Franco Bernabei wines of Sartori di Verona at Spiaggia

Last week I had the pleasure to have dinner with Andrea Sartori of Sartori di Verona, and his winemaker, Franco Bernabei at one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Chicago, Spiaggia.  The marriage of a Tuscan winemaker with Veneto wines and this amazing Tony Mantuano restaurant was too big to miss!  

The Sartori family has been making wine for over 110 years, and started very small with just 37 acres as of 2002.  This quickly grew when they secured over 5000 acres from a partnership with Cantina Colognona di Colli of Soave and Valpolicella.  Later, the family secured the services of Franco Bernabei, a well known winemaker known all over "the boot" as a master,  Needless to say, I was anxious to try the food and wine.

Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio

We started with the Ferdi Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir (under $15), both of which were light, acidic and dry, exactly how I enjoy my typical Pinots from the region.  This went well with our Foie Gras, a salty, fatty goose liver, typically served with a sweet fruity sauce (or wine) to counter the saltiness and fat content.  Excellent.

Next we moved onto the Valpolicella reds, starting with a Valpolicella, a light drinking wine blend normally comprised of Corvina and Rondinella varietals.  Quite good, light and fruity with a touch of minerality.  This was followed by Sartori Veronese "Regolo" ($20) 100% Corvina varietal.  This wine goes through an interesting process as it is cold soaked with the grape skins for 15-18 days.  This allows the juice to soak in color, flavor and tannins before fermentation begins.  Later in the year, the wine goes through the Veneto "ripasso" process of passing through the "lees" (fallen yeast) and grape skins of Amarone wine, which still contains much sugar, resulting in a secondary fermentation.  This adds body and complexity.  The wine is named for Regolo, the Patriarch of the Sartori famiglia.  The wine melded well with our mushroom risotto, as the earthiness and minerality mixed with the shrooms, creamy rice and pancetta.

Spiaggia Lamb Chop

Spiaggia Lamb Chop

We then leapt to the Amarone ($43), which is one of Italy's largest wines.  This one is made up Corvina, Rondinella and Oselta varietals which have been laid out on straw mats after harvest to raisinate.  This leaves behind concentrated fruit and sugar, more for the yeast to feast on and create more complexity, body and alcohol.  Always a great treat and fabulous with food, like the lamb chops we had.  Gamey flavors mixed with minerality, herbs, bitterness and fruity body.  A delicious combo.

Franco wanted us to try his Garganega, a white wine he described as having body and complexity, so much so that we could drink after any hearty red, such as an Amarone.  While I do not agree I want to end my night with this (or any) white, I do agree the complexity was there to fully enjoy.  The juice went through an interesting process, as the grapes were hand-picked and dried for over 30 days to reduce water and concentrate sugar and color, then they're cold soaked and macerated on the white skins.  Some of the wine is aged in used barrels and aged "sur lie", then aged 3 months in bottle for great stabilizing.  

A great way to end an amazing evening with amazing people like Franco, Andrea and the rest of the Sartori, Banfi and Spiaggia crew.  Thanks again!

Franco, Me, Lars and Andrea

Franco, Me, Lars and Andrea

Windy City Wine Festival, Naperville Wine Festival & Chicago Gourmet

Summer's end brings more opportunity to enjoy the rest of 2010 and all that Chicagoland has to offer.  Great weather, food and drink is what's on the menu for the next three weekends so get your fall outfits and taste buds ready!

Windy City Wine Festival (Sept. 10 & 11).  Over 300 different wines will be onhand to sample along with food, beer and music.  You will also love the new location- 500 S. Columbus at Buckingham Fountain!  Tickets available for $25 online or $35 at the door.

Naperville Wine Festival (Sept. 17 & 18).  If you live out in the burbs or just want to travel outside the city, this is the perfect venue for you located in the historic Naper Settlement.  Tickets are available for $25 online or $35 at the door.

