Vinitaly – Experiencing the Fine Wines of Italy

I am excited and delighted to be in Verona once again – the romantic medieval city of Romeo and Juliet – in the heart of the Veneto region, where the Adige River flows smoothly under centuries-old bridges. Time seems to be trapped in its waters, and the reflection of the colourful medieval houses is astonishing.

I have come to Verona many times, and every time I am captivated by its eternal beauty. This year, once again, pleasure and business bring me here. The city is host to the Vinitaly wine show in the Fiera di Verona, one of the biggest wine trade shows in the world.

This year the event showcases 12 huge pavilions hosting 4,300 exhibitors in an area of 86,000 square metres. (You almost need a shuttle bus to get around, or a pair of really good shoes!) More than 150,000 visitors come every year from 100 different countries.

If you are involved in the business of wine and olive oil, or if you are simply a lover of fine food, this is one specialty trade show you cannot afford to miss. You must see it at least once in your life!

Over a five-day period, you will learn, taste, live and breathe everything about wine, olive oil and food – even cigars and tourism! Start planning now for next April. A useful tip: have a theme in mind to avoid being overwhelmed by the huge variety of wine styles, native Italian grapes, and regional foods. 

It’s 9:00 AM, opening time. An ocean of people floods the gates. There are no orderly line-ups in Italy. Therefore, you must “adapt.” This means, go with the flow. But don’t be afraid to get a little pushy or you might get constantly “shifted.” Without noticing, you will end up at the back of the line.

The first expression that comes to mind upon entering Vinitaly, in classic North American fashion, is “WOW”! Indeed, it is a city within a city. But stay calm and don’t try to go every- where on the first day. You need to get organized.

What I look for is mainly little- known grapes, wines produced in smaller towns, and little-known appellations plus food, of course. Good food! That is when the excitement starts! On this first day, I move among the different regions: Lazio, where I taste the lovely products of Castel De Paolis, a winery inGrottafettara, near Rome; then on to Veneto, Abruzzo, Molise, and Campania. I stop in Emilia Romagna, in the heart of Lambrusco, to better understand this lovely red sparkling wine and try it with some Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and prosciutto di Parma.

The second day takes me to the southern region of Puglia, where I attend a seminar on Nero di Troia (a native red grape) and a menù degus- tazione (lunch-tasting) presented by a chef from Slow Food Puglia.

Then it is on to the mandatory visit of the SOL (Salone Olio Oliva or olive oil pavilion), where a chef, the owner of a restaurant in Naples, is demonstrating what olive oil to use when cooking with fish. “I never like to put olive oil on the customer’s table,” he says with a decisive tone. “I prefer to season the plate the way my recipe requires.”

Later on in the afternoon, I direct my compass towards the producers of some of the smallest but best Italian sweet wines: Ramandolo, a small DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) in the Friuli region made entirely with Verduzzo Friulano, a native white grape; Erbaluce Passito, a Piemontese white delicacy made from passito, raisins from the white Erbaluce grape; the powerful red Sforzato from the Alpine Valtellina area of Lombardia, made with the red Nebbiolo grape fermented twice (Ripasso Amarone- style); Sciacchetra, a rare and expensive sweet delicacy made with the native Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino grapes grown on steep terraces on sea cliffs in beautiful Liguria. I pair this “nectar of the Gods” with lovely, decadent patisserie. What a way to end a long, tiring day!

On the third day I start early, with my customary cappuccino and cornetto (Italian croissant) – the modern and quick Italian breakfast, usually consumed at the counter, standing up. I attend a conference on wine tourism in Italy – the latest trends, how to promote it and make it into a business. This, after all, is Vinitaly: not just about wine and wine tasting, but also an enormous learning opportunity about business, culture, new trends, new rules and new technologies, people, history and food. What more can wine educators like me ask for?

The downside of Vinitaly is that you can be easily overwhelmed by all the information. So come prepared. Another issue to contend with is punctuality – or rather a lack thereof. Don’t expect to wait only five minutes if you show up at 9:55 for a seminar scheduled to start at 10:00! The acceptable delay in Italy is about 30 minutes. And the end time is only a guideline! A seminar scheduled from 10:00 to 11:00 AM may, in actual fact, run from about 10:30 to 12:00. So plan around this and be as happy as always! Also, remember that you are at an Italian wine show, so a couple of glasses of Amarone here and there will keep the stress level down! 

My last two days are superfrenetic. There is so much more I want to do, but I am almost at the end of the five-day show! I need to focus… Here we go: a logical path between regions and wines. I choose to immerse myself in an educational tasting: a typical match-up between Pinot Grigio and wild river trout bred in the northern Tagliamento River in Friuli. The tasting includes a beautifully prepared smoked trout, and a trout cooked with orange and lemon, and fresh trout eggs. A “marriage of love” when paired with one of those “super-mineral” Pinot Grigio from the different DOCs of Friuli.

After one (or two) double espressos, I head south to Puglia for a seminar on dessert wines with sweet Puglian specialties. I discover some rare ones – Aleatico Passito, Moscato di Trani, Malvasia Nera di Brindisi, Primitivo Passito and a Primitivo – Aleatico, vinified in a sherry style!

This extravaganza must eventually come to an end. But first, how about the sweet taste of Sicily with some Moscato di Noto and Malvasia delle Lipari? Or a tasting at the Marche pavil- ion of the Lacrima di Morro d’Alba grapes and the newest DOCG: Vernaccia di Serrapetrona – a sparkling red that comes in a dry and sweet version?

Before saying goodbye to Vinitaly and Verona, I meet up with some friends and business contacts for an “Arrivederci” dinner. We taste typical Veronese food, of course, such as culatello appetizer (a special cut of prosciutto), bigoli in ragù d’asino, and a generous portion of gnocchi alla salsa di noci (walnut sauce). By dinner’s end, everybody is laughing about how much jogging we’ll need to do when we go back home! We’ll think about that tomorrow. We are in Italy for now, and all of this is well and good. Salute! 

Sommelier, journalist, teacher and food connoisseur Antonio Mauriello was born and raised in Rome. He is a regular contributor to Accenti. He lives in Ottawa with his wife Nina.

First published in Accenti Magazine, Issue 11. 

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