Category Archives: Franco Bernabei

Acinatico 1928-Bertani Family Special Reserve

When I was talking to Giovanni Bertani of the Tenuta Santa Maria Alla Pieve winery last year about Amarone he mentioned that they had a number of bottles of Recioto from the 1928 vintage and the wine had a very unusual history, He said that next time he came to NYC he would bring some of the bottles to taste and explain their unique story.

Giovanni was a good as his word and  next time I saw him I was able to taste a wine that was 85 years old.

Tenuta Santa Maria Alla Pieve was established in 1991 by Gaetano Bertani.  They are the former owners of “Bertani” The property had been owned by the Bertani family since the 1860’s and managed by Gaetano since 1971. Today Giovanni and Gugliemo, his two sons, assist him. Gaetano is the wine maker and the consulting enologist is Franco Bernabei

Acinatico 1928IMG_2843

Giovanni said that the name Acinatico derives from the Latin, acinaticum, signifying grape or grape stone, and is the ancient name for Veronese Recioto wines. The 1928 vintage was a blend of grapes, Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Molinara and Sangiovese, and was exposed to an unusually extended drying period at the Bertani family cellars in the Valpolicella-Valpantena DOC.

He said that Piero Venturi, a long-time cellar master, vividly recalled the singular conditions of the 1928 vintage: hot, above-average temperatures and little precipitation, followed by an exceptionally cold, dry winter – in short, ideal conditions from which to produce a Recioto of truly outstanding quality. According to Venturi, the grape skins were exposed to a particularly long maturation, favoring especially high sugar content.

The 1928 Acinatico was aged in a 60-hectoliter oak barrel, which exists to this day. In 1938, after about 10 years of barrel aging, the wine was bottled in specially purchased handmade bottles bought from a supplier in Verona. Such bottles were reserved exclusively for use with the finest wines of the period, such as Recioto, Marsala and Port.

In 1940, soon after the outbreak of WWII, German soldiers were staying in a villa adjacent to the Bertani family’s cellar. Faced with loss of their entire stocks to thirsty German troops, the family determined to preserve at least their very best wines. Giovanni said he was told that the German troops were drinking and breaking everything in sight. The Acinatico was discreetly moved to the family’s Saccole farmstead. They borrowed bottles from all their neighbors to bottle the wine that was still in the barrel and carefully walled them in, to remain lost from sight and from mind, destined not to see the light of day for the next 40 years.

That was until 1984 when laborers carrying out construction work uncovered this extraordinary and forgotten cache of wine. Wood cases containing 7,500 bottles of the precious wine were carefully removed and returned to their original resting place in the Bertani family cellars as an important part of the family’s heritage.

Giovanni said that tastings showed that the wine was perfectly conserved and its enological condition was spectacular, due to the excellent storage conditions, a 17.8% alcohol content and an acidity level of 0.33%. He reports that a bottle recently opened was re-corked and then subsequently re-opened the next day – its freshness was astonishing.

Soon after the bottles were discovered, a decision was made that they would not be sold but preserved instead for special occasions. Four bottles were, however, put up for auction by Christie’s New York on January 12, 2001 and sold to a single buyer for $9,200.  Giovanni said that about 2,500 bottles remain in their cellars today.

I could not believe that this wine was so old. It is complex, elegant and well balanced. It had all the classic aromas and flavors of a classic mature Recioto, cooked prunes, raisins, figs, chocolate and a touch of spice.

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Filed under Acinatico 1928, Bertani, Franco Bernabei, Recioto, Tenuta Santa Maria Alla Pieve

An Historic Wine Producing Family of the Veneto

Franco Bernabei is the consulting enologist for two different wineries in the Veneto and it was interesting to taste these wines on successive days.  Franco was present on one day, but not at the tasting the next day of the wines of Tenuta Santa Maria Alla Pieve.

Giovanni Bertani

Representing the winery was Giovanni Bertani.  Before the tasting and lunch at the Club Metropolitan in the Metropolitan Tower, I had a chance to chat with him about his winery and the other wines of the Valpolicella and Soave areas.  Giovanni began the tasting by saying that his historic wine producing family has put their love of the Veneto and passion for wine into making high quality handcrafted wines at the Tenuta Santa Maria Alla Pieve winery.

