Going natural: ViniVeri offers the best of the unexpected

April 28, 2016 Leave a comment
Vinveri Gianluca

Gianluca Piernera of Cantina Ninni in Spoleto was one of many “natural” winemakers sharing their products during the ViniVeri fair in Cerea, Italy. Story and photos by Dave Buchanan

Just pour, don’t filter.

You should never expect whatever you might consider “the normal” when exploring Italy’s wine country.

That “suspension of expectations” was reinforced earlier this month during ViniVeri, a wine fair and tasting at La Fabbrica, an immense and tastefully repurposed brick building in Cerea, Italy, an half-hour or so south of Verona.

The Consorzio ViniVeri promotes the annual event as featuring “wines as nature intended them,” this year’s theme emphasizing diversity and authenticity.

Maybe that should include a bit of audacity, as well.

That this wasn’t an ordinary wine tasting was cemented when one of the first tables poured a cloudy wine from a bottle bearing an imposing handprint and the words “Shake before use.” Read more…

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Vino 2016: Italian winemakers looking to increase share in U.S. market

April 23, 2016 Leave a comment
Vino 2016 crowd shot

Vino 2016 in New York City offered a two-day immersion into the world of Italian wine. Article and photos by Dave Buchanan

NEW YORK – Romano Baruzzi took a breath and looked out at the sea of faces in front of him.
“Buona sera a tutti, welcome everyone,” said Baruzzi, deputy trade commissioner for the Italian Trade Commission in New York City. “Welcome to the biggest event promoting Italian wines in the U.S.”
It’s opening night for Italian Wine Week/Vino 2016 and the featured panel discussion is titled “On the Bright Side: What’s Ahead for 2016.”
This first-night talk offers the attending producers, importers and the occasional journalist insights into what lies ahead for the next two days of concentrated immersion into Italian wine.
More than 160 Italian wine makers and their representatives are here, some of them plying their wares to almost that many importers and buyers while other winemakers, nearly one-third of those present, simply are seeking someone trustworthy in whom to entrust their wines. Read more…

At the end, VinItaly 2016 offered a sparkling finale

April 16, 2016 Leave a comment


VERONA, Italy – Days three and four at VinItaly are a contrast in energy and attitude. On day three winemakers still eagerly eye the passing throng, hopeful the next person at their stand is that much-awaited importer or buyer with deep pockets, ready to offer the ultimate deal. By day four, however, the pace has caught up with the reality, the mood is subdued and thoughts are trending to home, not of VinItaly.

Many of the winemakers and winery representatives have been running at full speed for nearly a week, with long days negotiating with buyers from around the world and often long nights entertaining (or being entertained by) those same buyers.

When you approach a booth in search of a sample or two, the edge of fatigue shows, the people ready to grab their bags and go.

“Yes, it’s been a long week,” said the woman standing behind a clear, ice-filled bucket, Franciacorta bottles splaying out like foil-capped roses. “Because you know we’ve been here before VinItaly and then it was constant pouring, pouring, pouring from open to close.

“It will be good to be home.”

But VinItaly, even with its hair in curlers, still is a marvelous place to find new wines and be surprised by old favorites. Read more…

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Sometimes, it takes little courage to survive VinItaly

April 13, 2016 1 comment

VinItaly 50VERONA – Day One for VinItaly 2016 and it’s happy half-century, VinItaly. Under sunny skies and mild temperatures, the 50th edition of the world’s largest wine fair opened Sunday with Italian president Sergio Mattarello among the thousands of enthusiastic wine lovers in attendance.
The opening day was a Sunday, which may account for the late-arriving attendees, but you still found the expected boisterous jam around many of the stands. Of course, having the President here, with his large contingent of security men and advisors, simply added to the general hysterics.

If you’re experienced at VinItaly, negotiating the crowds is no problem and if you are particularly fortunate you’ll find a friendly booth where you might escape for a few minutes to rest and learn about a new wine region or more about an old fave.

Susannah Crociani holds a bottle of her Vin Santo, a sweet wine made only in special vintages. Susanna is one of the handful of women winemakers in Italy.

I wedged myself into the tiny space occupied this week by winemaker Susanna Crociana of Montepulciano, who likes to say she was “nati en mezzo a botti e vigneti,” born among the barrels and vines.

Susanna makes several bottlings of Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, ranging from a lighter, everyday Rosso de Montepulciano IGT to the Riserva DOCG and the highly coveted Il Segreto di Giorgio. The latter is named after Susanna’s late brother Giorgio, who took over the winery following the death of their father but who in turn passed away in March of 2006.

His passing was particularly unfortunately in that he had just developed a special blend only to pass away before the first vintage was released. Susanna released that vintage in 2008 and now each year she releases the new vintage on Feb. 13, Giorgio’s birthday.

Susanna’s wines are made with the traditional Vino Nobile blend of 80 percent Sangiovese, 10 percent Canaiolo Nero and 10 percent Mamalo, an indigenous red grape that adds a rose-like bouquet to the wine. All of the wines are lush, deep in color and flavor and immediately approachable, although the 2012 Riserva still needs a year or two to blossom.

Women winemakers aren’t common in Italy and Susanna’s story stands out because she is running a successful business by herself, without parents or siblings for support or even advice. It’s no wonder her stand at VinItaly features four large murals displaying the words “Courage,” “Passion,” “Heritage” and “Time.”

We might have talked more but Susanna had an appointment with an importer and I was off to seek another quiet refuge in the buoyant chaos of VinItaly.

