November was the most enjoyable month of wine tastings I have experienced in some time. I spent Tuesday evenings participating in Protocol Wine Studio’s #winestudio Twitter chats and sampling extraordinary sparkling wine made in the mountains of northeastern Italy. In all, we received four sparkling wines as tasting samples produced by Cantine Ferrari. Each Tuesday evening special guests joined the conversation to explain Ferrari’s history, farming practices, production methods and we sipped a different Ferrari wine as we learned about Ferrari. It’s a genius way to learn about wine.
In addition to the Twitter chat, I listened to interviews of two Lunelli family members: Elizabeth Schneider’s interview of Ferrari’s Chief Winemaker, Marcello Lunelli and True Wine Culture’s interview of Matteo Lunelli, President and CEO of Ferrari. Both are very interesting and communicate the passion both Lunelli family members have for Ferrari sparkling wine, and for life.
Giulio Ferrari and His Dream
The story of Ferrari begins with Giulio Ferrari in Trentino, a region located at the foot of the Dolomites in Northeastern Italy. Ferrari’s dream was to make sparkling wine in his home region of Trentino that would rival Champagne. After studying winemaking in Trentino and then in Champagne, he was convinced it was possible.
So, he set about planting the first Chardonnay grapes in Trentino and established Ferrari in 1902. He used the same production method to produce his sparkling wine as in Champagne — with a second fermentation in the bottle to produce the bubbles — called método classico in Italy. International recognition quickly followed and over the years Ferrari continued to concentrate on quality.
This is the first part of the story of Ferrari, the story of the man and the realization of his dream.
The Lunelli Family
The second part of the story is about family. Giulio Ferrari was a man without heirs. So, what was to become of Ferrari after him? A succession plan, as we would call it today, was needed. Bruno Lunelli owned a wine shop in Trento and was a friend of Giulio Ferrari. Ferrari must have seen in Lunelli a familiar passion for wine and attention to detail which led him to choose Bruno Lunelli as his successor.
Lunelli learned winemaking from Giulio Ferrari. From 1952 onward, when he purchased the winery from Ferrari, Lunelli used those skills along with his experience as a merchant to increase the production volume of Ferrari sparkling wines. Giulio Ferrari remained with Ferrari winery until his death in 1965, all the time sharing his knowledge with Lunelli family members. The second generation of Lunellis introduced new sparkling wines to the Ferrari label while continuing the tradition of excellence in Italian sparkling wine.
The third, and current, generation of the Lunelli family have continued to increase production, but never at the expense of quality. When Bruno Lunelli purchased Ferrari in 1952, production stood at 9000 bottles per year. Marcello Lunelli noted that today Ferrari produces 9000 bottles per hour. The Lunellis have taken the Ferrari brand worldwide. They are, in their own words, “ambassadors of the Italian Art of Living.” That is to say, living life to the fullest and enjoying every moment of every day. Good food and a glass of Ferrari sparkling wine will crystallize this point for you!
A common thread throughout the history of Ferrari has been attention to detail and complete insistence on quality. All Ferrari wines are classified as Trento DOC. Trento DOC is a designated production zone in Trentino established exclusively for sparkling wine made using método classico. Only Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero (Noir) and Pinot Meunier grape varieties are allowed and must be hand harvested. DOC regulations require specified aging time on the lees for non vintage, vintage and reserve wines. Most producers, including Ferrari exceed the aging requirements.
Ferrari sparkling wines are produced from Chardonnay and Pinot Nero only. The grapes are harvested from a combination of estate vineyards and family-owned vineyards in the production zone. Ferrari estate vineyards, which have been farmed organically since 2009, produce only about 20% of the grapes needed for their total production. Estate vineyards are the source for vintage dated Ferrari sparkling wine.
The balance of the vineyards are owned and farmed by some 500 families in Trento DOC. Ferrari has established a protocol of sustainable viticulture that is applied to all vineyards with the assistance of its 6 agronomists who work with the vineyard owners.
According to Marcello Lunelli one of the benefits of organic and sustainable farming practices, which concentrates on improving soil health, is healthier vines that are less susceptible to unfavorable weather conditions. He goes on to observe that making excellent wine in a good weather season can be done my most competent wine makers, but what is essential to Ferrari is to make high quality sparkling wines even in a difficult weather year. These farming practices also result in reduced chemical applications to the vineyards — good for the environment and the people who work the vineyards and live nearby. Farming organically does result in reduced yields in the vineyard, but Ferrari is willing to accept a smaller crop of exceptional quality.
The Adige Valley runs essentially north-south. The vineyards are planted on either side of the valley, reaching up the mountainsides. The valley’s orientation results in both east-facing vineyards and west-facing vineyards. As you might expect, depending on whether the vineyard receives morning or afternoon sun, the grapes are quite distinct.
Vineyards are high altitude, in the range of 250 to 650 meters above sea level (Ferrari has one vineyard at an elevation of 800 meters) and of varying slope. Such high altitudes at the foot of the Dolomites means an extreme shift in temperatures from day to night. The northern latitudes means a long, cool growing season. These two conditions translate to brilliant acidity in the finished wine.
Then, finally there is the soil. The Dolomites were at one time under the ocean, and sea fossils can be found in the vineyards. Soil types are highly variable in the area.
