Nadi Fiori Intertrade and Whisky Auctioneer In Conversation With: Nadi Fiori

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In our March sale, Whisky Auctioneer presents an incredible collection of highly prized whiskies from Nadi Fiori spanning Intertrade, Turatello and Taverna degli Artisti imports. Among the lots on offer are vintages and bottles that occupy a special place in the history of Scotch whisky. We had the pleasure of meeting Nadi Fiori, one of the most important pioneers in the history of single malt Scotch whisky, and asking him a few questions - we hope you enjoy!

 

Nadi, thank you for your time today. First of all, could you tell us about the origins of Intertrade. When did you first get interested in single malt Scotch, and how has that interest lasted so long?

Intertrade was founded in 1984 after Giovanni Turatello (a friend, customer of my restaurant Taverna degli Artisti and wholesale distributor of beer) offered to start a cooperation for selecting, bottling and importing Scotch Malt Whisky.   I had already approached the world of Whisky during the ‘70s when going frequently to London I started to buy, and take back to Taverna degli Artisti, some single malt expressions that had never been seen in Italy and this went on for a few years till one day (1977/1978 ?), following the suggestion of friend, salesman of a small importing company, I went to Elgin to meet Mr. George Urquhart of Gordon & MacPhail, and that was the real beginning of my whisky adventure. 

 

Mr. George was immediately very friendly and, I would say, very protective and started to tell me so much about whisky (no need to say that it always was Single Malt Scotch Whisky) and the many inside stories.  For a few years I was importing batches of  15/20 cases of selected whiskies at a time and kept going up and down in Scotland, timidly visiting some distilleries getting to know and meet people in the trade. One day I met a gentleman working for Robert Watson of Aberdeen and with that company I did my first bottling of The Glenlivet immediately followed by Glen Grant and Glenfiddich, three distilleries very well known and of great relevance.  That operation was made in my name Nadi Fiori and so was reported on the labels.

 

The appreciation of single malt is closely linked to Italy. What was the market and perception of whisky like when you were first involved?

Even at the beginning of the ‘70s there were importers/distributors of Malt Whisky: The Glenlivet and Laphroaig imported by Bonfanti, Lagavulin by Carpano, Silvano Samaroli with his selections and Co. Import in Pinerolo importing Gordon & MacPhail, but those whiskies were for a niche market and not for wide general distribution and appreciation. I would say that whisky was not much known at all in the ‘70s and there was much confusion: going in a normal bar and asking for a whisky you could have been receiving one shot of Glen Grant (5 y.o.) or Jack Daniel’s or Johnnie Walker without any special distinction.  There were really few bars or shops (mostly in big cities) with the option of some special Malt and the knowledge (more or less) of what it was. The first bar showing a variety of malts on offer was Giaccone in Salò, Lake of Garda. He is the person who really initiated people to collecting.

 

You regularly travelled Scotland on your quest to find excellent casks to bottle for your restaurant and subsequently Intertrade. What was it like when you visited Scotland and its distilleries then? How were things different?

As said the very first casks I managed to bottle have been The Glenlivet, Glen Grant and Glenfiddich. While for the first one I was impressed by the fantastic (in my opinion) and rare quality derived from  the ex-sherry maturation, for the other two I was hit by the elegance and finesse of them.  The age had given a quality to which I was not used.   After that first operations I lost contact with the supplier and, probably, if it  had not been for the proposal from Giovanni Turatello I would not have gone further with single casks bottling. 

 

After I started collaboration with Mr. George/Gordon & MacPhail I did not go on researching casks from other suppliers as I was happy with what, in terms of choice and quality, I was able to get from GMP.  I kept visiting distilleries and making friends in the industry but what I was producing was enough for me.   I was running a restaurant and did not have a big commercial mentality and also the Turatello distribution being them beer distributor did not have many top level customers for that kind of whisky.  In facts after a few years  Intertrade ceased and for a few years I had casks bottled “Specially for Turatello” and not by Intertrade.

 

Do you have an interesting whisky-related stories that you could tell us about? Tales from your travels or perhaps a favourite memory? 

I believe that there could be so many stories/anecdotes related to my whisky travels in Scotland that I would need to much time to rescue them and then risking of writing something of no interest to other people while very dear to me.  Best thing would be sit down around a table with some supply of good nectar (whisky) and start talking: so many stories will come out just after the second dram. 

