An American in Brescia and “una fiera di merda”

Above: A repast of hard-boiled eggs, piada (savory Lombard flatbread, akin to Emilia’s piadina), housemade gardiniera, and “peperoni bresciani,” brined “peperoni lombardi” that have been tossed with extra-virgin olive oil and freshly grated Grana Padano.

It’s not easy to describe the utter fatigue that comes with Vinitaly — for the exhibitors and fair-goers alike. For folks like me and Alfonso (who’s been coming to the Italian wine trade fair for 30+ years), you make the trans-Atlantic journey and then you hit the ground running as you attempt to fit in as many meetings and tastings as possible from early in the morning through dinner and beyond.

On the eve of the last day of the fair, I headed with my good friend Giovanni (who showed his wines at the fair) to Brescia, where we decompressed over dinner at the Trattoria Gasparo and later back at Giovanni’s place with a bottle of Camossi Franciacorta (vinified and disgorged by him) paired with Francis Lai and Truffaut.

Above: Valtènesi (Garda) Chiaretto was one of the last DOCs to be approved by Italian authorities before the EU’s CMO reforms of the Italian appellation system went into effect. At dinner we drank Giovanni’s brother-in-law Luca Pasini’s Chiaretto, made primarily with Groppello and macerated with skin contact for “one night,” hence the wine’s subtitle, “vino di una notte.”

According to a press release issued by the fair’s organizer VeronaFiere, “Vinitaly won its gamble and earned the satisfaction of exhibitors, with an increase of professional visitors from abroad and especially from the Italian horeca (hotel/restaurant/catering) channel.”

There may be strength in record numbers but the truth is that the execution of the fair was thoroughly disastrous.

On Sunday and Monday, when attendance hit its peak, a mishap with the wifi network at the fair caused fair-goers to lose all cellular service. As a result, you couldn’t call, text, or message in any format.

And because, once again, the organizers failed to address parking and congestion issues, fair-goers and exhibitors spent up to 1.5 hours every night just trying to leave the grounds.

Nearly every producer I visited with told me privately, è stata una fiera di merda (it’s been a shitty fair).

But despite the logistical challenges, my personal Vinitaly was rewarding and I have many tales to tell.

And, thankfully, the aches and weariness of an American in Brescia were soothed by the bubbles and saltiness of Giovanni’s Franciacorta and a tune from the year that Vinitaly and I were born…

Today I’m in Tuscany for a few meetings and Saturday I head to Friuli for the COF2012 blogger project. Stay tuned…

Soppressa, a few clarifications in the wake of the scandal at Vinitaly

In the wake of the recent controversy stirred by my note on “Tuscan” soppressa, many of my friends and colleagues have benevolently chided me for the lacunate information posted here on the blog.

For the record, soppressa or soprèssa (as it is often spelled in Veneto) is a classic cured pig’s meat salame produced in the provinces of Verona, Vicenza, and Treviso (as well as in other areas of what was once called the Most Serena Republic of Venice).

Technically, for soppressa di be called soppressa, it must be produced using pigs raised in the production area (as in the official appellation regulations for Sopressa Vicentina, for example).

When I wrote “Tuscan soppressa” the other day, I was referring to the fact that my good friend Riccardo (below) — whom I know from summers touring with my cover band in the Veneto back in the early 1990s — produces his soppressa (trevigiana in its classification) using pigs raised in Tuscany. The secret to its supreme quality, he says, is the fact that he uses the entire beast, including the chops, the loin, and tender loin. In traditional production, the best cuts are reserved for other uses.

As a consummate venetophile, I certainly cannot blame my friends for the fun they’ve had at my expense. But now that I have published this errata corrige, I hope they will cease in their unwarranted derision.

And the end of the day yesterday, having completed our respective rounds at the Italian wine trade fair Vinitaly, we reconvened for a snack of Riccardo’s excellent insaccato — intestine encased — salame with our friend Sara Carbone’s Aglianico del Vulture – a brilliant however blasphemous pairing. (Btw, one of the unique elements of soppressa is that large cow’s intestines are used for the casing as opposed to porcine.)


