"In diversity is our strength." So affirmed Francesco Ripaccioli of Canalicchio di Sopra, the third-generation family estate in Tuscany, in a video interview presented at "OperaWine: Finest Italian Wines: 100 Great Producers." The gala tasting kicked off the 53rd edition of Vinitaly, the annual wine trade fair, which took place April 7-10 in Verona.
Italy's wine diversity was on full display at OperaWine. Held in Verona's historic Palazzo della Gran Guardia and limited to 1,600 invited guests, the tasting showcased 103 of Italy's top wine producers, selected by Wine Spectator. All 20 Italian wine regions were represented, from the Alps to Sicily.
"Quality and diversity are two of our overarching goals when we compile the list," said Alison Napjus, Wine Spectator senior editor, "but other factors come into play, such as regional leadership and historical significance."
Diversity also characterized the small, prestigious Tuscan region of Montalcino. Ripaccioli's Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2006 was one of six Brunellos to make its OperaWine debut in 2019.
"This year we changed the entire roster of producers from Montalcino," said Bruce Sanderson, Wine Spectator senior editor and the publication's lead taster for the wines of Piedmont and Tuscany. "We felt there were so many great wines from the area that we could show a totally new lineup that would be just as strong as last year's."
Another newcomer to the event, Francesco Buffi, pouring his Baricci Brunello di Montalcino 2010, said he was proud to be selected to represent his region. "We were founded in 1955," he said. "We share the passion to make fine, true wines in this historic region."
"Every year OperaWine seems to be increasingly more prestigious, not only among participating producers but also among attendees," noted Stevie Kim, managing director of Vinitaly International.
If OperaWine is a distillation of Italy's diversity, Vinitaly is its encyclopedia. The four-day fair drew 125,000 visitors from 145 countries, who mingled with 4,600 exhibiting companies, mostly Italian wine producers but also makers of spirits, beer, specialty foods and equipment and technology for the wine industry.
Larger companies built compounds with tasting bars to serve the public, private areas for meetings and second-story hideaways with private chefs. Small wineries banded together in dense warrens of colorful booths. Crowds thronged the halls and fairgrounds, a mix of young and old, wearing scruffy, casual clothes or finely tailored outfits, and, campaigning for the upcoming European Union elections, dark-suited politicians and their retinues. The atmosphere was generally upbeat, both among producers and their customers from around the world.
In the evenings, lavish events lit up Verona's palazzos and nearby wine estates. The Grandi Cru d'Italia, an association of top producers, held a concert and reception at the Teatro Nuovo, which dates to 1846. Allegrini Family hosted parties at their 16th century Villa Della Torre in the nearby Valpolicella region. The town's restaurants were packed—at Bottega del Vino, which holds a Wine Spectator Grand Award for its wine list, bouncers refused admittance to anyone without a reservation, so a lively party blossomed in the street.
In the OperaWine video, when asked "which opera best represents your wine," Ripaccioli selected Beethoven's 9th Symphony. "It's not an opera," he conceded, "but like Brunello wines, it is classic and modern at the same time." He might have been characterizing his country's entire wine industry, an orchestra of diverse tones and tastes performing together across the crowded fair.