Two Grand Tastings That Defined Vinitaly: Gender And Generations

Food & Drink

With pavilion after pavilion of wineries from all over Italy pouring samples of literally thousands of their wines, the Vinitaly trade fair can be overwhelming. Even more so, perhaps, after two years away from the springtime event that typically happens every year in Verona.

This past week, Vinitaly – with all of those wineries and all of those wines – returned to its in-person format. It’s an exceptional chance to get a read, and get a taste, of current wines as well as market sentiment.

Inside the pavilions, wineries pour samples to buyers and media who approach their stands. Aside from the aisle after aisle of wineries are what I consider to be the “lucky ticket” grand tastings. Those are held in a separate location where guests are seated, with ten to fourteen glasses at each setting at once. The grand tastings are organized thematically, focused thoughtfully, scheduled carefully, and each wine is articulated either by their producers or knowledgeable guides.

For me, this year’s Vinitaly was bookended by two such grand tastings, both of which illustrate the promise and the challenge for the future of Italian wine.

The first, toward the beginning of the fair, was presented through an unprecedented collaboration by two of the industry’s premier consumer publications, Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator. “Iconic Women in Italian Wine” featured seven producers ranging from Sicily to Trentino, in a session moderated by two critics and journalists — Monica Larner and Alison Napjus — who shared the podium for the first time.

The second “bookend” grand tasting, toward the end of the fair, highlighted generational transitions of iconic Italian producers (women and men) as they symbolically pass the batons of their lineage forward to the newest, youngest successors. “Di Padre in Figlio: Il Futuro del Vino Italiano” invited eight participating wineries to present a recent and an older vintage that embody their ancestry and their more recent efforts.

Iconic Women in Italian Wine

Let me start with a few of the questions that, thankfully in my opinion, were not asked.

There was no question of whether the women on this panel could make some of the most iconic wines of Italy. (Of course they could.) There was no question, either, of whether their wines were somehow, ambiguously, “feminine.”

As Marilisa Allegrini pointed out, it isn’t new for women to be recognized as producers of iconic Italian wine. But the context is different now, as the entry point of the conversation has shifted regarding women winemakers and leaders of the industry in Italy. By “entry point” I don’t mean beginning the conversation as if from scratch; rather it’s about joining and amplifying (finally, some would say) the conversation that’s already underway.

A few of my favorite takeaways from this grand tasting reflect this contextual shift.

  • Orchestrated by Stevie Kim, Managing Director of Vinitaly International, the grand tasting itself was a very public statement about the collaborative efforts by both publications’ mutually respectful (though competing) moderators, Napjus from Wine Spectator and Larner from Wine Advocate.
  • “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking but mostly a lot of listening,” said Elisabetta Foradori from Trentino-Alto Adige, regarding the current conversation of environmental awareness and sustainable farming.
  • “We made this revolution, mentally speaking. Now, we have more choice. But it was a mental change first,” said Chiara Boschis of E. Pira Figle in Piemonte, after experimenting with single cru wines relative to traditional assemblage.
  • “In case of need, one shouldn’t be ashamed to get some advice, especially on issues around generational change,” said Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta of Tenuta San Guido, which produces the Super Tuscan Sassicaia wine.

From Father to Son, or One Generation to the Next

Longevity.

If there’s one word to characterize this second “bookend” of this year’s grand tastings at Vinitaly, it’s that. Longevity, that is, in two senses of the word. One sense is the longevity of the wineries and families represented, in some cases (namely Antinori) going back 26 generations, as well as the longevity of their commercial reach within Italy and around the world. Longevity also characterized this grand tasting in terms of the wines themselves, most powerfully for me the finish on two wines in particular, the 2009 Abbazia di Rosazzo from Livio Felluga in Friuli and the 2000 San Leonardo from Tenuta San Leonardo in Trentino.

It was, in sum, an impressive showing.

As I tasted the wines and listened to the producers themselves, I also wondered how impressive the showing could also be if the positioning was reversed. As it was, the elder generation spoke in turn about their history from the podium at the front of the room, then the microphone was passed (literally) to each producer’s next generation representative in the front row to also comment on the estate’s lineage. It was a respectful homage to the patrimony of these estates. I get it.

But what if they changed places? Imagine if, in the spirit of the theme of the future of Italian wine, the younger generation spoke first from the podium and expressed their perspective on their family’s history, then the microphone was passed to their elders in the front row to express their hopes for the younger generation’s modernization of the tradition.

The tone would have been completely different, and perhaps more forward-looking. It is an approach, atypical for Italy to be sure, that I would love to see.

Maybe next year.

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