Sorriso Ristorante in Cleveland Park has long been one of my favorite Italian restaurants in the D.C. metro area. It serves genuine northern Italy dishes as well as some Roman favorites. Since they are made with the best ingredients, I can always count on the food being fresh, good and relatively inexpensive. I also like the attentive but unfussy service.
Moreover, it has a pleasant ambiance, the feel of a neighborhood, family-run restaurant – which it is. The owner, Pietro Polles, runs the kitchen while his convivial wife, Rose Marie, does the meet-and-greet. Their son Stefano prepares the pizzas and gelato while daughter Isabella does her bit as a waitress and back-up bartender. It’s the type of place expat Italians head to for a glass of wine or dinner after work.
Sorriso’s also has something else going for it – Pietro’s own wine from his family’s vineyard in the Lison-Pramaggiore DOC in northeastern Italy. The vineyard isn’t large – less than an acre – but is planted with 35-40 year old Merlot vines. The wines are produced and bottled at the estate and then shipped to the U.S. for sale exclusively at Sorriso.
Day-to-day management of the vineyard and production of the wine is the responsibility of Pietro’s friend from school days, Roberto. Roberto is a graduate of Italy’s oldest and perhaps most prestigious wine school, the School of Oenology in Conegliano. So he knows his way around a vineyard. He also is a health-conscious and environmentally-sensitive guy that raises chickens, grows his own food and practices sustainable agriculture. This approach carries over to management of Pietro’s vineyard which is treated “naturally”, which means minimizing the environmental footprint by utilizing earth-friendly, sustainable viticulture practices.
The Merlot grown in Pietro’s vineyard is a special variety unique to the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region of northeastern Italy. The fruit has a deep red color, thick skin and takes longer to ripen than do varieties of Merlot found in the U.S. The grapes are harvested in late September or early October and undergo natural (malolactic) fermentation for 2-3 weeks in big oak barrels (botti). The wine is then aged in stainless steel for six months, bottled and then shipped to the U.S.
Like many late-ripening varieties, this Merlot variety produces deeply colored, full-bodied wines with good acidity and tannin. Pietro’s Merlot has an almost impenetrable ruby red color with some violet at the edge and complex, elegant black fruit aromas with kitchen spice notes. It is a full-bodied wine that fills the mouth with dense currant, fig and cherry fruit flavors. Its velvety texture is balanced with a nice bit of acidity and sweet tannins.
With its pleasant acidity and integrated tannins, Pietro’s Merlot is a very flexible and food-friendly wine that perfectly complements Sorriso’s Italian menu. For example, it goes well with simple pasta or seafood dishes such as Carpaccio of tuna as well as heartier fare such as Sorriso’s tagliatelle pasta with wild boar sausage ragu or its saltimbocca alla romana.
Pietro’s really up to something good and you should be in on it.
Pietro’s Selection Merlot is $9 by the glass and $34 by the bottle
Available only at Sorriso Ristorante
3518 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20008
May 16, 2011