I kissed 221 Italians at the Gambero Rosso tasting on Friday in New York. Italian wine marches forward despite coronavirus fears.

The Italian health ministry hasn’t updated the number of reported novel coronavirus cases today but according to mainstream media reports, there are now nearly 1,700 confirmed cases, with nearly 500 new cases reported over the last 48 hours. The healthy ministry also reports that 11 cities in northern Italy remain on lockdown (see link for list).

It was an amazing site to see on Friday in Manhattan as 221 Italian wineries presented their wines at the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri tasting there.

That’s a photo (above) of the tasting as it was coming to an end shortly before 6 p.m. The room had been packed all afternoon, with no noticeable dip in attendance (at least in my experience; I attended last year’s tasting as well and have been going to Gambero Rosso events like this for more than 20 years).

The Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri tasting is like a high school reunion for most of us, an event where you see people you’ve known for decades (at least for the older folks like me). Although people were asking permission to give a hug or a kiss, it seemed (at least to me) that no one feared personal contact.

Overall, despite the growing bad news about the spread of the virus and events being postponed, the mood was joyous. In some ways, it felt like we were all commiserating in the wake of this year’s unfortunate setbacks for the wine trade (first the continued tariffs and the disruption the threat of tariffs has caused and now the virus).

On Saturday, news broke that Prowein in Düsseldorf, one of the European wine trade’s major tastings and events, has been cancelled. It was scheduled for March 15-17.

At dinner with Italian trade veterans on Friday night in Manhattan, I heard that at least one major American importer and distributor of European wines has banned European travel for its employees.

Over the weekend, U.S. mainstream media reported that Delta and American have cancelled all flights to Milan. My go-to carrier, United, hasn’t cancelled my March flight to Malpensa (Milan). But it is offering a change fee waiver for flight to most of its northern Italian destinations, including Milan.

It’s also been reported that travelers arriving from Italy will be “screened” by U.S. authorities when they arrive in the U.S. But it’s not clear yet what that will entail.

Today, I received an email from a small Italian growers association in which the authors asked me (and everyone else on their e-list) if they were planning on attending the April fairs in Italy (Vinitaly, Vinnatur, Vini Veri etc.). It seems that many in the industry are gauging whether or not those events should be cancelled. Most people I’ve spoken to on Friday and over the weekend are expecting Vinitaly to be cancelled as well.

As of today, I’m still planning on heading to Italy in mid-March.

Yesterday, I traded messages with a Los Angeles-based health professional, a good friend of mine and noted surgeon. He’s also planning to head to Italy the same week.

“From a health perspective, I’m not concerned,” he wrote. “But I am concerned that our … president can put us on a 14-day quarantine on return. I think the virus is already established here on the west coast. We have done only 600 or so tests, compared to 7000+ in Italy. We have had 2 cases out here of unknown etiology.”

I’m going to watch the evolving situation closely. But I’m still planning on going.

That’s all the news I have to report so far this morning. I’m sure there will be new developments today. Stay tuned…

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