On Monday and Tuesday of this week, Chicago was host to the Wines of Veneto for several events, including a sit-down seminar featuring 10 Venetian wines, a dinner at Phil Stefani’s 437 Rush and two Prosecco tastings, one at a Treasure Island retail outlet and one at a steakhouse (Benny’s Chop House), just north of downtown. These events were part of a tour about the wines of Veneto that were also organized for Los Angeles and New York.
I was pleased to be invited to be part of the seminar on Monday morning; joining me were Nathan Woodhouse, from Ionia Atlantic Imports, a company that represents numerous artisan producers from Italy and Benny Woodhouse, owner of Benny’s Chop House. Moderating the seminar was Aurora Endrici, a sommelier from Italy. Aurora is an extremely knowledgable individual and an engaging speaker. Everyone at the events loved her outgoing personality and warmth; I greatly enjoyed working with her and hope to have the opportunity again in the not too distant future.
The seminar was a natural for me, as I had recently visited producers in both the Soave and Valpolicella districts in late May and early June, so I was understandably excited about the wines (please see my recent posts on Soave and Amarone). Wines from those areas are quite well known in America and were included, as well as Prosecco, the famous sparkling wine from the province of Treviso. But it was the inclusion of other wines – offerings not that well known in many markets outside Veneto – that were real eye-openers for myself and the attendees.
The most exciting wines for me were two reds: Tai Rosso and Bagnoli Friularo. Tai Rosso is produced from the Tocai Rosso grape, the name of which had to be changed according to EU regulations that now protect the name “Tokay”, which refers to a wine from Hungary (the same refers to the Friulano grape, a white that was previously known as Tocai Friulano. It is grown primarily in Friuli and the Veneto; in the Veneto, the white grape is known as Tai and the red as Tai Rosso).
We sampled a 2010 bottling of Tai Rosso from the Colli Berici DOC area in the province of Vicenza. This variety is thought to be an offshoot of Garnacha from Spain or Cannonau from Sardegna. The grape has very light amounts of anthocyanins, resulting in a red wine that looks more like a rosato than a rosso. The wine was lovely with wonderful fresh cherry and currant fruit as well as tart acidity and light tannins. In some ways, it resembled a Bardolino in its delicacy and freshness, but the Tai Rosso not only has a lighter color, but also more spice. It could be enjoyed at cellar temperature, although I’d love it this time of year slightly chilled- foods such as salumi, lighter pastas or soups would be wonderful pairings.
The Friularo from the Bagnoli DOC in the province of Padova was a completely different style of red, one with much deeper color (deep ruby red), richer tannins and with a structure meant for 10-12 years of aging (this was a 2005 bottling, so wines from bigger vintages, such as 2004 or 2007, would be capable of longer aging). The grape is known as Raboso in other parts of Veneto, but in this DOC, it is labeled as Friularo. This was a marvelous wine, one with flavors of plum and cacao and one that had a beautifully defined mid-palate and layers of flavor. 100% of the grapes were dried for four months before fermentation (a la Amarone), giving the wine a gorgeous texture in the mouth and excellent persistence. This was a wonderful find for everyone at the tasting.
Other wines presented at the seminar included a Raboso from the Piave DOC in the province of Treviso, the marvelous dessert wine Torcolato di Breganze, produced from the Vespaiolo grape and a lovely sparkling wine known as Fior d’Arancio Spumante from the Colli Euganei. This is made entirely from the Moscato Giallo grape, as with the more famous Moscato d’Asti wine of Piemonte and like that wine, the alcohol is quite low (5.5%). It has gorgeous apricot and honey aromas and a sensual delicacy and light sweetness that are irresistible. Endrici mentioned that this is a difficult sell, given the worldwide success of Moscato d’Asti and that even in the local area, producers have a difficult time finding customers for this wine. How nice then for the Veneto group to come here and present this wine!
I commented that the wines of Veneto are a microcosm for the entire Italian wine industry, as this is a region known for many types of wines, from sparkling (Prosecco and Fior d’Arancia Spumante) to whites (Soave, Lugana) to lighter reds (Bardolino, Tai Rosso) to more full-bodied reds (Bagnoli Friularo, Amarone) to dessert wines, both white (Torcolato, Recioto di Soave) and red (Recioto di Valpolicella). Every color of the viticultural rainbow can be found in Italy and you really don’t need to go any farther than Veneto to enjoy this wide range of offerings.
This was a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved to understand the broad spectrum of Venetian wines and I am delighted to have had the occasion to be introduced to several wines I rarely have the chance to taste during my travels. Learning about the wines of Veneto is just one more reason why Italian wines are so extraordinary, given their distinctiveness and of course, their amazing quality.
A personal note of thanks to several individuals for making these events happen and for their assistance with my role this week. Thank you to Aurora Endrici, Paolo Doglioni and Fabio Coronin from Centro Estero Veneto, Augusto Marchini and Fred Marripodi of the Italian Trade Commission in New York City and finally, Patrick Capriati of the Italian Trade Commission in Chicago.