American wine writer and natural wine advocate Alice Feiring (above) will chair a new “natural wine” competition this year at Vinitaly, the annual Italian wine industry fair held in Verona.
Wines submitted to the “Free Wine, Wine Without Walls” competition will be judged by Feiring and a panel selected by her, including Pietro Vergano (wine buyer, Ristorante Consorzio, Turin), Diego Sorba (wine buyer, Tabarro, Parma), and Pascaline Lepeltier (Master Sommelier and wine director, Rouge Tomate, New York).
According to a press release issued by Vinitaly organizer Veronafiere, the wines will not be scored. Instead, they will be judged according to criteria that include “evolution in the glass, emotional impact, and transparency.”
The competition “is open to all wines conforming to the definition in the OIV International Code, entered by producers located in any country.”
And while Veronafiere concedes that there is no “legal definition” of “natural wine” in Europe, it specifies the following restrictions for submission.
“Wines presented for the Free Wine event must have the following characteristics, under penalty of exclusion from the event: sulphite quantity of no more than 20 mg/l; [and they] must not be the result of practices such as micro-oxygenation, the use of concentrators, reverse osmosis, thermo-vinification, malolactic fermentation block [or] vineyard irrigation.”
The deadline for submission is March 25, 2016.
The judging will take place on April 1 and the winners will be announced on April 10 in Verona at the fair.
The award is “a way to bring the conversation about what wine is — not only natural — to a much larger audience,” wrote Feiring on her blog this week.
“The fact that [Vinitaly] embraced this category is ground-breaking. Frankly, it is a big deal and is bound to shake up the status quo.”
But the competition could prove to be controversial in a country like Italy where authorities have fined retailers for advertising wines as “natural.”
“Do the competition organizers know that the verbiage ‘natural wine’ is a borderline issue for the Anti-Adulteration unit of the Carabinieri [Italy’s paramilitary police force]?” wrote Antonio Tomacelli on the popular Italian wine blog Intravino. “What will happen in wine shops when investigators discover bottles with tags [that say] ‘5-star natural wines’ or something similar?”
Full disclosure: Alice is a close friend of mine.