Italian wines at the 41st Annual Vancouver International Wine Festival

Although the theme region and focus for the 41st Annual Vancouver International Wine Festival is California and its wide range of wonderful wines, there will be a significant number of Italian wineries pouring their treasures.

Other than our own British Columbia wineries – and of course the California wineries attending – the third largest contingent are from Italy. In 2018 the industry website ‘Italian Wine Central’ listed 517 recognized and catalogued wine grape varieties being grown the country’s vineyards.

It is unlikely that even half of those varieties will be present at VanWineFest for sampling but it’s appropriate that Italian wines are so well represented at what has been described frequently as “the largest wine festival in the Americas”.

With more than 500 recognized varieties, it’s no surprise that there’s more to Italian wine than Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Chianti and the ‘SuperTuscans’, Amarone, Barolo and Barbaresco.

Monte del Frá Bardolino Chiaretto $16.99 is a dry rosé blend of 65 per cent Corvina, 30 per cent Rondinella and 5 per cent Sangiovese. If you like Valpolicella, you’ll love the peach, cherry and raspberry notes of this salmon-pink rosé.

Not all Italian wines are dry. Musicians understand the Italian term ‘dolce’ in a musical score indicates that the music be played softly and sweetly. Italian wine nomenclature is no different. Wines labelled ‘dolce’ are soft and sweet.

Vini Tonon also produces organic Villa Teresa wines. Tonon’s Magia Fiore Spumante Dolce Rosso $18.49 is a sweet sparkling red blend of 40 per cent Isabella, 20 per cent Merlot, 20 per cent Refosco and 20 per cent Moscato Rosé . This ‘Magic Flower’ offers an enchanting mouthful of effervescent strawberry and raspberry fruit flavours.

Until the 1980s more than 80 per cent of the wine produced in Sicily was rugged, rough and rustic. Traditional, old-fashioned wine making and very sweet, ripe grapes produced slightly oxidized wines that were densely flavoured, high in alcohol and excellent additions to other leaner, more northerly Italian reds.

Thanks to the foresight of Diego Planeta and the pioneering Settesoli cooperative’s initiatives, in the 1970s and 1980s, exceptional wines from Sicily’s native grape varieties are now beginning to be recognized.

A very up to date and ‘New World’ style of Italian red, Vigneti Zabu ‘Il Passo’ Nerello Mascalese / Nero d’Avola $22.99 clearly shows the range and depth of rich wines Sicily can offer today. Combining semi-dried Nerello Mascalese with ripe dusky Nero d’Avola, there’s a wealth of sweet, earthy, cherry and dark berry fruit with chocolate and an intriguing whiff of violets in every sip.

Italian white wines rarely get the recognition that Italian red wines attract. Outside of the currently very trendy sparkling Prosecco, few Italian white wines are widely appreciated though Trebbiano – under various names and in its various guises – is Italy’s most commonly planted white wine grape vine after Pinot Grigio.

In sunny Abruzzo, 40 years ago, Jasci & Marchesani was one of the first wineries in Italy to be certified organic. Jasci & Marchesani Trebbiano $29.99 is 100 per cent Trebbiano d’Abruzzo – a grape also known as Bombino Bianco or Ugni Blanc. Dry and full bodied, it overflows with stone fruit aromas and flavours. Beyond that apple, pear and peach base, there’s a wisp of chalky almond and a vague spritz of mineral saltiness.

Few North American wine lovers have tasted Vin Santo. This ‘holy wine’ is most often made from dried Trebbiano and/or Malvasia grapes. The most elegant versions are naturally sweet and unfortified and exquisitely tasty dessert wines.

Altesino Vin Santo Sant Antimo $45.99/375ml comes from a Tuscan winery that specializes in Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino red wines. Toasted almonds and honeyed apricots are the predominant flavours in this seductively amber coloured wine. Almond biscotti are not required …but seriously recommended for dipping and sipping Vin Santo.

If you’re planning to attend VanWineFest and coming from out of town… book before February 14 at one of 38 downtown downtown hotels through stayvancouverhotels.com and you can get a free International Festival Tasting ticket to one of the four afternoon or evening tastings.

Reach WineWise by emailing douglas_sloan@yahoo.com

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