Around this time of the year, the city of Verona becomes without a doubt the must go to place for wine lovers and adventurers. Hosting 3 different wine fairs normally between the end of March and beginning of April, for people like myself, friends and colleagues this is the equivalent of a few days in heaven.
The main event takes place in the centre Verona and is called Vinitaly, the world’s largest wine fair. A huge happening where wine professionals from all over the world gather for a few days to make business and of course to taste the latest vintages.
I decided to focus more on the satellite fairs which are much smaller and only feature artisans that believe in natural wine making which for me is what wine is all about and is what I want my clients to experience.
As a food and wine experience provider, I could not miss the opportunity of meeting some of the country’s finest producers to taste their marvellous products and indulge in the wonderful world of artisanal wines.
I thought however that this year I would want share my passion and love for these fairs with some of my closest friends in order to give them the fantastic opportunity of getting a full on Italian wine tasting session.
The first wine fair we visited took place in a big pavilion in the village of Cerea, located in the southern part of Verona. The winemakers here are all part of ViniVeri, an association that stands by the philosophy of natural wine making. I remember when visiting this fair the first time that I was a bit confused because I had no idea where to start from and was so overwhelmed by the fact that so many of my wine heroes were there. This time around, despite having accumulated experience with these sorts of events, it was still quite intense. I had to guide 7 of my friends from stand to stand becoming more of a wine fair guide while making sure that no one would get lost and that everyone would the to taste the same wine. But boy it was a lot of fun!
Having the opportunity of greeting and chatting with some of the country’s finest wine producers while they are pouring in your glass the result of their artistry and hard work, no matter how many times I have done this before it always gives goose bumps. And having the privilege of sharing this experience with my closest friends made every moment of these fairs memorable.
The only downturn of wine fair for a serious taster is that after having tried a few, your mouth becomes kind of numb and only recognises certain type of characteristics in wine such as acidity and tannins. Not to mention that inevitably the alcohol level in your body increases so my advise is to remember to spit out the wine as often as you can otherwise by the end of the day they will pick you up with a spoon!
Talking about my favourites, it would be hard and unfair as there were so many spectacular wines but I always have a soft spot for Friulian white wines. In my previous article I wrote about the Friuli region being a hidden gem both from a gastronomic and cultural point of view but their wines for me are simply something else. More specifically, my preferred producers are located on the border with Slovenia as there are famous for their “Macerato”style. This means making white wine with the red wine method therefore applying a long period of skin contact. The result is very unusual in taste and most probably unlike anything you have tried before but once you get the hang of it you cant live without them… I promise you I am not an alcoholic; it’s just that they are so hard to resist!
Another personal highlight of mine at the fair was believe it or not a beer. The producer, despite being Italian and bottling locally, crafts his beer between Germany and Belgium and the result is nothing short of excellent. Strong, dark and complex, this could be considered the Amarone of beers. To enhance even more the tasting experience, the producer also makes beer gelatine which he served on top of a slice of aged Parmigiano Reggiano. No words could describe the sensation of pleasure that this pairing generated in my friends’ faces!
After this little Aperitif it was time to go for lunch. We headed 20 minutes north from the fair towards Verona to one of my favourite places, a gourmet Pizzeria. This restaurant elevates Pizza to another level by only using the finest ingredients such raw scallops, truffles, foie gras on dough that is the result of years of research. What shocks you the most every time you come here is the chef’s ability to constantly innovate his pizzas while at the same time making them so delicate and easy to digest.
After this gourmet pit stop we headed to the second wine fair called Villa Favorita. The setting was completely different. Located inside a breath taking Venetian villa on top of a hill overlooking the countryside, you can easily understand the reason why so many people have follen in love with this fair each year. Organised by another association called VinNatur, just like ViniVeri they firmly believe in the concept of natural wine making. Walking through the wonderfully decorated rooms while tasting other stunning wines just made me realise that this day could not get any better.
Among all the wines, 3 producers particularly intrigued me. The first one which I visited a couple of months ago during my visit in Italy, surprised my with his still white wine made of 100% Durella, a local and rediscovered grape varietal found in the Verona area close to Soave. Durella comes from the word Duro which means hard. Great for sparkling wine, the young producer makes a still version that astonished me for its glorious freshness, acidity and saltiness. The same characteristics that I found in another lovely white wine that I tried later on that afternoon. This time the region is Umbria, Tuscany’s neighbour also known as Italy’s green heart for being right in the centre of the country and unlike most regions untouched by the sea. This artisan makes a Trebbiano that is to die for. An incredibly persistent white that would pair beautifully with a Pasta alle Vongole e Bottarga, a typical Sardinian dish. To be fair with him, his aged Sangiovese was also one of the best reds I had tried that day.
As we were leaving the fair, we happened to walk by a stand that I had been looking for all day. I got so excited that I screamed to one my friends: “we are not leaving this fair until we have all tried his wines”. As the producer had many fans, there was a significant queue at his stand but eventually our perseverance (mainly mine) paid off as we finally all had a proper tasting session with one of the 2 brothers. Their wines are made in the Franciarcorta region, an area considered one of the best in Italy for fine sparkling wine production located between Verona and Milan, not too far from Lake Garda. This particular producer is rather extreme and gives a very personal interpretation of wine. Needless to say that we were all so impressed with his sparkling wines but what made our head spin was Estro, a still white made with a blend of different grapes produced only in the best vintages in very little quantities. Completely different from the 2 white I described earlier, this was golden rich in color with an oily consistency. With its intense bouquet of honey, candied bitter orange and walnuts, we could not choose a better wine to end our tasting day.
Exhausted but with a big smile on our faces we went outside in the gorgeous garden where we all laid down on the grass to relax and enjoy the almost party vibe that had been created. All the people around us looked happy and smiley, a band was playing Jazz, the sky was blue, I tasted some of Italy’s best wines and I was with some of my closest friends… what more could I ask for? Maybe another glass of Estro…