Meet The Professional

Francesco Zonin
Vice President Zonin Wines

Sometimes the location tells you everything, and you know is going to be great.
This year the much-anticipated Sommelier Themed Lunch organized by Zonin is held in Zuma DIFC, in their Private Dining Room.
When I arrive I was welcomed by a glass of Zonin Prosecco as an aperitif just to open the palate to the food of Zuma and of the blind taste that we were going to participate.
I’m not going to review Zuma on this occasion, however, I need to mention that after trying nearly half of the menu during this long lunch I can confirm that Zuma gets better and better all the time I go. Chapeau.
Back to the STL, once we are all comfortable seated, we are immersed on a blind taste of 16 wines, mostly in couple and the play was to recognize if each wine is from Virginia (USA) or Italy, and which grape variety and vintage we think are.
Each couple of wine are beautifully matched with Zuma dishes, and even this could seem very hard to do, as there were lots of wines from the two world, whoever selected the matching did a fantastic job.

Francesco Zonin

The participants of this STL are some of the most expert Sommelier in Dubai and some of the best nose as well, which even there are not professional sommelier they have a great knowledge and sophistication.
The wines tasted are the below, displayed in the same sequence as we have received.
After the lunch, the usual group photo, the greetings, and it’s my turn to interview Francesco Zonin, the Executive Vice President, who I had to know just today, as usual, the STL is hosted by his cuisine Lorenzo Zonin.

LUCA: How did you create the STL and why?
FZ:  For the family of Zonin the wine is a wonderful world but it doesn’t evolve much in terms of formats. We have in our portfolio many wineries that we want other people to discover, so we were looking for a different approach to present those estates and in particular we were looking for a different direction than the usual presentation of the wines to the buyers and professional. Instead, we wanted to gather together sommeliers and professionals and have an open discussion on our wines. Today we had a blind tasting between two worlds of our property but sometimes we have a blind tasting together with French wines, or Napa Valley or another wine region of the world.
All the tasting notes are then collected and shared with our winemakers and enologist. In this way, we can take the feedback in a more constructive way instead of the usual compliment or vague response.
We host the STL in many parts of the world, so we have feedback from sommeliers from a different market and palate.
We found this theme to be very innovative versus the more standards approach of wine tasting.
Also, the STL being a stable event give us the opportunity to create a sommelier circuit even between the participants. That sommelier that year after year became much younger compared to the past are much more dynamic and tend to share more information during the tasting.

LUCA: Do you have other formats like the Sommelier Themed Lunch?
FZ:  At the same time with the TSL we created the Gastronomic Experience, that is another type of think outside the box event which consist in bringing the sommeliers in the area where our wines are produced, not only to let them taste  at the source but mostly and more importantly to let them experience and discover the history of the place of origin, the churches, the museum, the culture of the gastronomic excellences of the area, such for example in Tuscany we invite them to taste the Amedei chocolate, the first maître chocolatier woman in the history, so we find out what she thinks in general of her chocolate, what’s her story, philosophy, and tradition behind, or we go and meet Dario Cecchini, one of the best butcher in the world, so we discover the type of beef he uses, how he breed the cows, what he thinks of the Tuscan meat and we do this experience around all the regions of our estates such  as Tuscany, Puglia and Sicily.
In this way, the Sommeliers experience literally the territory and not only the vineyards where the grapes are grown.  They understand the history of the area and how did it happen the evolution trough the years.

LUCA: Why did you choose those regions to extend your portfolio?
FZ:  We started in the 70’s so not long time ago however they were times when in Italy was innovative for a producer of a region to extend winemaking in other regions. Back then you would probably buy vineyards next to your or somewhere in the same appellation, you wouldn’t go and venture somewhere else. Today could seem quite normal, but it’s still not normal venture outside the country.
Back then from Veneto we venture in Friuli, as in that time, we looked at the appellation and at the possibility of the roads system. So, for this reason, we also ventured in Tuscany as the Chianti was rising and Tuscany was easily accessible by the highway.
Then we moved to Piedmont for the same reason, as the Barbera started to be a quality product together with the aromatic grapes varieties.
Oltrepo area came along as for the production of sparkling and Pinot Nero, as in this area there is quite a great amount produced as the terroir for Pinot Noir its second only to Burgundy.
In the middle of the 90’s we venture in the Sicily as we start to recognize the potentiality of those territories and their indigenous grape variety.
Then Maremma and in 2000 we venture in Puglia.

LUCA: in all those ventures, the winemaking that you apply reflects the tradition or you are innovative on it?
FZ:  Depends on from the point of view, we try to follow a winemaking that has a style and that is as clean possible, so that makes us not the innovator but we try to do things very well made. We experiment more than innovates, we research lots as any harvest is different and you want to get better every year but you cannot innovate much more than you do in the vineyard. Gaja was an innovator in Piedmont as he brought French Grape Variety in his territory that at that time no one ever did in the Barolo, we experiment sometimes but always thinking of the tradition, as for example, we apply the charmat method to a grape variety of the south that no one is doing, this is for me an innovation and we experiment a lots on this topic because we know very well this method.
So we bring our Veneto tradition and we experiment with other tradition troughs a careful research. Due to this innovation, we created a rose wine out of the negroamaro grape fermented with the Charmat Method call Rosamaro from Masseria Altemura in Puglia.

LUCA: What’s your view on Biologic and Biodynamic wines?
FZ:   We need to understand first the difference between biologic grapes and biologic wines and already here we can have our own views.
The first difference any way that we have to remember is that the wine is not a natural product, the wine is the product of the winemaker, because the natural output of the process is called vinegar, and not wine. The winemaker needs to help this process of winemaking starting from the natural product that are the grapes which are transformed by the winemaker in wine,  the objective is to have the  best wine from the best grapes, so to use less chemical element possible. There are places like Puglia, Maremma, Chile where this is possible but there are other areas that are much wetter where this is not easy to obtain, but we are still learning how to improve better.
The know-how in these fields is moving fast today compared to 50 years ago.
Is in the interest of everyone to preserve the vineyards but the organic shouldn’t be a mask where to hide behind before to taste the product.
I try lots of organic products and I have to say some are wines I could drink every day and other that are very difficult to drink.

I need to say that after the question-answer with Francesco, he gave me an amazing thought on the World Marketing of a product that opens my eyes on how to better communicate the wine in the new markets, and I will report his lesson on our coming issue. Definitely, the switch of the presidency of Zonin family and the handover to the younger generation from Gianni Zonin is successfully done and sure Gianni have left a strong legacy to both his family and the wine world. Grazie Gianni.

Gianni Zonin