Harvest 2019 has begun at Zenato and Sansonina (why hand-picking is key)

The grape harvest in Verona province is one of the most beautiful sights you’ll ever see. Nothing can compare, visually, to the picturesque, fully ripe grape bunches on the vine being picked.

But beyond the cinematic, harvest is also the most important moment in the vines’ vegetative cycle. It’s at this moment that the quality of wines the vintage will be set in stone.

The grape grower needs to pick at just the right moment to ensure that the balance between sugar and acidity is perfect. As important as vineyard management and winemaking are, it’s this decision that will determine the ultimate caliber of the wine.

Those are some of the first grapes to be picked in Valpolicella Classica above (you can see more on the Zenato Facebook here).

As you can see in the image, the grapes for Zenato and Sansonina wines are picked by hand. And as any great winemaker will tell you, hand-picking is key in this extremely important moment of the grape’s life, so to speak.

In order to make great wine, the winemaker needs the fruit to arrive in the cellar as pristine as possible. If the skins of the grapes break before fermentation begins, it can cause major problems down the line. Keeping those clusters intact is a top priority for the pickers, who place them gently into crates that are then transported to the winery.

Grape picking is labor-intensive, exhausting work. But it’s thanks to the diligent pickers that the berries will make to the fermentation vats in perfect condition. Without their hard work and care, the entire year’s work would be moot.

Sister Eve, Sister Moon: The story behind the name Evaluna

Nadia Zenato and her mother Carla Prospero, owners of the Sansonina estate, are both iconic women winemakers in their own right.

Each of them have lived and worked in an Italian wine world that was once dominated almost exclusively by men. But today, things are different: There are more prominent women winemakers in Italy than every before. And the current generation of Italian winemakers — Nadia’s generation — is driven in great part by women like her who have stepped up to lead their families’ wineries.

As two of the most famous women in Italian wine, they love to celebrate their family by drawing from historical references to women in literature and culture (including viticulture).

Just recently, here on the blog, we wrote about how the name Sansonina might have been inspired by the legend of a resilient woman who lived on their farm many decades before they acquired it in the 1990s.

And so it was only natural that the Sansonina estate’s second wine would also allude to a historic woman and a symbol of women and femininity: Evaluna, a portmanteau of Eva (meaning Eve, as in Eve and Adam) and luna (meaning moon in Italian).

When Nadia and Carla decided to revive an old Merlot vineyard and plant Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc on this historic estate, their neighbors didn’t exactly think they were crazy. But they wondered why the two women wanted to produce red wines in a land known primarily for its whites (the Lugana appellation to the south of Lake Garda).

And so Evaluna also represented a new “beginning” for the mother-and-daughter team, just as Eve was the first woman in western literature.

The moon, on the other hand, also represents the seasons and the cycles of life, key elements in the development and evolution of the great wines of the world.

Click here to read more about Evaluna, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, a red from the land of whites.

Evaluna at Lidia’s Kansas City where Lidia Bastianich shares her classic Italian cooking

Above: Classic eggplant alla parmigiana, layered with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and tomato at Lidia’s in Kansas City, one of Lidia Bastianich’s beloved restaurants across the U.S.

Our blog master once had the opportunity to sit down with Lidia Bastianich, one of the greatest Italian chefs of our times, and ask her what inspired her to become one of the architects of the current renaissance of Italian gastronomy in the U.S. and across the world.

“When you look at the great beauty of Italy,” she said. “It’s easy to understand why the Italians are such creative people. From the [historic] Renaissance to this day, Italians have made so many contributions to the arts and culture. It was only natural that Italian cooking would do the same.”

“I don’t know if I’ve been an architect of the Italian culinary renaissance as you put it,” she added graciously. “But when I am surrounded by this beauty and the goodness of the ingredients I find here, I know that I am inspired by them.”

It’s hard to overestimate Lidia’s contribution to the world of Italian cuisine. Between her books, her television show, and her wonderful cooking, she’s become a model and a guiding light for a generation of home and professional chefs, cooks, and food lovers.

We couldn’t be more proud that Sansonina Evaluva is being poured by the glass at her namesake restaurant in Kansas City.

Lidia’s Kansas City
101 W 22nd St.
Kansas City MO 64108
(816) 221-3722
Google map

Image via the Lidia’s Kansas City Facebook.

Sansonina Evaluna at Il Palio where one of Italian cuisine’s first ladies reigns

Above: Butternut squash cappellacci tossed in butter and sautéed sage and served over a generous slice of prosciutto, a classic dish from Parma at Margherita Aloi’s Il Palio in Shelton, Connecticut.

Anyone who lived and worked in the New York City food scene in the late 1990s remembers her groundbreaking work at the Manhattan restaurant Le Madri.

Margherita Aloi, born to a family of Piedmontese winemakers, was part of the new wave of Italian cuisine that took shape in the second half of the decade and the next 10 years that followed.

