Saturday, May 11, 2013

Getting to Know Sartori di Verona

“Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…”

I was fortunate to be invited to lunch this week with Italian winemakers Andrea Sartori and Franco Bernabei who create the wines of Sartori di Verona.  Over lunch they discussed their philosophy of winemaking and shared 7 of their lovely wines. 

The Sartori family has been making wine for 4 generations, and Franco Bernabei has been a consulting winemaker with Sartori di Verona for 11 years.  They want their wines to reflect the character of the grapes as well as the uniqueness of the region (its terroir).  They minimize the use of pesticides and fertilizers to keep the soil healthy and produce high quality fruit.  Bernabei says that when you drink the wine “you should feel like you’re chewing a grape.”  They focus on elegance and balance, and it shows in their wine!

The biggest surprise for me was the Pinot Grigio.  I’m usually not a fan of these, since many of them have so little flavor.  Not this one!  This is quite possibly the best Pinot Grigio I’ve ever had.  It retains its crisp freshness while having a lot of juicy fruit on the palate.  So yummy.  (Update:  I'm told the Pinot Grigio is available at certain HEB locations in the Houston area.)

The most unusual wine we tasted, called “Ferdi,” is made from dried Garganega grapes and fermented on the skins (very unusual for a white).  The inspiration for this wine was to make a “white Amarone.”  Amarones are made from dried grapes and very concentrated in flavor.  As a result, Ferdi is a full-bodied white wine that can hold its own when paired with heavier foods that would normally require a red wine.  This is a “super white” – a white wine that can do nearly everything a red can.  And it’s delicious.

The only wine we tasted that I know for certain is available in Houston is the Sartori Amarone della Valpolicella.  Amarones can be overpowering because of their intensity and sometimes high alcohol; they often need to breathe for a long time or to be served with very hearty food.  This one was rich in flavor, but easy to drink.  It maintained its fresh, crisp fruitiness along with the signature earthy flavors of an Amarone.  Spec’s in Houston sells the 2008 vintage for $42.  It is also available by the glass or bottle at Sorrento Ristorante on Westheimer just east of Montrose.

drying grapes for Amarone

We also tasted a Pinot Noir, a Valpolicella, and 2 other Amarones.  All the wines had a lovely balance of fresh fruit and earthiness, with good acidity.  These are incredibly tasty wines, food-friendly, and a great value for the price.  If you run across a Sartori wine, get it!  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.  And if I learn more about where to get them I will post the information here. 

Here are the details on all the wines we tasted:

2012 Sartori Famly Pinot Grigio
Region:  Delle Venezie IGT
Price:  around $12
Tasting Notes:  Pale yellow-green in color, dry, medium body, aromas of citrus, sweet stone fruit, hint of melon, hint of floral, high acid.  The grapes are harvested early for a high acid level, then fermented on the skins for added fruit aroma and flavor.  The wine does not undergo malolactic fermentation.

Grape:  Garganega
Region:  Bianco Veronese IGT
Price:  around $14
Tasting Notes:  These Garganega grapes are harvested slightly early to retain their acidity and dried for 40 days.  Then the juice is fermented, partly in stainless steel and partly in oak, after which it matures on its lees (the dead yeast cells) for several months.  The result is a full-bodied white wine with aromas of rich apricot, subtle citrus, and floral, balanced with a bit of earthiness. 

2010 Sartori Pinot Noir
Region:  Provincia di Pavia IGT
Tasting Notes:  Aromas of cherry, spice, strawberry, cranberry, a hint of vanilla, mushroom, medium-high acid, low tannin, with a long finish.  Again, this had a great balance of light, crisp, fruity, and earthy qualities.  (The winemakers pointed out that this region is located at nearly the same latitude as Burgundy.)

2009 I Saltari Valpolicella
Grapes:  Corvina, Rondinella, Corvinone, Croatina
Region:  Valpolicella Superiore DOC
Price:  around $14
Tasting Notes:  This one is darker and heavier than the Pinot Noir, richer and jammier with red and black fruit aromas and flavors.  It also has more musky, earthy qualities, like tobacco or leather, with a hint of vanilla. 

2010 Sartori Amarone della Valpolicella 
Grapes:  Corvina Veronese, Corvinone, Rondinella, Oseleta
Region:  Amarone della Valpolicella DOC
Tasting Notes:  This smells and tastes of a combination of fresh and dried fruits, bright herbs and cedar, with some hints of cocoa and spice.  Surprisingly easy to drink for an Amarone.

2007 Sartori Corte Bra Amarone della Valpolicella
Grapes:  Corvina Veronese, Corvinone, Rondinella, Oseleta
Region:  Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC
Tasting Notes:  These grapes come from a single vineyard (“Corte Bra”) where the vines are 25 or more years old.  This was another great Amarone, with fresh and dried fruit character, and surprisingly smooth and easy to drink for an Amarone of its age.

2001 I Saltari Amarone della Valpolicella  
Grapes:  Corvina, Rondinella, Corvinone, Croatina
Region:  Amarone della Valpolicella DOC
Tasting Notes:  This Amarone is made from grapevines that are 50 or more years old.  It displays very concentrated dried fruit – raisins, cherries, figs – with herbs, sweet spice, and cedar.  The elegance and balance that Sartori strives for may be most evident in these older, more powerful wines.

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