Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Week in Italy - 7 Wine Finds from Vinitaly

from the "bringing Vinitaly to flyover country" dept.

Seven days in Italy. Seven wines. So it was my friend Paul diCarlo at Jimmy’s in Dallas asked me to put together a tasting for his little back room, his “circolo del vino” for 57 of his closest friends and clients. “Show me what we missed.” I thought about it. All the wines I sampled in Italy, how to reduce it down to seven? Not so easy. But when I was sitting outside my porch in the Langhe, looking out over a vineyard I got this idea. Why wines? Why not people? And then it got a little easier.

Vinitaly 2011 is a blur. I was only there three days, instead of the usual five. The UGG en primeurs in Bordeaux stole a day on the front side and the Summa 2 event in Trentino borrowed another day. In 2012 there will only be four days for Vinitaly and will start on a Sunday, March 25 and go through Wednesday March 28. Yes, those are the correct dates. It seems the earlier decision to run the show from April 1-4 got in the way of the UGC Bordeaux en primeurs and the WSWA show in Sin City in 2012.

When I first arrived in Verona on Thursday night April 7 my friend Giulio emailed me an invite to the Contadi Castaldi happy hour. I’d been to the property and loved it, loved the people. So I figured, great, an Italian party. A bar was transformed for the night complete with jazz musician and blues singer perched atop the room. Tubs of cool Franciacorta and delicate tastes of pizza and appetizers flowed liberally. They were pouring their special cuvee of Saten, called Soul, a bone dry wine in a package that is pure Italian bling. But for some reason I was gravitating more towards the Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Brut that night. I normally prefer their Rosé but it wasn’t in sight. So I took a spin with the Brut. It was a perfect match with the weather, slightly warm, the food, fresh and delicious and the people, well dressed.Young and foodish.

The next day, after the show, a short drive from my hotel (thankfully) to the Zenato winery, where I was summoned for another party and sit down dinner. As I arrived, I saw a few folks I knew, Andy Blue, Ron Sedia, my Winebow friend Blaine, and a server pressed a cool glass of Lugana Brut into my hands. It had been a warm day at the fair in Verona and the cool breezes coming off Lake Garda in the early evening was a welcome relief. Plates of prosciutto and other cured meats, fresh vegetables, little pockets of finger foods and voila, I was restored. I walked over to the fire where the meats were being fired up for the main course and uttered my three words in Visentin dialect, securing me some of the finer cuts of meat on my plate. Not a bad way to end a week, considering I would be working through the weekend.

Nadia Zenato poured her Zenato Lugana wine, which really does not get enough consideration in America, somehow crammed between the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio and falling under the shadow of Soave, which is fighting to re-ascend the staircase. Instead here is Lugana, a soft, delicate, dry little wisp of a wine that if you were stranded on a desert island for five years would be more than ample to satisfy one through the time.

The next day, I had an appointment to taste with the Moretti family, who owns the stunning estate in the Maremma, Petra. Francesca has always been sweet and welcoming to me, even in a booth crowded with Italians vying to see how many of their kind they could cram into the room. She has a way to make it all disappear with her gaze. Her attention- I am here for you – welcome – do you like our new baby? Along with her new baby (as in child) the estate also has just released the Petra Mareto, this wacky little Tuscan blend of Syrah, Merlot and Malbec. I know. I know. I looked at the wine and said the same thing. Then I closed my eyes, took a sip and was blown away. It spoke to me. Number one it was lower in alcohol, 12.5%, than many wines I had been trying. It didn’t burn. It was tasty. It reminded me of Petra. And my long lost home state of California. I was home, if only for a few ounces.

I had an appointment to see the Isoldi family of Campodelsole in Romagna with their winemaker, Stefano Salvini, who is a friend. Stefano and I have traveled all over Texas together, been in Italy, New York, Friuli. Stefano is one of those guys you just gotta like, always a smile always an idea to make a better wine, always thinking. He really is a huge part of the future of Italian wine history. Can you tell I like the guy? We tasted though a bevy of Campodelsole’s new wines, and loved them. And then Stefano brought out a wine I had already bought. And had a lot of, the Campodelsole San Maglorio Sangiovese Di Romagna Superiore – Superiore denoting a little higher alcohol (½%) from estate vineyards that have had a deeper selection for fruit and depth. Very affordable, no oak, no technological manipulation to dress the wine up. Thankfully, the wine, in its natural state has terrific attributes for concentrated fruit and vigor. And it tasted wonderful, in the hot sun baked stands of the Emilia-Romagna pavilion. And of course, in that building, there wasn’t just wine. The prosciutto and Parmigiano were flowing like the wines.

