Mon 24 Jan 2011
It’s deep-freeze cold out in the streets of New York, but it feels pretty warm in the Waldorf Astoria, the venerable hotel where the Italian Trade Commission is holding its third annual wine trade show for importers, wholesalers, retailers, restaurant wine managers and the press; I’m in the latter group. I and my fellow bloggers were invited by the ITC to post to our sites and do social media posting during the three-day event, airfare and hotel paid for; that’s called full disclosure.
The primary factor to remember about VINO 2011 is that while it’s hugely informative and educational — the range of wines to taste is mind-boggling; the seminars are revelatory — the primary goal is the business of introducing wine producers to potential importers and wholesalers or, in the case of producers that already have representation, of re-introducing and sustaining interest. To help the 80 Italian wineries or producers at VINO 2011 that don’t have representation in the United States now, the ITC, “the government agency entrusted with promoting trade, business opportunities and industrial co-operation between Italian and foreign companies,” has set up a temporary importing and, for states in the Northeast, distributing entity that will speed contacts, simplify paperwork and ease some of the complicated bureaucratic details. What a smart move! Can you imagine the government of the United States actively working to promote American wines in Europe or South America or Asia?
Anyway, we learned about this temporary importing scheme at breakfast this morning, right after I lost my black Ray-Ban prescription sun-glasses (still not found!) and before there was a fairly massive walk-around tasting of wines from the 80 producers at VINO 2011 hoping to find an importer. There was no way to try everything or even a reasonable fraction at this tasting, because I had a press conference to attend at 11, so I just hit a few tables. I quickly learned that some Italian winemakers are still enthralled with French barriques to the detriment of their wines, which they call “modern” and “cosmopolitan,” while others reveal a healthy respect for wood and the manner in which it can shape and subtly influence a wine. I tasted a primitivo from the producer Cignomoro in Apulia that hit 15.1 percent alcohol — can anyone say “California zinfandel”? — and a Vernacchia de San Gimignano 2009 that was close to superb from Azienda Agricola Campochiarenti. This estate also makes a traditional and lovely Chianti Colli Senesi 2009 (from the Siena area) that blends 80 percent sangiovese grapes with 10 percent canaiolo and 10 percent ciliegiolo, colorina and other indigenous grapes; this ages a few months in 20-hectoliter Italian oak barrels, 20 hectoliters equaling a tad more than 528 gallons. If I were a wine importer, I would book the wines of Campochiarenti; I’m just sayin’.
The press conference was titled “The Future of Italian Wines: As Seen from the Point of View of Leading American Wine Professionals.” The line-up of panelists was impressive: Moderator was Elin McCoy of Bloomberg News; panelists were Jon Frederickson, who specializes in wine marketing for Gomberg, Frederickson & Associates; Leonardo LoCascio, the legendary Italian importer for Winebow; Cristina Mariani-May of Castello Bandi and Banfi Vintners; Tyler Colman of the Dr. Vino blog; and Sergio Esposito, founder of Italian Wine Merchants, a store in New York that specializes in luxury labels.
I won’t summarize the remarks of each speaker, but overall the mood was optimistic. Some of the figures bruited about were that in the 21st Century imports of Italian wines to the U.S. increased by 25 percent over the previous decade, that in 2009 Italy for the first time surpassed France in exports to the U.S., and that Italy’s market share of wine in the U.S. is 33 percent. This is all very impressive and a testimony to vast improvements in Italian wine production and marketing in the past 30 or 40 years.
Another important statistic is the fact that the per capita consumption of winein the U.S.A. has increased to 9.6 liters — woo-hoo! — which means that every man, woman and child in our fair nation drinks slightly more than — are you ready? — one bottle of wine a month. Get back! That’s per capita, however. The reality is that only about 30 percent of American consumers actually drink wine at all and that a core group of 21 percent of wine drinkers consumes 90 percent of the wine. That’s not good, and all wine producing nations that export to the United States, not just Italy, as well as producers in America have to figure out how to market their products and get them into the hands, the minds, the hearts of the millions of American citizens that don’t drink wine, especially the essential and potentially profitable segment of 21 to 35-year-olds, the Millennials and “Eco-Boomers” (this was Frederickson’s term, which I had not heard before).
After a quick lunch and a return to my room to do some writing, I went to a seminar called “A ‘Grape Escape’ in Friuli Venezia Giulia: A Tasting of Friulano and Other Great Regional White Wines,” that is to say in Italy’s extreme northeastern region. The seminar, during which we tasted eight absolutely lovely white wines, each made from a different grape, was moderated by author, journalist and former English professor Tom Maresca, who, in addition to his other accomplishments, possesses the best mustache in the American wine-writing racket. White wines in FVG are not blended, so each wine we tried was 100 percent varietal. The grapes, some of them fairly obscure to American consumers and one almost too familiar, were ribolla gialla, sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, pinot bianco, friulano (formerly tocai until it ran afoul of the EU), malvasia Istriana and verduzzo friulano. I’ll have more to say about these wines in an separate post, because they deserve to be treated in more detail. Suffice to say that everyone I talked to thought that this seminar was a terrific success, and I agreed.
Tomorrow: seminars on the wines of Montefalco, in eastern Umbria, and on social media in wine marketing; a large tasting of Tuscan wines; and the event’s grand dinner. That should keep me busy.