Article submitted by local author and wine enthusiast Gina Fava.
Wine aficionados know that one of the best times to travel to Italy is Fall harvest season, when ripened vineyards carpeting the countryside are bursting with bountiful production, and just-uncorked reds and whites at roadside enoteche beckon to be tasted.
But I recently discovered a different kind of wine tasting adventure, set in glorious Verona, Italy during Spring, that’s sure to please any wine lover.
“Vinitaly” gathers renowned Italian vintners eager to show off the fruits of their labor, all under one roof.
Also known as the International Wine & Spirits Exhibition, Vinitaly spreads over 95,000 square meters and showcases themed tastings of more than 4,000 exhibitors in various buildings dedicated to the official regions of Italy. Just outside the stone walls of Verona’s city proper, the exhibition complex bustles with over 150,000 annual visitors per year, since 1967.
This past April, I accompanied my favorite wine expert (my husband Jamie, who’d been awarded the trip for his wine acumen by Horizon Beverage, a New England company) to the biggest, the oldest, and arguably the most popular wine convention on the planet.
Vinitaly is a veritable Monte Carlo Grand Prix for an array of established wine producers, a place for them to really rev their engines and show what’s under the hood. It’s also a proving ground for up and coming vintners, akin to the Indianapolis 500, where a good showing here might mean a shot for a run in the long term circuit.
For distributors and wholesalers, it’s a place to determine which wines and spirits will achieve superior pole position in a race to the finish. Also, just like a race car driver woos a sponsor, vintners clamor to woo restaurateurs, caterers, and wine store owners with their wares, while the world’s journalists and opinion leaders take note. At Vinitaly, tourists aren’t just spectators, they’re participants in the biggest wine and spirits tasting event of the year.
The event is kicked off on Saturday night with a stunning gala called “Vinitaly for You,” a wine bar event open to all wine lovers, sponsored by the international trade fair’s organizer Veronafiere, and is held in the historic center of Verona, in the alluring setting of the Palazzo della Gran Guardia in Piazza Bra.
With Verona’s colossal amphitheatre as a backdrop, the gala is but a starting point to an evening that spills into the restaurants and upscale boutiques lining the piazza and rambles down the marbled main thoroughfare, Via Mazzini, home to Gucci, Prada, Furla, and Cartier. And that’s just the welcome wagon.
For the next three days of Vinitaly, registered attendees of the exhibition succumb to an overwhelming wine tasting itinerary with offerings from the finest producers, such as Cecchi, Banfi, Sartori, Villa Sandi, and Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, to name a few. Accompanied by the president and select representatives of Horizon, as well as fellow vendors and restaurateurs from New England, Jamie and I sipped, swished, and spat some of the finest vintages, such as Sassicaia, Nero d’Avola, Amarone, and Franciacorto, along with better-known varietals such as Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, and Brunello di Montalcino.
Our group would chat with vineyard representatives for close to an hour, and then we’d elbow our way through open-air corridors ripe with the aroma of sweet grapes, cured meats, aged cheese, and high-priced perfume until we arrived at the next bountiful spread. At tables built into propped castles and fashionables bars, the bejeweled and Armani-clad vintners dazzled us with history and production methods, while Jamie and our group scribbled copious notes about acidity, tannins, and carbonic maceration, all Greek to me but critical in their business decisions. For me, the event introduced me to rare and complex wines in which I’d otherwise never gain access.
Every day at Vinitaly is an education, a spectator sport, and a delicious carnival, all rolled into one. Just when the day seems to squeeze the last bit of energy from a weary traveler, a brief respite at any one of the fine hotels dotting the city center or the convention roadway handily smoothes over the edges. After that, nighttime inside Verona’s walls awaits.
Shakespeare wrote, “There is no world without Verona walls, but purgatory, torture, hell itself…” Verona is home to one of the best preserved Roman amphitheatres in the world. Built in AD 30, it features plays, opera and modern concerts to a capacity of 15,000 during the summer months. But, the lights stay on all year, and during Vinitaly, they appear extra bright. Also of note–Juliet’s balcony, the setting for one of Shakespeare’s best known plays. Lovers can sign their names or tuck a love letter into Juliet’s Wall that leads into the small piazza bearing her statue, whose right breast is worn from decades of luck-seekers.
Shops and restaurants cater to Vinitaly attendees, offering discounts to those who present their printed exhibition pass. Reserve early for the dining experience of a lifetime. Antico Caffe Dante, the superb restaurant located in Piazza Dante, after famed Italian author Dante Alighieri (Inferno, Divine Comedy, etc.), pairs rare wines with culinary delicacies that would make connoisseurs cry with satisfaction. The famed restaurant, Antica Bottega del Vino, renowned since 1891 for its victuals, boasts one of the most extensive wine lists in Italy. It’s not a list so much as a chapter book of varietals over which any wine lover would drool.
No matter your expertise or your palate, Vinitaly has something to offer wine lovers of every caliber.
The next exhibition is April 6-9, 2014. Plan now for the event of a lifetime. For more information on accommodations, an exhibition guide, a list of vendors, and ticket registration for Vinitaly, go to http://vinitaly.com/
Gina Fava travels to Italy often to hunt down her characters’ favorite wines. The Race, her debut novel, about a car racing covert agent who rescues his son and saves Rome from an elusive international terrorist, features wines suggested by Jamie Pangione. Gina met Jamie, her consultant and soul mate, and owner of Jamie’s Fine Wine & Spirits, while studying abroad in Rome. Visit GinaFava.com to learn more.