Image of Venissa wine bottle with 2015 gold leaf label and a box of wines behind.

For the love of the lost grape Dorona

Part 2 – the bottle, the surrounds and the tasting

This is a sort of love story – for the love of the lost grape Dorona. Now rediscovered, Gianluca Bisol and his family have been growing this golden grape in the shallow soil of Mazzorbo, a tiny Venetian island in the lagoon. The grape makes some of the most stunning wines white wines I’ve tasted.

The ambience

As we made our way from the vineyard to the tasting room, the courtyard was bustling with chefs and the sommelier, busily preparing for the day’s lunch. You see, the estate isn’t just a vineyard – it’s a wine resort.

I stopped to admire a box of Venissa bottles, with their incredible, hand beaten gold labels. More on that later, but suffice to say, each bottle is a work of art in itself.

Box of Venissa Dorona wines with gold leaf labels on a table with a bottle in front.
With a different design for each vintage,
Venissa’s hand beaten gold leaf labels are works of art.

The wine resort itself consists of two restaurants and five rooms, giving you the chance to stay and immerse yourself in the entire experience. Five of the rooms are on site at Venissa and there’s also another venue with several rooms to stay across the bridge in nearby colourful Burano.

The fine dining restaurant holds a Michelin star in addition to a Michelin green star. Here, you can choose from either a seven or ten course menu with matched wines.

The menu is created by chefs Chiara Pavan and Francesco Brutto, who work with what’s seasonally available to create a changing tasting menu. Venissa and its chefs are committed to sustainable practices, which is also why they have earned the Green Michelin Star.

A more relaxed eating option, the Osteria Contemporanea is an alternative to the set menu experience. Here, the changing seasonal menu is a more casual affair. It does what good restaurants should, creating dishes guided by what’s locally available or grown in Venissa’s gardens that are lovingly tended by local residents.

Amongst the Osteria’s offerings are classic Venetian cicchetti (small bites – the Venetian version of tapas), pasta and seafood. Add to that local artisan wines alongside Venissa’s own Dorona and rosso wines, you have a perfect spot to eat.

If you don’t have time to stop for lunch or dinner, you can enjoy a cocktail or wine at the bar, situated in the perfect spot for a vineyard view. At the bar you can also order cicchetti or a small plate to go with your aperitif.

If you’re wondering if I stayed to eat … well no, I didn’t. The dining information has been gleaned from Venissa’s site and some TripAdvisor reviews. Guess I’ll just have to return some day. For more information on Venissa’s Michelin status, hop on over to the Michelin Guide for the low down.

About those bottles

Those labels are pure gold and simply gorgeous.

Venissa wine bottle with pure gold leaf label Vintage 2015
Gold leaf adorns each bottle. This one is Vintage 2015.

Knowing the wine needed something extra special to show the golden nectar within, a hand beaten pure gold leaf label was designed in collaboration with a local craftsman. It’s delicate stuff and is completely done by hand – first attached and then fused to the bottle. This is done on nearby Murano and a different design is carved into the gold to differentiate each vintage.

Then there’s the hand etching below the gold that quietly marks the detail – the bottle number and vintage. Even the shape of the bottle is something else. It’s quite squat and heavy, reminding us that Dorona is here to stay.

While the labels are a beautiful representation of the liquid gold within, sadly they’re at risk. They’re made locally by a craftsman who’s the last of a long line of gold workers and who creates pure gold leaf as delicate as a whisper.

The Dorona Venissa white wines are represented by yellow gold and the Venissa reds by rose gold. They’re works of art in themselves and absolute keepers if you’re lucky enough to buy a bottle to take home.

Sadly, hand beating gold is a dying art. Like so many these crafts that just disappear, the techniques and secrets to the trade will become lost forever if not passed down.

Tasting time

A brief disclaimer

My tour included tasting six wines sold under the Venissa and Venusa labels. Three Dorona whites and three red wines.

But this is where I struggle to write in any detail. Despite being given a little booklet in which to write, I took hardly any tasting notes when I was there, preferring to discuss as I tasted with Serene, my guide. Some hours later, I sat and jotted some scant words, but it’s over two months ago and they lack the detail I need.

The following information is a blend of these notes, which I’ve cross referenced with Venissa’s sensory analysis of each wine that you’ll find published in the technical sheets for each vintage on its website.

I think I did okay from the words I jotted and a distant memory, but there are a lot of gaps and so the tasting notes you now read are a little short and rather blurred between my experience and the official notes I’ve edited from Venissa. All notes from the winery are credited.

