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.
“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 Rome” 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.