Tenuta Santa Maria Alla Pieve was established in 1991 by Gaetano Bertani. The property had been owned by the Bertani family since the 1860’s and managed by Gaetano since 1971. Today Giovanni and Gugliemo, his two sons, assist him. Gaetano is the wine maker and the consulting enologist is Franco Bernabei.

The 21 hectare property is located at the border between the Valpolicella DOC and the Soave DOC areas. It is 16 kilometers from Verona inside the Val d’ Illasi zone which was colonized by the Romans since the Second Century B.C. The Pietra Romana, a Roman stone which lies in front of the Villa, has become the estate’s logo and is on the labels. Tenuta Santa Maria is part of the Colognola ai Colli commune.

The Tenuta Santa Maria alla Pieve wines were different from the wines I tasted the day before.  As Giovanni indicated, his father Gaetano is a hands-on winemaker and Bernabei is the consultant.

On the subject of new oak Giovanni said that the new oak barriques that they have are mostly for the Merlot ant the other barriques are second and thrid passage.

The Wines of Tenuta Sanata Maria Alla Pieve

Soave “Lepia” 2010 IGT made from 100% Garganega Veronese. The soil is clay with calcareous-marly subsoil. The training system is the pergoletta, and there are 3,800 ines per hectare. The grapes are harvested in September at different times of ripening and crushed separately, with cold pre-fermentation skin contact. The grapes are gently pressed and fermented. The wine is blended in January and racked in stainless steel tanks with the thin lees. Then there is a short bottle refinement. The wine has flavors and aromas of pears and peaches with a hint of almonds and nice minerality. I like this Soave because it reflects the indigenous grape and the terroir. $22

Chardonnay “Torre Pieve” 2008 IGT 100% Chardonnay. Giovanni explained that the training system is rammed cord of 9,500 vines per hectare with a maximum height of vegetation of 125 cm from the ground, a distance between each row of 110 cm, and from vineyard to vineyard one meter. He added that due to the training system, 80% of the work in the vineyard is done mechanically. The grapes are picked in the first half of September and cooled down a few degrees before pressing. The must rests to separate itself from the sediment. 50% of the wine is fermented and aged in new Allier barriques for about 150/180 days. The remainder is fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel containers. In February/ March the wine is assembled and stored at an ideal temperature for another six months.  It remains in bottle for another 4 months before release. The wine has aromas and flavors of fresh fruit with hints of pineapple, citrus and a touch of banana. $35

Veneto  Praga” IGT 2010 Made from Shiraz and Merlot selected from three different clones. The training is rammed cord and there are 9,500 vines per hectare. Because of the high density of the vines, more than 80% of the vineyard’s management is mechanical. The winter pruning and the green harvest in spring and summer are done by hand.

The grapes are picked in the second half of September after reaching full ripening. Vinification is conducted with low temperature maceration and temperature controlled fermentation. After pressing, malolactic fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks. The wine is kept in bottle for a short period before release. It was interesting to taste a wine made from these grapes aged in stainless steel. It is an elegant wine with hints of black cherries, blueberries and a hint of black pepper. Giovanni said that they wanted to produce a wine from international grapes that expressed the local terroir with the natural flavors of the grapes. $22

Valpolicella Ripasso 2009 DOC made from 75% Corvina, !0% Rondinella and 15% Corvinone. The vineyards are located on clay hills with calcareous layers. The training system is the pergoletta, there are 5,600 vines per hectare and the harvest is by hand at the end of September. In the middle of October when the grapes have reached their optimal maturation and sugar level, they are pressed and fermented in temperature controlled stainless tanks for 25/30 days with daily pump over. The wine is later macerated and fermented a second time on the skins and raisins of the grapes used for Amarone, which are still rich in sugar.  This is followed by 24 months of aging in tonneaux and barriques where malolactic fermentation takes place. The wine is then aged for 6 months in bottle before release. $35

Giovanni said that a new law was passed that limited the production of the Ripasso wines. For every bottle of Amarone produced they are only allowed to produce two bottles of the Ripasso. 

Decima Aurea 2007 Veneto IGT made from 100% Merlot from 3 different clones. Giovanni explained that this wine was expressing the local terroir with an international grape variety by combining Merlot with the Veronese tradition of the drying process known as appassimento.