Eataly and Vinitaly in New York

Above: Giovanni Mantovani (CEO VeronaFiere and Vinitaly), Oscar Farinetti (Italian retail, food, and wine tycoon, creator of Eataly), and Stevie Kim (senior adviser to Mr. Mantovani) yesterday at the opening of Bastianchi-Batali-Farinetti brainchild Eataly in New York.

Yesterday, mere moments after Mr. Franco Ziliani and I posted about the Italian agricultural minister’s claim that there is no crisis in the Italian wine industry, I spoke to Stevie Kim (above, right), senior adviser to Vinitaly’s CEO. She and her boss were attending the opening of the latest conquest in the ever-expanding Batali-Bastianich empire, Eataly, the “über-supermarket” conceived by retail tycoon Oscar Farinetti.

“As you know,” said Stevie, “production of Italian wines has increased dramatically in recent years and the Italian market is saturated. And so the international market has become more important for all producers.”

The Italian government, she told me, has asked her and her boss to “revamp” the Vinitaly road show, which has been coming to the U.S. for a decade (fyi Vinitaly is the top Italian wine industry annual trade fair, held each year in Verona in April). They plan to reconfigure the tasting this year, to be held at Eataly New York October 25, to accommodate trade and consumers.

“In the past, the presentation has been very fragmented. This year, we plan to restyle the tasting by transforming Eataly [New York] into Vinitaly,” said Stevie, who speaks impeccable Italian and has lived in Italy for more than 20 years. 50 producers will be attending this year’s road show, the maximum number Eataly New York can accommodate.

To Stevie I say, in bocca al lupo…

I’m not sure how I feel about Eataly (photo by Stevie). It seems to make more sense in New York than it does in Turin, where it started. It’s a sort of Disneyland for Italian food: a hyper-realistic food court, a recreation of an Italian food and wine street shopping scene. Surprisingly, in Piedmont, where “Italian food” is known simply as “food,” Eataly has been well received. At least, that’s my impression from talking to the Piedmontese. I’ve never visited Eataly, although Tracie P and I stopped once at the Eataly satellite on the road that leads from Alessandria to Asti.

There are Eataly franchises in Turin, Asti, Bologna, Milan, Tokyo, and now New York. Future expansion includes Genoa and Rome. Eataly enjoys the support of the SlowFood movement and its founder Carlo Petrini (however much the organization’s ethos would otherwise opposed globalization).

One thing you can say for certain about Eataly’s creator Mr. Farinetti: he’s no farniente!

Vinitaly observed from afar

Vinitaly went on without me this year. As much I was glad to spend some time at home this week, after already too much time on the road in 2010, I can’t conceal that I was disappointed not to attend this year. But I’ve been following a lot of truly great blogging from the fair. Here’s a round-up of some of the blogs I’ve been following so that I can get my virtual fair on…

Avvinare really took it up a notch with some great coverage of the tastings she attended. I really liked her post on the Franciacorta seminar (and highly recommend all of her posts from the fair).

I’m also dying to read Tom Hyland’s notes on the Franciacorta tasting but his not-yet-posted notes on a Vermentino Nero (!!!) are the ones keeping me on the edge of my seat and glued to my screen. He posted some first impressions here.

A lot of folks received fancy awards, including Eric Asimov who was given a Grandi Cru d’Italia prize for best foreign wine writer, as reported by the excellent blog Consumazione Obbligatoria.

Ale over at Montalcino Report posted about a prize given to his family’s importer Tony Terlato (and to other Italian American notables) by the American Chamber of Commerce in Italy. I grabbed that picture of Ale’s stand, above, where I taste every year, from Ale’s Facebook fan page.

I also read about Italian president Giorgio Napolitano’s historic visit to the fair over at the ANSA English-language feed and I translated some of Mr. Franco Ziliani’s thoughts about lame duck agriculture minister Luca Zaia’s braggadocio over at VinoWire.

