Inside the private dining room overlooking the Las Vegas Strip at Lago, the award-wining Italian restaurant by Julian Serrano at Bellagio Las Vegas, a vertical tasting celebrating 30 years of Cervaro della Sala line the table with deep-yellow hues resembling citrine gemstones.
Cervaro della Sala is one of Italy’s most celebrated and awarded white wines made by Marchesi Antinori. Antinori, although best known as one of the innovators of the Super Tuscans based in Tuscany, has vineyards in other wine growing appellations, like Italy’s verdant Umbria.
As Italy’s only land-locked region, Umbria produces just one-third of the amount of wine that Tuscany does, but it is rapidly gaining in terms of reputation and quality. Cervaro della Sala from the Castello della Sala estate, along with other wine producers such as Arnaldo Caprai, Lungarotti and Paolo Bea, has been responsible for putting Umbria on the oenological map.
The name of the wine, Cervaro, was derived from the noble family that owned the castle during the 14th century: Monaldeschi della Cervara. The Antinori family purchased the property — the castle and its surrounding land — in the year 1940. The first vintage of Cervaro della Sala, the 1985, was released in 1987, giving birth and subsequent life to this great wine that became prized on a world-wide scale.
Renzo Cotarella, the chief executive officer and director of winemaking for Marchesi Antinori, said before a group of Las Vegas sommeliers, “When I set foot in the Castello della Sala in the spring of 1979, I will confess, that it was an emotional experience. I had been called to contribute to the production of wine of greater personality compared to those producers of the time in the Orvieto Classico appellation.”
As the winemaker for Antinori, Cotarella set out to create a white wine that would age well. In a mere 10 years, the young, trained agronomist created the wines that now symbolize the work of the estate. He turned to chardonnay and the native Umbrian grape Grechetto, which would lend its specific identity. The search for a white wine of undisputed character and personality, as well as his desire to produce a wine that carried the spirit of the terroir and of the house that produced it, became a virtual obsession.
After early morning harvests, each varietal is fermented separately: cold maceration, new French oak, extended age on lees, and malolactic fermentation for the chardonnay and stainless steel fermentation of Grechetto. Only then are the wines assembled and bottled.
“The discovery of white wines, which not only could age well, but which had to do so in order to fully express their potential, showed us an entirely new dimension to the world of wine and … we wished to give it a try,” said Cotarella.
The vertical tasting in Las Vegas featured the 1988, 1997, 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2015 vintages. Each was unique to their vintages, from 1988’s typical Burgundian notes of flint and tropical yellow fruits, to the clean and precise 1997 with its decidedly mineral freshness. The golden wines showed Cervaro’s graceful ageability.
After reliving the vintages and uniqueness of each, Cotarella concluded, “A vertical tasting should never be about what vintage you like best, but about discovering the true spirit these wines have in common.”
In this edifice, Cervaro realized the aspirations that Antinori and Cotarella had dreamed for years — and that was just the first 30 years.