The Italian Wine and Food Festival makes its Melbourne début this weekend, and we've got the inside running.
Italians do it better. That's been the motto, if not the mission statement, of the Italian Wine and Food Festival since its inception. Inaugurated in 2013 in Sydney, the festival this month makes its first appearance in Melbourne, and it's going to be big.
We spoke to the festival's founder, award-winning sommelier Lara Caraturo, about its highlights.
You're a champion of Italian wine in Australia, Lara; how did that come to be?
I married another sommelier who is very passionate about all things Italian. Then I had the pleasure of working for Sardinian-born chef Giovanni Pilu at Pilu at Freshwater restaurant in Sydney for eight years. I created a very Italian-focused wine list for the restaurant, which featured an extensive Sardinian offering, as well as an eclectic range of other Italian drinks which hadn't been seen before in Australia. I think we were one of the first Italian restaurants to focus on one region with our drinks offer, too, and that really seemed to resonate with our guests.
You've spent plenty of time eating and drinking up and down the length of Italy. Have you got any memories that shine particularly bright?
So many. I really loved Sicily and Sardinia, but I also have a weakness for the rich food of the north. The biggest recent highlight was probably dining at Osteria Francescana last year and meeting chef Massimo Bottura. I love his focus on local produce and traditions. His energy and passion are inspiring and so infectious.
What prompted you to start the festival?
With our love of Italian culture, and so many Italians living here in Australia, it just seemed like a natural fit.
What can Melbourne expect from the adventure?
Copious amounts of amazing Italian wine and food, for starters. You'll taste Italian wines region by region, meet Italian chefs, join cooking demonstrations and and make pasta and cheeses, shop in the food market, take a workshop, relax in the wine gardens, pick up a cocktail, listen to live music and tap your feet to tunes from our Italian DJ. It's a big day.
Are we right in thinking that though the festival has a wine focus, there's plenty of other good stuff to drink beyond the grape?
Absolutely. There'll be Italian beer, aperitivi, grappa and liqueurs, espresso, Italian waters and soft drinks, plus cocktails made by the magical Matt Bax and his team at the pop-up Bar Americano: think Negronis, Americanos and Aperol Spritzes.
And there's plenty to eat, of course.
It wouldn't be an Italian event without plenty of food. We have some of Melbourne's top Italian restaurants coming to the party (the pizza masters from 400 Gradi among them), and the Gourmet Traveller Food Market will be offering fresh bread, pasta, cheese, salumi, gelato and other Italian specialties.
What about something to feed and water our hearts and minds as well as our bellies?
There'll be food talks with the chefs, Italian wine masterclasses hosted by GT wine editor Max Allen, olive oil workshops hosted by chef Nino Zoccali, sommelier tours, Italian wine workshops for beginners with sommelier Rocco Esposito, and live food demonstrations all day.
What's on the cards for the return of the Sydney festival in August?
We are bigger and better this year, with a larger venue and even more Italian wine and food, plus we will have some special guests joining us from Melbourne.
Any last tips for first-timers?
Come hungry and thirsty and with an open mind, and remember, Italians do it better!
Melbourne Italian Wine and Food Festival, 11am-9pm Sunday 29 May, Royal Exhibition Building, Carlton Gardens, 9 Nicholson St, Carlton, Vic. For tickets and information visit italianwinefoodfestival.com.au