And of course, Vinitaly wouldn’t be Vinitaly without at least one day of rain, as Ale reported, and some Miss Vinitaly watching by top sommelier Andrea Gori.

But the blogger that’s really been killing me has been Alfonso, who’s been “turning Visentin” without me!

Xe sempre l’ultimo giosso queo che imbriaga…

Vini Veri Tasting details, April 8-10, 2010 in Cerea

giampiero bea

Above: Giampiero Bea, owner of the Paolo Bea winery and one of the founders of Vini Veri. I took this picture when tasted with him last April at the Vini Veri fair.

A lot of folks have been writing me asking me what other events they should attend during the week of Vinitaly, the Italian wine industry’s annual trade fair.

Every year, one of my top destinations is the Vini Veri tasting. I finally got my hands on event details for the tasting, which will be held in Cerea (and not in Isola della Scala) this year.

My good friend (and fellow San Diegan and UCLA alumna) Marisa Huff, who’s working on event organization and media relations, told me that convention-center space at Cerea will help to accommodate the fair’s growth and that the entire tasting will take place in the same hall, making it easier to navigate and negotiate. Some of the charm of Villa Boschis (where the event was held in the past) will be lost, she said, but the new venue will make it a lot easier for attendees to make the rounds. Thanks, Marisa, for sending me the info (below)! :-)

Hope to see you there!

    Vini Veri 2010

    The Dates: Thursday, April 8th to Saturday, April 10th

    The Time: 10 AM to 6 PM

    The Place: AreaExp Events Center, in Cerea (Province of Verona), about a half-hour drive/train ride from Vinitaly.

    The Producers: over 130 natural wine producers, from Italy and beyond.

    The Organizers: Vini Veri Consortium and Renaissance Des Appellations.

    A complete list of the participating winemakers will soon be available on our website,

The (de)criminalization of alcohol in Italy

Above: Italy’s agricultural minister Luca Zaia is widely recognized as having an ego the size of the world’s largest panettone. Note the signature green pocket square (a nod to his separatist, xenophobic Northern League party) and his black tie (I’ll leave the semiotic analysis to the reader but fascism is always in the eye of the beholder).

“Incredible but true: I am in agreement with Zaia!” This was the title of a Facebook note that Franco posted yesterday after the ever-patriotic (patriotic, that is, if you consider the Veneto a sovereign state) Italian agricultural minister was quoted in a magazine interview as saying that Italy’s new “zero-tolerance” drunk driving law is excessive. Currently, “0.2 grams per liter of blood” is the legal limit, making the consumption of even one glass of wine illegal if you get behind the wheel. In the interview, published in Italy’s leading consumer automotive magazine, Quattro Ruote, Zaia proposed that it should be raised to 0.5 grams so that drivers will be allowed to have 2 glasses of wine as long as the alcohol content of the wine does not exceed 11%, in other words, as minister Zaia put it, as long as drivers are not consuming “structured” wines. (In a subsequently posted FB note, Franco suggested that minister Zaia take a full-immersion sommelier course: “where,” asked Franco, throwing his hands in the virtual FB air, “does he find wines with 11% alcohol content?”)

Zaia should know something about drinking and driving: although you won’t find it in his ill-translated and prolix Wikipedia entry, the forty-something minister used to work as a nightclub bouncer, or so I have been told by someone who knows him well.

I’ve been known to indulge in some of my own Zaia bashing, but today I’ll leave it to the experts.

And not that it’s any of my business, but Zaia is right: the new legal limit, which went into effect earlier this year and has been rigorously enforced with myriad check points, has led to senseless arrests and steep fines for food and wine writers, like Andrea dal Cero who lost his license in May after attending a spumante presentation in Emilia-Romagna.

Above: Just days before the event was to be held, organizers of the Taurasi Wine Fair canceled the convention, citing recent legislation that makes it illegal to serve alcohol at public events in town squares.