 

While writing the above it came to my mind when in 1987 I decided that I wanted to bottle something in a magnum bottle.  That seems quite simple and easy so let’s begin (actually telling the whole story with abundance of details might well take far too long and maybe need two more drams of whisky so I will cut much).  In order to bottle some whisky into magnum bottles you’d need the magnum bottles: where to find them ?  Running a restaurant and knowing so many wine producers I started asking them for contacts with glass producers.  I got many contacts but what could be found were only normal “Bordelais” bottles which I did not find appropriate for whisky so I kept looking around until I remembered of one bottle of Macallan bottled by Christopher’s of London in 1977 for the Royal Jubilee and I had it in my collection.

 

Well, I checked it and decided that it would have been my bottle.  I called Christopher in London and asked where he bought the bottles, got the name of the glass maker and tried to get in touch but the company had closed.  Well, after some research, I found the glass maker who had bought all the machinery of the closed company so I got in touch.  Yes they had the machinery and the moulds, they sent me the bottle specifications and yes, that was the bottle, so I asked prices.  Well, prices were not bad but minimum quantity was 16.000 units while I was wanting only some 4/500 hundreds or so.   I kept looking everywhere until one friend told me that they had seen one bottle of Port Wine similar to the one that I was looking for and told me where he had seen it.  I went to the shop driving some 200km and bought the bottle, called the producer in Portugal and got the name of the glass maker: Barbosa & Almeida.  I called them and luckily found one person who could speak Italian, asked for samples and then filled an order. As it seemed to me that ordering only one pallet or two was too small of an order I ordered four pallets and had them shipped to Scotland. 

 

I ordered the whiskies: one Port Ellen 16 y.o. and one Strathisla 25 y.o. to commemorate the bicentenary of that distillery (mostly because I had been a guest at the distillery the year before for the celebration so I wanted somehow to thank them). I started to produce the labels and then from Scotland they asked the stoppers for the magnums.  Well this is another long story because you cannot go to a cork stopper producer and ask for some 500 or 600 stoppers only: they produce thousands of stoppers a day. Well, anyway thanks to some friend in the wine trade I could get the stoppers (actually for free as they got compassionate).  In Scotland they were going to bottle the two whiskies so I had to hurry up.  I could not leave as it was high season and the restaurant was very busy so I asked my wife to kindly carry to Elgin two big cases containing the stoppers. She flew to London, went by night train to Inverness, Mr. George and wife Peggy went to meet her, drove her to Elgin and the next day back to Inverness, from there to London and finally at home in Rimini.   I should now go on and tell about making the wooden boxes for the two whiskies, but you might well shoot me down.  Well all of the above happened when there was no internet and fax not always available!

 

You have described the Urquhart family as the key to opening many doors for you. Could you expand on your close relationship with them?

As said before my whisky interest took a different shape and dimension with the help of Mr. George.   Every time I was in Elgin for orders or updates there was a nice long procedure beginning with a good cup of tea in the office on the first floor above the retail shop in Elgin.   Helen Proctor would have brought it and we would have started talking about the various things that might well have happened since last time we had met; a few stories about families and some related to whisky then, if it was the right time, we would have gone for lunch at Enrico’s, an Italian old style restaurant close to the offices and run by Enrico from Liguria. 

 

After the lunch it would have been time to fill an order or to plan some future bottling looking at was eventually available.  Of course sometimes I was staying in Elgin more than one day so we would have planned a drive around and Mr. George would have taken me for dinner in some other nice restaurant.  Then  it was the turn for Mr. George and Mrs. Peggy to come over to Italy-  That happened quite a few times as they liked very much the trip that always lasted a couple of weeks and included different stops as they had various appointments around. One year they arrived in Rimini just the day after the birth of my son so they came and visited my wife and son still at the hospital bringing a small teddy bear.

 

What characteristics did you look for when reviewing casks to be bottled under the Intertrade label?

The procedure was simple. It would have started with a request based on different distilleries that were available and a bracket of age.   I would then go to Elgin and make an assessment of the four or five samples for each distillery that had been made available then take back home with me the two samples each that I liked better for the definitive choice.

 

Richard Paterson aided in the selection of some of your whiskies, can you tell us more about this?

I had met Richard Paterson in the early ‘80s when invited by Whyte & MacKay for a whisky experience in Scotland and he showed to be very friendly and to have the great nose and capacity of appreciation that everybody knows now, so on a couple of occasions I handed him the samples that I had with me asking to review them.  

 

This went on just for a few times as I realised that it was not the case to keep bothering him with my samples as it would not have been a simple friendly matter but would have taken the shape of business/work and that would not have been correct. 

