A new event that brings together the largest number of Italian wines ever gathered in New Zealand highlights the growth and popularity of Italian grape varieties among Kiwi wine drinkers.

Italian wine imports to New Zealand have more than doubled in the past five years with almost 1.8 million litres coming into the country last year. Italy is the third largest exporter of wine to New Zealand behind Australia and France.

Vino Italiano will showcase 150 Italian wines for tasting at the August 31 event in Auckland. It will be attended by 16 representatives from Italian wineries.

Organiser Marco Nordio, the director of leading Italian wine importer Sapori d’ Italia, says New Zealand is a nation of discerning wine drinkers and the growth and popularity of Italian wines provides Kiwi wine lovers with greater choice.

“Vino Italiano is an opportunity for Kiwis to get to know the producers, talk to them about their wine, and understand the complex but highly rewarding world of Italian wine.”

Italian winemakers attending Vino Italiano include Antonio Benanti of Benanti Winery, located on the slopes of Mt Etna in Sicily; Pio Boffa, owner of renowned 138-year-old winery Pio Cesare in Piedmont, Northern Italy; and Tuscan winery Ricasoli which documents the history of Chianti Classico.

The renowned Masi Winery from Valpolicella will be represented with Master Sommelier and Masi Ambassador Cameron Douglas in New Zealand to run a masterclass on its trademark Appassimento method (the practice of drying grapes to make wine).

Nordio says Italy has around 600 native grape varieties making it a very different industry from New Zealand’s more specialist approach to winemaking.

“Each variety is intrinsically connected to the region it is from and the history of that area. In this way you can appreciate Italian wine much more if it is put into a historical and cultural context. Having people from the likes of Mt Etna and Pio Cesare will mean New Zealanders can hear the stories behind Italian wine and have a greater understanding of these wines and the different varieties and their links to the culture and history of the regions.”

Antonio Benanti says in 1988 his father set out to revitalise the vineyards and the ancient prephylloxera vines planted on Mt Etna by exploring and understanding the soil types, elevations and micro-climates on the active volcano.

“My twin brother and I carry on this tradition today and some of Italy’s most interesting and characterful wines have been produced in Etna in recent years. Etna wines have the weight of a Burgundian Pinot Noir or an elegant Barolo which show a richness, finesse and a distinct sense of place owed to a truly unique terroir.”

Pio Boffa says Pio Cesare’s wine is made traditionally which, for him and his family, means
continuing to produce wine that is loyal to the style they have made since 1881.

“We believe that it’s always possible to produce a great wine even in the most challenging vintages. Our obsessive selection of grapes – cluster by cluster, berry by berry – means we always find small quantities of high-quality grapes which allow us to produce great, refined wines every year.”

Nordio says while the Italian and New Zealand wine industries are very different there are also strong connections between the countries and winemakers.

Matteo Serafini of Serafini and Vidotto in Northern Italy is one of many Italian wine makers who has worked with prominent Kiwi winemaker Brian Bicknell at Mahi Wines in Marlborough.

“Every year we receive a lot of interest from northern hemisphere winemakers like Matteo,” says Bicknell. “They want to work the southern vintage to experience a new place, share ideas, and increase their understanding of the world of wine.”

Bicknell will be pouring wine for Serafini and Vidotto at Vino Italiano with Waipara-based wine consultant Daniel Schuster pouring for Tenuta Setteponti.

Sommelier Andrea Martinisi from The Grove, who represented New Zealand for the first time at an ASI World Best Sommelier Contest in Belgium in March, will run a master class at the event.

Other master classes will be conducted by:

  • New Zealand wine writer, Yvonne Lorkin, on Kiwi versions of Italian classics
  • Angelo Minelli of Wine Searcher on Metodo Classico: Franciacorta, Trento and other DOCs

The majority of the wines available at Vino Italiano are usually only available in select restaurants, making it a rare opportunity to do tastings. The food will be provided by importer Mediterranean Foods and the ticket price includes tastings of all wine and food.

When: August 31, 1pm to 7pm
Where: Royal Yacht Squadron, Westhaven Marina, Auckland
Tickets: $40 from iticket.co.nz

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