The biggest event in Italian wine business is the national wine fair, Vinitaly, held in Verona every year in spring. It is massive. 93,000 visitors, of which more than a quarter were foreign buyers, attended this year. The organisation has improved over the years, especially since the pandemic, with a better shuttle bus service to get you to the huge fairground where it takes place and upgraded facilities. It still requires stamina and, above all, booking appointments in advance. This means that you get the attention of producers and, crucially, somewhere to sit and use a laptop as you taste and talk. Last year, 100 per cent of my attention was on Piemonte as I was still in the research phase for my book, The Wines of Piemonte. This year half my time was with Piemonte and half with other areas of Italy for my work for the WSET. Janet and I stayed on Lake Garda (20 minutes by train) and enjoyed its relative calm, compared to the crazy overcrowding of Verona itself.
Highlights from around Italy
Of the many, I would pick:
- Iconic women of Italian bollicine (bubbles). Six leading women winemakers and owners brought a special wine to celebrate their achievements together: Elvira Bortolomiol (Bortolomiol, Prosecco DOCG), Francesca Moretti (Bellavista, Franciacorta), Cristiana Ziliani (Berlucchi, Franciacorta), Lucia Letrari (Letrari, TrentoDoc), Camilla Lunelli (Ferrari Trento, TrentoDoc) and Alicia Lini (Lini 910, Emilia). All make beautiful wines, all have a great story to tell. The real surprise? The Vino Spumante di Qualità Rosso Metodo Classico Millesimato Brut of Lini 910, vintage 2007, made with the Lambrusco Salamino grape variety by the traditional method. With 15 years on the lees, it was full of dried red cherry and stone fruit, topped up with toast and mushroom notes. A Lambrusco to redefine the category!
- Professor Attilio Scienza gave a great presentation on the recent developments in grape breeding to create disease-resistant varieties. Although he spoke in Italian, his slides were in English. The most important point he made was that gene editing allows the quick creation of resistant varieties that only changes those parts of the DNA that make the plant susceptible to disease. The rest is left intact so that the wine will taste close to or indistinguishable from its parent, unlike conventional crossings. He noted that while France has begun to admit these varieties into its national register of approved varieties, Italy has not. Reducing the amount of synthetic chemical sprays, copper and sulfur used–and the amount of disease–is a key goal. Here is the problem, and here is what looks like a solution:
- It was great to meet old friends from Tuscany: Carla Benini and Edoardo Ventimiglia from Sassotondo, near Pitigliano (actually at the special Summa wine festival, the day before Vinitaly started) and Andrea Contucci of Contucci, historic producer in Montepulciano. For many years they contributed to the Tuscan Harvest Watch feature on this website.
Highlights from Piemonte
Vietti, established star, precision winemaking
On the very first day of the fair, we found that our passes got us in well before the general entrance. As a result, it was possible to meet with people and catch up before the event really got underway. As a result of this, I got a last-minute booking to meet with Eugenio Palumbo who has worked at Vietti for the last 21 years. This turned into a two-hour personal masterclass with a range of the wines made by Luca Currado Vietti. Luca made the wines for the last 35 years and has left the company with a great legacy. What really came over was the precision and intelligence of their winemaking resulting in super-clean, expressive wines, bringing out the best of the fruit they have grown. Criomaceration with Nebbiolo is used to enhance the freshness and the aromatics of the variety. Part of their Timorasso production (seven hectares planted in Monleale in 2018 and another five in Vho in 2022) is in neutral but mildly oxidative ceramic vessels. Only small amounts of new oak are used for their stupendous old vine Barbera d’Alba Scarrone and so on.
The Barbaresco wineries in Alba
It was also great to hear the full story of Adriano Marco e Vittorio from Michela Adriano. In fact, this Vinitaly turned into a bit of a focus on San Rocco Seno d’Elvio, the small part of Barbaresco DOCG which is in the municipality of Alba. On the next day, I tasted the wines of Comm. Armando Piazzo, from the same hamlet. The star wines at Adriano are undoubtedly Barbaresco Basarin (Neive) and its Riserva, but who could resist a fully sweet, botrytis-affected Moscato wine? Reasonably enough it is called Satifol, dialect for ‘Are you crazy?’
Roberto Garbarino, Alta Langa rising star
Most of the top Alta Langa producers are the big sparkling wine houses or established Barolo names. Roberto Garbarino is rather different, though he did work at Bruno Giacosa where he became entranced with making traditional method sparkling wine. With partner, Beatrice, he set off on his own, has uilt up his vineyards to 10 hectares, established a range and rebranded the line with contemporary labels. The winemaking continues the same: elegant, well-defined fruit expression and autolytic notes, low dosage, racy acidity. Le Rapide, successor to Extra Brut (Pinot/Chardonnay blend); Il Viaggio (100 per cent Chardonnay), L’Istinto Rosé Dossaggio Zero (100 per cent Pinot Nero), and La Sorgente (100 per cent Pinot Nero vinified as a white wine). There will also be a Riserva from the 2016 vintage.
Friends, old and new
Finally, it was great to catch up with some of the hundreds of producers I have visited or interviewed in the last three years. Here there is a hangover from the pandemic. I have an immediate connection with those who I was able to visit in person, for example, Francesca Poggio from Gavi in the picture below. I don’t have the same with the many I interviewed on Zoom so it was a real bonus to meet (a handful of them) in person.
For me this was a very successful Vinitaly and, as always, there are excellent restaurants to visit in the evenings. And now it is back to completing the manuscript of the book. There remains just finishing the final chapter and revisions. The aim is to deliver the text by the end of May.