Impressions of VinItaly

This is a massive wine event. For 2012, VinItaly reported 4,255 exhibitors from 24 countries on a convention area of over 1 million square feet; that’s over 17 football fields, 9.3 hectares or 23 acres! In contrast, ProWein reports 4,783 exhibitors from 48 countries on the same amount of floor space in 2013. VinItaly is 90-95% Italian wines; ProWein is far more diverse – I estimate that no one country holds 15% of the booths. Interestingly, VinItaly draws more international visitors: 48,544 (total 140,655 in 2012) to 44,000 (total N/A for 2013) despite the absurd chaos that is VinItaly. If you are short on time, have excellent tasting abilities and the stamina to waltz through 4 days of VinItaly, there isn't a better place to learn about Italian wine!


Not all booths have this much wine...


Example #1 of the chaos: Getting out

30 minutes after ProWein closes each day, you can easily be in a pub relaxing. 30 minutes after VinItaly closes each day, you can easily be in your car waiting to get out of the parking lot where they collect money on the way out – not on the way in!!!

Example #2 of the chaos: Driving

Speaking of cars…Driving in Italy is everything everyone has ever poked fun at! I was on a one way street turning right onto a one way street, bumper-to-bumper, inch-by-inch – and the guy behind me tries to pass me! I think he was pissed because I was more than 2 mm behind the guy in front of me.

Example #3 of the chaos: What’s in a name?

Do you have trouble with German producer names? How about: Allegretti Azienda Agricola Biologica Di Edoardo Dilaghi or Azienda Agricola Biologica Tenuta Dei Baroni Capoano Di Massimiliano Capoano. So you want to find a particular producer: The program is done alphabetically base on which words a producer chooses to list by. As you can see, “Azienda Agricola” aren’t necessarily the first words if and when the producer can or chooses to use them. Same goes for “Tenuta,” “Marchese,” “Castello” and all the rest of the generic precursors to the unique part of the producer’s name. So, lotsa luck, buddy! “Accornero Giulio & Figli Azienda Agricola” is perhaps the proper format. Everyone I spoke with, producers and participant all agreed that this is a complaint that has been made for many years that will not be addressed.

Example #4 of the chaos: Walking through Veronafiere


3 people block the way to the coffee...

Italian convention law #1: In any thoroughfare, find any choke point and stop. Form a committee, plan a party or look for aliens from another galaxy. If it is wide enough for people to pass, get more people to join you. Do NOT, under any circumstances, move to the unoccupied area nearby where few people are walking. Even by design, the press room had 4 computer stations on a 30-foot wall. One station was put on the very right end, in the entryway that led to the coffee counter (they could all have easily been shifted to the left, away from the 3-foot wide path to the coffee). This, of course, was the most popular station – not just for single users, but for users who felt the need to share with lots of friends!



Smoker’s rule #1 (anywhere in Italy): You must smoke outside. However, just outside the doorjamb is your spot, regardless that you are in the path of the door swinging open. The picture above shows the typical doorway into one of the buildings at Veronafiere. I saw this guy, but by the time I got the camera up, the blonde woman in the doorway made him move -- but you can still see his red bag blocking a door!

Example #5 of the chaos: The Queue

More of an audio joke than a written joke: There is no Q in the Italian alphabet. With all the international visitors, there were queues for high demand things like hot producers, bathrooms, food and free goodies. Yes, there are queues in Italy, but Italians just don’t have any idea why they exist. Not one Italian we joked with about this defended the practice or denied that it was true. A similar observation: the Chinese have queues, but think that pushing makes the queue move faster – even when there is no taxi at the taxi queue. The Chinese has no respect for “personal space.”



With the number of varieties grown and vinified in Italy, it is entirely possible to taste 1000 different grapes here. While the wine regions of Italy are generally divided into their own buildings, there are many examples of Piemonte wines that are not in the Piemonte hall (#9) – usually the ones you’re looking for! While I initially assumed that this was more Italian chaos, the system does have some basis in branding and corporate ownership.

We arrived on day 1 to moderate traffic and found parking. About 20 minutes for a 10km commute and a 20 minute walk from the car to the gate. Entry was not time consuming, although we did arrive 30 minutes after opening and through a back entrance. The aisles between booths were rarely packed, save the constant chokepoint gatherings by Italians. There were booth diagrams of each building (hall) at most entrances, although the diagrams lacked an important feature: Identifying which building (halls) were adjacent to each side of the hall you were in. Since the halls are basically rectangular knowing where you were in relation to where you wanted to go in a different hall wasn’t as easy as it could have been. Through all of this, I am going to find Master of Wine, Joel Butler, who is traveling with us from here on through most of Barolo.

