Vinitaly: Postcards From the Edge

by Chuck Hayward

Vinitaly: Postcards From the Edge

Post by Chuck Hayward | May 19th, 2011

Let the madness begin...

Following our adventures at en primeur week in Bordeaux (and prior to that a week in Burgundy), some of us decided we needed to taste more wine. So we donned our helmets and made our to Verona to attend the annual wine fair known as Vinitaly, a trade event that has taken on legendary proportions. Held each April for over 45 years, it plays host to thousands of wineries from all across Italy, along with a few international estates. The main purpose is to connect wineries with distributors and importers, but the public is welcome on selected days. Attracting visitors from across the globe (this year saw 156,000), Vinitaly is of such massive proportions that it is triple the size of Vinexpo, probably the most well known trade fair held every other year in Bordeaux.

A lot of wine

I had heard about Vinitaly for years and always wanted to attend, despite industry colleagues complaining about the crushing number of people. While the stories about the sheer size of the event were enough to interest me, it also seemed like a great chance to taste a lot—and I mean a lot—of Italian wine. But as is often the case, none of the stories could hold a candle to the reality. It was everything I had heard about—and more!

Opening the floodgates at Vinitaly
Opening the floodgates at Vinitaly

Vinitaly is a colorful mix of the insanity of Las Vegas, the fervor of Mardi Gras, and the unfettered humanity of a state fair. Hordes of people waiting to enter the grounds, provocatively dressed ladies pouring next to formally attired sommeliers complete with tastevins around their necks, helicopters taking off and landing every few minutes, and a handful of casualties propped against a wall—and this was the "trade only" day! Certainly it is an interesting enough event from an anthropological perspective .

And then there was the wine.

Attacking the Brunellos at Vinitaly

Not far from downtown Verona, a city of 700,000 and home to an ancient Roman amphitheatre, 17 pavilions, in an exhibition area of 25 acres, showcase the wines at Vinitaly. They are arranged by geographical regions (Tuscany, Veneto, Latium) within each exhibition hall, with wineries further organized so that all the Brunello or Barolo producers are in close proximity. Large maps are available to guide and direct you but it was easy to get lost, which I did when I stopped briefly to shake the hand of Lionello Marchesi of Castello de Monastero. In that twenty seconds, the rest of my group was gone.  Until we bumped into each other some twenty minutes later, I doubted we would see each other until I returned to the hotel!

JJ Buckley sales associate Alex Shaw (r) and his dad Michael Shaw make their selections at the Bolgheri Consorzio

Especially helpful were the small rooms operated by the winery associations of each region, where we had the opportunity to taste the appellation's current releases. We made an appointment to visit the Brunello Consorzio to gather more tasting notes in order to update our 2006 Brunello Report, and the following day we visited the Bolgheri Consorzio's cupboard-like space to sample the 2008s. At each tasting, we checked off our preferences on a long list of wines available for tasting (over 250 at the Brunello Consorzio alone) and a sommelier would pour our wines as we took notes. It was a great way to focus on the wines being poured, quiet and away from the churning masses on the exhibition floor.

Cory Gowan from JJ Buckley signing out
JJ Buckley's Cory Gowan signs out of the Bolgheri Consorzio tasting

For some of the JJB group, Vinitaly proved to be more than they bargained for, so after our appointments, they set off to explore the sights and stuff their faces. But my insatiable vinous curiosity compelled me to plug on solo, and I bumped into numerous friends and business associates while taking in sights of a different nature (mostly red and served in good stemware).

After three days, I barely had a chance to finish my list of Tuscan and Piedmont producers I had hoped to see. Looks like I'll have to do it again next year…