This year, my trip to Italy’s most renowned wine show, VinItaly, took on a different emphasis and dynamic. In previous years, navigating thronged pavilions of growers and tasters and trailing fellow importers was at center stage. This time, while those goals remained important, the focus was on introducing Jessica, a talented and emerging wine buyer for the shop, to many of the people that stand behind the Italian wines on our shelves.
With just three days to visit two separate organic tastings (VinNatur and ViniVeri), in addition to the main show (VinItaly), not a second could be taken for granted. Each day, I drafted up a list of growers that we aimed to visit — usually, we were able to get through a good 80% of them. With each winemaker, our goal was to introduce Jess, taste new wines, and come to an agreement on which cuvées we preferred. With some growers, we organized some exclusives that will hopefully hit our shelves as our next round of orders are placed.
We want our selection to be personalized yet accessible in a way that offers an overall appeal of deliciousness rather than eccentricity. The eccentricity is always there in Italian wine if you choose to delve into it but most of our Italian wines are solid go-tos that we select to pair well with food. Producers usually have a few wines that they do not showcase to importers – often due to limited production and their frequent need to be hand sold. Taking advantage of the close bonds that we share with not only our producers but also our suppliers, tasting for these hidden gems was another goal of this trip.
With I Clivi, one of our favorite organic growers with vineyards in Friuli’s Collio and Colli Orientali DOC’s, the exclusives in our shop almost outnumber the wines that we share with other retailers and restaurants. We love offering their non-current, limited vintages to our clients such as their ’97 Galea Bianco (Colli Orientali) that blew our minds as we tasted it at VinItaly. It just arrived in our most recent I Clivi shipment – close your eyes and you’ll think you’re a drinking a vintage Pouilly Fuissé. It almost goes without saying that their 2012 lineup was as precise and elegant as ever – as was grower Mario Zanusso’s VinItaly attire! We can’t wait to share I Clivi’s wines with you this summer.
Our tasting with Dora Forzoni in the Tuscan pavilion gave us an “ah ha” moment with regard to her Sanguineto Rosso which is kept in large barrels for at least a year before bottling and release. She explained that it is essentially declassified Vino Nobile, a wine that she makes from the same sixty-year old Prugnolo Gentile vines. The main difference is that she gives the Nobile two years in barrel and six months in bottle before release. Unlike her peers that have uprooted their Prugnolo Gentile for one of the 120 strains of Sangiovese, Cabernet, or Merlot, Dora chooses to adhere to tradition. In 2009, the governing body of the appellation abolished the requirement for Vino Nobile to be (at minimum) 80% composed of Prugnolo Gentile. Dora says that Prugnolo is similar to Sangiovese Grosso (the strain of Sangiovese that is used in Brunello), in that it has a clasped bunch that is noticeably more compact than other types. Not only do Sanguineto’s wines communicate Dora’s inherent authenticity and belief in their work and tradition but her energy and body language do the same. She was thrilled when Jessica tasted the venison salami that she had made and an aged pecorino made by one of her family members (pictured at right) – needless to say, they paired beautifully with her wines. She was clearly appreciative of the work that we do to share her wines and embraced our visit whole-heatedly; she knows that tasting with her is a priority for us every year. Dora’s 2011 Sanguineto Rosso and Vino Nobile will hit our shelves this summer – don’t miss out on these wines as we have been allocated a very small amount!
Our tasting with Cascina Roera was memorable as we had an opportunity to speak with both Piero and Claudio (childhood friends and now co-winemakers) for half an hour, tasting through their impressive line-up of wines. Our conversation with Claudio was especially informative as he dug into some of the details of the vineyard and cellar work. He explained that their steep, south and southwesterly exposed vineyards enjoyed a softer, less intense sunlight in the afternoons that helps account for a greater variation in temperature throughout the day. The greater range in the daily high and low temps translates into more pronounced aroma development. Cascina Roera also lets their grapes age on the vines usually until late October and only pick when the pips have matured. This often means wines of greater extract, color, and alcohol content because of elevated ripeness. Though I usually prefer Piedmont wines from more classic, cooler vintages (that were typical of about a decade ago, we learned) there is definitely something just delicious about Roera’s rich, silky, quaffable wines that are a clear product of the thoughtful work behind them.
One trend that we noted at the organic conferences – VinNatur and ViniVeri – is that they are getting busier and busier and more inclusive of growers from outside of Italy. At ViniVeri, we saw producers from Georgia, Greece, Latvia, and Yugoslavia. VinNatur had a stronger showing of French producers than ever, with well over 25 out of the 150 that exhibited. Interestingly, many of the Italian producers that once had tables at the “off” shows had migrated back to Verona to VinItaly’s Vivit, a small exhibition space dedicated to organic and biodynamic growers. We weren’t surprised to see how thronged it was after navigating crowded stands at VinNatur and ViniVeri the two previous days. However, it is clear that VinItaly itself is trying to understand how to encompass organics and biodynamics within the scope of the Italian wine scene in which all producers are competing to distinguish themselves. Just as Formaggio Kitchen has slowly expanded its organic and biodynamic selection over the past decade, it might be time for VinItaly to broaden the space and exposure for this enclave of talented, steadfast individuals.
Formaggio Kitchen offers a unique experience to its buyers – we are afforded the opportunity to work directly with the producers behind the products we sell. This connection informs our work and the passion that we ultimately share with our customers. This annual trip to Italy’s premiere wine conferences is a rare whirlwind of wine, people, language, and travel that gets better every time. We work hard to bring you a unique, yet accessible selection of wines made by hand, expressing terroir and tradition. Jess and I look forward to sharing these wines with you in the near future!
Gemma Iannoni is the Wine Buyer and a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.