VinItaly 2011: Bringing Us Back to the Veneto

After an exhilarating five days of intensive tasting in and just outside of Verona at VinItaly, VinNatur, and Vino Vino Vino, my palate has been reinvigorated and my “wine speak” in Italian has once again been thoroughly challenged and expanded.

VinItaly is Verona’s infamous wine expo that brings together over 4,000 producers in a cluster of twelve bustling, cavernous convention halls. Conversely, VinNatur and Vino Vino Vino are smaller, organic tastings that are held in historic sites outside of the city and exhibit less than 150 producers. I tasted recent vintages of some of my already established favorites and made some new discoveries along the way.

Tasting with Filippo Filippi is imperative for every VinItaly experience. As expected, his wines were so compelling that I found myself at his booth at both VinItaly and VinNatur. I have a profound respect for his work and I always look forward to learning more about the wines produced in the region surrounding the VinItaly event. Verona is bordered by Bardolino, Valpolicella, and Soave – three of the Veneto’s best-known appellations. Filippi’s ’09 DOC Soave Classico Castelcerino is a perfect snapshot of organic Garganega, an indigenous white grape varietal. Fresh, crisp, and minerally, it shows an abundance of tangy citrus notes and a clean salinity that make it very food-friendly. Filippi is unique in that his steep vineyards are at 400 meters above sea level whereas his neighbors have much less dramatic terroir. In his case, this kind of elevation translates to a diversity of soils, good drainage, and greater temperature variation, leading to more concentrated, nuanced flavors in the glass. His ’08 DOC Soave Classico Vigna della Brà which is made from his highest site also showed beautifully. Its long, round flavor comes from extended lees contact and old barrique élevage. I tentatively made plans to visit his cellar and vineyards in September and look forward to stocking his Amarone in the fall.

At VinNatur, I had the opportunity to taste my friend Alberto Tedeschi’s most recent vintage of Pignoletto. Mario Zanusso of Az. Agr. I Clivi introduced me to Alberto at Millésime Bio in Montpellier a couple of years ago and since then I have special-ordered his wine due to its limited availability.

He has just two hectares in the hills just outside of Bologna that are planted solely with Pignoletto, an indigenous white varietal. Organic and very low in sulfites, this wine goes though at least a year and a half of élevage before bottling — one year in large, old tonneaux followed by six months in stainless steel. The time in wood softens some of the more aggressive acids while the time in stainless steel helps it maintain its fresh, fruitiness. With luck, Alberto will visit us to do a tasting in May!

This year, I am excited to see the return of Terra d’Arcoiris Rosso Toscano. In 2008, their vineyards were stricken with a bout of peronospora. Because their vines are not treated with pesticides, this blight wiped out their entire harvest. I was delighted to taste the ’09 blend of Sangiovese with small inputs of Cannaiolo and Syrah. It shows juicy, red and black fruit with ripe, yet present tannins that make it easy to mistake for a Chianti.

Another Tuscan red favorite and longtime Formaggio Kitchen staple is Gabriele Buondonno’s Chianti Classico. He poured his recently bottled 2008 vintage which is delicate and aromatic with refined fruit and integrated tannins. Last year’s vintage was warmer, producing a bigger, riper, and more structured wine. Look for almost Pinot-like herbal undertones when this wine arrives in the fall.

As usual, it was a treat to taste with Simone of Lo SpaventapasseriSimone of Lo Spaventapasseri, one of Formaggio Kitchen’s exclusive mostarda and confettura producers who is now making DOC Freisa and Barbera. His wines are produced on the same picturesque, hilly terrain where his certified organic fruit and veggies are grown and, as a result, show great potential. Though the wines are not yet imported into the States, I have my fingers crossed that their rustic, aromatic, and pleasantly structured style of Freisa will make its way onto my shelf soon!

As always, I took a break from wine to taste through their latest batches of Cugnà (grape must mostarda), Rosina (rosehip jam), Mostarda d’Albiccoca (apricot compote that is cooked down for twelve hours to develop a pleasant bitterness that makes it a stunning combination with blue cheeses) and Susina, a new jam that is made from ten different varieties of plums with no sugar added! Simone always brings Robiola Roccaverano and homemade wholewheat bread as a hearty backdrop for his mostardas and jams.Visiting the Trimilli stand with Lo Spaventapasseri and other organic Piedmontese and Tuscan producers is always a pleasure.

I spent an hour with Dora and Patrizia of Poderi Sanguineto as I tasted their wines and viewed part of the soon to be released documentary “Senza Trucco” (translation: without makeup) which highlights the work of four women winemakers that work naturally. Dora is unmistakably “senza trucco” in every sense: she is a farmer above all. An example of her connectedness to her land is her practice of smelling her flowering vines to pick out the aromas that will appear later in the wine. When not working in the vineyards she hunts cinghiale (wild boar). Her wines are also “senza trucco.” In her white wine, she unabashedly uses no sulfur and for the reds only a small amount at bottling. The highlight for me was her ’06 Vino Nobile which I currently have on my shelf. Its juicy, yet structured black fruit are slightly sweet and ripe, showing faint anise and leather on the finish.