The 52nd edition of Vinitaly, Italy's annual wine and spirits trade fair, brought nearly 4,400 exhibitors to Verona this week, showing their wares to an estimated 130,000 visitors.
The fair kicked off April 14 with OperaWine, a tasting presenting 107 of Italy's top wine producers, selected by Wine Spectator to showcase the diversity and excellence of the country's wines. Bruce Sanderson, senior editor of Wine Spectator and the publication's lead taster for the wines of Piedmont and Tuscany, told 300 members of the trade and press that, "Our principal criteria are wine quality, regional leadership and historical significance."
The selection represented all 20 Italian wine regions, from icons such as Sassicaia from Bolgheri and Gaja from Barbaresco to lesser-known stars like Dettori from Sardinia and Pederzana from Lambrusco. Among the rarities on offer were Mastroberardino's Taurasi Radici Riserva 1998, Avignonesi's Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Grandi Annate Riserva 1997 and Valdicava's Brunello di Montalcino Madonna del Piano Riserva 1988.
Among 10 first-time participants were Josko Gravner, presenting his Ribolla Venezia-Giulia Selection 2003, and French actress Carole Bouquet, with her Sangue d'Oro 2015, a Passito di Pantelleria.
Bouquet, struggling with a broken shoulder, gamely held court in the packed hall. "This is a wonderful opportunity to bring attention to a historic wine region that is in danger of disappearing," she said. "We are working with our neighbor Donnafugata to preserve a tradition more than a thousand years old."
Donnafugata, based in Sicily, also presented a Passito di Pantelleria, their Ben Ryé Edizione Limitata 2008.
Held at Verona's historic Palazzo della Gran Guardia, the seventh edition of OperaWine drew more than 2,000 invited guests from around the world, including American restaurateur and vintner Joe Bastianich, and Argentina's Alejandro Bulgheroni, who has recently amassed a stable of wine estates on four continents, including some Italian properties.
Karl Krause, an American businessman who purchased Barolo's Vietti in 2016, was a first-time attendee. "I'm passionate about Italy," Krause said. "My wife and I married here and we have long enjoyed Italian wines. This tasting is like being given the keys to a treasure chest."
This year, Vinitaly put the spotlight on the U.S., the largest export market for Italian wines. The 2018 Vinitaly International Award was presented to Gina Gallo of California's E & J Gallo. The company is among America's largest wine producers, and also imports a number of prestigious Italian wineries through its Lux division.
"My family has deep roots in Italy," Gallo told a crowd of 400 at Vinitaly's gala dinner. "We are proud and honored to be part of this country's wine community."
The Italian community embraced her in turn; the dinner, aptly titled "Work in Progress," exemplified the country's wine industry, which continues to innovate even as it honors its rich traditions, welcoming outsiders as it grows around the world.