Inside, away from the spring drizzle, the restaurant was cosy and warm. Dark wooden tables were set for service, and hundreds of empty wine bottles lined floating shelves and sat nestled in nooks. Each bottle showcased, like a trophy for a wine moment well lived.
We had come to try the restaurant’s famous dish of amarone risotto, the dish made with Amarone della Valpolicella, the rich, heavy, intense red wine of the Veneto region.
But in the dream state of travel, we had unwittingly arrived at the restaurant just before midday and well before service. Chefs busied themselves handling buffalo mozzarella the size of oxens’ hearts and prosciutto as thin as tissue paper. Their tall white toques bobbed like buoys in water. Aromas of simmering stocks and warm espresso wafted through the air.
As we made arrangements to return for lunch, I noticed a group of eight older gentlemen sitting around a large table in the back of the otherwise empty restaurant. Wooden umbrella handles clung to the edge of the table. Some of the men had removed their jackets. A few chatted. Others watched the chefs or stared contentedly into the restaurant. There were no ‘Salutes!’ or other such rowdiness to suggest an impromptu celebration. Instead, they sat snugly together, like the worn cobblestones of Verona’s Piazza Bra. There was no food on the table but each man had a bulbous wine glass filled with inky red wine.
When we returned an hour later the men had gone and so had the wine, but their glasses still sat on the table. I imagined they held the fading whispers of another wine moment well lived, like speech bubbles they left behind.