Amarofest in Verona

One of the great things about VinItaly is that producers often have a little something special at their stands beyond the latest vintage. Sometimes there are older wines, other times it’s a full-service lunch (which is most welcome). And for some producers, the secret stash includes an exotic amaro.

I love amaro: From the power of Fernet Branca to the herbal complexities of Braulio, it’s obvious that I’m a fan. And Italy’s full of the stuff, most of which isn’t available in the US (nor the rest of Europe or the various Italian provinces), so on recent trips I’ve taken to bringing a bottle or two home in my suitcase.

(I rationalize this from a practical standpoint based on the simple fact that a bottle of amaro last much longer than a bottle of wine, hence it’s worth the effort to schlep it home.)

Here’s one of Italy’s great amari, available only from where it’s made at Abbazia di Novacella in the far north of Italy, just near the Austrian border.


Kloster Bitter is made from the cones of tiny Alpine pines that have been macerated in a neutral spirit and then distilled. Unlike most amari it’s neither colored nor sweetened, and so it feels lighter in texture. As you can see, too, it’s awfully pretty in the glass. I bought a bottle last November at the winery; that’s nearly finished and happily I picked up a new one on this last trip.

Another find was the Dolce Amaro, made from an infusion of 12 herbs and then sweetened with honey, all from the island of Favignana (part of the Isole Egadi), north of Sicily. It’s a side project at Statti, based on a recipe developed by Dr. Umberto Rizza. Wild suff, with pungent aromas of thyme and camomile, and a lasting peppermint flavor that totally cleared the jetlag out from my sinuses. Perhaps a little harsh to drink, it could have benefited from an ice cube.


*Note: For a primer on various Italian amari, check out this article I wrote last year for the SF Chronicle.

*Double Note: Jon Bonné, with whom I nearly killed off my last bottle of Kloster Bitter, suggested that we start a Twitter campaign to get the stuff imported to the US. Abbazia di Novacella is brought in by Vias Imports, so hopefully they’re reading this.

Pic Post: VinItaly, ViniVeri & Verona

A picture is worth a thousand words. Or at least a glass or two of wine…

Tuscan pavillion

Above: An aerial shot of the Tuscan pavilion, always one of the most busy — and ostentatious — at VinItaly.

le presi 2009 t shirt

Above: Brunello producer Le Presi makes a new t-shirt each year for the fair. This year, the theme capitalized on Obama’s campaign slogan “Yes, we can!”, modified to reflect the traditionalist approach in Montalcino. Note the card referencing, well, female admirers. It’s common at winery stands during VinItaly to employ models in swimsuits to promote wine; I chose to think of this note as a comment on that behavior at the fair, though for all I knew, these guys were serious.

(Check out last year’s t-shirt here.)


A much needed refreshment following the Vini Veri tasting. Glassware by this point was difficult to come by, but the pinot gris was tasty all the same!


Natural wines: A blurry photo, but two delicious Italian wines not so widely available in the US.


Somehow I got my hands on a magnum of the excellent 2006 Cerasuolo di Vittoria from Cos, which we drank at dinner after a long afternoon at Vini Veri. Delicious!

waiting for campari spritz

Waiting for our round of Campari spritz the morning after several days at VinItaly and Vini Veri. The spritz — usually with Campari or Aperol mixed with soda — was everywhere in Verona this year, and it proved to be a reliable pick-me-up when fatigue set in.

banks of the adige

From the banks of the Adige in Verona: “Irene ti amo”

Whoever she is…

Too Many Vs

VinItaly+ViniVeri+VinNatur = VVV, wasn’t that a Vin Diesel movie?

Take this as an out of office message of sorts because I leave tomorrow for Verona (another V), and the chaos that awaits me there. If you’re a wino and looking for ways to kill time online, the I suggest spending a while checking out Peter Liem’s new Champagne MegaSite. It rules!

Oh, I’m also in the Twitterverse and so if you *really* have nothing else to do and want to kill some time, I’m more likely to post there than here for the next several days. 140 characters has its advantages after all. Follow me here (I’m @spume).

A presto!

Critical Wine ’08 Verona: Canceled


(Above: the entrance to Ex-Forte Prenestino, the Roman centro sociale that regularly hosts Critical Wine in Italy’s capital city)

The city of Verona buzzes with activity during the annual VinItaly fair (April 3-7), and besides the big fair itself, there’s any number of off-campus events happening at all hours every day. In a post from last year, Terry Hughes over at Mondosapore discusses the explosion of tangential events around VinItaly, likening the din and excitement to the fantastic Edinburgh Fringe Festival. An apt comparison if you ask me, where literally the fringe elements themselves are a big draw for the crowds.

One of the first parallel events during VinItaly was Critical Wine, a loose left-wing collective of artists, anarchists and enogastronomes (among others). I’ve written about Critical Wine in Wine & Spirits and on this blog, and the event has also turned up elsewhere in the wine blogosphere (here and here).

Unfortunately this year’s Critical Wine–at least the Verona manifestation of it–is canceled. According to an email I received from a member of Verona’s La Chimica centro sociale, the original host site for the event, Critical Wine won’t be happening next week because the city authorities closed down La Chimica and the Critical Wine folks have not been able to find an alternative venue. I’m sure there’s more of a story here: the language my contact used in his email was harsh (“La chimica è stata sgomberata e rasa al suolo dal nuovo sindaco leghista/fascista“), essentially labeling the mayor of Verona a fascist. But then that is in keeping with ideology of Critical Wine, a movement born out of the fiery passions of the Italian anarchist left.

Despite this setback, another edition of Critical Wine is scheduled for May 9-11 at the centro sociale Magazzino 47 in Brescia, according to my contact. (A look at Magazzino 47’s website shows that Crtical Wine is scheduled for one day, March 28, with no listings beyond mid-April; perhaps it’s happening in both months?).

One can’t help but wonder if the group has hit a major snag: in addition to the cancellation of the Verona event, Critical Wine’s website is at present shut down. Communication problems, it seems, plague the group more so than regional authorities.

Perhaps the diffusion of events during VinItaly–many of which espouse some of the founding principles of Critical Wine like minimalist winemaking, organic farming, etc.–has indeed caught up with itself?


(Above: Critical Wine from the inside, Rome 2004)

Real Italian Wine


Gruppo Vini Veri, a loose organization of Italian wine producers who are part of the growing natural wine movement, have announced the dates of their 5th annual tasting, April 3-5, 2008. As usual, it’s staged during the VinItaly trade fair in Verona; however, the Vini Veri producers very much consider their event–and movement–to be an alternative the bigger, busier show that is VinItaly. They are an interesting group of winemakers–not all are organic, nor even Biodynamic–but they are keen to respect the traditions of their zones and maintain a character in their wines that is unique and expressive. Eschewing international varieties in favor of indigenous grapes, working with the yeasts native to their vineyards and wineries, and a commitment to a minimal use of sulphur are among the tenets of their Vini Veri manifesto (every Italian organization needs a manifesto).

VinItaly itself is worth going to, but you can bet I’ll attend the Vini Veri tasting–and probably Critical Wine, too. There’s a lot to do in Verona come April…


5th annual ViniVeri – Vini secondo Natura
at the Villa Boschi
April 3-4-5 2008
Thursday & Friday from 10 to 6; Saturday from 10 to 2

For a complete list of participating producers, along with individual producer profiles, go here (Italian only).