WineInk: Celebrating wine Italian style |

WineInk: Celebrating wine Italian style

Kelly J. Hayes


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Little Nell Wine Academy

To attend the 2019 Wine Academy this weekend contact:

Shawna Rahm, Director of Events at The Little Nell 

There was a bit of sadness coupled with a heaping dose of pure green envy this past week as I skied the final run of my friend Donald Ziraldo’s 2018-19 ski season. Ziraldo, the pioneering winemaker who is perhaps most responsible for putting wines from Canada on the international stage with his introduction of Inniskillin Ice Wine in the late 1970s, had spent the ski season in Aspen checking off a bucket list item. But now he is off to his annual sojourn to meet the gentlemen and women of Verona, Italy, at the Vinitaly wine confab.

“It is the best event of that sort in the world I think,” he told me as we rode the chair lift up that final sunny spring afternoon. “And believe me, I have been to hundreds of wine events all over the world.” He continued, “But there is something about Vinitaly that is really exceptional and unique. It’s not just the location and it’s not just the people or the size. Maybe it’s just that Italian wines are so special.”

He then touched my arm, looked me in the eye and said with a self-satisfied chuckle, “But you have to remember, I AM Italian.”

No doubt his ancestry may have something to do with Donald’s love for the 52-year-old Vinitaly, which begins this upcoming Sunday in Verona. After all, it provides an opportunity to taste a plethora of the wines from up and down the Boot of Italy, as well as wines from around the world. But based on all I have heard from those who have attended Vinitaly in the past, be they Brits, Americans or Australians, there is no wine event that has the breadth, width and heft of Vinitaly. And it holds the top spot on my bucket list for must-visit wine events.

Vinitaly has origins dating back to 1967. It was first held in September as a harvest event at Verona’s Palazzo della Gran Guardia, in the historic heart of a city founded in the 1st century B.C., which now enjoys status as a UNESCO World Heritage Center. Few could have imagined then that the little gathering, quaintly titled “Italian Wine Days,” would morph into the largest wine event on the planet. This year the event, or trade fair, as the organizers refer to it, announced in January that the 53rd edition was already sold out, with over 125,000 visitors from 143 nations and over 4,000 exhibitors expected to attend. It’s a long way from the serenity of the Lift 1A.

Today, Vinitaly is held annually in April and is seen as the premier event for global producers to debut new wines and make dramatic announcements. There are wine competitions that feature awards for top drops, best packaging and journalism, business to business gatherings, presentations on all aspects of wine from earth to point of purchase, and of course, prodigious amounts of wine are consumed.

The impetus for all of this is the extraordinary quality and diversity of wines that are produced in Italy. From the majestic “King of Wines,” Barolo in the Piedmonte region to the frothy and fun sparkling prosecco wines of Valdobbiadene to the fruity, red Nero d’Avalo wines of Sicily, the entire nation of Italy is rooted in wine culture.

But for those who will not be winging their way to Verona on Alitalia this week for Vinitaly, me included, there is another extraordinary wine event, stateside, that revels in the passion for Italian wines.

The Little Nell Wine Academy is a three-day, three-night educational and bacchanalian wine experience that takes place each April in the Aspen Mountain Club, 11,212 feet above sea level. This year, the esteemed gathering turns its attention to the “Wines of Italy.” Coincidently, it will be held this week on the same dates, April 7 to 10, as Vinitaly, but there is where the similarity ends.

While Vinitaly is all about quantity, the Wine Academy is laser-focused on quality. A cadre of sommeliers, including Jay Fletcher, MS, Sabato Sagaria, MS and Carlton McCoy, MS, lead an intimate gathering of wine aficionados through informative tastings of Italy’s best wines from its most important regions. The price, $3,500 per person (exclusive of lodging), is reflective of the selections of rare vintages from iconic producers that will be poured. It is conceivable that even Vinitaly, in the heart of Verona, would be hard pressed to produce an event that celebrates the finest wines of Italy at this level. Certainly not at 11,212 feet.

To paraphrase an old movie line, if you love Italian wine you’re going to need a bigger bucket.

Aspen Times Weekly

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