For those of you who don’t yet have a grasp of how much wine there is at VinItaly: Let’s assume only 4000 exhibitors are wineries (there are also wine “support” exhibitors, manufacturers/suppliers of  cork, capsules, bottles, barrels, yeast, bottling machines, etc., publications and some food – especially olive products). Some “exhibitors” are import companies that have a dozen or two producers, so let us also assume each wine exhibitor has an average of 10 different bottles to show (I didn’t see many with fewer than 6). The math is fairly simple: 40,000 different bottles of wine and just 4 days to do it in.

Walking through each hall was what one might expect for a veteran in the industry, plenty of socializing interferes with hard-core tasting. I’m not here to combat taste, as we call it; there is enough work just to see 8-10 producers, while some may see 12-15. I’m sure Joel didn’t see many more than that. I mentioned before how some “exhibitors” are major groups. Mark DeGrazia has a large stable of top producers. Winebow has a private office with a sign on the door: “Winebow clients only.” Allegrini has a two-level palace pouring well over a dozen bottles – including Champagne Pierre Peters!



Nadia Curto and me

Day 1 was mainly a day of gathering my bearings and finding friends. Finding Giulia was most important so we went there first. She showed us the press room after an unintended tour of Veronfiere (the name of the convention site). Giulia is an American Italian, has lived in Umbria for years and this is not her first VinItaly, yet she got very lost finding the press room. Lovely hostesses, internet, computers, printers, 4 private bathrooms, free coffee and juice; not bad! The free coffee gave me the opportunity to learn that I like machiatos best – espresso with just a touch of hot milk.

The rest of the day lay in scouting and finding friends and doing just a bit of tasting. I find it interesting that the Altares come to this event, since they are always pressed for bottles and time. What more can they do for themselves here, they sell everything they make! Typically Italian: Giulia has an invite to dinner and will try to get us in. I tell her if I don’t hear from her by 7:30, we’ll eat on our own. (see the typical part, below)

Leaving day 1 was a hoot! Part of the confusion of Italian streets for me is bridges and signs. In th US, we post directional road signs at the decision point. In Italy, they post them about 100 meters before the decision point. When you realize that you’re not sure which ramp to take, the sign is behind you and you roll the dice. Bridges that give me trouble have 4 or more “exits” (one had S-I-X) as you approach them and my GPS was no help at all, telling me to keep right, when it should have said keep kinda-right but not the far right! My GPS’s “lane assist” does not show more than left, straight and right on a 4-option road.

This “multi branch” and “sign behind you” issue led me onto the Autostrada on day one. An Autostrada is an Italian freeway and a toll road (A non-toll freeway is called a superstrada). The big mistake in getting on an Autostrada (as well as toll roads in France) is that the next exit may be 20km away. If you accidentally get on or go the wrong way, you will lose money as well as time. This night I followed the bumper-to-bumper traffic right into the gates from which there is no escape. My GPS updated the 5 minute drive to 29 minutes; 15 minutes later I was paying the 3.50€ toll to get off.

We decided to save the toll back and take the scenic route home while looking for a place to eat and possibly some gas. The view gave us little hope of finding either very soon, but the countryside was pretty as the sun was setting.

10 minutes down the long, winding road, we saw a sign on a decrepit rural building that implied that it was a restaurant. The remote location said “no” but the 4 cars parked outside said yes. So we turned around and found it to be so, and I usually expect remote restaurants to have excellent food – with nothing but fields and farmhouses as far as I could see, how else could they stay open? We sit down just after 8pm; Giulia finally calls: “Where are you? I decided not to go to that dinner, let’s go out…” Typical Italian. We’re 30 minutes away…never mind!

Rustic. No one spoke English (I wish Giulia was here!) A look on a map shows a dozen buildings within a 1-mile radius, confirming my memory that there was nothing nearby. The menu had plenty of asino and cavallo (you don’t want to know…) to offer, and many selections of polenta. Ultimately, we ordered WAY too much food, and most of it was unimpressive. The polenta was more than enough food, but at only 4€ we assumed it was a small enough portion to order a 4€ pasta and a 10€ meat dish – each. Ugh! Too much food and nothing stood out. I doubt many Americans have set foot in “dal Pastor” or ever will (or should!) despite its popularity with the locals (TripAdvisor has 13 raves and 5 VGs from 19 posts; #20 won’t be so good.)