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Heading to VinItaly? Seven, make that eight, tips to keep in mind

Verona Ponte della Vittoria

Ponte di Castelvecchio Vecchio spanning the Adige River in  Verona, Italy. On the night of 25 April 1945, together with all the bridges of Verona, it was blown up by retreating Germans. Photo and story by Dave Buchanan

As sure as the swallows return each spring to the old mission at San Juan Capistrano, Italian winemakers each spring pack up their road show and head to Verona for the annual return of VinItaly, which bills itself as the world’s leading wine trade fair.

This year’s event (April 10-13) marks VinItaly’s 50th anniversary and understandably the buzz has been in the air for months, since no one can outdo the Italians when it comes to celebrating big events, especially one that attracts an international audience (last year more than 150,000 attendees from 30 countries) of wine buyers, importers, critics and wine lovers.

It can be a bit overwhelming – this year’s fair is expected to feature more than 4,100 exhibitors covering an impressive 100,000 square meters (that’s about 1.07 million square feet) of exhibition space. That’s big.

Read more…

It was 40 years ago the American wine revolution occurred

March 28, 2016 Leave a comment
033016 FD wine art winiarski

Warren Winiarski, whose 1973 Stag’s Leap Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon placed first among red wines at the 1976 Judgment of Paris, played a key role in the early days of the modern Colorado wine industry. To Winiarski’s right is Kyle Schlachter of the Colorado wine Industry Development Board.


A face familiar to Colorado winemakers is celebrating a 40th anniversary this year.

But it’s not your usual anniversary. This time it’s Warren Winiarski, the renowned California winemaker who nearly 50 years ago played midwife to a nascent Colorado wine industry, celebrating what is considered the most-consequential event in American winemaking.

Winiarski, the son of Polish immigrants and whose last name can be translated as “winemaker,” made the 1973 Stag’s Leap Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon that in 1976 bested the top red wines of France in a blind tasting that’s known as The Judgment of Paris.

At the same tasting, a 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay made by Miljenko “Mike” Grgich won out against the best French white Burgundy.

This unexpected result in what was planned as a slam-dunk showing of the “best of the best” of the French wine industry at the expense of the upstart Americans stunned the wine world and put Napa Valley, and by extent the American wine industry, on the map.

May 24 marks the 40th anniversary of The Judgment of Paris and to commemorate the event, Winiarski and the Smithsonian are hosting in May two sold-out wine dinners.

The dinners will be held at the National Museum of American History and will bring together individuals who organized and attended the 1976 tasting in Paris, the winemakers who made the winning vintages, and individuals who are carrying on the legacy of fine winemaking in America.

Two other notable guests will be attending the events: wine writer Steven Spurrier, who arranged the competition, and George M. Taber, a Time magazine reporter and the only journalist to cover the event. Writer and wine critic W. Blake Gray called Taber’s four-paragraph story about the tasting “the most significant news story ever written about wine.”

At the time, however, no one realized how significant it was, least of all Winiarski.

He had been asked to submit a wine for the tasting but he was in Chicago, not Paris, on the day of the judging.

“I was in Chicago when Barbara (his wife) called me to say I had won,” recalled Winiarski during a recent conversation. “I said, ‘That’s nice.” I didn’t know what wines were being tasted or who the judges were.”

Once he realized the impact of what he and Grgich had accomplished, he says it “changed the way we looked at things.”

Meaning American winemakers, and back then it almost entirely was California, no longer had to play caddie to the European wine industry.

“Nothing was the same after that,” Winiarski said. “It certainly changed the way I looked at things and opened many horizons for me and the industry.”

It certainly angered and frustrated much of the French wine industry, Winarski recalled, including one French judge who demanded her ballots be returned.

“Afterwards I received several letters from members of the French wine industry saying that the results of the 1976 tasting were a fluke,” he said.

The 2008 movie “Bottle Shock,” which focuses more on Grgich’s chardonnay, is an interpretation of the judging.

A bottle of Winiarski’s award-winning 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon is displayed in the Smithsonian’s “FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000” exhibition.

In its November 2013 issue, Smithsonian magazine included this bottle as one of the “101 Objects That Made America.”

“I always was striving to achieve a sense of completeness, of balance, in my winemaking,” Winiarski said. “I think the wine that went to France reflected that balance.”

Winiarski was inducted into the California Vintners Hall of Fame in 2009.

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CAVE brings new look to wine sampling events

March 23, 2016 Leave a comment

There may be no better way develop a good foundation in the intricacies and intimacies of wines and winemaking than to visit wine regions, tour the wineries and meet the people behind the wines.

However, when you already live in a wine region, as do we in the Grand and North Fork valleys, the very proximity of wineries sometimes gets lost.

Just as you can glance at the skyline and see Grand Mesa without fully comprehending the beauty you see there, it’s easy to overlook the marvel of winemaking when it’s being done on a daily basis in your backyard.


Winemaker Bennett Price of DeBeque Canyon Winery in Palisade uses a wine “thief” to pull a sample during a recent Barrel into Spring tasting.

The wineries are there, and most are open year-round, it’s just a matter of us devoting the time to open the doors and walk in.

Maybe it takes a formal invitation, which is what the Grand Valley Winery Association has offered with its annual Barrel Into Spring wine tasting.

Seven local wineries open their wineries for two weekends (this year it’s April 23-24 and May 14-15) for winery tours, wine tastings and unique insights.

It’s a great opportunity to increase your wine knowledge and perhaps taste wines you’ll not taste otherwise.

But, and it’s a big one, Barrel Into Spring highlights only seven wineries and invariably sells out early. Because the event is very popular, and but to keep the weekend enjoyable for everyone, attendance and tickets are strictly limited.

This year tickets ($70 per weekend) went on sale Jan. 4 and were sold in a blink.

Now, though, you have another chance. The Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology (CAVE), the same terrific folks who each September bring us Colorado Mountain Winefest, is introducing a statewide spring barrel tasting called A Taste of Spring. Read more…

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