It’s Wednesday lunchtime and the pace of the giant four day wine and spirits conference in Verona has finally shifted down a gear or two.
The organised chaos of Sunday, and the relentless demands of international buyers and corporate tastings that filled Monday and Tuesday now seem like distant memories. Many international buyers have already called it a day and by mid morning on Wednesday some of the exhibitors, notably those with a ferry to catch, have decided to cut their losses and pack up their stands as well.
There are just a handful of scheduled tastings and masterclasses left to manage and in general the vibe is far less frenetic.
It was, then, the ideal moment to stretch the legs a little and explore some of the farther reaches of the vast conference complex in search of something a little bit out of the ordinary. For me that means something innovative, youthful and fresh – both inside and outside the bottle.
My first destination was Puglia, that long, narrow peninsula that forms the heel of Italy known for its hundreds of kilometres of unspoilt coastline and its distinctive whitewashed stone houses.
The Cantine Barsento labels were exactly what I was looking for. Fun, cheeky and emotive, each one featured a unique quirky phrase with matching comic style sketch. Phrases included: “Che ne sanno gli altri” [What do they know] and “Tu mi pensi ancora” [Do you still think of me]. The labels struck me as a more sophisticated version of the children's party-favourite Love Hearts.
The Barsento brand appeals unapologetically to young drinkers, both in style and substance. Like the labels, the wine itself is youthful, fresh and unpretentious. The rosé is made with 100% primitivo grape and is bursting with flavours of seaside anguria and chilled canary melon, perfect as a refreshing aperitivo. The white was just as fresh and straightforward. A varietal of the less well known Verdeca grape, with notes of elderflower and red berries, a quick whiff found me yearning for a seafood lunch on the Adriatic coast.
Heading north, to one of Italy’s most prestigious wine making regions, I was once again on the lookout for something a little different from the Piedmont region. While many labels from this region comply with the classic layout and design, often featuring a traditional emblem, coat of arms, or villa, the Villadoria 'Senatore Primo' Piemonte Rosso immediately caught my eye. Featuring a hand-drawn sketch of a distinguished looking gent (who reminded me of my father-in-law) wearing a neat fedora hat, the only splash of colour was the red band around his fedora. But there was an even bigger surprise in store as I moved in to take a closer look.
On the neck of the bottle hung a strange cylindrical shaped object. Curious I removed in from the bottle and realised it was a parchment of some kind!
Thinking it might simply be a technical sheet, I unrolled it and was dumbstruck by what I saw.
The life-story of Daniel Lanzavecchia, a husband, adventurer, soldier, farmer, wine grower, and father who went in search of a new way of life before eventually returning to his roots in Piedmonte, wonderfully told in a 12-part hand drawn cartoon strip.
Although the wine conveys more than a whiff of nostalgia, it’s also refreshingly light and easy-drinking, not always a given from a region that is home to some of Italy's most powerful and dramatic wines. The spumanti was even better, featuring the same striking label but with a splash of blue instead of red across the fedora. Fermented using the Classic Method, it was a rich ruby red with full, fruity and fresh foam.
In this case, the wine was pleasant, but it was the storytelling that made drinking it a truly memorable experience.
Rock n' wine
Finally, in a world that is often classical in its orientation, a taste of rock n roll to round things off. RockWines is another brand that unashamedly targets the younger market with its strong yet playful labelling.
Bad Boy, a mixture of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, blended for 18 months in barrels and barrique, conveys a degree of quality behind its brash rockstar image, while 10 Things I Must Do In My Life is a Chardonnay that invites the consumer to do more than simply enjoy the wine (see image below).
What really tickled me, though, was the QR code on each label that allows you to instantly launch a Spotify playlist compiled specifically to complement the wine you’re drinking. Now that's Rock n Wine!
Again, another simple but well executed innovation, designed to appeal to a younger generation of consumers as Vinitaly too seeks to reach new audiences.
Richard Hough writes about history, football, wine, whisky, culture + travel and is currently working on a trilogy about wartime Verona.