Malcolm Jolley visits the stands at ITA’s Toronto Italian wine show.
The 23rd annual Italian Trade Commission Toronto Wine Tasting took place recently at Roy Thomson Hall. Hundreds of producers pouring thousands of wines from peninsular and insular Italy greeted a bustling crowd of restaurateurs, sommeliers, wine journalists and importing agents, the latter looking for unrepresented wineries hoping to break into the Ontario market. It’s a big show, and while there is much serious business being conducted, it’s always a social occasion and a bit of a mixer. I spent a few hours roaming the mezzanine visiting tables, often manned (or womanned) by old friends, sometimes just trying something new and making new friends.
One’s first stop, naturally, ought to be for bubbles, and I was pleased to see a table set up with Prosecco from Foss Marai. I discovered Foss Marai a few years ago when I went to Conegliano-Valdobbiadene for the big Proseeco tasting, Vino in Villa. Among the international press, Foss Marai stood out as one of our favourites. Their entry level Foss Marai Extra Dry Prosecco ($19.95 – LCBO# 729392) is perfectly balanced, soft and elegant. Prosecco snobs (like me) know that the Venetians drink don’t drink Brut Prosecco, but prefer enough sugar in the glass to round out the Glera grape’s hard acidic edge. Gimo De Faveri, pcitured above with agent Noble Estate’s Anna Jaeger, also poured out a tasting of Foss Marai’s “cru”, the 2017 Foss Marai Nadin Millesimato Dry Valdobbiane DOCG. Although the ‘Dry’ Nadin has nearly twice as much sugar than the Extra Dry (24 g/l), it’s beautifully balanced with soft pear fruit and white floral notes.
At Grano in uptown Toronto, Roberto Martella (a.k.a. ‘The Hammer’) held court for countless Italian winemaker dinners. Regular attendees to these always merry and informative events will recall that Roberto impressed on his guests the diversity of Italian wine, explaining the country’s terroirs stretched from “The Alps to Africa”. I often think of his line, especially at the ITA show, so it was a pleasure to see Roberto, who has spent recent years recovering from a health crisis, out and tasting his way through the show. Here he greets old friend Penny Murray, who handles exports for Planeta, the Sicilian family group of wineries that has been, and continues to be, an innovative force in the island’s resurgent fine wine scene.
Speaking of Sicilian wine, I was pleased to see that the doctor was in the house. Il Dottore Lilly Ferro Fazio led me through a charming tasting of her family’s Fazio Casa Vinicola wines from the west of the island. This year her 2017 white wines won the day with me, the aromatic Aegades Grillo and, particularly the tropical fruit laden Brusìo Carricante and Catarratto blend. Lilly Fazio’s finale was a fizzy Moscato, the non-vintage Petali Spumante, not cloyingly sweet like the famous ones from Asti inPiedmont can be. Rather, the Petali had a clear line of acid underlying the white fruits and rose petal aromatics. Delicious.
Further down the tables set up for Profile Wine Group, I found Giovanni Silvestri of Casale del Giglio who manned the only booth at the show from the region of Lazio. My wife and I have a particular love of Rome, and try and get there every few years, if we can. In the eternal city, we’ll often try and drink the local wines, particularly the ones made from the earthy red grape Cesane. Signor Silvestri’s Lazio IGT Cesanese 2016 transported me instantly back to The Enternal City, all that was missing was a place of cacio e pepe or gricia. Also lovely was the Casale del Grigio Lazio IGT Anthium: full of juicy fruit from the regionally indigenous grape Bellone.
On the left of The Case For Wine’s Ruben Elmer I found Ulisse Patalocchi from Casal Farneto, who had brought with him from the Marche a whole bunch delicious Verdicchio: 2014 Castelli di Jesi DOCG Riserva ‘Crisio’ was full of green apples and Chablis-like minerality, while the 2015 Marche IGT ‘Cimaio’ was a mellower proposition with minute touch of Botrytis, and V. de C. Jesi Passito ‘Ikon’ 2013 was a wonderfully complex sticky wine. As if the Casal Farneto tbale wasn’t interesting enough with just the Verdicchio wines, Ulisse proceeded to pour out two Vermouths: the super herbal white for an aperitif, and the spicy red for a digestif. Great fun.
Piero Titone is the Assistant Trade Commissioner at the Italian Trade Commission and key link between Canadian businesses and journalists and Italian ones. Here he speaks with Lifford Wine and Spirits (and lately Cannabis) ‘Big Cheese’ Steven Campbell.
It was back up to the North of Italy next, to the top right corner and Ca’ Tullio from Friuli Venezia Giulia. Local wine expert Anne Popoff poured with Ca’ Tullio’s Weruscka Degrassi a great selection of wines that don’t get as much attention in these parts as they should. A mellow-yellow 2017 Ribolla Gialla that settled on the fruitier side of aromatic, a wine from one of my favourite grapes a wonderfully mineral and viscous 2017 Friulano from the Colli Orientalli, and the vastly underrated, light and aromatic red Refosco, a 2016 from the Friuli Aquileia DOC.
Next, it was back to the Veneto where The Living Vine’s Tim Reed teamed up with Massimago’s Matteo Bestetti to pour out their unsurpassed Amarone. Massimago’s Amarone defies all stereotypes, they are somehow lean and full of bright, yet complex fruit. It’s a sommelier’s favourite and I gave up waiting for the line-up at their table to abate, and waited for my tasting with everyone else.
Last stop of a busy afternoon: Andrea Pace poured the wines of Barbaresco’s iconic Castello di Neive. I interviewed Andrea for GFR the next day for this post, where we discussed the Stupino family’s wines and amazing legacy in the region except for the Piemonte DOC Albarossa 2016 made from a hybrid grape developed by the University of Turin which is a cross-breed of Barbera and Nebbiolo. It’s a kind of more tannic, very intense Barbera.