On Saturday, April 9, Wine Spectator kicked off the world’s largest Italian wine fair, Vinitaly, with its signature tasting, OperaWine: Finest Italian Wines. It was the 11th edition of OperaWine, an annual event in partnership with Vinitaly and Veronafiere that takes place on the Saturday before the four-day Italian wine fair. The tasting brought together top producers from throughout Italy with a select audience of nearly 1,500 wine industry professionals, international buyers and passionate wine lovers.
“Ornellaia has attended every OperaWine since the beginning, [in 2012],” said Axel Heinz, estate director for both Ornellaia and Masseto in Tuscany. “I hope never to miss one.”
In the past, OperaWine focused on 100 leading Italian wineries, with a winery principal on hand to discuss and pour their wine selection for attendees. In 2021, Wine Spectator expanded the number of wineries, and this year, 130 producers were spotlighted. “We feel that this expanded tasting is just one example of the perseverance of the Italian wine industry,” said Wine Spectator senior editor Alison Napjus. “Even as we continue to recover from a global pandemic, Italy’s wine producers have remained strong, working creatively to maintain—if not increase—their presence and significance in the larger world of wine.”
Wineries are invited based on several criteria. Their qualitative track record and historical significance are both taken under consideration, as well as the diversity and stylistic range they bring to the tasting.
Angela Fronti, winemaker for Chianti Classico’s Istine winery, attended OperaWine for the first time this year, pouring her Chianti Classico Levigne Riserva 2016. “It’s such an honor to be included in this event,” said Fronti. Gesturing toward Sassicaia and other great Tuscan producers, she added, “Just look at the company we’re in.”
OperaWine is a snapshot of the much larger world of Italian wine, which is on full display for the four days following at the Vinitaly wine fair, held just outside the historic center of Verona. The fair typically draws more than 100,000 visitors from over 100 countries, and this year it includes nearly 4,500 exhibiting companies. The exhibitors are primarily wineries, but they’re joined by spirits, beer and gourmet food producers, as well as wine industry equipment and technology manufacturers.
Spread out among a dozen massive halls, the exhibitors create elaborate, well-branded structures, often complete with tasting bars as well as private rooms for meetings with clients, journalists and other guests. Some include full kitchens, with the wineries engaging the services of chefs to provide everything from small plates through full meals for lucky guests. And the crowd of attendees includes both wine industry professionals, moving quickly from appointment to appointment and hall to hall, and consumers, walking at a more relaxed pace, with large eyes taking in the spectacle of Vinitaly.
Following OperaWine, Wine Spectator emeritus Thomas Matthews was honored as a recipient of the Vinitaly International Award. This accolade is given to wine industry individuals distinguished on an international scale for their work and promotional efforts in the wine world. As longtime executive editor, Matthews was a champion of OperaWine. “Tom Matthews' work has been precious and decisive for the promotion of the diversity of Italian wine,” read the ceremony’s emcee. “Not only through OperaWine but also thanks to the constant attention paid under his guidance by Wine Spectator to the presentation of Italian wines in America.”
Founded in 1996, the first VinItaly International Award recipient was, coincidentally, Wine Spectator editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken, and other notable recipients include Corinne Mentzelopuolos of Château Margaux, Robert Mondavi and Pablo Álvarez of Vega Sicilia.
OperaWine and Vinitaly are always an exciting part of the Italian wine industry. Although a special edition of both OperaWine and Vinitaly were held at separate times in 2021, the wine world greeted the return to the normal schedule of tandem events in April with enthusiasm after a three-year hiatus.
“The past three years without Vinitaly and OperaWine, accompanied by limited visitation to Italy, has been challenging,” said Rocco Lombardo, president of U.S. importer Wilson-Daniels. “To reengage this past week in the romantic setting of Verona with so many friends and partners has been heartwarming. It also provides us the unique opportunity to develop new relationships and taste in one venue the amazing assortment of wines from Italy. These days in Verona have helped the reemerging spirit of our industry.”