The winemaking

Dorona undergoes long maceration on skins, which enhances its golden colour and its structure, which is likened to that of a red wine. It’s then aged in bottles before release, which ensures the complex flavours and unique characteristics of the grape shine through. I noted just last week on Venissa Tenuta’s Instagram page there’s a new Dorona release, Vintage 2018. I’d like to try that!

The Doronas

I tasted:

  1. Venusa 2019
  2. Venissa 2017
  3. Venissa 2015
Venusa 2019
Image of Venusa bianco bottle - Venissa Tenuto, Venice
The lovely Venusa label,
evoking the estate’s
gnarled vines

This is the baby of the family and my first tasting. Venusa is one of the ways Gianluca Bisol’s son Matteo, who now runs the vineyard is bringing a youthful energy to the winemaking operations.

Venusa is a wonderful wine. It’s a beautiful golden colour, but with the exuberance a fresh morning. I found stone fruits and spice, a complete mouthfeel with a honey and flowers on the palate and a dry finish. There’s definite savouriness in the finish too.

I bought a bottle of Venusa on the day, which I opened a couple of weeks later to share with my travelling companions. All I need do is close my eyes and transport myself back to Barcelona, on a balcony, sipping this golden drop. I recall its smoothness, the colour and the gentle way in which it enveloped my palate. Also, having had more than just one little taste of Venusa helps a lot in recalling this delicious drop.

Venissa Vintage 2017 being poured into a glass
Vintage 2017 being poured for tasting. Note the golden hue of the wine.

Venissa 2017

Here my notes are a bit muddled, but they recall the wine is macerated 30 days, which adds to its intense colour and palate. I remember this being full on the palate, tasting savoury characteristics and hints of the salty terroir in this – indeed I got that in all the wines.

Venissa’s technical sensory analysis (with my edits) suggests citrus peels, nuts and blond tobacco on the nose. A well-structured palate … with notes of honey, chamomille and spices and a dry savoury finish.

Venissa 2015

My notes state this is from ‘mixed grapes’, however Venissa’s information says the wine is 100% Dorona. I’d be curious to understand what this means. Might have to get in touch with Venissa to clarify. I’ll update this if I find out.

Like the Venissa 2017, the small tasting wasn’t enough for me to remember all the details, but it again had that gorgeous golden colour, velvety smooth palate with notes of stone fruits and honey again. Like its siblings, the savouriness of the wine was apparent.

Venissa’s sensory analysis – with my edits – suggests the wine is instantly spicy on the nose with iodine notes and nuances of fleshy yellow fruit. Well structured palate that’s full and velvety … traces of licorice and honey. A savoury, dry finish.

The Reds

Pouring Venissa Rosso into glasses for a tasting
Venissa Rosso being poured for my tasting

Once again, three reds were poured for tasting:

  • Venusa 2016
  • Venissa 2016
  • Venissa 2012

Venissa’s reds are a blend of 82% Merlot and 18% Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes are also grown on the lagoon island of Santa Cristina.

My recollection of the reds isn’t as clear as the whites. I think that’s because my excitement about trying Dorona – a grape variety entirely new to me and would probably not find anywhere else but here – was dominating my thoughts on the day.

Some very brief notes

I can say without hesitation I enjoyed the reds very much, even though I didn’t take lots of notes.

The few I have offer some insights, including with the benefit of some age, each having their own complexity and good length. Sadly, I don’t have notes for each individual wine.

They definitely had savoury qualities, a lovely mouthfeel and underneath it all, you could still taste that briny note of the terroir.

Additionally, I noted notes of cherries, berries, chocolate, along with a long finish and lovely mouthfeel. But which individual wine/s those words relate to, I cannot say.

Until next time

A waiter outside Venissa Osteria/Restaurant
Wine bottles and glasses on a table at Venissa's tasting room
The sun shines through trees over the bell tower at Venissa above old stone walls

It was time to leave and head across to Burano to continue exploring these fine islands on the lagoon.

The bridge between Mazzorbo and Burano islands, Venetian lagoon
The bridge to Burano

Some further source credits:

Venissa Tenuta

Condé Nast Traveler – The Lost Golden Grape of Venice: How an Italian Family Resurrected its Rarest Wine | published December 16 2019

Tripadvisor – Venissa – the winery resort overview | Venissa il Ristorante reviews

One Comment

  1. Pingback: How Venice’s lost Dorona grape found new life - The Infatuated Foodie

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *