Explore / Expertise

Armchair Travels: VinItaly 2020… Postponed…

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Sarah Knowles MW Sarah Knowles MW / 28 April 2020

Sunday 19th April would have been the start of VinItaly, the largest Italian wine trade fair held in a vast exhibition complex each year on the outskirts of Verona. There are 12 separate halls (think airport hangers) each of which is regionally themed – 'Hall 1: Emilia Romagna', 'Hall 2: Sicily and Umbria' and so on. There are some wonderfully accurate provincial stereotypes in play for all to see, so in the 'Alto Adige' hall all stands are in perfect chess board order, if Hofstätter is on one of the many floor plan layout charts as being at D5 – as sure as eggs is eggs – they will be at D5. Step into the Basilicata pavilion and all bets are off… If you find a floorplan you wonder if it was even for this show. You may start down row 'F' to come out and discover that at some point it had become row 'T' and you give up even counting the numbers… There is a somewhat southern, relaxed charm about the whole thing. If you happen to find the winemaker you were looking for then you know you'll be celebrating with some southern Italian nibbles (often friselle and excellent soppressata) with all the more gusto while you try their new vintages and catchup.

VinItaly from above
VinItaly from above

Olive oil is also a big part of the show, while not officially, each winery is competing in the very serious oil stakes whipping out bottles from under counters to offer to unsuspecting wine buyers by the plastic shot! 

I first went to VinItaly in 2007, it was in fact the first International Wine Fair I attended as a new buyer. It was when I discovered that if you spend day one tasting 300+ pinot grigios, day two 300+ Proseccos and day 3 in the Piedmont pavilion chewing through nebbiolo you will also quickly need a trip to the dentist on return. I had developed three 'acid holes' to the shock of my ever patient dentist Claire (yes, we are on first-name terms, I see her more often than many of my friends!).

Over the last 12 years I have developed a few techniques to manage these large international shows and these are:

Post VinItaly snacks and beer
Post VinItaly snacks and beer
  • Trainers – these are a necessity – on an average day at VinItaly you can walk miles.
  • No handbag – if you have a handbag you end up collecting kilos of beautifully crafted brochures all of which can now be accessed online if you actually need the information.
  • A serious breakfast – lunch is a luxury that's not a given most days…
  • Never refuse an espresso – you are trying so many wines that you need the caffeine!
  • Always have a post-tasting beer – preferably in a beautiful square with a colleague/trade mate (not a supplier) to gossip about the day. (There is always gossip at VinItaly!)

I have been going to VinItaly over the last few years with Sebastian Payne MW as part of our handover, and it has been a fantastic way to meet all of our suppliers in one city. The timing of the event also means it's a great time to try the fresh white wines from the previous vintage that will have just been bottled, and coincides with the tasting releases of many of Italy's fine red wines giving us a first taste of upcoming Brunello, Barolo and Barbaresco vintages in bottle.

The Bolmidas stand - Suppliers of The Wine Society's Exhibition Barolo
The Bolmidas' stand - Suppliers of The Wine Society's Exhibition Barolo

We approach the show with a clear game plan. Suppliers ready to see us and with an idea of what we want to taste. On a typical day we are through the doors before 9am (usually posing as Italian winemakers to get in before the crowd) then we will route march from hall to hall aiming to see more that 12 winemakers a day – which is around one every 40 mins – assuming no breaks... Last year on Day 1 of the show we managed 16 visits, but we were escorted out by the bouncers having gone well over the 'close' time…

At each small stand, we taste wines with the winemaker or owner, often perched on small picnic table sets, while crowds of people stroll by. Clouds of cigarette smoke billow at every entrance and exit between the halls, and a truly international crowd of buyers and journalists mix with the always better dressed Italians in the long queues for espresso.

Post show is a great time to catch up with other buyers, fellow Masters of Wine and journalists from around the world in the bars of Verona to hear the gossip. It's VinItaly – there is always gossip (!) over a small beer or Aperol. Winemakers then host late dinners and Verona really takes on a wine-trade school-trip vibe until the early hours.

Dinner with Rocco Pasetti and sons on the 1st night of VinItaly
Dinner with Rocco Pasetti and sons on the 1st night of VinItaly

This year I have paid homage to VinItaly at home, spending the week enjoying Italian home cooking and great Italian wines, (any excuse, right?!) and I look forward to being back in Verona next year where I am sure the dinners will be even more celebratory and the gossip just as hot!

Sarah presents four VinItaly videos on our YouTube Channel

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