VinItaly shouldn’t last a long weekend, it should last a month. Even if you had five whole days to spend tasting wine, it would be impossible to sample even half of those that are represented there, and likely to bring on raucous case of gout to boot. Besides, it’s not just about tasting an individual wine, it’s about learning first-hand from the producer their background, philosophy, and approach; the vinification process and challenges of their particular area, region, and terrior, and, in general, just facendo due chiacchiere, which usually bubbles as effortlessly as a Scolca spumante about halfway into the second bicchiere. If VinItaly went on for at least two weeks, for example, you could stop by four or five times, for perhaps for a few hours, tasting, say, Franciacorta one day, hopping over to Puglia or Sicily another, Friuli or even Alsace another, and…well, you get my point.
As it is, è enorme. Overwhelming. Impossibile. Nonetheless, those of us who just can’t resist hop the train in the early morning, managing to squeeze onto the navetta and throng through the entrance in time to arrive for the mouth’s most favorable tasting-hour of the day (between 10:30 and 11:00, they say, before it’s had a chance to get all gunked-up by irrelevant flavors). We’ve made a list of the producers with whom we have appointments, another of those we hope to squeeze in. We start with the sparkling wines, move on to whites, save the reds for afternoon after a lunch in the sun, a hefty panino of salsiccia di mora, che ci voleva. And still, we haven’t made a dent.
It’s not so much that you become too, too tipsy; there are ways to keep that under control (I do like keeping a clear enough head to understand the passionate pitches of the producers and their reps, as I’m fairly cognizant of what they’ll be going through for these five intense days). The bottom line is that there is only so much you can absorb…literally…especially since I haven’t yet got comfortable with lo sputo (even if I managed a clean spit, it would still seem like vinus interruptus). At the end of the day, we were invited to an after-closing dinner. I’m sure there are those among you who could’ve managed it, and well. I am not one of them.
Contrast the excess of VinItaly with the understated-ness of VinNatur, the annual event the occurs during the same period featuring all-natural wines, just in case all the trade reps and distributors begin to yearn for some fresh, country air). Held outside the tiny burg of Monticello at Villa Favorita, there are no towering graphics, multimedia displays, or opulent booths that require days to construct, just tables with white linen, glasses, wines, some literature about them, and the requisite spittoon.
It’s easier to find the treasures like Elisabetta Foradori at these smaller tastings. She produces wine from one of my favorite grapes, the indigenous Teroldego. It’s a variety that although it has an long history, was almost abandoned, but that is now enjoying a relatively robust production mostly in a small valley in the Alto Adige, Campo Rotaliano.
I can’t say that all the wines at Villa Favorita were necessarily to my liking, but my wine palate is nothing if not a work-in-progress. The great thing about wine opinions is their subjectivity: who knows if what you taste is what I taste (I could never resist a moving target). We found wines that seemed destined to be drunk alone, and others that became a whole other wine when perfectly paired with selected cheeses we sampled. A wonderful adventure, and a great way to get up-close-and-personal with these smaller producers (some as few as 2,000 bottles a year), who are just as likely to have personally pruned the vines as vinified the wine they are offering to you to sample.
There’ll be more of these coming up; ’tis the season. As long as I pace myself (she said, determinedly), I’m looking forward to some great discoveries as I continue my quest to push the big-wine comfort envelope. As good an excuse as any, I suppose.