Chicago Gourmet (Sept. 24-26).  Featuring the best of the best in Chicago's rich culinary scene along with amazing wine tasting.  A weekend full of demonstrations, seminars, food and beverage featuring great names like Rick Bayless, Cat Cora, Jose Garces, Stephanie Izard, Tony Mantuano, Marcus Samuelsson and many more.  It begins with a Hamburger Hop Friday Night Burger Competition (tickets available online for $75) hosted by Allen Bros. Steaks and Blue Moon.  It continues through the weekend with tickets available online starting at $150. 

Also available this month is Dine Around, where special prix-fixe menus will be available at some of Chicago's best restaurants like NoMI, Mercat a la Planxa, Piccolo Sogno and many more.  This gives you a chance to check out some Chicago restaurants you've been dying to try on a budget.  You can also earn yourself a free ticket to Chicago Gourmet by enjoying five different meals at participating Dine Around restaurants.  I can't think of a better way to get the most out of Chicago culinary!

Valdo Prosecco Lunch at Terzo Piano

This past Tuesday I was introduced to the newest sparkling wine producer to hit the Chicago market- Valdo Spumanti.  Their wines were set to be paired with the cuisine at Tony Mantuano's Terzo Piano in the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago.  This would be an all out effort to not only prove the versatility of Prosecco but also the versatility it can bring.

A little bit about Prosecco- it's famous for being crisp, light and fruity, along with being a great value sparkling wine.  It's made from the Glera varietal (formerly known as the Prosecco varietal) in northeast Italy, mostly from the hills surrounding Treviso.  Valdo has been making wine for over 80 years, was purchased by the Bolla family in the 1940s and has dedicated itself to making high quality sparkling wine from hand picked grapes along with single vineyard bottlings, which is rare for Prosecco.  The wines were brought to us by Dr. Pierluigi Bolla, proprietor of Valdo, and were to be paired with three courses prepared by Chef Meg Colleran.  On to the tasting!

We were initially greeted with Valdo Prosecco Brut DOC ($12) and it proved to be just as flavorful as it was aromatic.  Sweet golden apple, white peach, meyer lemon and lilies were coming out of the glass- it'll be hard to keep this wine off my patio this summer!

It was time to start the pairings as we were poured Valdo Cuvée di Boj Prosecco Brut DOCG ($16).  A single vineyard wine from the vaile dei buoi, it is aged for 5 months sur lie and 3 months in the bottle.  This wine is much drier with a longer finish and ripe pear and apple flavor.  The crisp acidity matched well with our tomato salad with cherries, almonds and 8yr Balsalmic vinegar.

The next course would be a big challenge- a rich dish of roasted Miller's skin-onChicken Leg w/ Cous Cous chicken leg with fennel seed, cous cous and Nichols Farm snap peas.  We were poured Valdo Cuvée del Fondatore Prosecco Brut DOCG ($20), another single vineyard Prosecco aged 12 months sur lie, 6 months in the bottle and blended with 10% six month barrel aged Chardonnay to add richness.  The wine was extremely complex and lengthy with tropical fruit, toasted nuts, baking spice and dry, crisp acidity making it drinkable with many rich fish, poultry or meat dishes.

Ricotta FrittersThe last course we tried turned out to be the best thing I ate all day- Ricotta Fritters with sweet corn ice cream, raspberries and plums.  The fritters were crisp and warm on the outside with a slightly sweet cheesy center- just an amazing dessert!  The sweetness and the fruit paired well with Valdo Nerello-Mascalese Brut Rosé ($12), a blend of Prosecco with the dark Sicilian Nerello-Mascalese varietal.  Just red berry fruit and floral harmony with this extreme value of a rosé sparkling wine.

These Prosecco wines were very impressive all the way around- point taken! 

Special thanks to Dr. Pierluigi Bolla, Chef Meg Calleran, Lindsey Johnson of Lush Light Productions for the invite and Marene Babula of Pasternak Wine Imports for being an awesome host.