Vinitaly 2009 Day 3: Giro d’Italia
In preparation for the Giro d’Italia cycling race, which starts May 9 with or without Lance Armstrong, I thought I would take my own “Tour of Italy” via the pavilions at Vinitaly today. Already day 3 and I have only seen one third of the pavilions, so I decided to at least walk through as many as possible in order to get a closer look at how each province sees itself. Starting in the north east of Italy, we have Trentino, whose pavilion has a fun burgundy and white wine bottle graphic exterior. Inside the stands are like little wood ski chalets, and again I am reminded of the Matterhorn ride’s alpine decorations and costumed operators. (Yes, I will TRY to make this my last Disneyland comparison) In the Eastern portion of the country lies Emiglia Romana, where you will find Modena, famous for Tortellini, Pavarotti, Balsamic Vinegar and of course Ferrari. For you Lambrusco lovers out there, this is where you will find your treat. Heading all the way south, we finally stop in Sicily’s pavilion for some tasting. I started with a small winery that makes only three wines, Morgante. Carmelo Morgante was kind enough to talk me through their IGT selections of Nero D’avola wines, beginning with their entry level Nero with its cranberry tartness, then on to the velvety Don Antonio. The most interesting selection was what will be called “Zamara” which is translated to the agave plant. I’m sure it was the power of suggestion, but this mellow Nero’s herb flavors reminded me of tequila. A quick sip of their soft and enjoyable Grappa made from Nero with some almond cookies and I am ready to continue my journey.
I stayed in the Sicily pavilion to meet Francesca Planeta and her cousin Alessio, the winemaker for Planeta. Though a large production label, the concept here is more artisan, with five estates and six boutique wineries that are close to the vineyards. The results speak for themselves as the diversity of the wines produced in no way infringes on the quality and craftsmanship. I think this is due to the fact that they are passionate about cultivating indigenous grapes with respect to their terroir, and maintaining environmental sustainability. Of the whites, the well-balanced chardonnay stood out for me, with its freshness and acidity owing to the malolactic fermentation in the casks rather than before going in the casks. The Syrah rose deliciously bridged the gap from whites to reds with strawberry aromas and a nice juiciness without being the least bit sweet. My favorite red was the Nero d’Avola Cru 2006 Santa Cecilia, which celebrates its 10th vintage this year and also won the “3 glasses” award from Gambero Rosso. There are licorice and plum aromas, and a nice balance of acid and tannins that make this fresh wine enjoyable and drinkable. We finished the run of 12 wines with the surprisingly fresh and acidic Passito di Noto from Moscato Bianco grapes, which I am told is varietal that dates back to the Phoenicians, and I’m wishing that I had taken a few more almond cookies from Morgante…
Heading back up the front of the boot, I stop in Campania for a taste of my long lost friend, Fiagre at Antonio Caggiano. Known for their Taurasi(s), like Macchia dei Goti DOCG, I am impressed by their whites. The Fiagre is a wine comprised of perfumey Fiano di Avellino and the minerally Greco di Tufo. The result is something best described as “tasty” and definitely enjoyable with and without food.
To complete my “Giro,” I will make an important stop in Piemonte to Beni di Batasiolo, another friend lost in the export shuffle. Introduced by my friend Mike Grulli at Vinottimo, I enjoyed their Dolcetto, Barbera(s) and Barolo(s) while in Naples, but have since lost touch. Riccardo March, the US export manager greets me and makes introductions while buzzing from table to table. I sit down with Paola to start tasting the whites like Serbato Chardonnay, aged in stainless steel only, and my favorite the Gavi di Gavi with its soft mineral taste and peach aromas. We were lucky enough to be joined by the winemaker when I began to taste the reds. I was excited to compare the Barbara d’Alba with the Barbera d’Asti and discover that I prefer the softness and fruitiness of the Alba. We move on to the grape, which has mystified my taste buds for years, Nebbiolo, and its wines, Nebbiolo, Barolo and Barbaresco. These wines offer more tobacco and spice flavors and tannins that stand up to complex dishes. My favorite was the 2004 Vigneto Cerequio Barolo, made from the grapes of one of the most historical vineyards in the Barolo region. With wild berry flavors and just a hint of tobacco, this is a well-balanced and friendly Barolo.
I am lucky to say that my virtual tour of Italy turned into a real tour of Verona as I was invited to the Batasiolo dinner that night at a wonderful restaurant in the center of the old city, “I Masenini.” This was an incredible experience, not just because I was getting to taste these wines in their native environment (i.e. with complex dishes like Amarone risotto and slow roasted veal), but I was also able to meet and enjoy the company of a fun and vibrant group of people. So fun in fact that we headed to a club afterwards for some dancing! I found Club 59 in Verona to be a great alternative to the highbrow ultra lounges in Las Vegas. This was a party, with people dancing, laughing and drinking and simply enjoying life. I forgot about being tired and joined in, but in the back of my mind wondering how all of these people would be ready for another early morning tomorrow. I decided that one of my hosts, Riccardo definitely has a little plutonium source somewhere in his jacket, and the others as well simply enjoy what they are doing. And in a small way, I can understand what keeps Lance Armstrong wanting to continue to race, and to be ready to tackle the Giro d’Italia next month, it is simply the passion for living life and living it well.