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Written by Nikitas Magel   

The Grande Degustazione 2008 Wine Tasting Event

Encompassing over 200 wines from 60 producers, the Italia Wine Imports portfolio brings to California a consistently strong and representative sample of some of Italy's best. I took the opportunity to experience these wines yesterday, as they were showcased at the Grande Degustazione wine tasting event in the old Firehouse of San Francisco's Fort Mason. Perfectly proportioned to accommodate the rather intimate tasting, the naturally lit venue drew wine buyers from all over the Bay Area during a bright and breezy Monday afternoon, not only to taste the portfolio's boutique offerings but also to engage with many of the winemakers themselves. And for me, this was — as during any tasting — where the real reward lay; it gave me an opportunity to ask pointed questions on vineyard characteristics and cellar decisions, and gave me glimpse into how small producers throughout Italy make their wines.

But prior to walking into the event, I ensured that I was adequately armed with a good bit of relevant history floating in the forefront of my mind. I've found that it's always a good idea to put wines into context, in terms of both their specific culture of origin and the broader world market. In this case, perhaps most apropos is that the Italian wine industry has been, and continues to be, in flux. And while the same could be said, really, of any old world wine-producing region, for Italy the change has manifested most prominently as a tug of war between tradition and modernity. Beginning in the 1980s and becoming more popular in the '90s, there had been increasing pressure from within to heighten the quality of Italy's wines — and that meant widespread implementation of more efficient and site-sensitive viticultural methodology, as well as stringent hygienic practices and advanced winemaking technology. But in many areas whose wine laws allowed for it, the push to modernize also meant embracing and incorporating international grape varietals (e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Syrah) either as blends with Italian ones or as varietal wines in their own rite. Many believed this was wave of the future and the only way for Italian wines — especially those from less prominent regions — to earn a leading role on the world stage. But very recently, the tide has begun to shift back again. Although producers continue to tighten the integrity and enhance the quality of wines across all regions in Italy, the indiscriminate use of non-indigenous varietals has come under scrutiny. Armed with the advances in theory and practice collectively learned over the last two decades, there is now a greater push to lessen the dependence on outside varietals and on a more international wine style, and instead engage with greater pride and fidelity the use of native ones truer to the set of wine attributes that's quintessentially Italian.

I saw evidence of both traditional and modern winemaking choices, as well as indigenous and international varietals, among the wines poured at Grande Degustazione. But what struck me was how well integrated these different techniques and styles played out in those wines. It was clear that, overwhelmingly, this collection of producers — from a new generation — was managing to strike a beautiful balance by keeping one eye fixated on the past and the other gazing well into the future. And how wonderful it was to experience the fruits of their labor, wines with a wide range of price points and styles, and — true to the importer's promise — from every major wine producing region in Italy: Piemonte, Tuscany, Veneto, Friuli, Alto Adige, Marche, Umbria, Puglia, Abruzzo, Sardegna and Sicily. The common thread that tied it all together so well was the consistently high quality of the offerings, a function of the cohesive taste and vision of Italia Wine Imports' owner Adriano Maniaci and his associates.

For more information: Italia Wine Imports and Blue Lifestyle's This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . end

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