Imagine for a second a wine tasting with Sassicaia, Ornellaia and too many other Super Tuscans to count, nine Brunellos, 13 Barolos, and several world class sparkling wines to rival champagne. Oh yeah, and Gaja’s Barbaresco and six Amarones.
That was just part of the more than 100 wines being poured at a tasting over the weekend in Verona ahead of the Vinitaly, the city’s annual trade dedicated to Italian wine that is being held through Wednesday. The event is a collaboration between Operawine (a joint venture between Vinitaly and the Verona trade fair) and Wine Spectator, which helped pick the producers. The list is supposed to give a good cross section of what Italian grapes have to offer the world though clearly there was an emphasis on the big names.
But it wasn’t only about Italy’s well-known, full-bodied reds and its increasingly well-respected traditional method (how champagne is made) sparklers. There were also rich and fruity structured whites, not customarily thought of as an Italian strong point, that seemed like something you’d expect to be produced on the other side of the Alps.
I tasted 28 wines, not nearly as many as I had planned, but with only two hours and huge crowds that was the best my tasting companions and I could manage. I was accompanied by English journalist Michael Day, the Milan correspondent for The Independent; Maarten Veeger, a Dutch journalist making a video on the event for the La Stampa website; and Susannah Gold, a wine consultant who writes prolifically on the subject.
We started with the aforementioned sparkling wines with all of us particularly struck by Giulio Ferrari 2001 produced by Ferrari of Trento. Straw color with a rich perlage, it immediately hits you with its aromas of fresh white citrus, specifically grapefruit, followed by that distinctive yeast touch that is present on the best traditional method sparkling wines. On the palate you get long lasting flavors of flowers and almonds with, perhaps, at the end a hint of vanilla.
We followed with Marco Falluga’s Collio Disore 2008 made with tocai Friulano, pinot bianco and sauvignon blanc. A wonderful full-bodied Italian with a dominance both on the nose and the palate of rich white mature fruits. The hint of banana and honey comes later. Don’t miss this one.
There were a few more whites in here, but soon we moved onto the reds. Call us stupid.
We tried three 2007 Barolos and think we were in agreement that though intriguing they need a few more years in the bottle to tone done the aggressive tannins that are so characteristic of the nebbiolo grape. I’m not sure I agree with the decision to come to a tasting like this with such a young Barolo. Almost all the Barolos on offer were from 2007, though I did notice a 2006 and a 2008 that we didn’t manage to try.
The Brunellos were plentiful and we tried several, my favorite was Siro Pacenti 2007. Sad to say we only managed 1 amarone, terrible considering we were in Verona. It was Zenato 2007 very jammy, as the best amarones are.
The Sassicaia 2008 lives up to reputation, if not the shock caused by the very hefty sticker price. Being from California I can’t help being a sucker for a Bordeaux blend that exalts the cabernet sauvignon grape. This is as rich as they come and though ready to drink, you can’t help thinking it’ll be even better in five years. Not surprising for a cabernet-heavy Super Tuscan.
Next up was Ornellaia 2006, rich, structured, but tough to follow Sassicaia. After the Ornellaia we had a few more Super Tuscans, though those made with predominately the sangiovese grape, the same one in Brunello and the main one in Chianti. Big mistake. The sangiovese is a much subtle than cabernet sauvignon (and is really best enjoyed with food). A good Chianti makes you want to eat. I found the same thing with the sangiovese Super Tuscans (could just be that after all those wines, and only some spitting out, I was actually really in need of food). Note to self: next time don’t go from the cabernet sauvignon-dominated Super Tuscans to the sangiovese ones or else make sure you leave enough time for the palate to recover. As mentioned, time was not on our side.
And to those who might think we concentrated a little too much on the obvious choices, I agree, but defend the decision because it is not every day that I find myself with all of these wines at my fingertips.