Sartori Luncheon, Great Reds, and a White You Should Taste


With the work of harvest and winemaking from the previous vintage in the rear view, springtime is when winemakers and their marketing troupes hit the road to meet, greet, pour, and tout their wines.  For me, spring is tasting season, as opportunities abound to revisit familiar wines and discover new ones.  Today, I attended a luncheon with Anrdrea Sartori and winemaker Franco Bernabei of Sartori Winery in Verona.  The luncheon was also attended by our hosts, Lars Leicht, Tim Ryan, and Joe Janish of Banfi ; and a small group of local wine writers and bloggers.

We tasted a Pinot Grigio, a “special” wine from the Garganega grape (More below), a Pinot Nero, a basic Valpolicella, an entry level Amarone 2010, along with Corte Bra 2007 – a great vintage from a single-vineyard site with 25 year old vines and “I Saltari” 2001, a wine produced from 50 year old vines.

I arrived late to the luncheon, so I pounded the Pinot Grigio in true patio spirit. We tasted the Valpolicella and Pinot Nero between courses.  Each was a well-made wine that reflected the conscientious approach of winemaker Franco Bernabei.  The Amarones were paired with a lamb ragout over rigatoni.  The pairing brought out the best of all three Amarones, each creating a different profile.  This was a great illustration of how different wines can change the character of a dish, or vice-versa.  Based on the vintages sampled and the reputation of the producer, it is not surprising that all the Amarones were excellent.

Much is written about Amarone, Brunello, Barolo, and Barbaresco.  Even the most casual Italophile has had some experience with at least a few of these great Italian reds.  I would never dedicate and entire blog entry with another report of great wines consumed, unless I felt I could impart some useful information.   I prefer to relate my discoveries and, hopefully, lead you to your own.

With that said, I shift my focus to Italian whites.

I have seen many Italian winemakers known for producing fantastic reds show great pride and enthusiasm when introducing their whites.   These whites from red wine country are often overlooked by consumers, or simply lost in the shuffle.  Often, these wines show better at the table with a meal than they would at a walk-through tasting.  (Go figure) So, our luncheon was the perfect setting to introduce the wine that was the biggest surprise of the day.

sartori_ferdi-168x450“Ferdi” is a Veronese IGT white made in the Amarone style from the Garganega grape.   According to Franco, the grapes for this wine are picked early, while they are still under ripe.  The idea is to capture acidity that will maintain freshness in the finished wine.   As with Amarone, the grapes are air-dried to concentrate sugars and intensify flavor.   Both oak casks and stainless steel are used for fermentation.  The wine is then aged on its lees for around 7 months.   A hint of residual was left to enhance the fruit character and balance acidity.

The “Ferdi” did that very cool thing that many Italian white wines do with food.  Despite its fruit character and hint of sweetness, it became savory.  Franco made it a point that we would revisit this wine later.  After tasting through the Pinot Noir, the Valpolicella, and the Amarones, Franco requested fresh glasses for the table.  Waiters re-poured the “Ferdi”.  The revisit made the point that Franco intended.  The “Ferdi” did not fade, but rather, refreshed the palette.  After the Amarones, the sweetness of the wine seemed more pronounced.  As this was the case, the wine performed as a light dry dessert wine…Very cool indeed.  FYI, the “Ferdi” retails for around $17.

If you refer back to my blog “When in Romecantina-valdadige-pinot-grigio-ramato-doc-515717” which highlights my first encounter with Frascati, you will understand where my growing fascination with the whites of Italy as food wines began.  Currently, I am turning people on to Soave from Veneto, Insolia and Grillo from Sicily, Vermintino from Sardegna, Friulano from the Grave, and most certainly, Frascati to name a few.  Frankly, it is a shame that many people never get beyond Pinot Grigio when sampling Italian whites.  However, even Pinot Grigio can be surprising.  Try a “Ramatto”, a copper-colored Pinot Grigio made with skin contact to extract the “Grigio” from the Pinot.  For the most part, when it comes to Italian whites, most will be best appreciated with food.  A little experimentation will add life to your cuisine.  As the world of wine becomes a smaller place, the underappreciated Italian whites may be one of the last frontiers.

Seavey Vineyard – California Wines for the Cellar

I had the pleasure of meeting Arthur Seavey of Seavey Vineyard yesterday.  He was in Houston briefly, to tell the Seavey story and offer samples of the Seavey wines.  Seavey is a family-owned vineyard that by all definitions, qualifies as a boutique operation.   Production is miniscule and all wines are estate produced.

