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Mission: Vinitaly 2012

Some of you out there in the Wine Universe may have heard about a trade tasting that takes place in Verona, Italy for four days every March called Vinitaly, which is now in its 46th year. Vinitaly is hard to imagine in scale. It is downright massive with over 150,000 attendees representing 120 countries and 4000 exhibitors of Italian wines and spirits spread over fifteen convention halls comprising 1M square feet of exhibition space. It’s a who’s who of the Italian wine world with booths ranging from modest tasting stands to giant multi-level ‘show rooms’ equipped with velvet rope handlers and CuVenee gas preservation systems. There are daily seminars, workshops, panel discussions, special press tastings, and VIP zones featuring Italy’s top wines not shown to the general assembly. In all my years working closely with Italian importers and producers the one word that was never left out in describing the fair was ‘crazy.’ And this was the first year I was finally going to see that crazy first hand.

Along with my fellow Lot18 curator, Janine Lettieri, I headed to Verona on March 23th to attend all four days of the fair. Our mission: begin each morning at 10 am (with the aid of a double cappuccino) and procure the best Italian wines possible for Lot18 members directly from the source - and remain standing by 6pm.  Andiamo!

Day 1: By one o'clock we had gone from Fruili in Hall 6 to Veneto in Hall 4, and on to Piedmonte in Hall 9. In the afternoon we got lost in Tuscany spread over Halls 8 and D, and swung down to Sicily in Hall 2 for a sneak peak. Navigating the fair, locating booth numbers and staying on track to meet appointment times was rigorous work. Italians are a jovial, social bunch and are always ready with one more bottle of a special wine you just have to try before you go – but often times these gems are worth it. Conducting business at the fair is quite efficient – pre-scheduled appointments are standard and almost every both has tables and meeting space to facilitate proper let’s-make-a-deal discussions. Brava! To help combat palate fatigue producers are armed with a barrage of salumi and cheeses and push fresh pasta dishes on you around lunch time. Basta!

Day 2: Fueling up properly was important on this mission. Outside the exhibition halls are full-sized pop up gourmet restaurants sponsored by producers or regional ‘Consorzios’. We found a scene of restaurant sponsored by a large group of Lambrusco and sparkling wine producers where pizzas and plates of prosciutto flung in all directions while Barry White and Al Greene spun on the soundtrack. Ten thousand milligrams of sodium later I was ready to hit more of Tuscany to suss out the perfect 2009 Chianti. 

Of course we spit when we taste wines but when you taste more than 50 over the course of the day you can’t avoid feeling a bit loopy by closing time – this was aided by the fact that weather could not have been more intoxicating. We were basked in clear blue skies and 75 degree temperatures every day, unusual for this time of year. Decompressing from the mayhem of Vinitaly was best achieved at a café on Verona’s picturesque Piazza Erbe with a local cocktail called Spritz -a blend of Aperol bitters and Prosecco over ice. Sipping my orange-colored Spritz and watching the Piazza scene come alive every evening was a joyous experience. I was ready to move to Verona by day two. Bellisima!

Day 3: After the morning spent tasting Amarone in the Veneto Hall we had the good fortune to be invited by my friend and former employer Rob Mondavi Jr. to the Arnaldo Caprai lunch ‘truck’ where every day a different Michelin star chef prepared a four-course lunch for 40 fortunate attendees. We enjoyed delicate pasta and a goat dish paired alongside the top notch Caprai wines from Umbria. Grazie mille, Rob!

The restaurant and wine bar Bottega del Vino in Verona’s Old City is an institution and serves as the late night playground for select Vinitaly goers. With an private dinner invitation from Masi – a producer of some of Italy’s most revered Amarone- we had our VIP pass for the evening. Our group was served the biggest plates of Burrata – a fresh mozzarella with a crème center – that I have ever seen. For the main course we enjoyed Risotto made with Masi Amarone, while sipping the 2006 Amarone Riserva alongside. Pure decadence!

After a tour of the famed Bottega wine cellar where more cork popping commenced, the party spilled out into the alley outside the restaurant’s entrance where we mingled with festive Vinitaly goers from around the world into the late night hours. Buona Notte.

Day 4:Mission accomplished. Janine and I concluded that we had tasted over 300 wines and met with more than 40 producers over the four days. Stacks of business cards and winery brochures bulged out our bags and we were both excited about our latest wine discoveries to introduce back home. It was time to get out early before the evening rush and head for the hills: the hills of Valploicella. It’s remarkable how quickly you can access the countryside within a 5 or 10 minute drive from the Center City. We meandered through vineyard roads and toured sleepy towns, breathing in the fresh Spring air before venturing back to Verona at dusk. We closed the day with one last Spritz on the Piazza Erbe where we ran into fellow Vinitaly friends passing by.

So did I find Vinitaly ‘crazy’? Well yes, but in the best way possible. The Italians really know how to throw a wine extravaganza and given the contacts made and gems unearthed it would be pazzo not to go again next year.

Ciao Ciao!