Italy (like Europe in general) has been wrestling with its relationship with alcohol and in some cases, the results have been disastrous, like the recent cancellation of one of the most important wine festivals in southern Italy, the Taurasi Wine Fair. See this editorial posted at VinoWire by the author of Divino Scrivere, Luigi Metropoli.

I sure hope that Italian pols will look closely and carefully at current legislation and I’m glad that Zaia is taking this issue seriously. After all, can you imagine how many folks will lose their licenses as they roll out of Vinitaly next April? If you’ve ever been caught in the post-fair traffic of the trade show (where there are never any traffic police to guide traffic and avoid grid lock), you get the picture.

On the eve of Vinitaly, a push to create a Montalcino DOC (and reflections on a year past)

Above: Franco Ziliani (left), my friend and co-editor of VinoWire, and Mauro Mascarello, winemaker and producer of one of the greatest expressions of Nebbiolo, Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo. We tasted at Vinitaly last year together. This year, Franco and I will be tasting together at Vini Veri.

Passover and Easter will shortly be upon us and the who’s who of Italian wine is preparing to descend on the province of Verona for our industry’s annual trade fairs: Vinitaly (the largest and most commercial), Vini Veri (a gathering of natural winemakers and the most interesting in my opinion), and VinNatur (an assembly of winemakers who broke away from Vini Veri some years back). I’m particularly excited for Vini Veri because this year’s tasting sees the unification of Vini Veri with the Nicolas Joly biodynamic and quasi-biodynamic tastings, Triple A and Renaissance du Terroir (Return to Terroir).

Above: The Banfi Castle at last year’s Vinitaly. There were rumors — unfounded and untrue — that Banfi’s wines were seized on the floor of the fair last year. I am looking forward to tasting the 2004 Brunello di Montalcino by Banfi. Charles Scicolone and Tom Hyland — whose palates I respect greatly — have both told me that it’s classic Brunello, 100% Sangiovese, and one of the best wines Banfi has ever produced.

It’s remarkable to think that at this time last year, the world of Italian wine was gripped by the breaking news of the Brunello scandal: at least five major producers were accused of adulterating their wines from the 2003 vintage. A year has passed, a large quantity of wine has reportedly been declassified, and no indictments have been issued by the Siena prosecutor who supposedly launched the investigation in September of 2007.

It’s not surprising, however, that there has been a new push — albeit weak — within the association of Brunello producers to create a Montalcino DOC. Last week, a proposal to create such an appellation was put to the floor at the consortium’s assembly. (I haven’t been able to find out the results of the vote but according to most observers, it was unlikely that it would be ratified.)

Above: I am always geeked to taste Paolo Bea Sagrantino with Giampiero Bea at Vini Veri (I snapped this photo at last year’s fair). Tracie B and I have been enjoying his Santa Chiara 2006. It’s radically different than his 2005 and I hope to ask him about the vintage variation. (Is it the result of climatic differences or differences in the cellar? I imagine — knowing Giampiero and his radical belief in natural winemaking — that the former is the case.)

Currently, Montalcino producers must label their wines as Toscana IGT or Sant’Antimo DOC if they contain grapes other than Sangiovese. If approved, a Montalcino DOC would allow them to exploit the Montalcino “brand” in their labeling of so-called Super Tuscan wines. The proposed DOC is part of a greater push to create new Italian appellations before OCM reforms take effect in August 2009 and the power to issue new DOCs shifts from Rome to Brussels.

Above: This year, the world of Italian wine mourns the loss of Teobaldo Cappellano (photo courtesy of Polaner). Baldo, as he was known fondly, was one of the founders of the Vini Veri movement and one of Italy’s most zealous defenders and promoters of terroir-driven wines and natural winemaking. He was a truly delightful man and is sorely missed.

There’s a reason why the fairs are held at this time of year: historically and traditionally, the spring marks the moment when winemakers unveil their cellared wines. Long before the hegemony of the Judeo-Christian canon, spring was observed as Mother Nature’s moment of renewal and rebirth.

The ancient allegory — and it is an allegory, not a metaphor — could not be more apt this year.