What was a group of winemakers from Virginia doing last week pouring their wines in Florence for people more accustomed to drinking super Tuscans, Chiantis and Brunellos?
They were there for a tasting organized to coincide with the 230th anniversary of the arrival of Tuscany-born Filippo Mazzei in Virginia, where, inspired by the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, he settled with 12 Italian farmers and pioneered the art of winemaking in the state.
Although Virginia wineries are still building their reputation within the United States, they are now also looking abroad. On June 20, nine winemakers from the state poured their wines for about 30 guests, including Italian winemakers and others from the local wine and restaurant trade. At an afternoon tasting held in the beautiful surroundings of Villa La Pietra, owned by New York University and located in the hills overlooking Florence, 10 top Virginian wines were on show, ranging from Viognier whites to Meritage and Norton reds.
One of the wines that met with general approval came from an Italian-owned estate, Barboursville Vineyards. One of Italy's largest family-owned wine companies, Zonin, bought the Virginia property in 1976 and, in 1990, installed Piedmont-born Luca Paschina as general manager and winemaker.
Pouring the Barboursville Cabernet Franc Reserve 1999, Paschina said, "I was sure that the Italians would take to this wine. We all feel this is a great opportunity for us to showcase our wine to people that we know will spread the word."
A number of the Italian guests at the tasting, while expressing enthusiasm for some of the wines being poured, admitted that they found others a little difficult. Gianni Brunelli, a producer of Brunello di Montalcino and owner of Osteria Le Logge restaurant in Siena, commented, "Some of these wines are very interesting, others less so. We have different tastes here [in Tuscany] and view our wines always as a complement to our cuisine. It's hard to fit some of these wines into that way of thinking."
The day was rounded of by a gala dinner at the United States consulate in Florence, hosted by U.S. Consul General William McIlhenny. Local chefs Genuine del Duca and Francesco Berardinelli prepared dishes to complement a selection of red and white Virginia wines, including Viogniers, Merlots and blends, such as the Barboursville Octagon 3 and the Jefferson Meritage 2001.
The present-day Filippo Mazzei, co-owner of the Fonterutoli estate in Chianti Classico, attended the dinner, to pay homage to his 18th century ancestor and namesake and to add a word of welcome to the party from Virginia.
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