Source: Spirito Divino Asia, Issue no. 25, excerpted from Article "Taste for pleasure at Asia's wine hub" by JC Viens
For over 6 years, Vinitaly International has coordinated the efforts of Italian wine producers at the Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Fair with a large Pavilion that includes not only individual stands for Italian wine producers but also features tutored tastings and seminars on current issues relevant to the trade.
This year, I was honoured to be host at a tasting room fully dedicated to Grande Passione, the flag under which I offer wine education via a blog and a series of wine courses titled “Taste Like A Pro” which is also a column in the pages of Spirito diVino Asia. The series is to share key wine concepts that influence style and quality and bring elements of folklore and traditions to highlight what drives wine producers to be so passionate about what they do. Over 15 tutored tastings, we explored some of the best kept secrets that Italy offers to the world of wine. Below is a quick overview of the essential elements of our tastings.
Franciacorta: Still in the north of Italy, at about 1 hour drive west of Milan lies the region of Franciacorta where fantastic sparkling wines are made in the traditional method. As Maurizio Zanella from Ca’ del Bosco told me during a recent trip in Tokyo (see our cover story), “never compare our region with that of Champagne as they are 2 different things”. First, he says, “Franciacorta is 250 years younger” and second, he continues “Franciacorta is truly unique to Italy”. Indeed, it is only since 1995 that it has obtained the peak of Italian quality classification, that of the DOCG. Producing only 15 million bottles per year or which only 9% are exported, it is no wonder that the wines of Franciacorta are among Italy’s best kept secrets! Other than excellent ripening conditions to produce very high quality sparkling wines, the truly unique feature of the region is the fact that all producers voluntarily accepted to make their wines with the toughest rules in the world and to focus only on the highest quality. Here, the minimum ageing requirements on lees are higher than in Champagne and the rules of vintage, Riserva and Rosé wines are more clearly defined than any other regions. Over 3 days, we tasted the wines of 18 different producers, all excellent quality. An interesting category in Franciacorta is Satèn. These wines can only be produced with white grapes with less pressure than other wines and must be aged for a minimum 24 months on the lees. The result is a delicate sparkling wine with gentle notes of white fruits and owers. The mousse is elegantly creamy, beautifully integrated making the texture supple and caressing. A delightful style category that certainly stands out from the rest of the sparkling wine world and gives much pleasures.
Bibi Graetz: Bibi is firstly an artist and his vision of the world reflects beautifully on his wines in more ways than one. An arts graduate from Academia dell’Arte in Florence, he started making wine in the late 90’s and from the outset, he decided to focus on the traditional grapes of Tuscany with a special attention to very old vines. An interesting aspect is that all labels are designed by him and they are inspired by Tuscany. We tasted his flagship wine Testamatta, which loosely translates at “Hot Head”, made with old Sangiovese vines. It was striking how different the 2013 and the 2012 were reflecting the philosophy of Graetz for minimal intervention to let the vintage character shine through in the most transparent way. His Soffocone was a big hit during our tasting. Perhaps because its original label was banned in the USA? Certainly, the unexpected story behind the label of this cult wine attracted a lot of attention from the participants of all 3 classes we ran with this wine!
Overall, the series of tasting in the Vinitaly International Pavilion allowed me to paint of wonderful picture of the many possibilities of Italy. Even as many thought that presenting 15 seminars was for me a lot of work, it did not feel as such at all for me. My passion for Italy runs deep and and sharing its wines to the world is the most invigorating activity I can think of. Enjoy!