Italy sets out to impress us with its top wines
By John Schreiner
February 18, 2009
The most outstanding of Italian wine producers are members of an organization called Istituto Del Vino Italiano Di Qualita – a Grandi Marchi.
Translated: the Institute of Fine Italian Wines – Premium Brands. The president is none other than Marchese Piero Antinori, the elegant vintner who has dedicated a life to raising the image of Tuscan wines beyond cheap Chianti in straw-covered flasks.
On March 2, 2009, the marchese leads his band into Vancouver a tasting, followed by a gala seven course dinner at the Vancouver Club. The $275 a person evening is a fund raiser for the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre (also the sponsor of the Playhouse Wine Festival at the end of March).
Italian wine was the theme of last year’s festival, which included participation of some of Grandi Marchi wineries among the 50 or so Italian wineries that attended.
The Grandi Marchi- the cream of the cream – are back to reinforce Italy’s image for premium wines. You can bet that there will not be a single straw-covered bottle at this dinner.
That’s not to diss Italy. I have visited Italy a number of times over the years. Whether I was visiting a Grandi Marchi like Antinori or a lesser producer, I have rarely been disappointed.
Well, once. I had just finished a tour of the Sistine Chapel and found myself in the Vatican cafeteria for lunch. The wine that day was a miracle in reverse: someone had succeeded in turning wine into water.
Then there are the good memories. One member of the Grandi Marchi is Lungarotti, a family-owned winery in Umbria, in a village called Torgiano (not far from Assisi). I was there two or three times, judging at a wine competition as well as sampling the wines.
When the late Giorgio Lungarotti founded this winery in the 1960s, no one thought much of the wines of Umbria. Through careful grape growing and competent winemaking, Lungarotti elevated his brand to the top ranks among Italian wines; and he dragged along a number of other Umbrian wineries, in a classic example of how the Grandi Marchi crowd give leadership.
A member of the Lungarotti family is among the stellar group of Italian vintners who are showing off their wines in Vancouver. Other names attending, which will be familiar to those who know Italian labels, include Giovanni Folonari, Piero Antinori, Raffaele Boscaini (of Masi), Pio Boffa (of Pio Cesare) and Niccolo Inciso della Rocchetta (of Tenuta San Guido).
As part of the dinner, there will also be a live auction of wines from these and other Grandi Marchi producers. Many of the wines are either in magnum or three-litre formats, sizes that are rarely available here.
These are an exceptional set of wine producers, with very strict criteria for membership. Long family ownership is one: the Antinori family has been in the wine business since 1385.
Many of the top Grandi Marchi wines are made in small volumes, seldom more than 10,000 bottles a year. Collectors who have these in their cellars are in exclusive company. Collectors who attend this dinner will be in very exclusive company.
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