Verona may be famous for a pair of besotted teenagers brought to life by the Bard, but in early April the Italian city focuses on another love story: the nation’s obsession with wine. For five days, producers, distributors, connoisseurs, press and the odd tippler gather at the annual Vinitaly trade fair and pass the time politely disgorging red and white wines into spittoons.
This year’s event opened on 8 April on a less than flattering note as the country’s agricultural minister confirmed reports of a recent confiscation of 10 million litres of table wine that was being passed off as Chianti. Sadly, such events are not uncommon as the industry is still reeling from a 2008 investigation into fraudulently labelled Brunello di Montalcino. “There needs to be respect for the local territory. We have Lombard producers promoting ‘their’ Barbera d’Asti [wine from Piedmont],” complains Walter Massa of the Federation of Independent Italian Winemakers.
But the few sour grapes were soon cast aside as the 4,000-odd Italian exhibitors saw positive signals emerge from the fair. A weaker euro brought back American buyers, with some producers reporting orders from across the Atlantic up by 30 per cent or more. Meanwhile, demand for booths far outstripped supply, with first-time participants Cascina Bruciata of Piedmont having to settle for a cubbyhole inside the pavilion reserved for vintners from the Trentino province. “It takes years to get in with the big boys in Piedmont,” laments Francesco Baravalle, enologist of Cascina Bruciata, as he offers a glass of the vineyard’s well-received Barbaresco Rio Sordo Riserva.
Looking to turn the tables on the cliquish world of wine tasting, Italy’s Slow Food movement held a press conference on day two to announce its new guide, appropriately titled Slow Wine. The in-depth review examines 2,000 producers and 10,000 wines, judging on issues such as quality-price ratio and cultivating practices. “We are not going to give out points, worrying about whether a wine is an 89 or 90,” says Fabio Giavedoni, one of the guide’s editors. “It’s completely subjective. Slow Wine is about having direct contact in the cellars with winemakers.”
While there were no big trends or “concept” wines to promote at Vinitaly, in the last five years there has been increased interest in neglected indigenous grapes, as some winemakers tire of turning out Italianised Chardonnay. Boutique producer San Savino from the Marche region has helped revive interest in Pecorino, a white wine grape once common to the area. San Savino owner Simone Capecci has even managed to earn a coveted “3 Glasses” rating from wine guide Gambero Rosso for his efforts with the varietal.
Another convert to overlooked grapes is Piedmont grower Franco Martinetti. While he makes the highly requested Barolo, for over a decade he’s left space in his cellar for Timorasso, a thick-skinned grape that yields a full-bodied white wine. “I’m fond of voluptuous women and I want my wines to be the same,” explains Martinetti. Aged in fine-grain French oak barriques, the bouquet of his 2000 Martin Timorasso vintage had one critic asking: “Is there a woman nearby? No, it’s not a woman, it’s the wine.”