The vineyard is situated in the Val d’Illassi, 10 miles east of Verona, with north to south exposure on a slightly sloping hill. The soil is primary clay with deep calcareous layers.  Giovanni said the training system was rammed cord but the winter pruning, selection of spring buds, the thinning of the branches and the harvesting for part of the Merlot, which is usually done mechanically for the light appassimento style is done by hand.  Some of the grapes are picked in late September and left to dry for about a month in protected airy locales on the estate. Another part of the harvest takes place in the beginning of October when grapes are becoming over ripe. The two harvests are separated, low–temperature maceration and temperature-controlled fermentation takes place and then they are blended for fining in oak barriques for about 14 months. The wine remains in the bottle for a brief period before release. This wine was the most modern in style that I tasted and lovers of California wines will enjoy it. $45

Valpolicella Ripasso 2009 DOC made from 75% Corvina, !0% Rondinella and 15% Corvinone. The vineyards are located on clay hills with calcareous layers. The training system is the pergoletta, there are 5,600 vines per hectare and the harvest is by hand at the end of September. In the middle of October when the grapes have reached their optimal maturation and sugar level, they are pressed and fermented in temperature controlled stainless tanks for 25/30 days with daily pump over. The wine is later macerated and fermented a second time on the skins and raisins of the grapes used for Amarone, which are still rich in sugar.  This is followed by 24 months of aging in tonneaux and barriques where malolactic fermentation takes place. The wine is then aged for 6 months in bottle before release. $35

Giovanni said that a new law was passed that limited the production of the Ripasso wines. For every bottle of Amarone produced they are only allowed to produce two bottles of the Ripasso.

Amarone Della Valpolicella DOC 2006 made from 75% Corvina, 10% Rondinella and 15% Corvinone. The training system is the pergoletta and there are 5,600 vines per hectare. The grapes are hand harvested and placed in wooden trays inside rooms with well-circulated air for 4/5 months. In the middle of January after reaching their desired sugar content and losing 25%/30% of their weight, the almost raisin like grapes are pressed and fermented for 25/30 days at controlled temperatures with daily pumping over. After a period of decantation and refining in French barriques and Italian oak tonneaux, where malolactic fermentation takes place. After 48 months the wine is bottled and remains for 6 months before release. It is a complex and elegant wine with hints of dried cherries, prunes and spice. The finish is very long and there is a lingering aftertaste. $90

 

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Filed under Amarone, Franco Bernabei, Italian Red Wine, Italian White Wine, Italian Wine, Ripasso, Soave, Tenuta Santa Maria Alla Pieve, Valpolicella

Franco Bernabei and the Wines of Sartori di Verona

Franco Bernabei is one of Italy’s top enologists.  Recently, he was in New York to speak about the wines of Sartori di Verona at SD26, one of my favorite Italian restaurants.  I have always admired Franco’s work and his honesty. Many years ago I asked him a question about the wines of Piedmont and his answer was “I do not know because I do not consult for any wineries there.”

Andrea Sartori, President, Sartori di Verona, introduced his wines and told us the history of his families’ involvement in wine dating back to 1898.  He said that in 2002 they owned only 37 acres of vineyards.  They purchased additional grapes from individual growers with long-term contracts.  This was not enough, however since  the average vineyard property in the Veneto is just 4.2 acres.   Mr. Sartori was able to solve this problem by establishing a joint venture with the 800 member Cantina Colognola di Colli.  The Cantina received a small percentage of shares in Sartori, and in exchange Sartori acquired exclusive access to 5,681 acres of vineyards in the Soave and Valpolicella zone. With more mergers and acquisitions, the newly named Collis Veneto Wine Group now has over 3,000 members making it the third largest in Italy.

Franco Bernabei

As all of this was happening Mr. Sartori recruited Franco Bernabei as the consulting enologist.  That was almost ten years ago. Franco lives in Tuscany but was born in the Veneto.  He has a small consulting company which he runs with his sons. Andrea pointed out that Franco is a hands on consultant and is more than willing to share information.

