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The savvy visitors’ guide to one of the world’s largest wine trade fairs.

EVERY year, 150,000 people the world over head to the northern Italian city of Verona. Not to visit the Roman ruins, nor to view where Shakespeare set the story of Romeo & Juliet, but to take part in one of the world’s largest wine trade fairs, VinItaly.

The fair, organised by Veronfiere, is a must-visit for those in the wine trade, and is also open to wine lovers and the public on the last day.

In April, when Vinitaly takes place, Verona couldn’t be prettier. The charming town is bathed in Spring sunlight, the weather is mild and the trees lining the placid Adige River begin to green. But what holds sway over the wine folk are the 400,000 wines waiting to be tasted.

So what’s the best plan for visiting Vinitaly? I posed this question to members of business networking site LinkedIn who are part of the Vinitaly discussion group and got back some great tips to share with you.

Pre-Vinitaly

Begin with the Vinitaly website, www.vinitaly.com. Purchase your ticket online as ticket lines at the entry gate can get quite long. The site also contains maps and an online catalouge of exhibitors.

Do note that Vinitaly is spread out over 12 pavilions (exhibitors are organised by regions) and walking from one pavilion to another takes a good 10 minutes (there is a shuttle bus but waiting times are just as long). To save time, try not to backtrack.

This year, I’ve already made a list of “must-visits”. Stephen Hobley, business manager at Decanter wine magazine and Larry Moraes, a wine marketing consultant, both advise making appointments. Especially when it comes to the more famous producers. Having one’s name on the appointments list means one gets priority, even if producers are hard-pressed to keep the exact appointment times.

If you want to see the big picture – an overall appreciation of the 20 regions of Italy, perhaps – plan to visit to two or three winemakers from each region.

Bill Earle, president of the National Association of Beverage Importers in Washington DC, suggests to “include on your list, an iconic brand, a new entrant and anyone who goes out of their way to pair food and wine”.

“Purchase your ticket online,” reiterates Cinzia Rascazzo, a sommelier who writes a blog for an Italian cooking school. Also, “book your hotel well in advance as accommodation can be scarce. Don’t plan to drive as you won’t find parking. Most visitors rely on the free shuttles from the Verona train station instead.”

Italians have their own survival guides. Wine editor Elisabetta Tosi suggests the blog of Giampiero Nadali at tinyurl.com/3jxx5fz; it is in Italian but Google translate can help with that.

At Vinitaly

Crowds usually arrive in the late morning so plan to start early every day. Note that tutored tastings are held throughout the day. These are like seminars, and cover a variety of topics. Again, book tickets online.

Regional marketing boards also host some tastings. Alessandra Rossi, a wine and food blogger suggests visitors should line their stomachs with olive oil before tasting wines. Indeed, Veronafiere also hosts SOL, an olive oil fair alongside Vinitaly. Many quality oils can be tasted here so it’s certainly worth an early stop.

Getting nourished

Vinitaly is also an opportunity for producers to meet their worldwide distributors and friends. Let producers who are promoting wines in Malaysia know you plan to visit Vinitaly and more often than not, they will invite you to their private catered luncheons or dinners during the event.

For formal dining there’s the Ristorante d’Autore where daily, a different famous regional restaurant from Italy presents a gastronomic lunch. If you fancy something a tad more casual, there’s the self-service four-course meals prepared by chefs belonging to the Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe Association. Or you could opt for light quick meals prepared by students of hotelier schools.

In general

One tip that I think applies to everyone is to wear good walking shoes and bring along a bag for brochures. Additionally, since you’ll be tasting wine, have a bottle of water handy to refresh your palate.

Finally, be prepared to be amazed by the range of exhibitors at Vinitaly. Some time ago, I attended a chocolate and wine pairing seminar there. Last year, I found a huge coffee exhibit and learnt all about the various types of coffee in Italy, just by tasting them.

Souvenirs

These days, it is difficult to travel home with bottles of wine and oil. Don’t even think of carrying them onboard your airplane. But I discovered another find at Vinitaly: an excellent bookshop with most publishers of wine books and magazines from around the world exhibiting. In addition to the many books and wine paraphernalia, there’s also a good discount thrown in.

The 45th edition of VinItaly begins on Thursday and continues until next Monday. And, of course, do take some time to visit Verona. I hope I’ve helped whet your appetite for a visit. And I hope to see you there!

Ed Soon is a qualified oenologist and has run wine shops and worked as a winemaker in various countries. He now writes and teaches about wine around Asia.

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