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Vino Evangelist

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As export manager of her family’s Tuscan winery—Marchesi Antinori, in operation since 1385 and one of Italy’s largest—Alessia Antinori opens new markets for wine around the world.

NAME: Alessia Antinori
AGE: 37
BORN IN: Lausanne, Switzerland
RESIDES IN: Rome, Italy
TIME SPENT ON THE ROAD: 6 months a year
PLACES VISITED IN THE LAST YEAR: Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, New York, Paris, and Taipei

Q. In addition to the United States and Australia, you serve such export regions as the Middle East and Asia. What are some of the ways wine-drinking customs vary from one part of the world to the next?
A. In Europe, people drink wine daily, for lunch and dinner. Italians are drinking less wine than in the past, but the quality is higher. In the Middle East, wine is drunk by tourists and expats, but not so openly by the locals. Across Asia, wine is slowly evolving into a luxury product, mostly for people who live in big cities like Hong Kong and Taipei and who have traveled abroad. Wine drinkers in Japan, Thailand, and Singapore are becoming quite sophisticated. Toasting is universal, although there’s less glass clinking as wine becomes more commonplace.

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What is the most promising market for your wine?
China. As Italian cuisine is becoming fashionable there, Italian wines are gaining a lot of interest as well. The potential for the next 20 to 30 years is huge. If everyone in China drank a glass of our wine on a single day, our business would close because we couldn’t keep up. But seriously, Italian wines are already established in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore, and the way tradition is valued in Asia, our winery [with its long history] is a big part of the dynamic.

Which wines do you recommend to complement Asian cuisines?
Sangiovese—the most widely planted varietal in Italy and the main grape used in popular Tuscan reds. It is food-friendly, because it’s high in acidity, and it goes extremely well with tart and spicy dishes. On the other hand, with Japanese tuna I would serve our Super Tuscan Tignanello, a blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc. My father, Piero Antinori, pioneered Super Tuscans in the 1970s. He broke the rules and blended high-quality Italian varietals using Bordeaux winemaking styles.

What are the challenges of working in places where wine culture is entirely new?
It’s really intriguing to open markets in secondary cities—Bangalore, Chennai, Calcutta, Colombo—and less trafficked countries such as Mongolia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman. In those places, I spend my time lining up distributors and giving presentations to sales teams. When I’m introducing wine to new restaurants, I host wine dinners for the staff and explain our wine culture and history. Often I have to teach the basics, such as refrigerating white wine but not red.

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How do you spend your free time when you’re on the road?
I roam around, often on my own. That is how I developed a passion for art, especially Chinese paintings. On a freezing cold January day in Beijing a few years ago, I had a hot chocolate at a balcony café. Afterward, I went downstairs and discovered an art gallery exhibiting the works of Guo Jin, a contemporary figurative painter. I convinced my grandmother, a lifelong collector, to go in with me on buying one of his paintings. Ever since, whenever I have 10 free minutes, I run into an art gallery instead of a gym.

Have you encountered any especially surprising cultural traditions in your travels to promote wine?
On a business trip in Russia a few years ago, I was scheduled for a TV interview at nine in the morning in the remote city of Kazan, in the republic of Tatarstan. At 8 a.m., shortly after I arrived, I was being plied with vodka—a form of hospitality I wasn’t used to. That was not the easiest media appearance I’ve ever done.

See Alessia’s favorite places to eat, drink, and stay around the world. Photo by Lorenzo Pesce. This appeared in the May 2013 issue.

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