Travaasa Austin sommelier, Edward Morgan, embarked on a two-week long journey through Italy, learning the intricacies of Italian winemaking along the way. His adventure thus far has taken him through Piedmont, Veneto and Verona. Here is an excerpt from his incredible Italian saga highlighting his time in the Verona region.
For nearly 100 years, there has been an endurance race that slates the streets of Italy. Drivers from all over the world prime the pump and take to the streets tearing through sleepy towns, pristine country-sides and booming metropolitan areas to be a part in what is now more of a novelty of status rather than a trophy of achievement. The Mille Miglia is one of the most renowned and prestigious open road endurance events in the world – especially to the Italians, who not only invented the race, but also dominate it every year. Names like Ferrari, Alpha Romeo, BMW, Porsche, Aston Martin, Bugatti, Healy and Lancia show up in full force with cars ranging from the turn of the century to the latest in performance technology; the only stipulation being the car you drive can only be one that was raced in the first 20 uninterrupted years of the inaugural seasons from 1927-1957.
We arrived outside the walls of Verona just before 3pm and pulled up to a large estate that is home to Sartori di Verona. I have heard the question asked, “What’s in a name?” I am told, “Everything!” by Andrea Sartori, the current proprietor of his family’s 120 years and four generations of wine making. His great grandfather, Pietro Sartori first bought the Villa Maria in 1898. His vision was to offer a high quality wine to the patrons of his hotel and small restorante in San Pedro. The Estate, pristine and untouched, is now home to the Sartori winery, which is known as one of the big five producers in Veneto. The intimate landscape includes a small chapel and what couldn’t be more than a few hectares of vineyards where Andrea and his enologists attempt to restore forgotten varietals while also continuing to educate the world of wine with extraordinary representations of this vivacious Valpolicella vinifera.
We tasted through a number of beautifully crafted wines from a garganega, named for his great grandmother, Fernanda, to a beautifully aged 1995 Corte Bra, an Amarone he says was one of only about four bottles left: “We don’t hold on to anything here. It’s meant to be enjoyed.”
We finished a solid line up with Andreas and his assistant who doubles as a candy striping clown for children at the local hospital for children with cancer. I believe it takes a real passion for life to be a part of this ecosystem, and it spills over into other parts of our lives. It was certainly something to see, especially someone wearing a red nose and rainbow hair, who only moment ago was talking terroir.
Andrea invited us for a quick spritz and some dinner in the center of town. He promised it would be interesting and asked if anyone wanted to ride with him but not before he grabbed a few cigars and his keys.
We zipped down the strada that traced the Adige River into the center of town. Andrea told me we were in for a real treat, “The Mille Miglia has a checkpoint in the Piaza this evening.” No sooner did we hit the pavement did a string of Ferraris howl through the corridor of the Castle Vecchia. These were the spectators. The prestige. Non-competitors who just came for the show, maybe even to show off a bit. As I had said, participation is limited to cars produced before 1957.
Our first stop was a place a bit off the beaten path known to the locals as the Captain Bar, even Andrea had trouble finding it. An old WWII veteran owned the place for a number of years and from about 1980 until his death, he dawned a naval uniform and floated about the place in a convivial fashion. We grabbed a table and immediately were greeted by the current owner. He told us the story of the prior owner and how he may not don the uniform but still runs the place in much the same fashion. This place is known for their signature Aperol Spritz, apparently they make there own, and it’s absolutely fantastic! Of course, we put away a few of those just before dinner. I highly recommend the stop if you’re ever in Verona and can find the place.
We inquired as to where dinner would be. Andrea said he knew just the place – one with the perfect vantage point for people watching on the Piaza Bra. I hadn’t realized how close to the action we were when we came out of an alley a few hundred feet from the Veronese Coliseum where beautiful vintage and current model Italian motorcars began tearing through the Piaza, quite literally in some cases, doing cookies and leaving strips of their tires on the 2000 year old cobblestone.
Andreas father raced in the 1954 Mille Miglia and owned an Alfa Romeo for many years. I could tell by his driving he came from a family of qualifiers. We strolled up to Ristorante Vittorio Emanuele just on the Piaza Bra, a historic Veronese landmark since 1895, where a table for 8 had been put together prior to our arrival. The terrazzo was cradled in the arms of massive stone pillars and gas sconces; inside the café, warm wood paneling, marble pillars and crystal chandeliers warmed the attitude of its patrons.
It was close to midnight when we stood up from the table and finished off the evening in a local alleyway bar with a Varnelli and Sibilia Amaro with Birra Moretti backs. Considering that day was also my birthday, I must say it was one for the books!