Vinitaly is no longer merely a gathering of 4,100 exhibitors, spread out over a million square feet of floor space, showing their wines to 130,000 wine professionals from 140 countries over four days. It also includes a number of marquee events prior to and during the fair: a master-level education program on Italian grape varieties, a wine competition, a grand tasting of Italy’s hundred best wines, visits by Italy’s political leaders, and a wine-and-music celebration that takes over the city of Verona.
The week before the fair, Vinitaly International Academy held its second weeklong program of sessions on native Italian grape varieties led by VIA’s scientific director, Ian D’Agata. Based on the only book on the subject, Native Wine Grapes of Italy, written by D’Agata, the course discusses a formidable array of Italy’s indigenous grapes, describing such aspects as their biotypes, anthocyanin profiles, aromas and flavors, and prime growing locations. The VIA program is a capstone course for advanced students of Italian wine who already have a detailed knowledge of Italy’s wine laws and denominations from work experience or a preparatory course like the Italian Wine Professional. Graduates of the program are designated as Italian Wine Ambassadors or, at the honors level, Italian Wine Experts. There are currently only three Experts: Michaela Morris of Vancouver, Lingzi He of China and Bordeaux, and Italian Wine Central’s own Geralyn Brostrom. In this year’s class, Italian Wine Central’s Jack Brostrom joined the cadre of 54 Ambassadors from a dozen countries.
The 2016 edition of Vinitaly was also the occasion for the debut of a new wine competition, a follow-on to the International Wine Awards that had taken place at Vinitaly for many years. Vinitaly brought together some 70 distinguished wine judges to assess over 2,700 wines—mostly Italian, but entries from all over—ultimately awarding 375 of them the inaugural 5 Star Wine badges. The top-of-category wines in this competition were:
The full list of awardees can be downloaded here.
For the fifth year, the Saturday before the fair was the day for OperaWine, a collaboration between Wine Spectator and Vinitaly that showcases 100 of Italy’s best wines. At the press conference the morning before the event, Tom Matthews, Wine Spectator’s executive editor, was quick to point out that it would be impossible to definitively name the 100 best wines, but the group certainly represented 100 (actually 101 this year) of the shining examples of Italian wine. Shortly after that, one of those featured producers was nice enough to come out and serenade the audience for a while, singing and playing a guitar. I only caught his first name, “Sting,” but he was pretty good.
Later, at the actual OperaWine event, held in the ornate Palazzo della Gran Guardia off Piazza Brà, the principals of the hundred honored wineries poured samples of their wares to altogether too many people. Tickets to OperaWine are not necessarily easy to get, but if you do get one next year, go early before it becomes impossible to move in Gran Guardia. Needless to say, there are a lot of great wines available for tasting that more than make up for any claustrophobic discomfort.
The main event, Vinitaly 2016, ran from Sunday through Wednesday, April 10–13, at the Veronafiere fairgrounds. It is a huge affair, with some two dozen large halls filled with a vast assortment of booths for producers to promote their wines to potential buyers from around the world. The booths range from the small and austere stalls of some smaller producers to elaborate multistory structures that host throngs of guests visiting the big names. Alternatively, some consorzi take a larger area where they pour the wines of their member producers collectively. The wineries are more or less grouped by region (Sicily in one building, Campania in another, and so forth), but it can be quite challenging to find a specific producer or to do a survey of a specific denomination. On the other hand, just browsing can be wonderfully rewarding.
Given that this was the golden anniversary of Vinitaly, the president of the Italian republic, Sergio Mattarella, was on hand to open the fair on Sunday—the first time a president had visited. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi made the rounds the next day, and the minister of agriculture, Maurizio Martina, was in attendance for the entire event. While there, Martina hosted the first European Forum of Wine-Producing Countries at Vinitaly, where ministers of 16 EU nations discussed important wine-related issues.
Attendance was reportedly down by about 20,000 people for this year’s fair, but that’s a good thing. This year, for the first time, attendance was (theoretically) restricted to only members of the wine trade, and the many consumers who paid for day-tickets in the past—many of them visiting on Sunday for a cheap day of wine guzzling—were not allowed in. Thus, the reduced attendance, and the greatly increased amount of business that was conducted. But the consumers were not, by any means, shunned. Instead, the city of Verona hosted three evenings of entertainment, with bands playing in several locations around town and wine-tasting and food booths set up in central areas. The event reported 29,000 attendees and was a welcome addition to the Vinitaly experience.
Next year’s Vinitaly is scheduled to take place in Verona April 9–12, 2017. Foreign wine trade should register a few months in advance. Check the Vinitaly website for details. Put it on your calendar.