. The Pra Otto Soave, Speri Valpolicella Classico, and Torre d’Orti Valpoicella Ripasso Superiore were each very well made, delicious, complementary to their parts of the meal, and very reasonably priced for American customers. I did note again that Vitello alla Milanese gets less desirable the further you travel from the Milan area, as mine was drier and less flavorful than it should have been, hence the need for accompaniments of tomatoes and mayonnaise. No matter, a very enjoyable night. After finish the desserts and rest of wine and digestivos, I seem to remember, we split up to find cabs in different parts of the city center in a still bustling Verona past midnight on a weekday.
Antica Bottega del Vino is a terrific stop for wine whether or not a full dinner is in store. A number of cicchetti can be a great partner to the second glass of wine and can make for a meal in itself. The restaurant, the bar, is worth more than just one visit, in fact. I’m looking forward to a future return.
Antica Bottega del Vino
Via Scudo di Francia
37121 Verona, Italy