 

Did you have a relationship with fellow Italian contemporaries of the time such as Silvano Samaroli, Pepi Mongiardino and Rino Mainardi?

Of course I knew Samaroli and Mongiardino as companies but not personally.  I became friend with Silvano Samaroli and in good relations with Pepi Mongiardino only after I started High Spirits, while I used to know Rino Mainardi since the late ‘70s and then it happened that both of us were importing by Gordon & MacPhail

 

Do you have any regrets? Any special casks you once turned down perhaps? Or a spirit category you didn’t explore?

To tell it with the words of Frank Sinatra: Regrets, I have had a few but then again too few to mention, I did what I had to do.  Thinking to that now when after all it is easy to judge I can say that I should have asked for more casks to Gordon & MacPhail and produce more bottlings. In addition to that more recently, at the beginning of this century, with High Spirits, I had an offer from a good broker of some 11 very interesting casks.  I could not afford the price requested (that actually was very good and convenient) so I bought only 5.  When a few months later I went back having put together enough money to buy the remaining, the parcel had gone. So I did what I had to do, I did it my way (too easy to judge it now).

 

Many of the whiskies you selected in the 1980s are now regarded as some of the most highly prized in terms of quality and variety. In your opinion, what specifically has captured the appreciation of whisky connoisseurs?

It simply happened.  It happened that somebody (I mean somebody with a good nose/palate, running a blog and with a wide audience) had the chance to taste them and honestly liked them. They were good but maybe there was more around that had not been assessed.  Once published the tasting notes others would have tried (if they had the chance to do it) and maybe agreed while others would have taken it for good and spread the voice even without trying.  I’m sure that for everything special there is something even more special that has not had the chance to be discovered. And this applies to almost everything. We are human and limited.

 

Can you tell us about the beautiful labels on your Intertrade and High Spirits whiskies? Was this an important feature of the overall product for you? Did you provide inspiration for the designs?

That has been fun.  At the time most normal whisky releases had a very dull presentation; the independent Italian bottlers first of all showed good style and fantasy, see Moon Import followed by Silvano Samaroli. I thought that it had to be done so and I did it my way trying inspiration from very old books/labels and using the skills of an artist that was a good friend of mine. 

 

We slowly started with some ideas then went on adjusting it, putting on a bottle and keep there for a few days to check the result and maybe change and adjust again. Many expressions had been hand numbered and that was done from another friend who always did it from the very beginning and still does it today.  I wanted to produce something that I liked both inside and outside the bottle.  Now almost everybody produces very nice labels and some are absolutely beautiful.  Even some of the big companies now invest much, really much, in the appearance of labels and packaging.  Now fantasy has no limits, we started it all but in a very shy and simple way.

 

Which are your favourite Scotch distilleries? And do you have a favourite distillery you believe is under-rated but produce great spirit?

Of course I have favourite distilleries but mostly for affection because they are linked to personal sweet memories.

 

In one case, one winter night with plenty snow very early ‘80s, I was driving toward Elgin but there was too much snow and I was too tired so decided to stop when I was close to a village off the main road: Boat of Garten. No mobile phones, no internet, the only way was to divert and pop in looking for some food and accommodation. I checked into a nice small hotel too late for dinner but they kindly offered freshly made sandwiches. There was a log fire so I relaxed on a comfortable armchair and ordered one whisky.  Maybe owing to the fact that I was in a nice place, enjoying the comfort of a log fire, with lots of snow outside the result was that I loved that dram so I repeated and asked what was it: a Glenfarclas 15 y.o. I immediately decided that it had been the best dram ever. 

 

Similar suggestions occurred with other whiskies and situations and they all became my favourites. Talking about underrated distilleries we, now and then, spot some expression distilled from a less known distillery but aged or finished in a very good wood, easily from independent bottlers, and that surprises everybody.  We now know that the wood makes much of the difference so it can happen to find gems from less known distilleries.

 

Can you select a few personal favourites from the Intertrade portfolio over the years?

I would say the Ardbegs 1975 and 1974 and the ex-sherry Longmorns.

 

What should we be keeping a look out for? What’s next for High Spirits?

Probably not easy to find gems now, maybe good daily drams. I have one collection of six malts in the pipeline right now and one good set for next winter.  Again I’ll do it my way.  Slainte!

 

Whisky Auctioneer regularly welcomes rare and collectible expressions by Nadi Fiori in our monthly auctions. Browse all past and present Intertrade lots or contact us if you are interested in selling a bottle of Intertrade. If you enjoyed our interview with Nadi Fiori, please also download our Ultimate Guide to Intertrade