Last week, wine writers and educators gathered for a lunch at Ristorante Tosca here in D.C. to meet with Matteo Bruno Lunelli and taste some exquisite Ferrari sparkling wines-not to be confused with the car company. Produced by his family’s Trentino, Italy-based winery, the Ferrari winery makes a lineup of first-rate traditional-method (bottle fermented) sparkling wines.
Matteo explained that his goal is to help Americans gain greater appreciation for the diversity of Italian sparkling wines. In particular, he underscored the fact that Italy produces sparkling wines that possess all the elegance and sophistication of French Champagne, backed by decades of experience and their own Italian traditions.
And he should know, because Giulio Ferrari, the winery founder, was a pioneer in the Italian sparkling wine market, bottling his first sparkling wine 1902. Ferrari had studied winemaking in the south of France and then eventually studied in Champagne, which inspired him to become one of the first to produce traditional-method sparkling wines in Italy using classic Champagne grapes, particularly Chardonnay.
At the time, Italian farmers did not grow, much, if any Chardonnay. Yet, Giulio decided that the slopes of the Alps in Italy’s Trentino region provided the perfect elevation and climate for growing Chardonnay. The region’s relatively hot, sunny days give way to cool evenings in late summer, producing grapes of great aromatic maturation and fresh acidity.
Giulio produced his first bottles in limited production for the luxury market, which were eventually served in world-class hotels and on famous cruise ships. His devotion to detail and super-premium quality developed into a philosophy that has guided the winery for its entire 110 years.
Ferrari operated his winery for 50 years, but in 1952, he chose Matteo Lunelli’s grandfather—a merchant of Lunelli wines and friend of the Ferrari family—to buy the winery. Ferrari did not abandon the effort, even after selling to the Lunelli family. Instead, he continued to work at the winery to share his dedication to excellence and build the culture that exists today. After many decades of high regard in Italy, the Lunelli family is working to build greater global awareness for its wines—while maintaining the style and quality it has always provided.
Today, Ferrari continues to make all its sparkling wines from only grapes grown in the Trentino region. Unlike the days when Giulio Ferrari planted his first Chardonnay vine, many farmers now grow this variety in the region. Hundreds of them work in partnership with the Ferrari winery, following principles and guidelines established by the Lunelli family to ensure the winery uses only the best quality grapes. For example, Ferrari has trained its network of farmers on such things as state-of-the art pruning practices. Currently, the winery educates them on sustainable farming, which Matteo says is the most important schooling it have provided to its growers in the past five years.
The results certainly show this commitment. We tasted six sparkling wines at the lunch, and all were outstanding. Some, but not all, can be found in D.C. region wine shops and at restaurants, but hopefully they will become more common in the not too distant future. Here’s the lineup …
Ferrari Brut, NV: Made with all Chardonnay grapes—most from the 2009 vintage—this dry, wine offers a solid structure, medium body, good acidity, and flavors of apples, honey, cream, and toast. Matteo explained that it is the winery’s most important wine, considering its greater availability, high quality, and value price of just $25 a bottle.
Ferrari Rosé, NV: Beautiful salmon in color with nice froth, this Pinot Noir (60 percent)-Chardonnay (40 percent) blend offers fresh red berry flavors and a hint of toast. Lighter in body than the Brut, it paired well with fried zucchini filled with crab meat and helped cleanse the palate between bites. Its suggested retail price is $37 a bottle.
Ferrari Perle, 2004: This vintage sparkler spends four years on the lees (yeast in the bottle), making an extremely elegant and creamy wine with complex flavors of almonds and toasty barrel notes. Matteo said this was his favorite of the group as it offers top quality and a perfect harmony between fruit and secondary flavors—at a value price. Indeed, if I can find this wine locally, I will stock up at just $35 a bottle. It is as good as many more expensive French Champagnes.
Ferrari Perle Rosé, 2005: With a deeper salmon color than the basic rosé, this wine is also more complex with greater secondary flavors, a longer finish, and fuller body. It consists of 70 to 80 percent Pinot Noir, and possesses an orange candied quality, as Matteo described it. It stood up to a robust pairing of a Gorgonzola spumante risotto dish, which is impressive. It offered a cleansing effect yet still retained some interest even with such fierce competition on the palate. Its suggested retail is $75 a bottle.
Ferrari Perle Nero, 2005: Its deep copper-tinted gold color reveals that this 100 percent Pinot Noir sparkler experienced little-to-no grape skin contract. Petulant and bright, it provided minerality on the nose with notes of toast. Although the wine is an “extra brut” style (meaning it should have very little residual sugar), it was also quite fruity and rich. It paired amazingly well with a plate of charred branzino. Its suggested retail price is $90 a bottle.
Giulio Ferrari, 2001: This one is similar to—but deeper and more complex than—the Ferrari Perle. It packs a full body of exquisite, mature and complex flavors that include tropical fruit (roasted pineapple), cream, almonds, and toast. The $100-a-bottle price reflects the cost and great care associated with its production, which includes 10 years of aging on the lees. Not surprisingly, I found it the best wine of the day.
Originally published on Examiner.com.