Having our own local region has played a big part in sparking consumers’ interest in wine.
Michaela Morris is a wine journalist, educator, judge and speaker based in Vancouver, Canada.
Currently she is the weekly wine columnist for the Westender newspaper, contributes to EAT, Taste and Quench magazines and makes regular radio and television appearances. Locally Michaela judges wine competitions and presents seminars for festivals such as Cornucopia and the Vancouver International Wine Festival. She also lends her expertise abroad speaking at conferences such as Wine2Wine in Verona and Barolo’s Collisioni Festival and judging for the Wines of Portugal Challenge and Vinitaly’s 5 Star Wines Award.
Michaela successfully completed the Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s (WSET) Diploma in 2006 and is a local instructor for program. She is also one of only four Vinitaly International Academy Certified Italian Wine Experts to date and is now pursuing her Master of Wine studies.
1. In your opinion, which wines may have more success in British Columbia?
I think there is opportunity for a variety of wines from Italy. Established and recognized wines like Chianti Classico, Brunello, Barolo/Barbaresco and Amarone will continue to have a following and promoting them should persist. But I do see a lot of potential for the wines from the south in particular. I am referring to high quality wines that would generally sell for $15-30 in this market made from the wealth of unique and characterful grapes like Nero d’Avola, Frappato, Primitivo, Negroamaro and Cannonau for reds as well as whites like Vermentino, Grillo and Falanghina etc. Besides being well-priced, these southern gems are usually approachable enough to drink on their own but still food friendly. This is important as many people in BC enjoy drinking wine on its own.
2. Do you have seen evolve the image of Italian wine in British Columbia?
Absolutely. Let’s say 20-30 years ago, most of the Italian wine that was available was pretty cheap and mediocre, so that was the image people had. As the quality of Italian wine has risen and the selection here improved, BC consumers are exposed to a greater diversity of wines at a range of prices. Thanks to the explosion of good Italian restaurants here as well as key importers and sommeliers championing Italian wine, consumers are discovering that Italy has so much to offer. I think people (consumers and trade) still see Italian wines as confusing. With all the different grapes and regions this is likely to persist. However, while this may still intimidate some people, others find it intriguing. Italian wine is now sexy. There is that inextricable link to the delicious food, fascinating culture and passionate people.
3. How has the relationship between BC consumers and wines evolved?
Wine appreciation continues to grow. Having our own local region has played a big part in sparking consumers’ interest in wine. There is still a sense of being overwhelmed but people are less intimidated and want to learn more. The number of wine classes being offered has increased and they are full with both trade and hobbyists attending. We are also seeing more and more wine events with enthusiastic attendance. I would say that there is a growing number of curious consumers with open minds who willing to try new things. That includes Italian wine.
4. What are the tips would you give to Italian companies that want to promote their wines in British Columbia?
My advice is two-fold. First of all, work together to promote your wines. There is strength in numbers and a clear, cohesive message will resonate much louder. Second of all, have realistic expectations. British Columbia isn’t a huge market but there is potential. Look for the an importer who understands the market well, who can communicate this with you and who is committed to building your brand over the long term. Starting small isn’t necessarily a bad thing and gives you much more room to grow dynamically.
5. What is your favorite Italian wine?
It is impossible to choose one favourite Italian wine. It depends on what I am eating, if I am eating, who I am drinking with and the mood I am in. The grape that launched my love affair with Italian wine though is Nebbiolo. Capable of beautiful haunting aromas that evoke a precise sense of place, it stimulates the emotions as well as the appetite. (It has been the linchpin of some of my most memorable food pairings experiences.) I love Nebbiolo’s various expressions particularly Barolo and (okay my favourite) Barbaresco, but even the more humble Langhe Nebbiolo and Nebbiolo d’Alba can be so satisfying. And I also have a great appreciation for its expressions from lesser-known DOC(G)s like Gattinara, Valtellina and Donnaz. I probably crave Nebbiolo more than any other Italian wine.
Roberto Nicolli (WineMeridian.com)