The Wines

Bianco Veronese “Ferdi” 2009 IGT made from100% Garganega. There is a careful selection of handpicked grapes from different vineyards that are partially dried in small boxes for 30- 40 days (appassimento) in order to reduce water and concentrate sugar content and color. Franco said that there is 3 grams of sugar per litter in the wine but this was balanced by the acidity. There is a light cold soaking. The pressing of the grapes is followed by a short skin maceration at a low temperature.

Part of the must is fermented in 500-liter oak tonneaux but the oak is not new. The remainder is aged in stainless steel. The wine is then left to mature on its lees for 6/7 months. Franco said that this adds mouth feel and intensity. The wine is aged in bottle for at least 3 months before release. The wine has subtle floral notes with hints of pears and apricots and good acidity.  $14

On the subject of new oak, Franco said that it was too aggressive and masks the flavor of the grape. He feels you must taste the skins of the grape in the wine, like chewing on the grape, and the acidity and tannins must be there. When you drink a wine there should a sense of place, where the wine comes from, the climate, the soil and the grape.

Rosso Veronese “Regolo” 2007 IGT. 100% Corvina. There is a careful selection of grapes from the vineyards in the hilly area of Valpolicella north of Verona. A gentle pressing of the grapes is followed by skin maceration at low temperatures between 15/18 days. In February following the harvest the wine goes through the ripasso process, resting on the lees of Amarone. Franco said that only a small percentage of the wine undergoes the rispasso process and added that none of the grapes are dried; he did not want to make a “baby” Amarone. After malolactic fermentation the wine is aged for 18/24months in barriques and medium to large oak casks and remains in the bottle for a minimum 6 months before release. This is a wine with red berry aromas and flavors, good structure, hints of cherry and good acidity.  The wine is named for Regolo, patriarch of the Sartori family and cofounder of the company. $19

Again Franco made the point that the barriques used are all second and third passage. He also repeated that the wine must taste like the skins of the grapes, a point that he stressed a number of times. If the wood is new you will also lose the minerality in the wine. The bottom line to all of this is that if there is too much wood all the wine begins to taste the same.

Franco said that 2007 was a great vintage in the Verona area.

Amarone Della Valpolicella 2008 DOC, made from 50% Corvina Veronese, 30% Corvinone, 15% Rondinella and 5% Cabernet. Franco said that this is the only wine that has an international grape. The 5% of Cabernet Sauvignon is reduced to 2 or 3% after the drying takes place. The grapes are dried on racks for 100 days to concentrate their sugar content.  Franco said that they do not dry their grapes in temperature-controlled warehouses but just use fans because of the humidity. There is great attention to detail and the grapes are checked every day to see that they are in perfect condition. After the drying the grapes are cold soaked to regenerate the skins like a sponge. Traditional pressing and fermentation are followed by a minimum of 3 years of aging in Slavonian oak. Franco does not want the Amarone to go over 15% alcohol. The wine has aromas and flavors of dried fruits raisins, cherry with a hint of spice in the finish. $40

Amarone Della Valpoicella Classico “Corte Brà” 2006 DOC. 50% Corvina Veronese, 30% Corvinone, 15% Rondinella and 5% Oselta. The grapes come from the Corte Brà vineyard in the hills north of Verona. The grapes for this wine are carefully selected, placed in small crates and dried in well-ventilated rooms with fans for 3 to 4 momths. When optimal dryness is reached, a hand selection of the best grapes takes place and the grapes are fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks for about 30 days. The wine is transferred to traditional tanks for malolactic fermentation. It is then aged in Slavonian oak casks and French Tonneaux for about 4 years. It remains in the bottle for another 2 years before release. Franco wants to release the wine when he feels it is ready. This is a classic Amarone that will age $52

Franco also said that he did not want to make jammy Amorone that tasted like dessert wine and did not go with food. All of the red wines had a good balance between fruit and acidity. He feels that all of these wines are food wines. This wine was the perfect match for the Amarone braised beef cheeks with caramelized onion & polenta taragna that we enjoyed for lunch.

Amarone Della Valpolicella “Corte Brà” 1995 $NA. This wine was made before Franco Bernabei became the consulting enologist. The wine was still drinking but was showing too much age for an Amarone that was less than 20 years old.

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Filed under Amarone, Franco Bernabei, Italian Red Wine, Italian Wine, Sartori di Verona, Veneto