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Reflections on Vinitaly

The annual trade fair in turns Verona into a party town
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Apr 26, 2018 10:00am ET

If Romeo and Juliet were alive today, I think they would approve of Vinitaly. The star-crossed lovers of Verona could mingle with wine lovers during the annual four-day fair that celebrates Italian wine.

The events actually begin with OperaWine on Saturday, April 14, before the fair, an invitation-only, prestigious tasting of 100 great Italian producers organized by Wine Spectator and Vinitaly. This year's theme celebrating the United States energized the room with retro red, white and blue stars-and-stripes graphics. I found it impossible to taste through everything, but every wine I did taste was terrific, often from a vintage 10, or even 20 years old. Valdicava poured its Brunello di Montalcino Madonna del Piano Riserva 1988, a fully mature red that charmed with its complexity and harmony. Many producers I spoke with during and after the tasting thought this seventh edition was the best yet.

Vinitaly officially opened Sunday morning. My first meeting was with author and cartographer Alessandro Masnaghetti, who just published Barolo MGA Volume II. It's a completely different work from the debut volume, which delimited the vineyards of Barolo. The new edition examines land use and harvest dates using historical data in an attempt to quantify the anecdotal information that is often taken as gospel today. "What is important for me is that this work is completely new," Masnaghetti explained. "I don't believe there is another book that has so much information and detail."

Afterward, I had the opportunity to taste the new vintages of Tenuta San Guido with Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta and estate director Carlo Paoli. The Le Difese and Guidalberto, both from 2016, show the elegance and purity of the vintage and will offer immediate pleasure as well as deferred enjoyment for the Guidalberto over the next decade. The Sassicaia 2015 is a beast, inky and concentrated, with a glimpse of the breed and sophistication it will reveal in 10 years.

I hosted a workshop with the newest producers' association in Chianti Classico created earlier this year, San Donato in Poggio. Located on the western side of the appellation in Barberino Val d'Elsa and Tavernelle Val di Pesa, they share a climate influenced by the Tyrrhenian Sea that is windy, with warmer winter temperatures, fresher summers and vegetation that is more Mediterranean than other parts of Chianti Classico. Some of you may be familiar with the excellent wines of Castello di Monsanto; Laura Bianchi of Monsanto is the group's president.

A seminar hosted by the Consorzio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano examined the evolution of Sangiovese over the past 30 years in the DOCG. Climate and harvest data indicated there wasn't any significant change in rainfall, temperature and picking dates, however, the influence of man introduced a series of changes that consulting enologist Lorenzo Landi, Bertani Domains operations director Andrea Lonardi and journalist Gianni Fabrizio of Gambero Rosso dubbed the "classic era" (1980–1990), the "opulent era" (1991–2000) and the "modern era" (2001–2010 and beyond).

Though these dates are somewhat arbitrary because not every producer's evolution coincided exactly, it chronicles changes in viticulture and winemaking such as planting density, yields, use of oak in aging wines and perceptions of the market.

I also invited 11 producers of Brunello di Montalcino to each present a wine from the 2008 harvest, now 10 years old. Marked by rain, isolated hail and a little frost in areas, it was a vintage saved by a later-than-average vegetative cycle for the Sangiovese grape and late harvesting. "The timing of picking was critical," noted Lorenzo Neri of Casanova di Neri. "We started harvesting very late and it paid to wait until after the rain." In general the wines are ripe, charming, a little lower in acidity, yet fresh and ready to drink.

The exhibition halls were busy, particularly Sunday and Monday and most producers reported very knowledgeable and interested visitors. I had several appointments with wineries to taste the new vintages, including the wines of Dievole, Podere Brizio, Poggio Landi, Tenuta Le Colonne and Tenuta Meraviglia, the Tuscan projects of Alejandro Bulgheroni.

Vinitaly 2018 was reportedly attended by 128,000 guests from 143 countries. Vietti estimates that they poured wine for 2,400 visitors to its stand during the fair. The evenings saw plenty of merrymaking at local venues like Bottega del Vino, which now has a bouncer and a reservation list at the door. Around the corner, Juliet's balcony would have been the perfect place to watch the crowds.

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