Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Italian Job

Before we step onto the Bordeaux merry-go-round for good, we shall take a quick break and pop over to Vinitaly 2006, Verona. One of the biggest wine shows in the world, Vinitaly needs a special sort of stamina…

5th April 06.00am, the most beautiful morning London has seen for 6 months which generally speaking does not bode well for the weather we shall find at our destination. We are part of the army about to descend on Verona for Vinitaly, the Italian Wine Fair.

At the Gatwick departure gate, friends, counterparts, distributors, sommeliers, importers, journalists, consultants, restaurateurs and the who’s who of Italian wine in the UK meet in a very awkward impromptu gathering, exchanging brief niceties and snippets of the latest gossip. Then comes the lottery of whose fat elbows get plunged into whose skinny ribs during the 3 hour flight.

Landed – and let the dance begin. 6 degrees celsius and driving rain (it never fails, that fateful warning sign of great weather in London). First stop at Giuseppe Quintarelli, an appointment with the legend himself who is nearly an octogenarian. Quintarelli’s anti commercial policy makes it quite tricky to learn about his wines, and even extends to finding out where his winery is. After many a wrong turn deep in the Valpolicella countryside we come across a driveway called “private road” – must be the one! At the end of the drive way is a normal looking although very large white house with an old man perched on a gate staring at us. All my lira on it being Giuseppe! He then points to a side door and trundles off elsewhere. His assistant beckons us into the house where we commence our formal greetings (lasting over 15 minutes) until finally she invites us through an internal door into a very well disguised winery. Crafty old fox...

Leading us down through the cellars we are invited into a cold tasting room where we taste his sublime range of Bianco Secco Primofiore, and the various Valpolicellas (Classico Superiore, Amarone, Recioto and Rosso del Bepi). The blends are very similar in all these Valpolicella wines –with Corvina, Rondinella, Croatina, Sangiovese, Cabernet (S & F) and even Nebbiolo. Giuseppe appears and disappears in the tasting room at regular intervals -speculation that he is running background checks on us proves untrue.

Then to an exquisite Valpolicella dinner of Risotto all’Amarone (of course) and donkey bits and pieces with another Giuseppe (Nicolis) from quite a different winemaking ethos. Beppe Nicolis believes in absolute quality and tradition but more accessibility in terms of distribution and price than his enigmatic neighbour. Top-notch juice too though.

Peace and quiet reigns...for now. Tomorrow, into the cauldron of Vinitaly proper...


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