Vinitaly 2009 Starts: Live From Verona
If Las Vegas is the “adult’s Disneyland”, then Vinitaly is the wine-lover’s Disneyland. With cleverly created stands that look more like enticing mini bistros, some with two stories, and all decorated to represent the characteristics of the region or winery, this is definitely an e-ticket adventure. There are no fewer than 16 exposition halls, for the wineries alone at this enormous convention centre, just 5 minutes south of Verona’s ancient arena.
As I write this, I hardly remember that it was pouring rain all day long, conveniently starting when I went to the little dry cleaners down the street to pick up my dutifully pressed shirt, and continuing as I walked the bus stop and made my way to the convention centre. The size of the crowds matched the enormity of the expo halls, and I was grateful to have purchased and printed my ticket online before arriving. The chaos at the entry was that wonderful, crazy Italian kind of chaos…that is better left to the Italians of past the entry, I was suddenly swept up by a crowd of police who were surrounding a well-dressed, Italian, and with the numbers of cameras flashing, I estimate this to be some government figure. So, rather than swim against that stream, I just went along pretending that I was supposed to be there, and will see if I can recognize his face in the news later.
With 30 minutes before my first appointment, I decided to detour through another pavilion and was thrilled to see a winery that I recognized from a trip through the Veneto years ago, Guerrieri Rizzardi. Not familiar with the proper etiquette, I simply presented myself and told the gentleman that I had visited their tasting room previously and enjoyed their wines. Luckily he spoke English, which made the tasting experience, my first of the expo, a smooth one. Giuseppe, a member of the family, began pouring white wines to taste. My favorite was the 2008 Costeggiola Cru Soave Classico DOC, which has a little more chardonnay that regular soave, about 30%. This wine was delightful, with apricot aromas, and ripe peach and almond flavours with a lingering finish. I was already thinking about lunch, which is normal for Italian wines, as they just get better with food.
Without progressing to the reds (I will return later), I headed over to another pavilion to find Vignalta and meet Lucio Gomiero. After discovering that we are not only neighbors in Carmel Valley, but also business neighbors in Salinas where he farms radicchio, we got to tasting. 11 wines later, and much discussion, I was thoroughly impressed with the span and quality of their wines. Lucio reminds me of my father, always tinkering, wondering how to make it better and even create something new. For example, he is expecting to receive DOC classification this year for a new varietal, Manzoni, born from Pinot Bianco and Riesling. The most surprising white I tasted was the Sirio moscato as moscato is something I tend to avoid because of the sweetness and characteristic flavor, but Lucio told me I’d be surprised.. The aroma was distinctly moscato, what else? And it reminded me of honeysuckle flowers. Then the taste, it was an explosion, just as he said with intense flavor and a wonderful bit of tartness that kept it from being too sweet, and it wasn’t, it was absolutely dry with a long, dry finish. Impressive.
The story of the reds is very interesting, as there are two different types of soil as a result of the volcanic activity in the area. One is decomposed lava, and the other limestone that was pushed to the surface by volcanic pressure. Two wines composed of Merlot and Cabernet, Arqua, and Gemola, named for their respective neighboring but different areas produced wonderfully different results. My favorite was the 2005 Arqua composed of 65% merlot and 35% cabernet sauvignon. Lucio describes this as “the Bodybuilder” wine, and I agree. At 15% alcohol, it is well balanced in its abundance of acid, tannins and alcohol. I learned that the high alkaline limestone soil creates high acid grapes, which is one reason for the difference between the two wines. This wine, he tells me is the perfect expression of the specific terroir in the Colline Eugani, and he says it will inspiring pride. I am a fan, and so is Gambero Rosso, as it bestowed the 3-bicchiere award on this wine last year.
We move on to dessert wines, and I am grateful for the little spittoon and the encouragement by friends in the business to learn how to use it. I can still concentrate. Of the three dessert wines, a late-harvest Moscato, a “Fior di Arancio” and the Moscato Nero, my favorite is the award-winning Fior di Arancio, or Orange Flower, a type of ancient moscato. This is one of the most surprisingly interesting wines I have ever tasted. I usually choose something like Vin Santo over sweet dessert wines, but this one I would gladly enjoy again and again. These grapes grow in loose clusters and are actually shrivelled inside the winery, not on the vine, so the concentrated flavor is fresh and bursting, and not “cooked.” The aroma to me is all orange blossom, and the taste is caramelised, but fresh with honey and apricot and orange peel. This is a stunner, and I can’t stop saying “wow!” Lucio tells me he hears that a lot and just laughs.
We have enjoyed so much time tasting that I leave the stand and make a beeline to the sandwich stand I saw on the way in. It is like stopping at a packed Autogrill on the Italian Autostrada but I manage to get my order in for a warmed Panini of bread, ham and cheese and a much-needed bottle of water.
Mastroberardino, one of my favorite wineries in the Campania region, from when I was living in Naples, was next. The stand was busy, but since I had an appointment, I was seated and the English-speaking assistant, Laura chatted with me over the first taste of Sannio Falanghina until the winemaker, Massimo arrived. It is such an honor to have the opportunity to hear the winemaker talk about his wines, and this was a treat for me. He described the next wine, the Fiano di Avellino, which is rich in minerals from Mt. Vesuvius as an “expression of the philosophy of this grape” This wine’s aroma is intensely perfumey and floral, as if it were just wafting through the air, but the taste is substantial and different with fresh grass, mineral and light fruit flavours. We moved on to the Greco di Tufo, a favorite of mine, especially with shellfish, like linguine with whole clams. As the director of the winery, Dario Pennino joined us, I was enjoying a fun surprise – the Lacrimarosa, or “pink tears”, a fantasy name which is a common occurrence in the south of Italy. This rose is 100% Aglianico and complex with a perfectly dry finish. We instantly switched the topic to Neapolitan pizza, as this wine would certainly be great with it, especially in the summer. Onto the real Aglianico(s) we went, the bold reds of the region, which are designed to accompany the roasted lamb and complex meat dishes of the region.
The Taurasi is made by combining batches aged in toasted smaller barrels and larger raw barrels, which gives it many layers of flavors like vanilla and coffee, then rosemary and tobacco. The aromas of tobacco and leather reminded me of the acres of tobacco drying in the summer sun that surrounded the military base where I lived in Naples. When I told Mr. Pennino and the winemaker that I still had one bottle left of their special label “Historia” aglianico from 1997, he asked me to wait and told me he had a surprise for me. He returned and presented their prize bottle, a 1999 Aglianico Riserva special label called “Cento Trenta” or one hundred thirty, to mark the 130th year of export of the wines.
The three progenitors of Mastroberardino grace the label, and I was given the story of Angelo’s travels through South America at the turn-of-the-century and the correspondence between him and his family that still survive in the cellars. This was the first time I had experienced the taste of graphite in a wine, and it was pronounced, like having a pencil in your mouth. Ripe with aromas of licorice, cherry and spice, which become the intense flavours, this wine is the perfect accompaniment to the roast lamb with rosemary. I really look forward to visiting Naples again at this point, and I will definitely be visiting the winery when I do.
After a visit to the VIP lounge (thanks to my ticket) for a glass of water and some peace and quiet, I head home. All in all it was an excellent day despite being completely drenched in water by a passing car while walking to the bus! Thanks to the generous and kind workers at a food stand who gave me a handful of paper towels to dry off with, I can forgive the water today, and focus on the wine.