Tuesday, 7 April 2009
Random Thoughts on VinItaly 2009
Late Sunday night I returned from an exhausting but interesting visit to VinItaly in Verona. It's billed as the largest wine fair in the world and that's not hard to believe. It makes the London International Wine Fair (LIWF) look like a village fête.
This year my assigned meetings were a day-long “Taste & Buy” with producers from Basilicata and an afternoon Piemontese “Taste & Dream” session. The “Taste & Buy” sessions are great. You receive a list of available producers several weeks before the event and are asked to list your preferences in order. The organizers then try to schedule meetings with as many of your top producers as possible but you always get at least 5 of your top 10 and usually more. These sessions are a great way to get an intensive introduction to a region. I always try to pick areas that are under-represented in the market usually with interesting indigenous varieties so I chose Basilicata this year and Lombardia and Puglia last year. Without exception (so far!), the producers have been excellent and the wines of a very high standard. I always feel a little guilty that I’m not an importer because these producers are so eager to get their wines into foreign markets. But I do always send my discoveries to some of my Italian suppliers and ask them to consider importing the wines. This year there’s the additional problem that Sterling is in the tank against the Euro. That’s makes ALL Euro-based wines really expensive. In a depressed economy, that’s a non-starter. But it’s good to make contacts for future opportunities.
The Piemonte “Taste & Dream” session was completely the opposite of the “Taste & Buy” experience. “Taste & Dream” was 2 and 1/2 hours of torture. We saw 20 producers, each showing at least 3 wines, some as many as 6, over the course of the session. Each producer had to enter, introduce him- or herself and the business, then discuss the wines, and finally encourage you to visit their stand at the fair. Much was repetitive, boring, or unnecessary. The presentations were not timed with the wines as they were poured so it was easy to become confused about which wine was which. And there were just too many producers with too many wines over too short a time. Worst of all, though Piemonte is one of the finest quality wine areas of Italy, there were just not enough truly good wines. Only one was actually corked (thankfully!) but far too many of the wines were incredibly ordinary and all but one of the producers had no international presence. I’m all in favour of discovering small, unknown producers but the ones on show here didn’t meet the mark. Given that the “Taste & Buy” sessions have produced such high quality wines, it is hard to imagine that Piemonte managed to drop the ball so badly, but they did. Comments from some colleagues about a Trentino “Taste & Dream” session were excellent so it was a Piemontese problem. They just tried to do too much.
And while I’m bitching, the VinItaly catalogue is absolute rubbish! Everyone I know throws it out. Many trees are killed for no good purpose. To improve it, the organizers need to do several things –
1. Drop all the common farm, association, estate words like Azienda, Agricola, Tenute, Consorzio, Tutela, Podere, Fattoria, etc, and alphabetized based on the main name. For example, the Chianti producer I know as “Felsina” is actually “Fattoria di Felsina”. In the current catalogue, it’s listed under “Fattoria”, along with hundreds (!!) of other Fattorie. It should be listed under “Felsina”. Very few English-speakers, and probably the Italians as well, know the exact business name of many producers. So you have to look under Azienda Agricola, Azienda Vitivinicola, Azienda Vinicola, Fattoria, and many other permutations to find any producer. Even worse, one producer was described as Consorzio Tutela Matera DOC. No luck under Consorzio, none under Tutela, same for Matera. I found it under Consorzio DI Tutela Matera DOC. This is just too stupid for words. VinItaly need to get their act together to produce a catalogue that isn’t just an over-sized door-stop.
2. Provide more information on Pavilion maps. At the moment the maps show only stands by grid reference (A5, for example) with no other information. This is fine if you’re looking for A5, but not particularly necessary since the grid references are posted near the ceiling in each hall. All you need to do it look up and get your bearings. However, it’s a bit more difficult if you’re trying to find a dedicated section for a specific purpose, like Basilicata, and you know it’s in the pavilion but not the grid reference. The maps should show that section, perhaps with a colour as the map for the London International Wine Fair (LIWF) does. That way if you don’t know the names of any of the Basilicata producers or their stand reference, you can find their section of a pavilion. As it is, you just have to do a random walk to find them.
Ok, enough bitching. What were some of the highlights?
Also on the indigenous highlight list (and one of the few things to make the Piemontese “Taste & Dream” a bit less onerous) was tasting a decent Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato. And tasting a selection of Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, a grape native to the Marche, from both Velenosi and Moncaro. I also really enjoyed the Visciole, a dessert wine that is made by first created a syrup from sugar and the local sour cherries of the Marche (Visciole), then mixing the syrup with Lacrima wine which triggers a second fermentation. The product was a very attractive dessert wine that would be lovely with chocolate or berry desserts.