A crowd at Vinitaly 2019, held in Verona. 

It is 9:15 a.m. on April 7, and we are in the heart of the city of Verona, Italy but we are not alone. More than 125,000 wine enthusiasts are gathering for this year’s Vinitaly event.

The city of Verona counts with a certain charm characterized by narrow cobblestone streets, an imposing coliseum that predates the Roman structure, a handful of plazas where visitors gather in celebration and incredible wines produced in the adjacent areas.

These days, unlike centuries ago, the city of Verona is home to an handful of wine events and performances that make it an attractive destination to many.

There are options to get there. You can fly into the airports of Venezia, Roma or Milano; we chose the latter.

Now to Vinitaly. This was my first time attending this monumental wine festival. I’ve heard stories from friends and colleagues who have attended in the past but I can assure you nothing compares to walking in alongside thousands of people and admiring the thoughtful organization.

A good amount of Italian wine producers, dare I say most, attend the event. The map is spread out by regions. Huge warehouses represent each of the 20 Italian regions and within each building, the producers create the most elaborate displays, according to their style, needs and means.

Although walking around aimlessly is one of my favorite pastimes, in this case it is highly recommended to make some appointments ahead of time by reaching out to the wineries. Believe me, you will certainly enjoy a fancy chair, perhaps and accompanying pairing and water after walking for what seemed kilometers at a time.

Our first engagement was at Due Mani, an estate in the charge of one of Italy’s couple vignerons, Elena Celli and Luca D’Attoma, who tasted us through their lineup with excitement. Their Cifra Cabernet Franc showcases an incredible array of violets, lilacs and toast, which turned out to be the ideal breakfast.

We continued the pilgrimage to the iconic Braida by Giacomo Bologna booth, a remarkable layout that included a private room in which Dr Norbert Reinisch, Rafaela’s husband, led us through the lineup.

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Braida specializes in Piedmontese varietals. Their Monte Bruna Barbera is both rustic and elegant with the right balance of fruit and acid and if you are a fan of the sweets, they produce a balanced and lively Brachetto de Aqui made in a traditional, slightly frizzy style with low alcohol. It’s ideal for either a flourless chocolate cake with a dollop of house-made sweet cream or a simple seared Folie gras served on toast with hazelnuts.

Later on, we explored the world of artisanal Lambrusco, a sparkling wine with a characteristically earthy, fruity and bloody profile native of Emilia Romagna. In this case, we tasted the efforts of Paltrinieri, a tiny but exciting producer dedicated to preserving this style. Leclisse bottling is vibrant and juicy in the mid-palate with an undeniable earth-driven finish.

The next wine is simply one of my all-time favorite anytime wines, Lugana, produced near Lago di Garda north of Verona. I have personally never had a bad one. In this case, we ventured into the Otella homage to this grape. Bright, citrus driven nose with a cleansing layer and a slight Parmesan rind creaminess.

The action-packed first day continued with a flight of wines from Tenuta de Gracciano Della Seta, which included a fresh and fruity Rosso di Montalcino, an elegant Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and a complex and expressive Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva.

The day was far from over. We visited in the Valle D’Aosta region, the northernmost western side of the country that shares more than a border with France. From this region, we tasted an exciting lineup of spirits from Levi Distillati, the standouts, certainly the Amaro Aosta, was just “Goldilocks” with an herbally gracious layer, the right color and a sweet/bitter magic profile. Their gin, Glacialis, also a crowd-pleaser with a refreshing aroma and zippy finish.

We squeezed time to taste through the Sicilian Pietradolce wines, which scream terroir with a mouthwatering crushed rock profile that characterizes the Etna soils.

By now, 3 p.m., we ran into a great friend, Rebecca Hopkins, who suggested we join a Le Donne Del Vino seminar led by renowned Italian wine writer Ian D’Agata. Talk about right-time-at-the-right-place kind of scenario. Ian gathered eight young women producers from throughout the country to showcase their latest efforts involving lesser-known varieties like Caprettone from the Vesuvio and Perricone from Sicily. Each winemaker spoke about her projects, including the popular Elena Fucci, who produces only one wine, Titolo Aglianico del Vulture, which exudes with purple and red flowers, layers of scorched earth, plum and cherry.

By the end of the seminar, we could say Day 1 was a total success — a completely over-delivering journey of the Italian landscape.

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Eduardo can be reached at eduardo@sakedrinker.com.