My Favorite Italian Wine Experience

Every spring, I travel to Verona Italy for the most awe inspiring Italian Wine Show. Veronafiere, also know as Vin Italy, is a four day event. The event features almost forty-five hundred Italian Wine Producers, pouring over one hundred thousand Italian Wines. If you love Italian Wine the way I do, this is a dream come true. Veronafiere is an immense complex with eighteen buildings the size of a Super Walmart. There are rows and rows of tasting booths set up in each building. Some booths are the size of my dining room at Varano’s and some the size of my bar. The entire complex is three quarters of a mile from the entrance to the last building.

The sheer immenseness of the fair is overwhelming, you have to have a plan. You can't simply walk around and taste at will, you'll never make it out of the first building. I have an excel spreadsheet that I make appointments for the producers I want to taste with, this helps to keep you focused and allows you to personally taste with the owner, winemaker ofrexport manager. Part of tasting is learning the story behind the wine and the family. Discovering the history and applying it to the tasting elevates the experience to another level. You now have a complete understanding of what the winery is trying to accomplish with the production of their wines. Some wines date back to a particular affection to an indigenous grape of the region, perhaps by a grandparent. I tasted with an owner who told me the story of how his brother lost a number of barrels of wine, only to discover them six years later, blended with merlot. The discovery led to a new wine for their winery. This is where palate and understanding meld, where your mind is connected to your taste buds. Once you understand the history, you are able to fulfill your appreciation of the evolution of the Italian Wine Industry.

I like to arrive in Verona the day before the fair starts, this allows me to adjust to the jet lag and get acquainted with old friends. This year, I attended Vin Italy with my wife. Sherri and I share a deep passion for Italian Food and Wine, the trip enables us to stay in contact with many of the friends we've made over the years, and keep up with the current wines and food trends. Attending Vin Italy is as much about staying connected as it is staying current. We taste through the portfolios of all the wineries that we sell at Varano’s. Our goal is two fold. We want to be up to date with our wines, taste the current vintage and also discover any new wines that the wineries are producing. We’re always in search of a hidden gem that we can bring back to the restaurant and share with our diners. Sometimes we have an opportunity to grab something unique that we can use for our wine special for the summer.

Our first stop when we arrive in Verona is a great pizza place in Piazza Bra, it's always great to start out with the basics (a pizza and a beer), and work your palate up from there. The fact that the pizza is phenomenal speaks for itself. Verona is home to many great restaurants, one in particular, Trattoria al Pompiere is fast becoming one of our favorites. We love to eat in front of all of the Salumi and cured meats hanging. They are extremely proud of their cured meat selection, which changes regularly. The restaurant has one Michelin star and is always busy. The owner is a renowned chef and his ever changing menu reflects the local fare and the different seasons. Our first night would not be complete without a visit to the infamous Wine Bar Bottega di Vini. This wine bar is an experience every wine drinker in the world should experience during the fair. The sheer magnitude of Italian Wines served by the glass is staggering. If you want Solaia by the glass, they have it. I've seen Masseto by the glass during the fair. The crowd spills out into the alley and the revelry goes on far into the night. I’ve heard that their sales for a Saturday can be over one hundred thousand dollars. This is a restaurant owner’s ultimate fantasy, open any bottle of wine you desire and someone will buy it.

Sunday is the first day of the fair, usually the weather is cool and rainy, this year we had gorgeous weather for all four days of the fair. We attended the fair for four days, about eight to nine hours a day. We taste through about a dozen winery portfolio’s each day. It doesn’t sound like a lot, in reality, it’s over a hundred wines per day. During the evenings, the major producers in the region open their wineries, old villas and castles and hold events that include all their wines and food from some of the best chefs in the region. The chance to meet and greet, stay connected and network is the just a fortunate bonus to the amazing food and wine. This year, some of the wineries stepped up their game and included fireworks and laser light shows.

This is probably one of the highlights of my year, I get to visit Italy, stay connected with all the friends I’ve made over the years, and eat world class food and drink great wine. Sharing all this with my wife is what puts this over the top for me. I have attended Vin Italy for many years now, each one is special to me. I’ve attended the event with my daughter, my son, different managers in our company and also with friends. The connection is the love of food and wine. It never gets old, we taste all day and eat and drink wine all night. All under the guise of professional growth and networking. Every business has ups and downs, running restaurants is very taxing and takes a toll on your personal life. Let’s face it, you work when everyone plays. Attending Vin Italy is probably the most fun I’ve ever had at work. Creating a network of contacts with Italian wine producers is the icing on the cake.

This year seemed to be my best yet, I’ve discovered many new wines for our wine list at Varano’s, and found a number of new products for our Chef to cook with. I look forward to the upcoming season, where we’ll get to share the fruits of this trip with all our customers and friends.

Dick Varano