BEST BELLINI – Shoes, widow and Prosecco

After two days and nights, Lachlan and the widow forced through lack of food, if not wine, finally left their luxury suite in Venice’s most expensive hideaway – hotel heading out to lunch at Harry’s Bar. Lachlan told me later it was the best lunch he’d ever had. Lachlan, the widow and her deceased husband had planned a visit to Venice years before, the sole purpose being that the three of them get very drunk on Harry’s Bar’s most famous cocktail – Bellinis, a mixture of white peach juice and dry Prosecco.

The widow’s husband who had travelled regularly to Venice on business had told them that the best meals in the world were to be purchased at Harry’s Bar and that no restaurant anywhere came close for excellence. The exquisite carpaccio, the finger sandwiches wrapped in crinkly paper and fried to order, the Tagliolini with Tartufi and of course, its famous cocktail. Hemingway, the Windsors and even Toscanini had been regulars as were Peggy Guggenheim and Woody Allen.

After the husband died, the widow insisted that they make the journey to Venice and had booked a table for three as originally intended. When they arrived at Harry’s Bar hungry and exhausted, they were met by the owner himself Arrigo Cipriani who remained unfazed when the widow, declaring they would not wait for the third guest, promptly ordered three Bellinis. Lachlan took great pleasure going over the minutia of his week in Venice. I reminded him that had it not been for a pair of women’s shoes, he would never have found himself at Harry’s Bar with a beautiful widow.

Years earlier Lachlan told me he had found the shoes in the washing machine. He was 38 at the time though we had first met as students when I was already married and recently arrived from Gibraltar. He lived with his mother. We commuted daily between Edinburgh and Glasgow arriving at Queen Street station with barely enough time to make the morning lecture. Our mutual circumstances encouraged a close friendship and we soon felt at ease exchanging personal details. He was amused to learn that by 18, I was already married whilst confiding that he had never dated a girl. We both laughed but I was quite perplexed as he was an unusually handsome, strapping lad and I saw many women and men spend entire journeys pretending not to look at him. His chiselled features, short wavy blonde hair, perfect white teeth and athletic figure drew attention wherever he went through, Lachlan was totally oblivious to the effect he had on others.

Lachlan’s mother Megan, a self-centred, domineering, well-to-do woman with a cornucopia of imagined illnesses, suddenly dropped dead from the one condition, Lachie told me, she never suspected.

It was sometime after the funeral that Lachie called to let me know he had placed his mother’s Victorian villa on the market and had bought a Georgian townhouse in the New Town not far from where we lived. As Lachlan had been anticipating, his mother’s death left him with few responsibilities and more money than he could ever spend.

I first saw the shoes when I went to his new house, taking a good bottle of burgundy which I knew he liked. Lachlan nonchalantly told me he had become obsessed by a pair of women’s sandals left in an otherwise empty house. The shoes were open sandals in pink leather with a single tubular strap from toes to ankle. They had been designed to expose as much foot as possible with thin soles and no heel to speak of. The owner had left faint toe impressions and a barely perceptible smell of vanilla which had powerfully captivated Lachlan’s imagination. As the evening wore on and the wine loosened his tongue, it appeared that, irrationally, my friend had fallen for an unseen stranger on the basis of a pair of shoes!

Unbelievably, Lachlan got to meet the owner of the shoes at a drinks party given by his neighbour. A couple had introduced themselves as the former owners of his house. The man in his early sixties was quite a bit older than his wife who according to Lachlan was just as he had imagined her. The three of them became very close and for years dined regularly together and in summer, would spend long weekends in the West of Scotland – fly fishing and drinking copious amounts of fine red wine in a cottage the couple owned. After the husband died and she was over her mourning, they resumed their fishing trips and sometime later found themselves at Harry’s Bar hungry and exhausted.

According to Arrigo Cipriani, you should not attempt to make Bellinis with anything other than white peaches. Pink fleshed fruit will not do. Cipriani does not mention the Prosecco other than it should be dry.

Harry’s Bar Cipriani Venice

The Ciprianis may have been making their famous concoction since the late 1920s but only recently has Prosecco become the choice drink for many. Vinexpo’s CEO Guillaume Deglise stated recently that production of Prosecco would surpass 420 million cases by 2020. The largest consumers of Prosecco would be Italy followed by UK and then the USA.

Famously, Boris Johnson stated recently that Italy would have to offer free trade if they wanted to sell their Prosecco in UK. He was ridiculed for his statement but an element of truth remains in his assertions. Ask wine producers in Veneto, home of Prosecco. Recent political indiscretions in Parliament have been blamed on too much warm Prosecco.

Whilst Prosecco may be an affordable type of Champagne, the two are quite different. For a start, Prosecco is mainly made from the Glera grape indigenous to the area. Astoundingly high permitted yields of 18 tonnes per hectare allow millions of bottles to be produced cheaply. Unlike Champagne, the secondary fermentation, which gives the wine its sparkle, is produced in large steel tanks in what is known as the Charmat method. The resulting wine tends to have mild fruity flavours, high residual sugar and a creamy texture with none of the biscuity flavours which develop in Champagne as a result of prolonged contact between the wine and yeasts.

Prosecco continues to be a huge hit worldwide. Most bottles come in at under £10 and Prosecco is perceived as a trademark and ordered irrespective of producer.

Lachlan and the widow, with a shortage of neither time nor money, later became quite involved in the Edinburgh art scene becoming well known sponsors for struggling artists. When I last heard from him, they were on their way to Venice with a young, bearded protégé of theirs with the sole intention of getting drunk on Bellinis, of course.

I tasted two Proseccos available locally:

Bottega Gold Prosecco (Stagnettos £18.70)

The wine comes in a spectacular gold bottle clearly designed bring sparkle and glamour to wine drinking. It succeeds brilliantly and I have yet to see a more striking bottle of sparkling wine. But does the hype of the packaging match up to the liquid inside?

In a word – yes. The wine itself is at the premium end of Proseccos and whilst it will never match the complexity of premium Champagne (nor its price) its creamy fruity style with aromas of sweet apples and peaches makes this a hugely attractive alternative.

Prosecco Spumante Morrison’s Own Brand

Watery in colour. The flavour is faintly reminiscent of peaches and melon. Bubbles are slightly coarse but typical. Drink well-chilled. Inexpensive. 15/20