All of this variation in aspect, elevation and slope combined with rigorous farming practices produces remarkably unique lots of grapes. Marcello Lunelli describes in detail the unique qualities of these many vineyards. Distinct vineyard lots are vinified separately, and then blended to produce the best wine possible. He describes using specific lots much as a chef would use seasonings and ingredients to create spectacular dishes.
Certainly the story of Giulio Ferrari’s dream and his success in achieving that dream is an engaging one. He certainly made the right decision when he chose Bruno Lunelli to continue his dream, and, subsequent generations have kept that dream alive and built upon it. Add in organic and sustainable farming practices in what surely is one of the most beautiful wine regions of the world and you have perhaps the perfect wine story imaginable.
Whenever I pick up a bottle of wine I’m always interested in the story of the wine and the winemaker, and I think many other serious wine drinkers are too. But no matter how interesting the story of the wine might be the wine must still be delicious. In the case of Ferrari, the story is certainly interesting, now let’s find out about the wine.
Ferrari Brut NV — pale yellow in the glass with persistent, small bubbles. Aromas of toasted almonds and citrus predominate and are followed by flavors of red apples, wet rocks, citrus and toasted bread. The bubbles are precise and mouth filling. The finish is clean and the acidity is remarkable. Just as remarkable as the flavors of this wine, is the aroma that is left in the glass after it is empty…toasted almonds and oats. So fragrant. 12.5% ABV. SRP $25
The Ferrari Brut is a blanc de blanc, produced from 100% Chardonnay. Multiple lots are blended to produce a wine that must be excellent every year.
Ferrari Brut Rosé NV — coppery, salmon color in the glass with persistent, small bubbles. Berry aromas and flavors are supported by toasty, citrus flavors and bracing acidity. Once again, pinpoint bubbles are persistent and the finish is very long with flavor. 12.5% ABV. SRP $36.
This rosé is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Nero made as a rosé. It has so much flavor and once again brilliant acidity. While this wine is lovely to sip on its own, it makes a wonderful accompaniment to a meal.
We paired this wine with bucatini carbonara after a pairing I found from Eataly that was recommended specifically to pair with this wine. I highly recommend this combination. It is delicious!
Ferrari 2007 Perlé — medium yellow in the glass with fine, persistent bubbles. This wine is so filled with tiny bubbles that you can hear them bursting in your mouth. Flavors are fresh, bright and citrusy with apple and toasted almond flavors in the background along with crushed rock. Very long finish. Delicious. 12.5% ABV. SRP $38.
Extraordinary. The combination of fresh flavor along with the toast is remarkable. This wine is so fresh and lively, but with the added complexity of aging on the lees. Lovely. This bottle was disgorged in 2015.
We paired the 2007 Perlé with seared scallops and linguine with pesto. I lightly seasoned the scallops with salt and pepper before searing them. The pesto was a milder version than I usually make, I used very little garlic and substituted ground toasted almonds for pine nuts. This simple meal was divine with the Perlé.
2001 Ferrari Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore — golden yellow in the glass with fine, persistent bubbles. Toasted almond aromas and hints of roasting coffee bean aromas are echoed in the flavors along with melon, pear and minerals. Super complex, lively and youthful with an extremely long finish. 12.5% ABV. SRP $125.
This extraordinary wine is a tribute to Giulio Ferrari. It is bottled only in the very best vintages and is sourced from a single estate vineyard, Maso Pianizza. It ages for over 10 years on the lees, yet remains remarkably fresh and crisp. This is a wine you just want to sip and think about. The flavors are so complex and ever changing. I will always remember this tasting of Giulio Ferrari — it is the first time I have ever experienced the aromas and flavors of roasting coffee beans in a sparkling wine.
We paired the Giulio Ferrari with an assortment of mild blue cheese, brie and cheddar cheeses. We added deviled eggs topped with candied bacon, Castelvetrano olives and cornichons. The key to this pairing was the mild versions of blue cheese. We sought advice at a local cheese shop, Cheese Central, and the choices were perfect.
Even though I describe this as a contemplative wine, don’t hesitate to add food. Seafood would also make a delicious pairing.
Ferrari sparkling wine really does have it all…an engaging story and delicious wine. Can’t get better than that.
The Take Aways
The Lunelli family have been the best-possible stewards of Giulio Ferrari’s legacy. The quality of Ferrari sparkling wine and their commitment to the environment and the farmers they work with is just as commendable.
Ferrari sparkling wines are widely distributed in the U.S. Look for them. Consider enjoying these sparkling wines with a meal, not just before dinner or as part of a celebration. Your pairing doesn’t need to be fancy. Use quality ingredients, cook from scratch and you will be amazed. Both the bucatini carbonara and the scallop dish I prepared were simple and delicious yet paired beautifully with the wines. Ditto with the assortment of cheese we enjoyed with the Giulio Ferrari. Honestly, I can imagine any of these dishes would pair nicely with most Ferrari sparkling wines. As Marcello Lunelli observed, “Sparkling wine is for everybody and for every occasion.” Be inventive, share with your family and friends. Create your own version of the Italian Art of Living!
Ferrari recently received two more acknowledgements of the quality of their sparkling wine.
- Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year 2015 for the Champagne and Sparkling Wine Championship held recently in London
- European Winery of the Year at the Wine Star Awards of the magazine Wine Enthusiast
Thank you to Protocol Wine Studio for organizing this series of tastings. Really, this was one of the most amazing tasting experienced I have had in some time. Thanks to Ferrari for providing the tasting samples and to Gregory White PR for handling the distribution of the tasting samples.