Her food was fantastic (we speak from personal experience) and it represented the then newfound celebration of truly authentic regional Italian gastronomy. It was a time when most Italian restaurants in New York and America were either “northern” or “southern,” even though those designations were essentially meaningless. For those who knew her cooking then, Margherita was widely considered one of the pioneers of the “new” Italian cooking.

But Margherita was also one of the first women in America to emerge as a celebrity chef in an industry where men had dominated the field. Today, the most popular Italian chef in New York is a woman. Back then, women chefs — let along executive chefs like Margherita — were few and far between. Margherita was among the first to break that glass ceiling. And it made her cooking all the more refreshing and compelling.

We couldn’t be more proud that Sansonina Evaluna is currently being served at her Shelton, Connecticut restaurant Il Palio, a dining destination known as much for its ambiance (it’s located in an impressive stone house on a beautiful property) as for its celebration of authentic Italian foodways.

Chef Margherita, chapeau bas!

Il Palio
5 Corporate Dr.
Shelton CT 06484
(203) 944-0770
Google map

Image via the Il Palio Facebook.

James Suckling tastes with Nadia Zenato

Yesterday, celebrated American wine writer James Suckling paid a visit to the Zenato winery in Peschiera del Garda where he and Nadia Zenato tasted a vertical flight of the estate’s Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva.

That’s James, seated left, with Nadia in the winery’s underground tasting and aging room.

An acclaimed journalist and wine writer, James is widely recognized as one of the pioneers of American wine journalism. He was among the first writers to join the staff at the then nascent Wine Spectator in the early 1980s when the publication just had a handful of subscribers.

Just a few short years later, the magazine sent him to live in Paris where he set up its first European tasting office.

It was only natural that the magazine would expand its coverage to include French and Portuguese wines. But it was Suckling’s embrace of Italian wine that marked an epochal shift in how consumers perceived wines from Italy.

James would ultimately relocate to Italy where he became a prolific writer on the country’s wines and one of their first high-profile champions. Perhaps more than any other writer from his generation, James literally put Italy “on the map” of the world’s fine wines.

He recent years, he’s branched out beyond the wine writing world, expanding his work as a philanthropist and film producer.

He’s also a big fan of Zenato’s Amarone. Here’s what he had to say in his most recent review of the Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva:

    Zenato 2013 Amarone della Valpolicella Cl. Ris. Sergio Zenato
    99 points

    This is a huge and impressive wine, but somehow graceful and subtle. It packs an eclectic array of brambleberry compote, violet essence, eucalyptus, oyster shell, pure iodine, vanilla, resin, tar, cassis, plum liqueur and hot stones. You can only stand back in awe as one shade of fruit appears after the next and a barrage of tannin coats your mouth. Yet, this is gentle, agile and flowing. Nevertheless, its main attraction remains its unashamed, monumental power and muscularity. A haunting wine that sends chills down your spine. An epoch-defining wine for Veneto that harks back to the legends of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Perhaps the best Amarone ever made.

Samson and Sansonina: The origin of the name.

Above: Samson slays a lion in a 1628 painting by Flemish master painter Peter Paul Rubens.

No one really knows the origin of the place name Sansonina.

But most concur that it comes from Sansone, the Italian name for Samson, the historical and biblical Israelite judge known for his immense strength, often depicted in literature and art (like the famous painting above).

Purchased by the Zenato family in the 1990s, the site was already renowned in the 18th century for its productivity and richly flavored produce (more on that later).

Some speculate that its “strength” and “energy” inspired the name.

Others point to a legend that a particularly strong-willed named woman lived there: Sansonina, they say, is a feminine version of the masculine Sansone, a nickname given to her because of her remarkable character and resilience in a time when male chauvinism prevailed.

It’s unlikely that we’ll ever know the true origin of the toponym. But the Zenato family likes to point to the gender fluidity of the name (an unusual feminine name derived from a masculine one) as a reflection of the farm’s current “duality”: A prized estate in the land of white wine where a top red wine is produced.

The Lugana DOC where Sansonina is located has been famous for its compelling white wines for a generation now. But when the Zenato family found ancient Merlot vines there, they were intrigued by their presence. They were so impressed by the red wines the vineyard produced that they decided to build a winery there.

It’s all part of the mystique that you can taste in the extraordinary wines produced there.

Image via Wikipedia (Creative Commons).

Celebrity chef Gianfranco Vissani celebrates 40 years with Zenato wines

That’s the main dining room at the legendary CasaVissani in Terni province (Umbria) where celebrity chef Gianfranco Vissani will be celebrating his restaurant’s 40th anniversary tonight with a series of menus highlighting his top dishes from four decades.

Click here to view the incredible line up.

Chef Vissani will also be serving a number of his favorite wines at the event, including the Zenato Cresasso, made from 100 percent Corvina Veronese (it’s one of our favorites, too!).

Congratulations, chef Vissani, on 40 wonderful years! And happy summer vacation, everyone!