I’ll admit it, I was nervous about the fair. Drinking Italian wine may be my favorite thing to do, but four jet-lagged days of wine tasting in a convention center outside of Verona sounded grueling. When I told people that this would be my first time attending Vinitaly, I was warned to take it slow, find comfy couches to nap in, and not to be afraid to skip a day.
How wrong they all were.
I had enough energy to have stayed for two weeks. I was at the fair every day from ten in the morning until five in the evening. Vinitaly is the world’s largest wine festival, featuring wines from over four thousand Italian wineries. The fair grounds were like an airport, with every hangar dedicated to a different region of Italy. I got to saunter through Sicily, tasting Etna Bianco and Cerasuolo di Vittoria, then stroll over to Campania and sip dozens of expressions of Taurasi. If you really want to understand a wine, a region, or a grape, you have to taste it over and over again. At Vinitaly, that’s exactly what you get to do.
Tasting through the different regions of Italy, one might expect to be blown away by how different all the wines from different places tasted, but in reality, one thing that really struck me were the similarities. High alcohol, overly extracted, fruity, oak bombs were as much a reality in wines from Puglia—known for bigger, fruitier wines—as they were in wines from regions typically known for making wines with finesse, like Sicily. This is all part of a decades-long trend of making wines that appeal to an “international palate,” that is, wines that taste like they were made in California. Big and fruity wines sell, so many winemakers have forgone their traditional techniques to cater to the international market.
That’s what made it so refreshing to visit some of Sotto’s favorite producers and find that they stood out from the over-extracted crowd. Sotto has always featured wines that taste like the traditional wines from their region. Frappato from Sicily should be light and lithe, with notes of smokey strawberry and red flowers. Taurasi should have leather and tar, subtle black fruit, and bright acidity. While more and more wines are moving away from those traditional styles, there are plenty of winemakers keeping tradition alive, and I was thrilled to learn how many of those winemakers are on Sotto’s list.
Our wine director, Jeremy Parzen, has been featuring wholesome wines from day one. Wines that don’t use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, only use native yeasts, and don’t manipulate the winemaking process with the overuse of chemicals. Tasting Taurasi producers like Struzziero and Boccella, staples of the Sotto wine list, it becomes obvious that these wines are not pandering to the commercial trends of the decade. They are maintaining their integrity and creating wines in the same style as the previous generations. While the fickle trends of today move on to something new and shiny, there will still be stalwarts of tradition making classic wines that taste the way they ought to taste.
Thank you to those winemakers who still hold on to the classic traditions, thank you to Sotto and Jeremy for fostering a place in L.A. to drink those wines, and thank you to Vinitaly for giving me an opportunity to taste the terroirs of Italy.
Wine Manager | Sommelier