VinoVinoVino: Discovering an Italian Wine Fair

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It's been a few years since I've gone to Vinitaly, Italy's largest wine fair, in Verona. It's huge, chaotic, and difficult to navigate, with many regional Italian pavilions crammed with booths. Some stands look like Disneyland castles, with private tasting rooms, and there's plenty of rustic, wine-cask décor. There are also three concurrent wine fairs—Summa 10, VinNatur, and VinoVinoVino, the only one I'd never been to. As a closet wine nerd and trade fair junkie, I had to go. My friends Giusto Occhipinti and his niece Arianna (remember them from Sicily, part four?) would attend, and there were lots of wineries I didn't know.

VinoVinoVino, in Cerea, south of Verona, was conceived by the Vini Veri consortium and is billed as a "natural wine tasting". It includes wineries from two other associations, Renaissance des Appellations and A Triple, as well as independent producers who all share a similar philosophy. No chemicals, no GMOs, all natural yeasts, respect for the land and the grape. All stands at the fair are the same size. No castles or barrels.

I booked a room at Villa Bartolomea, close to the fair—most of the winemakers were staying there and the price was very reasonable, far less than rooms in Verona. I took a train to Rovigo and was met at the station by a van from the hotel. I went straight to the fair and bumped into Cesare Benelli, chef-owner of my favorite restaurant in Venice, Al Covo, who was tasting with his friend Luca Fullin, from the Venetian Hotel Wildner's restaurant. They took me around.

We began with a glass of Prosecco—fermented in the bottle, cloudy, and delicious—from Costadila, represented by wine maniac Mauro Lorenzon, who runs the wine bar Mascareta. He paired it with an oyster. Good start. We moved on to well priced, easy drinking Monterosso (Moscato-Malvasia-Trebbiano blend) from Tenuta Croci, then, from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, copper-colored (after all, it's not a white grape) Pinot Grigio from Dario Princic, and spectacular Vitovska from Vodopivec and Zidarich. We also tasted at Paradiso di Manfredi (you know how much I love Brunello di Montalcino) and they gave Cesare a bottle for us to drink with lunch at the fair's restaurant, with food prepared by one of Italy's most illustrious professional culinary schools. We were under-impressed, although the wine was wonderful.

After lunch we tasted wines from Piemonte—Barolo from Bartolo Mascarello and Rinaldi, Barbera from Trinchero, Docetto from Serafino Rivella and, from France, Bordeaux from Chateau le Puy. I slurped L'Ulif's lovely extra virgin olive oil from the Garda area, and simply had to sample master distiller Capovilla's superb rum that he makes on the island of Marie-Galante, off the coast of Guadeloupe. I said goodbye to Cesare and Luca, who were going back to Venice, and called it a day.

My trusty sidekick Vito Santoro met me in Cerea and we headed for VinItaly. By arriving from the south, we avoided all the snarled traffic from Verona to the fairgrounds. I stopped in the first pavilion, Campania, to check out a Mesali restaurant presentation, couldn't stay for lunch, and headed to the Friuli-Venezia Giulia pavilion to visit Le Vigne di Zamo'—more coppery Pinot Grigio with a snack of home-made salami. We set off for the massive Cavicchioli stand, set up like the coolest of wine bars. I knew I'd find super-host Ivan Bertelli, who brought us Lambrusco on the rocks, along with salumi and Parmigiano. The chief inspector of Italy's Michelin guide was at my table. I'd tasted enough, headed for the exit, and bumped into friends from Friuli, winemaker Cristian Spegogna and grappa distiller Cristina Domenis on the way out.

Back at VinoVinoVino, and, refreshed from the voyage, I tasted Sicilian wines at COS, Arianna Occhipinti, and Guccione. And Tuscans—Chianti Classico from Podere Le Boncie, Brunello from Le Chiuse and Pian dell'Orino. We had tickets to the producers' dinner (food prepared by the culinary professionals once again), but it was overbooked. I was relieved, had the name of a nearby restaurant that seemed promising, and we decided to go, joined by a group of winemakers who were shut out like us. Ristorante da Aldo didn't disappoint, and host Galliano Pasetto was most gracious—he rarely had guests from outside the region, and had no problem with the wine that our producers brought to the table.

I went home the next day with stacks of cards and brochures. On the train I tried to figure out which wines I wanted to purchase. Tough choice.

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Faith Willinger is a chef, author, and born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and has spent over 30 years searching for the best food from the Alps to Sicily. More

Faith Heller Willinger is a born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and was seduced by Italian regional cooking. Faith has spent more than 30 years searching for the best food and wine, as well as the world beyond the table from the Alps to Sicily. She has no regrets about mileage or calories. Faith was awarded the prestigious San Pellegrino award for outstanding work as an ambassador of Italian cooking. She lives full-time in Florence with her Tuscan husband, Massimo. Her son Max lives in Milan. She's the author of the bestselling (9th printing) guidebook Eating in Italy, the cookbook Red, White & Greens, and the narrative recipe book Adventures of an Italian Food Lover. Faith teaches in her kitchen in Florence on Wednesdays, supplied with freshly picked produce from her favorite farmers. Check out her web site at www.faithwillinger.com.
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