Corte Quaiara is a small winery created by a big passion.

“I felt a strong need to work with the land and my vines,” said Giovanni Montresor. With my determination and the support of my family, Corte Quaiara became a wine producing domaine.” I met the winemaker, while he was stateside last month, sampling his wines at Manhattan’s The Leopard at des Artistes restaurant.

In 2013, Montresor—then 28 years old —left his family’s large wine company in Verona, Italy, returning to Corte Quaiara, his maternal grandparents’ farm in San Giorgio in Salici, a village near Lake Garda in the Veneto region.

He planted indigenous garganega, pinot grigio and goldtraminer vines, alongside the international pinot noir in nutrient-poor soil, forcing the vines’ roots ever deeper into the mineral rich morainic hills formed thousands of years ago during the Ice Age.

When I tasted the 2018 Corte Quaiara Pinot Grigio Ramato, I was stunned by the richness of the copper-colored (ramato) wine. It was unlike any pinot grigio that I’ve tasted in more than 40 years in the wine world. Montresor said it was fermented in stainless-steel tanks, then aged for nine months in a terracotta amphora. And while those techniques are important, Montresor’s passion drove him to reduce the yield to 4,400 pounds of fruit per acre when many pinot grigio producers are harvesting 11,400 to 13,200 pounds per acre.

This explains why its full body defied pinto grigio’s usual water-thin weight. And its ripe white fruit, almond and straw aromas and mouth-filling flavor wiped away the memory of vacuous Italian pinot grigios. Only passion can drive someone to cut off two-thirds of their budding fruit, allowing the remaining third to be the most remarkable pinot grigio you have ever tasted. 93 points. Don’t miss getting this excellent wine when it arrives in February. Expect to pay about $26-$32.

Giovanni Montresor with his excellent 2018 Pinot Grigio

Garganega is the grape of Soave, and like pinot grigio, is maligned by many producers in the Veneto. But the 100% garganega 2016 Corte Quaiara Campo al Salice is produced from 40-year-old vines planted on a slope of the morainic hills around Lake Garda. The wine’s attractive floral aroma is followed by a rich, creamy texture and delicious pear-like flavors that glide to a long, pleasing finish. 92 points. Adding to the pleasure is the extremely reasonable price of $15 to $19.

Both wines were outstanding partners to The Leopard’s cavatelli with seafood ragu.

The 2013 Corte Quaiara Monte delle Saette ratcheted up the concentration with its blend of pinot gris (70%), goldtraminer (25%) and cortese (5%). Pungent honey, floral, cheese and thyme aromas bolt from the glass, and the intense tropical fruit flavors would be unctuous were it not for the mild acidity and mineral stream that keep the palate clean. Montresor said he was “thinking really outside the box” when he made this wine, but appreciating it requires no thought at all. 93 points. Arriving in February; expect to pay about $25 to $30. 

Northern Italy’s cool climate makes it primarily a white-wine region, but you can’t tell that to Montresor; his passion for pinot noir (nero) is expressive. “Deciding to make a 100% Pinot Nero wine is the biggest challenge I have faced,” he said, calling the variety “capricious” and noting the great dedication and constant attention it requires.

“Every year is for me a battle against the unpredictability of nature. Every harvest is the result of a tortuous journey, but each time I uncork a bottle of my pinot nero I feel that my energy has been well spent, that my fatigue has been repaid and that, at least for the time being, I have won the battle,” he said.

Montresor uncorked his 2016 Corte Quaiara Pinot Noir Pinuar. Its translucent cherry hue pleased my eye, and the raspberry, herbal and white-pepper aromas were charming. Very soft cranberry, cherry and soy flavors crossed my palate on a stream of mild acidity that make this ideal for tuna, mahi-mahi and black bass dishes. If you prefer meat or vegetable combinations, enjoy this wine with poultry, or a mushroom ragu over creamy polenta. 90 points. Arriving in February; expect to pay about $45 to $50.

While Montresor’s Corte Quaiara wines may be unknown to the larger wine world—and not at all in America—I recognized his drive to make great wine. His energy has been well spent and we are the beneficiaries of it. Fatigue is the companion of passion, and every vintage is another battle. I wish him well on his wine odyssey.

Photos by John Foy