One of the greatest things about Italy is its seemingly endless potential for discovery—from its natural beauty to artistic patrimony to food and wines. Every April I am reminded of just how wildly varied its wine world is as Vinitaly, the country's premier international wine fair, storms into my adopted hometown of Verona.
Held last week, the 53rd Vinitaly was the biggest ever, with 4,600 exhibitors attracting approximately 125,000 visitors from 145 countries. Wine industry members from around the world came, with the most coming from the United States, followed by Germany, the United Kingdom, China and Canada.
At a gala dinner on April 6, the organizers presented the Vinitaly International Award for contributions to Italian wine to the Bolgheri estate Ornellaia and Chinese wine educators Leon Liang and Demei Li. For the following four days, Verona's historic center was animated by events pairing wine with Shakespeare, yoga, river rafting on the Adige River and a concert by international restaurateur, wine producer (and guitarist) Joe Bastianich.
Kicking off days of tastings was the eighth edition of the Wine Spectator–sponsored OperaWine, featuring 103 all-star producers from all 20 regions of Italy.
For the next four days at the Verona fairgrounds, I explored the 18 exhibition halls, filled with representatives from Italian wine-producing areas divided mainly by region. When it was all over, I felt like I'd barely scratched the surface.
But this year I did discover a theme that shocked me: Italians—known for their individualistic and sometimes anarchic ways—were talking about cooperating. In some cases they are actually doing it.
My evidence is anecdotal to be sure. But I was struck by a group of producers from six rosé appellations from various regions that banded together in March to form a new consortium to research, develop and promote the country's diverse and historic pink wines. The group's mouthful of a name is l'Istituto del Vino Rosa Autoctono Italiano (the Institute of Indigenous Italian Pink Wine).
"This is the first time that six consortiums from the north to the south of Italy have merged together to create a new institution," says group spokesman Angelo Peretti, who primarily works for the Bardolino appellation. "We broke a barrier."
The group brings together chiaretto from Bardolino and Valtènesi in the north with cerasuolo from Abruzzo, and darker-hued rosato from a pair of appellations in Puglia and Calabria's Cirò in the south.
Italy has ancient roots in pink wine with historic Roman and Greek influences. Today it is Europe's third-largest producer of rosé (after France and Spain), but the European country with the lowest percentage of rosé consumption by volume, according to the institute.
"We have to teach Italian consumers because they don't understand rosé," says Peretti. "If rosé becomes stronger domestically, it will become a bigger power abroad."
In other words, in the 21st century, winemakers have to group together to get their message out.
The symbiotic vibes also could be felt among vintners from the more obscure winegrowing areas of the Colli Berici, Colli Euganei, Breganze and Treviso in northern Italy's Veneto. They are holding joint tasting events and talking about creating their own new organization to highlight their common patrimony: about 200 years of making wine with Bordeaux varieties, most notably Carmenère (now nearly extinct in France, but prevalent in Chile) and Merlot.
"We are talking about creating a new category of 'super Veneto' wines," says Alessio Inama, of the pioneering Soave producer Inama, which makes a Carmenère from Colli Berici. "All of the center of Veneto has these Bordeaux varietals. We have these beautiful wines with a history that nobody knows about."
The collegiality wasn't just domestic. Along the Slovenian-Italian border, winemakers from Italy's Collio and Slovenia's Brda are two years into their mission of uniting to tell the story of the region's Ribolla Gialla, aka Ribula, white wines. I attended a master class on Ribolla spotlighting producers from both nations that featured detailed analysis of this area and a tasting of young, aged and skin-contact Ribolla wines from 13 wineries, including Italy's Gravner and Slovenia's Marjan Simčič.
The search for common ground at this Vinitaly extended beyond marketing to science. A fascinating seminar by Attilio Scienza, one of Italy's foremost ampelographers, highlighted his recent research showing Sangiovese to be the parent of a number of southern Italian varieties, from Mount Etna's Nerello Mascalese and southern Sicily's Frappato to Calabria's Gaglioppo, all of which produce tart, ruby-colored wines.
"A significant part of their DNA is Sangiovese," said Scienza, an author and professor at the University of Milan, who says the precursors of Sangiovese came from Greece through southern Italy about 1,200 years ago, eventually landing in Tuscany.
What's it all mean? The Italian wine world—at least for a few days—felt like one big family. I can't wait for next April.