One of the booths I never want to miss is in the noisy and frenetic Tuscan Pavilion. The Losi family, I have been working with them for a generation now. And now the young generation are no longer babies. Valeria Losi speaks English and we share stuff on Facebook and she’s going to start traveling, and their wines are better than ever. But the key to this winery is the connection. They are part of my family. I see them more often than many of my own blood. And we have grown together over the years. When it comes to Chianti Classico, I cannot think of another wine that so quintessentially embodies what that word “Chianti” should mean in its “classic” interpretation. The Losi Family estate, Querciavalle Chianti Classico "Tradizionale", is that wine for me. I absolutely love the wine. And the family.

The Vietti estate and the Currado family I have recently blogged about. One of the wines that stuck with me was the Vietti "Perbacco" Nebbiolo. Luca Currado, told our little group when we were there last week, that this wine satisfies all the requirements to be called a Barolo. Instead, the family chose to present the wine as a Nebbiolo, a wine that can get into more hands and open the door for a whole new group of future Barolo drinkers. I had an epiphany with a quartino of Perbacco at one of my local trattorias in Dallas, Nonna, sipping and thoroughly enjoying this wine. And seeing as the family has a role in the history of Barolo (they’ve been making Barolo since the 1870’s) it was fitting to include this wine in my week. The founder of the estate once lived in America, in the 19th century, and when he came back, he brought the future with him. He bought many of the best plots, and his life work was to preserve the greatest vineyards in the area for the future and his family, who are well aware of that weighty obligation. A few sips of the Perbacco make that job a lot easier.

Life is sweet. We hear it all the time, La dolce vita. And finally folks are admitting they like sweet wines. Even those of us who profess to like dry wines. And here is the last wine and the end of our week. Back overlooking my little room with a view, looking out from Valdivilla and the Moscato vines. The Batasiolo winery, which is really known for dry red and whites from the Langhe, showed me this little surprise on my last day at Vinitaly. Stefano Poggi, their young representative in America, who stows his clothes and his fiancée in San Diego, but makes my travel regimen look like a walk in the park, saw that my palate was cooked. Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Corvina, Primitivo, Aglianico, Nerello, Merlo, my tongue was dragging by the time I got to his booth.

“I’vegotasparklingmoscateroséforyoutotaste!” Stefano talks fast in English and Italian. I kid him about it. And he has a good sense of humor. “Lentamente, per favore,” I bark back at him. Stefano is 28 and is also very much part of the future of Italian wine in America. He’s like this happy little puppy that jumps up on your lap and licks you and you just can’t help but like him. Obviously I do. So when he poured me a glass of the Batasiolo Moscato Rosé, it was the perfect way to end Vinitaly and a week of running around.

Look, there are more stories and there will be time for them. I have already run way over in words with this piece. Hey, who takes an hour to eat lunch in Italy? This ain't a fast food post; we're talking Italy, after all.

All this to say, these are wines I connect with because of people. Giulio, Nadia, Stefano S., Francesca, Valeria, Luca and Stefano P. The wines are super. But the relationships are really what it’s all about on this wine trail.


  1. love how you write about the event! i can imagine it was a blur!...Can't wait to try that nebbiolo!

  2. "I was home if only for a few ounces" took my breath away. Fantastic and might I say, very important piece. Thanks kid.

  3. Thanks Sam. trying an experiment with this piece, as a hand out to the tasting. Glad you enjoyed!

  4. Ace:
    Missed Vinitaly this year but your posts make it seem as if I were riding that energy current with you..
    This is a terrific post about what makes VinItaly (oh heck, all of Italy) so special.
    grazie mille, abracci..

  5. Thanks Dave

    I love when you throw in those Colorado new age words too- makes it good for my Google search stats.

    just kidding, thanks for your kind comments. I feel ya'dawg

  6. Yes, the Tuscan Pavilion is madness, so many producers to visit -- and so many great wines to taste. My favorites of the show were the off-the-beaten-track producers from Liguria, Sardegna, Basilicata, Molise -- fun stuff, wines that rarely make it to the States.

    Did you make it to the Natural Wine show VinoVinoVino? The show was fascinating, and a world away from the "my booth's bigger than your booth" of Vinitaly. A fun diversion.

    Thanks for sharing. Photos are great.


  7. dude, I cannot tell you how many people have commented to me how much they're enjoying your posts from the fair and your trip... they're awesome... great stuff and man, it reminds me why we get up everyday and do it again... 'cause the wines can be awesome... ditto what Sam said about "if only for a few ounces"... great line... blog on... :-)


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