This week the Big Guns come out to Verona. It's Vinitaly time. Here's my list of five things you ought to know.
1. It’s a place to see some of Italy’s best and brightest winemakers.
Whatever they have been thinking about last year, like their shoes, it is sure to have changed. That is just the nature of the Italian sensibility. Always fiddling always tweaking. Never finished. If you don’t like barrique aged wines, it will (and has) changed. It you don’t like micro-oxygenation, don’t worry. Same goes with “international style”. Hankering for “thereness?” It will be there. Don’t like the label on one of your favorite wines? No problem, that will also change. Don’t understand Italian? Speak English or French or Spanish.
The young generation of Italian winemaking families has started taking the reins and they understand tradition and their responsibility. Italy is the great wine producing country that has managed to stay in front of their past accomplishments. Walk through the Sicilian pavilion and feel (and hear) the energy of the ancient island, now strutting onstage with youthful energy and aplomb. Head over to the Marche booths and taste the wonderfully juicy Sangiovese and Montepluciano wines, the Verdicchio and Pecorino and see what a little region to the side of Rome is doing. Hint: they ain’t standing still. You think Tuscany is boring? Think again, we’re talking major mojo here. And while in the back yard of the Valpolicella producing area, Verona shows her local wines with great pride, and they should. Amarone and the like have never been more exciting and delicious. So there.
2. Verona and the surrounding area have an abundance of great dining.
Since 1984 I don’t recall going to one restaurant more than twice and that would be less than three or four times, at most. Whether in Verona city or on the outskirts, up in the hills or towards Lake Garda, this area is a Mecca for food lovers. Seafood from the Adriatic or the lakes, all kinds of meat (and I mean “all kinds”) braised, boiled, grilled, stewed, roasted and on better than another. Close your eyes, spin around, and when you stop, open and walk to the first place which serves food. That simple. That good.
3. Parking is a major pain. And then there's the rain.
Getting better, but always a challenge. Italians and parking, it’s a pastime; it’s their fantasy football league in kinetic form. And finding the perfect parking place in which to exit the fair quickly in order to make it to dinner, well that’s a fine art. I have two places scoped out after all these years, and I’m not telling anyone where they are. And the rain. Take two umbrellas so you can give one to the person with you who forgot, so you don’t have to share your umbrella and get wet. That has happened too many times, trying to be the nice guy, sharing an umbrella that I planned to bring. Just bring two, only two.
4. You will never be able to see it all.
Imagine all these uber-football field sized pavilions, maybe 10 or 11 of them holding one or two football fields. There is just now way you can conquer the scale of Vinitaly. Appointments are becoming necessary. That’s a good thing. Depending on how long you are going for, if it’s just a day or two, go see some of your favorite producers or friends, but try to make time to explore, be it the Alto Adige or the Campania booths. It’s a little vacation to the region, with folks bringing their lemons and aunts’ cookies, their local weavings to decorate their booths, maybe something particularly indicative of their place. Remember this is Disneyland for Italian wine lovers with Main Street, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride all there, for your enjoyment.
5. The combined energy and ambition of Italy’s wine industry, in one place and for five days, is a major rejuvenator.
This is the real reward of Vinitaly. Never in one place have I ever felt like I was around like-minded folks. And while like-minded might not be the correct description, most of the people are there to uplift and improve the nature of the Italian wine business. It is art, it is commerce, it is industry. It is also tradition, and local, and international. It’s all that and more. It's tapping into the past, the present and the future, a mainline connection to the Italian Wine gods, Bacchus, Dionisio & Co.
Pictures and reports will follow in the next week or so, if I have a good connection. My “intern”, Beatrice Russo, might also chime in from time to time. She is working on a new project or two, and folks have told me they like her perspective. Thank you.