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Italy the star of the show at the Vancouver International Wine Festival

It's the rapid-fire chatter with a charming Italian accent.

It's the infectious enthusiasm.

It's the intuitive hand gestures.

And, of course, it's the wine.

It's what enchants us about Beppe D'Andrea, the global wine ambassador for Italian wine brand Ruffino.

My wife, Kerry, and I are at the Vancouver International Wine Festival (which runs through Sunday) and we've scored a tasting with D'Andrea of the Ruffino wines that will be poured at events throughout the fest.

Every year the fest has a theme country and this year it's Italy.

</who>Beppe D'Andrea is the senior global brand ambassador for Italian wine brand Ruffino.

"Wine is a story," begins the animated Italian, who is also a former winemaker at Ruffino.

"It starts over 2,000 years ago in Roman times and continues to when Ruffino was established in 1877 to today where people all over the world love to pair Italian wines with Italian food."

Of course, there were a lot of dates and details in between, but we were there to taste wine, so taste wine we did.

We started with the Ruffino 2021 Aqua di Venus Pinot Grigio ($27).

What you'll notice first about this wine is the sensuous bottle it comes in with a pattern of ridges cut right into the curved, clear-glass bottle.

The pattern and texture mimics a seashell of which namesake Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty, was born.

The wine is "the best expression of Pinot Grigio," according to D'Andrea because while it's light and fresh and crisp, as a good Grigio should be, it also has texture and complexity of minerality from the limestone soils of the Friuli region where the grapes were grown and salinity from the nearby Adriatic Sea.

The Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico 2018 Gran Selezione ($49) is the winery's signature red made mostly of the Sangiovese grape traditional to this region of Tuscany.

For an international style, Ruffino uses Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for the Rosso di Marte Bolgheri 2021 ($50).

And finally, the Super Tuscan was poured -- an Italian-international blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot called Ruffino Modus 2020 ($32).

"Super Tuscan doesn't really have rules, it's a freestyle wine," says the ambassador.

"It's usually considered to be the best from the estate."

Also at various fest events, Ruffino poured some of its entry-level wines -- Chianti ($17), Lumina Pinot Grigio ($17) and Prosecco Rose sparkling ($22).

Fun fact, while Ruffino is Italian, it is owned by Canadian wine conglomerate Arterra, which is, in turn, owned by the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund.

Arterra also owns other international brands such as Kim Crawford in New Zealand and Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi from California along with Ontario and Okanagan wineries Jackson-Triggs, Inniskillin, See Ya Later Ranch, Sumac Ridge, Steller's Jay, Wayne Gretzky, Culmina, Laughing Stock, Open and Vintage Ink.

</who>Sommelier, wine writer and tour operator Filippo Bartolotta is the keynote speaker at the Vancouver International Wine Festival, which runs through Sunday.

Keynote speaker Filippo

The best wines aren't necessarily the biggest, boldest and most flamboyant.

"The best wines are nuanced and portray the true essence of the grapes and where they were grown," said Filippo Bartolotta, the keynote speaker at several Vancouver International Wine Festival events.

Bartolotta is a celebrity Italian wine writer, tour operator and sommelier to the stars (the Obamas, Sting, Steven Colbert on The Late Show and actress Jennifer Garner.)

I spoke with him over a glass of Zonin Prosecco ($28) at a meet-and-greet reception at Joey Bentall One Restaurant in downtown Vancouver.

"Italian wines are being reimagined with a lightness of being that is nuanced," said the somm.

"In a way, Okanagan wines are similar. When I toured the Okanagan last year I was impressed with wines (from Niche, Lake Breeze and La Stella) that were more elegant than I thought they would be."

Bartolotta was also impressed by the Okanagan's beauty.

"It's so brutally natural with its bears, rattlesnakes, crazy heat and extreme cold," he said.

"But I love it. It's the wild west without the guns. I left part of my heart there. I could move there."

</who>Cristian Ridolfi is the winemaker at Bolla Italy.

Pinot Grigio, baby

Italy's Venezie region is upgrading the cheap-and-cheerful reputation of Italian Pinot Grigios.

At the Vancouver International Wine Festival, an entire evening event was built around Discover delle Venezie DOC to spotlight a dozen high-end Grigios from the wine region surrounding Venice in the northeast of the country.

Pinot Grigio is definitely Italy's signature white wine.

"Everyone loves Pinot Grigio because it's approachable and easy-drinking," said Cristian Ridolfi, the winemaker at Bolla.

"But, this storied varietal can also be made to have more personality, character, texture and complexity."

For instance, Bolla's delle Venezie 2022 Pinot Grigio ($18) has aromas and flavours of pear, golden apple, white flowers, minerality from the limestone soil the vineyards are in and salinity due to the proximity to the Adriatic Sea.

Drink it in a year and it will evolve and develop some more lush fruit flavours and aromas of peach and apricot with a hint of almond.

Other Italian producers at the event showcasing their best Grigios were Araldica Vini, Botter, Campagnola, Cantine Delibori, Gruppo Martellozzo, Gemma di Luna, Mazzacorona, Paladin, Ruffino, tommasi and Villa Sandi.

Quality Grigios are still affordable.

The bottles poured at the event ranged in price from $15.50 to $27.

</who>Harry Hertscheg is the executive director of the Vancouver International Wine Festival.

Final word from the executive director

"In the wine industry, we've all heard the doom and gloom about the weather and climate change and people drinking less wine," said Vancouver International Wine Festival executive director Harry Hertsheg.

"But, good food and good wine makes people happy. So, we're all going to be fine because people like to be happy."

Still time to go

In all, the nine-day fest has 41 lunches, dinners, seminars and tastings featuring wines from 150 wineries from 12 countries.

The fest will wrap up on Sunday, but there's still a chance to get in on the action if you happen to be in Vancouver or headed to the city.

There are still tickets available for the main event International Festival Tastings tonight, Friday evening and Saturday afternoon and night.

Tickets are $115 to $135 at www.vanwinefest.ca.

</who>The boot-shaped peninsula that is Italy stretches from Africa in the south to the Alps in the north.



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