Dinner With Andrea Sartori and Franco Bernabei
at Elisir

Andrea SartoriWhen Andrea Sartori (pictured to left) took over management of the family winery Sartori di Verona in 2000, he embarked on a mission to improve the quality of Sartori wines. One of his most significant early moves was to recruit one of Italy's foremost consulting winemakers, Franco Bernabei, in 2003. We recently had the opportunity to dine and taste Sartori wines with Andrea and Franco at Elisir, one of Washington DC's premier Italian restaurants. Chef Engo Fargione is the creative force behind the sumptuous dishes we paired with Sartori wines.

Franco (pictured to right) and Andrea have introduced a number of changes in the vineyard and in the winery to improve quality. The traditional pergola trellising was replaced with a variant of Guyot, while careful canopy management reduced yields to about one kilo of fruit per vine. At harvest the fruit is carefully picked to avoid breaking the skins, and only the best grapes are selected for the Amarone wines.Franco Bernabei

The wine Sartori 2009 Ferdi Garganega exemplifies these changes. Garganega, of course, is the grape of Soave, but, unlike traditional Soave, Ferdi is made by first drying the grapes for 30-40 days After a short, cold soak, the grapes are pressed and fermented in a combination of oak and stainless steel, and aged on the fine lees for several months. It is, in effect, a white Amarone. The resulting wine is aromatic and intensely flavored with notes of yellow flowers, honeycomb, and stonefruit, finishing with rich extract. The wine paired beautifully with our appetizers, which included a Carpaccio di Branzino and a Composta di Melanzane e Pomodori [terrine of eggplant and tomato].

Our second wine was the Sartori 2007 Regolo Rosso Veronese IGT, made of 100% Corvina Veronese, a portion of which is dried rispasso style prior to pressing. After fermentation, the wine is aged for 18 months in a combination of large oak casks and stainless steel tanks. The wine is fruit forward with a core of blackberry and notes of bright red cherry. It's superbly balanced with good acidity and firm tannins that make it a perfect food companion. We tried it with Sushi Italiano made with goat cheese, mushroom, and asparagus with a balsamic dipping sauce and with a Tortelli di Porcini e Vitello [porcini and veal pasta]. The wine was just the right weight and freshness for these two dishes.

AmaroneThe third wine was the Sartori 2008 Amarone della Valpolicella, like all Amarones a blend of Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, and Molinara. After air drying on wooden racks for 100 days, the fruit is given a cold soak and fermented at a low temperature to preserve fruit and freshness. It then spends a minimum of 3 years in Slavonian botti. The wine shows layered blackberry, cherry and chocolate aromas and flavors, but what is most notable is its depth and complexity. This wine paired magnificently with Elisir's Filetto di Vitello e Animelle Arrosto [veal and sweetbreads].

The Sartori 2006 Amarone Corte Brá came next. The fruit for this wine is a meticulously sorted selection from the 40 year old Corte Brá vineyard in the northern hills of Verona. The grapes are air dried for 3-4 months, then given a cold soak to reconstitute the skin, pressed and fermented for about 30 days in stainless steel. It is aged in oak botti and tonneau of various sizes for 4 years before bottling. In terms of aromas and flavors, it is similar to the regular Amarone, but the palate feel is incredibly smooth and unctuous with a dense, extracted finish. Despite the drying of the fruit and the extensive oak aging, the wine retains a fruity freshness. It paired beautifully with the Carre di Agnello col Cuore [roast loin and heart of lamb].

The tasting ended with an older, 1995 Amarone Corte Brá, which demonstrates how well Amarone can age, at least one from an outstanding vintage. It's an exotic wine showing a bouquet of Asian spices, dried porcinis, licorice, blackberry and a hint of mint and a velvet palate of secondary flavors like mushroom, leather, and forest floor.

We thank Lars Leicht, Director of Communications, Banfi Vintners, for organizing this fabulous dinner and tasting and look forward to tasting other Sartori wines in the near future.

Mike Potashnik and Don Winkler

April 2012