Visiting Vinitaly, the annual five-day Italian wine fair in Verona, is in many ways a microcosm of the Italian wine scene – massive in scale, seemingly infinite in possibilities, by turns exhilarating and exasperating. The sheer scale of it is quite intimidating – 13 huge pavilions and 4200 producers. If the producers bring five wines each, that’s a small matter of more than 20,000 wines available to be tasted.
In some ways, the biggest challenge is finding accommodation. Inevitably the producers and regular buyers book their hotel room at the end of one fair for the next year. Our solution has been to stay in a nearby town and use the train. The fair complex is within walking distance of Verona’s railway station and there is a shuttle bus system if you like a slightly jovial ride with the crowd. This year we stayed on the southern shore of Lake Garda which worked pretty well.
Peschiera del Garda is a beautiful holiday town, with historic buildings and of course the majestic lake. It’s just 15 minutes by train to Verona. Our hotel was a good 40-minute walk mostly along the lakeside to the station – good when you are feeling fresh, a bit of a pain if you need an early start or if its late, though you can always take a €10 taxi. The splendid villas and holiday homes enliven the walk. There is a direct bus too but it’s slow. The bus route has the advantage of allowing you to study the typical ‘long trunk’ vine training system as you pass through the vineyards of the Lugana region!
Once in the fair, the next challenges are to decide what to attempt and then to find your goal, whether that’s a region (quite easy but with some interesting quirks) or individual producer (varies from the easy to almost impossible). The rectilinear nature of the fair complex should make it easy but in reality, is profoundly disorientating. The only orientation point is the line of services (food, toilets, etc) which runs right across the whole site – but then there is no way of sensing whether you are facing north or south. There are elaborate systems of numbering within the halls but they rarely seem to relate to reality. Of course, the Italians either just know where things are or ask repeatedly until they find someone who knows where X is!
However, the positives of Vinitaly hugely outweigh the negatives. It allows you fantastic opportunities to taste:
- wines from all 20 regions of this fascinatingly varied country with wines from the Alps right down to the near-desert parts of Sicily
- the range of wines from the regional consortia – see, for example, the post on the Chianti Rufina region which follows
- endless examples of the wines of individual growers
- a range of vintages of a world-class wine in a formal vertical tasting – at a suitable price of course
And there is a balance to be struck between exploration and consolidation, and between tasting wines and meeting the people who produce them. You could spend a vast amount of time simply going around and catching up with previous contacts or indeed making new friends. To the newcomer its a perfect environment to practice the Italian habit of socialising, the connecting and reconnecting within the city of wine.