by Charles Lea

This year marked Verona’s 45th annual wine trade fair, known as Vinitaly, Italy’s largest gathering of winemakers and producers. Every year the fair gets bigger, with an ever expanding number of pavilions in what is already a very tight space, and the number of visitors from around the globe increases. Verona, however, being the beautiful, ancient city that it is, struggles to accommodate the growing throng, and the buses are rammed, traffic impossible, restaurants heaving and hotels extortionate. The one thing that never changes, however, is the Italian concept of ‘la bella figura’. The Italian girls are mostly dressed to thrill in their oh so tight lycra and high heels, and the Italian men dressed to kill in their casually thrown together Armani jackets and jeans with regulation dark glasses on their well-oiled heads. But none of this worries or distracts your dedicated Lea & Sandeman wine buyer, who passes all of this by without so much as a second glance, in search of the best wines to grace our shelves and restaurant tables.

A morning in Piedmonte tasting a variety of Dolcettos, Barberas and Nebbiolos from Bricco Maiolica, Le Piane, Einaudi and (new to our list)Sottimano confirmed my conviction that these are wonderful food wines which should appeal to a far broader audience, and certainly to those who love Pinot Noir, and recent vintages such at 2007, 2008 (although a difficult one) and especially 2009 have made wines with wonderful fruit.

A relatively easy afternoon tasting the white wines of Friuli (as well as one extraordinary red Merlot from I Clivi) where the 2010 vintage has produced wines of remarkable balance and relatively low levels of alcohol for the region, making them so very drinkable. Visitnini’s wines were all showing beautifully, with such great expression of fruit and ‘terroir’, and fans of his unique copper coloured ‘ramato’ Pinot Grigio will be thrilled to hear that 2010 is another lovely wine. Patrizia Felluga, and her two children, Antonio and Caterina, have made another supremely elegant and expressive ‘field blend’ from the single vinyard Zuani, a wine which encapsulates the very best of Collio. But special mention goes to the extraordinary wines from I Clivi, a small estate planted with ancient vines and worked entirely ‘biodynamically’. These are natural wines at their best, with purity and depth, rather than funkiness and weirdness. In addition to the remarkable Friulanos from the Galea and Brazan vineyards, look out for tiny quantities (arriving soon) of dry Verduzzo, Malvasia Istriana, and a fascinating Merlot which will send any Chilean wine drinker diving for cover, such is its attitude!

Tuscany, home of Italy’s best Sangiovese, be it from the classical regions of Chianti, Montalcino, or Montepulciano, or the newer Maremma coastal vineyards such as Scansano or Monteti, is where you find the rich and the famous, as well as the Chinese and Russian buyers. Both Fuligni and Collemattoni have produced stunning Brunello in the 2006 vintage, and quite delicious 2009 Rosso for drinking in its youth. Poggerino’s Chiantis are classic, with the single vineyard Riserva ‘Bugialla’ being quite outstanding. Caterina Dei’s Vino Nobile di Montepulciano  deserves greater recognition, not just for value but also for quality, notably her ‘Bossona’ vineyard Riserva. From the Maremma, beautifully crafted wines from both Terriccio and Le Macchiole (both of which deserve a blog of their own – to follow), and the Magliano wines which are exceptionally drinkable and great value – a stunning Pagliatura Vermentino and a truly gulpable Heba Morellino. A rather lovely new sangivese rosato, called Illario, from this Scansano estate will be with us shortly.

Lunch at the fair does not really happen and one tends to graze throughout the day on a selection of salumeria, cheeses, extra virgin olive oil and home baked grissini, but none better than that served at by Alberto Longo . The fresh mozzarella served with new season olive oil is out of this world, and helps set this stand apart from the rest of Puglia’s producers along with the wines which are truly a revelation for those tasting them for the first time. Made by Graziana Grassini, who also makes the wines at Magliano and now also Sassicaia, these are wines with an extraordinary combination of ripeness and freshness. If one does stop for lunch, however, there is only one place to do so, and that is at Arnaldo Caprai’s ‘motorhome’, a very fancy mobile restaurant with fully equipped kitchen and resident Michelin starred chef for the fair. It is a busy and bustling affair, and even if the temperature is sweltering and you are sat next to a bunch of importers from New Jersey, the Arnaldo Caprai wines stand out head and shoulders above the crowd. The chablis-like Grecante Grechetto is quite refreshing and the Montefalco Rosso almost quaffable alongside the burly and tannic Collepiano and 25 Anni Sagrantinos.

Finally to Campania, home of Fiano and Aglianico and none better than those of the immensely affable Luigi Maffini and his lovely wife. Having waited almost a decade to buy these wines we are now into our third vintage, and in spite of their extraordinary names, Kleos and Kratos, are at last finding a wider audience. Truly original wines and so satisfying to drink.

Part of my work at Vinitaly is not only to try and find new wines, but also to show off the wines we buy to our trade customers and this year I did tastings with the buyers from River Cafe, Fifteen, Barbecoa and Selfridge’s, all of whom stock our wines. I was also fortunate enough to taste with wine writer Jane Parkinson, who was at Vinitaly for her first time, and you can read her blog at, and tasting notes at