Having friends in the wine business has many advantages, not least the opportunity to buy exceptional wine at cost, but it also opens up many other doors to exceptional experiences. Vinitaly was one such experience, that I will not forget in a long time! This annual event which takes place in Verona, Northern Italy, celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. So, this was one event I just couldn’t miss! And it certainly didn’t disappoint. In fact, it way exceeded my expectations! The Expo was for 3 days only from 11th – 13th April.
It’s difficult to comprehend the enormity of the arena, with over a 100,000m² of exhibition space, it is the largest arena in the world!!! Actual figures of people passing through the turnstiles on a daily basis have not been published, however, Vinitaly reported that nearly 50,000 international people attend the Expo and that there was in excess of 4100 exhibitors. Needless to say, I didn’t get to see everything!
With so many people attending the Expo I thought it would be crowded, but once inside I wondered where everyone had gone! There were vast open spaces in between cabins (when say cabin, I mean huge airport sized hangers really, they were huge!). Each cabin represented a region of Italy, although some of the smaller wine producing regions were incorporated into other regions. But this gigantic event was mainly aimed at b2b (business to business), it was a platform for wine producers to showcase their wines, promote their vineyard and to attract new customers in the food and wine business. But it wasn’t just about wine, there was a large area dedicated to ‘artigianale’ (artesian) food and beer. In fact I was amazed to see an advertisement for a beer which was brewed in my home town of Blackburn, Lancashire, Northern England, ‘Thwaites’. Sadly they didn’t have any on offer!
Amongst the wines producers, promoters, members of Slow Food, Sol&Agrifood, artesian food and beer, there were food demonstrations, wine competitions, bloggers, critics, reporters and those who are just passionate about wine.
Surprisingly, after 10+ hours of driving from Puglia to Verona, we arrived feeling pumped and ready to sample our first wine at the Expo! It was late in the day, and the hordes of people were already inside. After a long walk around to the other side of the arena, I was greeted my friend, Luigi, who owns a small restaurant in my home town, in Puglia, La Locanda di Nonna Mena. Luigi was busy in the kitchen preparing food for the Slow Food exhibit but took a moment to offer me a refreshing beverage! A cool, crisp white wine from Locoratondo, Puglia, obviously! This was a welcome sight and tasted absolutely amazing after the long drive!!! Wine had never tasted soooooo good!!! He quickly introduced me to the president of Slow Food, where I had the opportunity to explain what I’m doing to promote Puglia, its food, wine and cultural. Unfortunately, the greeting was cut short as they both had to return work.
Feeling refreshed, revitalised, and ready to explore the Expo, I went in search of my friends. Easier said than done! We eventually were reunited in the Veneto cabin, where I was introduced to my friend’s friends, who own a large ‘enoteca’ (wineshop) in a nearby town close to where I live. After the long hike from the Puglia cabin to Veneto cabin, my reward was a very large pink sparkling rose, Gran Couve by Montagner. Now that really did hit the spot and I have to say it was one of my favourite pink sparkling wines I tasted during my visit. Arriving so late in the afternoon meant we only had a couple of hours in the Expo, so after a leisurely stop at Montagner, we moved on to sample a few more wines from the Veneto region.
Passing through the various regions, sampling wine and networking with various vendors was a lot of fun! And we made many friends along the way; including Giovanni and Michele from Bonollo, promoting their Grappa and various liquors.
Day 2 started with the masses, queuing to get into the Expo and unlike the conventional queuing system of the UK and America, which tends to be linear in fashion, the Italian method of surging to the front in a freestyle manner, until the rope was unleashed and ‘x’ amount of people were permitted to enter the area where the turnstiles were located, worked surprisingly well and it wasn’t too long before we in!
Where to start, where to start? Puglia of course! I only had a quick drink there yesterday with my friend Luigi, so it seemed like an obvious choice. It was great to see many familiar wineries, and yes, many of which I have already sampled! Tenute Rubino were there with a beautiful background of Puglia, Polvanera , Due Palme , Castello Monaci , Primitivo di Manduria co-operative, Menhir Salento, Botrugno, Schiena Vini, Feudo di Santa Croce along with their partners, Tinazzi from Vento, to name just a few! After sampling a few of these wines, the names of the other wineries were lost on me! But we did make it to Sicily, Tuscany, and the International wine cabin where I fell in love with a mouth-watering Sauvignon Blanc by Captain Drake, New Zealand and another equally amazing Sauvignon Blanc by Cape Dreams, South Africa, oh, and a couple of big bold reds from Australia, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz from Midnight’s Promise.
After a quick bite to eat, we headed towards to ‘artiginale’ cabin and swapped wine for beer and homemade treats before deciding to call it a day. After all we had a party to attend!
More wine connections meant we had a personal invite to a private party in the hills of Lake Garda, at the beautiful wine estate of Le Valleselle which is part of the Tinazzi group, which also included 2 Puglian Wineries, Feudo di Santa Croce and San Giorgio.
We were courteously greeted by the president of the winery Gian Andrea Tinazzi, who then invited us to make our way to the wine bar to choose from a selection of their finest wines. ‘Perchè no!’ Why not! I thought to myself (actually this is my favourite Italian phrase which, I use, most often!). Bubbles to start?…..perchè no! There was a lovely spread of food on offer and as we tucked in, the unmistakeable sound of Pizzica music caught our attention, and two enchanting dancers entertained us while we ate. Amazing! The hills of Bardolino were alive with Puglian music and dancing, it was quite surreal!
Fed, ‘watered’ and entertained, it was time for the DJ to do his thing. Playing all my favourite tunes, I was itching to get up and dance, and even though we had been on our feet all day, I’m never too tired to boogie! Sadly my friends were. So, subtly bopping away on my own, I made a new friend, who was just as keen as I was to ‘get this party started’. I asked her if they could dim the brightly lit lighting, crank-up the volume and invite others to join us on the dancefloor! She did! First up and last to leave, all-in-all a bl**dy good night!
Thanks to the Tinazzi family for welcoming us into their estate. I hope to meet again, sometime soon!