The drive home was risky, since I started the day with enough gas to get me through VinItaly and now have only fumes after the Autostrada mistake. Luck was with me; the car was refueled and I found my bed without any trouble.



Most creative booth

Day 2 brought us a closer parking spot and was the day some idiot tried to pass us in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a right turn. The best coffee and restrooms were in the press room, so we headed there first. With all the scouting we did on day one, it was time to do some tasting. Emails came in and appointments changed. We had to cancel two private visits here, near Verona, to make more time in Barolo. We go spend time with those who were cancelled. In between we luck into a free lunch; right place, right time!

At the end of the day we meet up with Giulia and 2 of her friends – a Belgian importer and the heir to the Bartali Chianti Empire, Philippo Volpini. We went to dinner at a local place that was decent enough, but the service was awful. See full review of Pizzaria Filu on TripAdvisor.

Day 3 was pretty much as day 2 went, although the parking spot we got the day before was available, but made illegal by the polizia. We got coffee in the press room then toured and tasted throughout. We wanted to visit Philippo at Bartali, but one distraction after another led to ending the day wonder how we never got there. VinItaly clearly does not have any standards at the door. A lovely woman walked toward me and stopped in front of me. She reached into her purse and the foul bitch pulled out a spritzer, held it as high above her head as her arm would reach and rained perfume on herself and all of us within 6 feet. Evil stupid COW! Terrie had to grab me and urge me to continue knowing I would erupt at her.

It was raining hard when we left. Giulia had to go to dinner with her company -- 30 km away through the hills. We chose to visit the cheesy-looking Pizzaria “Pepperoni’s” (which looked like a cross between a Chili’s and Chuckie Cheese) and decided it look very commercial despite the brilliant steaks on display and the wood-fire grill. Lupo’s down the road looked much better. As it turned out, Lupo’s was a chain, too. (See review on TripAdvisor)

 Day 4 was more of the same. We got coffee in the press room then toured and tasted throughout. The weather was clearing and the low standards were even more evident. Fairy circles of drunken youths camped out in the areas between the buildings and the parking; just groups of people sitting or standing in the road in a circle, drinking directly from bottles and whooping it up. At least they weren’t sitting in doorways or clogging chokepoints.


Nothing is over 'til we say it is!

 Joel wanted to go to Downtown Verona and take some pictures before it got dark. We rushed out to get him. It’s shocking what he paid (3-5 times what I paid) for 5 nights in a moderate hotel 3 times as far from Veronafiere as my apartment. We arrived near the Ponte Nuova bridge and found a perfect parking spot. It was 50 yards from the restaurant Joel wanted to visit (Trattoria all' Amelia, which is now Antica Amelia) and close enough for Joel to walk to the Verona Arena to get some twilight shots. The Verona Arena (built in AD 30) is a Roman amphitheater in Piazza Bra which is internationally famous for the large-scale opera performances given there. It is one of the best-preserved ancient structures of its kind. The amphitheater could host more than 30,000 spectators in ancient times, but now limited to 15,000 because of safety reasons.



Downtown Verona

Giulia also had a convenient meeting at a nearby restaurant. Ms. Heavyfoot (a.k.a.: Threedays, Terrie) kept us from keeping up with the time-pressed pace of the other two, so we wandered and ultimately wound up shopping in the same piazza Giulia was at. It was interesting to see that all (not most; every one of them) the street vendors were Asians. There was a recent article about Italian youths refusing to work menial jobs, specifically causing a shortage of pizza makers, but expanding to jobs that “lacked prestige” like street vending.

Yes, I ate horse. No, I didn’t have it with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. Horse is VERY typical (not just common, but typical) of Veronese cuisine. Expect to be eating it if you are visiting. The cutlets were Italian under-done, yet still very tender. How one can grill such thin slices and keep them so blue must be akin to those who just wave the vermouth bottle at the vodka to make an extremely dry martini. My assessment of horse: One might never know it wasn’t beef, the way Lamb or venison can be gamey. It was really tender, but the flavor was not different than beef.

Back to the apartment to pack for an early exit…


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