For four days every spring, Verona becomes the center of the wine world. Vinitaly, one of the principal global wine fairs, takes over this beautiful, ancient city on the Adige river and turns it into a non-stop spectacle, a trade show and business conference that morphs into a very large, very Italian party.
This year, Vinitaly, celebrating its 50th edition, drew 130,000 wine professionals (equivalent to half the city’s population) from 140 countries to the fairgrounds, according to event organizers. The ambience carried over to the historic town center, where piazzas filled for public tastings, ornate palazzos hosted elegant wine soirees, packed restaurants served prized bottles, and wine-bar crowds spilled into the cobblestone streets.
The week got off to a rocking start when Sting serenaded a press conference for Wine Spectator’s OperaWine, a tasting of 100 of Italy’s best wines. The English musician and his wife, actress/director Trudie Styler, own Tuscany’s Il Palagio, one of the wineries participating for the first time. Produced in partnership with Vinitaly, OperaWine, celebrating its fifth anniversary, drew 1,600 invited guests.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella officially inaugurated Vinitaly, followed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who proclaimed, “Our wine is better than French wine.” Renzi quipped that when he told this to France’s president, François Hollande retorted: “But ours is more expensive.”
Renzi has made increasing Italy’s food and wine exports a prime goal, and he held a joint conference with Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, who announced that China’s largest e-commerce platform would debut its “wine day” this year on Sept. 9.
“I think we can close the gap between the French share of the wine market in China, currently at 55 percent, compared with the Italian share of just 6 percent,” Ma said.
That evening, Ma was guest of honor at a dinner for 200 hosted by Allegrini co-owner Marilisa Allegrini at her family’s 16th-century palazzo, Villa della Torre, in the Valpolicella area. Ma told Italian producers, “The Chinese people love Italy, Italian products and the Italian lifestyle. … In China we have many rich people after 200 years of being poor, and now we must learn to enjoy life.”
In the seemingly endless labyrinth of Vinitaly fair halls, two trends were hard to miss this year. For one, more Italian producers are getting into the quality rosé game. Second, Italians are producing ever more single-vineyard, or cru, wines.
Martin Foradori of Alto Adige’s J. Hofstätter winery poured two new wines that will carry his highest price tags to date. His 125-case Ludwig Barth Von Barthenau Vigna Roccolo Pinot Nero 2012 is made from a 70-year-old parcel in his Barthenau vineyard. His 83-case Konrad Oberhofer Vigna Pirchschrait Gewürztraminer 2006, a selection from a parcel in his Kolbenhof vineyard, is aged 10 years on its lees.
From Sicily, Arianna Occhipinti unveiled a pure Frappato to mark her 10th harvest, in 2013. The bottling, called Decima Vendemmia, is a single-vineyard selection aged two years in barrel, resulting in a more structured version of a variety that’s naturally light and fresh. And Cottanera, with extensive vineyards on Mount Etna, introduced new white and red crus.
Andrea Franchetti offered two new Cabernet Franc bottlings from his Tenuta di Trinoro winery in Tuscany. In neighboring Umbria, Marco Caprai of Montefalco’s pioneering Arnaldo Caprai introduced two wines from opposite ends of the spectrum. Spinning Beauty is a long-aged red; the first edition comes from the 2006 vintage. Inspired by Spain’s Vega Sicilia, it’s a velvety Sagrantino aged eight years in barrel—“our new benchmark,” Caprai said. His second new wine is a screwcapped 2015 Chardonnay that he decided to bottle separately because “it was too good to put in a blend.”
Pasqua, a large, family-owned, Verona-based producer, is now involved in a micro joint venture with the local entrepreneurial Dal Colle family, who consulted with star producer Romano Dal Forno to help them plant their own 56-acre vineyard and make wines for their private stock. Now about 500 cases total of a Valpolicella Superiore and an Amarone will be marketed by Pasqua under the name Mai Dire Mai (or “Never say never”). Given rising vineyard prices in Valpolicella, Pasqua CEO Riccardo Pasqua said, “We never thought we could find such a great piece of land.”
The fair closed with a rapid exodus of winemakers, importers, marketers, media, sommeliers, stars and politicians. Verona turned back to being itself—a gorgeous regional center where you don’t have to reserve a dinner table weeks in advance. Not, that is, until next April, when it all starts up again.