Despite a late arrival in Venice last week, my colleague Thomas Matthews and I arrived in Verona in time for a light lunch at Oste Scuro: fritto misto and pasta with a delicious bottle of Prà's Soave Classico Monte Grande 2015. It was our traditional welcome to Vinitaly, Italy's national wine fair.
The fair, which features more than 4,000 producers, kicks off with a more focused event: OperaWine, an exclusive tasting Wine Spectator hosts in partnership with Vinitaly and Veronafiere. We had a stunning spring day of sunshine and more than 1,000 invited guests packed Palazzo della Gran Guardia to sample 104 wines from some of the best Italian producers in all 20 regions.
This was the sixth edition of OperaWine; each year we add and subtract some producers, to keep the tasting fresh and exciting. There were 14 new wineries participating this year. Francesco Gibellini of Tenuta Pederzana emptied his cellar to present the Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro Semisecco 2008. From the tiny region of Valle d'Aosta in the northwest, Grosjean Frères poured its Petite Arvine Vigne Rovettaz 2014. Among the reds, Antoniolo's Gattinara Osso San Grato 2011 had fleshed out well since I reviewed it a year ago. Produttori del Barbaresco offered its Barbaresco Asili Riserva 2009. It was impossible to taste everything, but a pleasure to catch up with many winemakers and owners from around Italy.
The fair kicked off on Sunday. It's become my tradition to taste the new vintages from Tenuta San Guido with Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta and general manager Carlo Paoli. The Guidalberto 2015 is expressive, balanced and complex and the Sassicaia 2014 a picture of restraint and finesse.
At the always-mobbed Biondi-Santi stand I met with Jacopo Biondi-Santi and new majority partner Christopher Descours, president of the French luxury group EPI. Though they didn't reveal their strategy for the historic Montalcino estate, we did toast the new alliance with the sophisticated and powerful Brunello di Montalcino Il Greppo Riserva 1983.
The consorzio of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano put together a small tasting of newly released vintages, several of which show outstanding potential. I was impressed with Boscarelli's Il Nocio 2012, Avignonesi's Grandi Annate 2013, Poliziano's Asinone 2013 and the Riserva 2013 from Carpineto.
I also organized two workshops, one with a group of vintners from Valle d'Aosta, the other with producers from the newly formed Valdarno di Sopra DOC. The former was a lesson in indigenous grapes grown on terraces at 1,800 feet to more than 3,900 feet; the latter offered a comparison of four different Sangioveses: Two made in anfora, one fermented and aged entirely in cement and another aged in 100 percent new oak, proving there is more than one way to make fine wine.
We closed with dinner at Bottega del Vino, which holds a Wine Spectator Grand Award. The restaurant was full of friends and laughter, with great bottles on every table.
Vinitaly 2017 was an opportunity to meet producers face to face and to learn about recent developments and taste dozens of new wines.