IMAG1445Winemaker Jim Duane brings extensive knowledge of winemaking, with a Master’s Degree in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis.  Before joining the Seavey team in 2011, he worked with Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.  He has focused on Bordeaux varietals throughout his career.  He approaches his winemaking with a Bordeaux sensibility.

Phillipe Melka, who has worked with Haut Brion, Dominus, Hundred Acre, and Quintessa, and Vineyard 29 to name a few, is consulting winemaker.

Seavey produces three bottlings, a Merlot, the Seavey Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cavalina, the Estate’s second wine.   We tasted the 2007 Merlot, which was firm and muscular, not a “fluffy” wine.  The structure of Merlot is attributed by 25% Cabernet Sauvignon included in the blend.   The Cavalina 2009 is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  It is a structured, complex wine with dark fruits, and aromas of toasted coffee.  I tasted this wine late last year and was still a little disjointed.  Six months in the bottle has allowed this wine to integrate.  It is still very young, but becoming approachable.  It should drink well for at least another 10 years.  The Seavey Cabernet Sauvingnon 2007 is a beast!  The flagship wine of the estate is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and generous 15% Petit Verdot.  The wine is completely opaque, with color that clings to the inside of the glass.  It is brooding and complex with ample black fruits, coffee, and a very interesting smoky undertone.  This wine closely follows Parker’s Bordeaux palette.  Her scored it 96+!!  This is completely justified as this wine is a keeper for the cellar, easily a 30-year wine.

It was a great opportunity to visit and revisit these wines.  I would reference my blog on “Searching for Terroir in the California Wine Country – and Finding It”.  The Seavey wines are serious wines for serious wine consumers.  They are bold, and unapologetic, needing time to unwind and show their true potential.  The Family holds back about 20% of their production each vintage with this in mind.  Currently, an 18-bottle vertical that includes wines from 1990-2007 is available – what fun!  I look forward to visiting the Seavey Estate next time I travel to Napa.


Expression Wines – Tasted May 2013


I had the opportunity to meet with Kevin O’brien, general manager of Expression and Tetra Wines and taste through the portfolio yesterday.   The Expression brand includes Pinot Noirs from Oregon, labeled Expression 44, Anderson Valley – Expression 39, and Sonoma Coast – Expression 38.  The numbers refer to the relative latitude where the vineyards are located.  We also visited the Expression 38 Chardonnay in both the entry-level bottling and the single-vineyard Gaps Crown bottling.  Tetra is a blend of four Bordeaux varietals (thus the “Tetra”) from the Napa Valley.

Since we began our relationship with the Sorting Table, the Expression and Tetra wines nearly instantly became a customer favorite.  It is not surprising as the quality and value of these wines is evident throughout the group.  Chardonnays are vinted in the same manner at the basic and single-vineyard levels with minimal oak and a slight lees influence.  The balance these wines exhibit make them both food and palette-friendly.  The Pinots exhibit a range of styles with the California wines showing more fruit, the Oregon wines slightly more earth and higher acidity.  ABV levels hover around the high 13s, with a couple reaching a still reasonable 14.1%.  All walk and talk like Pinot Noir.

My personal favorites from this tasting were the following:  Gaps Crown Chardonnay, which, has great varietal intensity and richness, without being over-the-top; the Expression 44 Pinots from Oregon continue to shine.  The 2009 Anahala Anderson Valley Pinot Noir surprised me, as it exhibited more earth than on my previous tasting late last year.  This evolution could indicate a fast development trajectory.  Kevin promised to send samples of some 2006 bottlings, so we will see how some of these wines develop over a slightly longer period.  Either way, there is no need to wait.  Everything we tasted is drinking beautifully now.

We finished our tasting with the Tetra 2008.  This wine continues to excel in its price category.  If you follow scores, the Wine Enthusiast has given scores of 92 or higher for the previous two vintages.  The 2008 scored 94 and is reviewed as follows:

Very delicious and luscious, but no mere fruit bomb. It has the tannic-acidic structure and dryness to make it refined, but explodes on the palate with blackberry, chocolate, cassis, anise and sweet, smoky cedar flavors that are deep and long. Tastes important and first rate. — S.H. (12/1/2011)

A second taste was required just to be sure.  First impression confirmed – Good Juice!

This day was one that I had to brush the purple off my teeth by mid-afternoon.  After tasting a lot of wine, the Expression group definitely had more than a few standouts.  Expression and Tetra have something to please a variety of palettes, and the prices are commensurate with the quality and value of the wines.  It was a welcome break in my afternoon. Come again soon!