Thursday, December 18, 2014

Meet Ferrari (not the car, the sparkling wine!)

Lately, I've been interested in learning about wines from higher altitudes (as you may have noticed from the Wine Altitude Cheat Sheet and the article on wines from San Juan, Argentina), and an invitation I received to taste the wonderful sparkling wines of Ferrari fit perfectly with that theme.

Giulio Ferrari founded the company in 1902, and in 1952 handed it over to the Lunelli family, which still runs it. Fun fact:  by law the name Ferrari may be used in Italy only by the car maker and the wine maker - no one else. 

Ferrari is famous for its sparkling wines made in the traditional method (though it also makes mineral water, Prosecco, grappa, and non-sparkling wines). Only 10% of sparkling Italian wines are made using this method, and Ferrari is the most well known producer. The traditional method is the same as the method used in Champagne and is called Metodo Classico in Italy. (See the details of this process here. Most Italian sparkling wines, like Prosecco and Moscato d'Asti, are made using the tank or Charmat method.)

The sparkling wines of Ferrari have several things in common with Champagne, in addition to using the same process. A second similarity is the grapes, as the wines are made primarily from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. A third is the soil:  Ferrari's grapes grow mainly on limestone, while Champagne is famous for its chalk, which is a type of limestone.

Ferrari's vineyards are located in the Trento DOC area, within the larger winemaking region of Trentino-Alto Adige in far northern Italy. Altitudes range from 985-2300 feet (300-700 meters). You can read about the potential effects of higher altitude winemaking here, but in this case the most important effects are that it helps the Chardonnay grapes to maintain their acidity, slows the grapes' ripening so the flavors can become more complex, and creates very gentle tannins in the Pinot Noir. Some say the altitude also helps the resulting wine stay younger and fresher longer.

Ferrari's grapes are both estate grown and supplied by local growers in close partnership. No herbicides or pesticides are used, and all the growers are either already organic or transitioning to organic.

Ferrari's sparkling wines come in 3 categories:
  • The Classic Range, including Ferrari Brut and Ferrari Rosé
  • The Perlé Range, including the regular Perlé, the Perlé Rosé, and the Perlé Nero, with about 5-6 years of aging
  • The Riserva Range, including the Lunelli and Giulio Ferrari wines, with 8-10+ years of aging
Despite the similarities with Champagne, these wines do come across quite differently. They give a younger, fresher impression, with less of the richness, heaviness, or breadiness that some people don't like about Champagne. But they maintain the great flavor and complexity that you want from a good sparkling wine. The prices are attractive, with the Classic Range starting at below $30 per bottle. The upper level ranges are also competitive with the prices of top quality Champagne.

I tasted Ferrari's delicious wines at Houston favorite Tony's restaurant, paired with wonderful food, and I've included some of my notes below. I hope you'll try Ferrari for yourself this holiday season. I love these wines, and I don't think you'll be disappointed.



Ferrari Perlé 2007, 100% Chardonnay, $35

Aromas of brioche, apple, peach, floral. Tastes crisp, young, and fresh, despite being 7 years old. This was served with a salmon tower with cucumber, granny smith apple, avocado, and mango. Try it with any seafood or poultry that's light, fresh, and not too strongly flavored.



Ferrari Perlé Rosé 2006, 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay, $59

The wine is a beautiful pink-salmon color, with most of the aromas mentioned above, plus ripe strawberry (and maybe candied orange?). It was served with lobster risotto with mushrooms and lobster roe. This is for your seafood or poultry that's rich and a bit more flavorful.



Ferrari Perlé Nero 2006, 100% Pinot Noir, $78

This is similar to the rosé described above, but richer and heavier. Accordingly, it should be paired with food that's one step heavier and richer as well. We drank it with heirloom beet and foie gras soup. The soup was possibly the most surprising dish of the meal, rich and delicious. I like beets, but I had no idea they could taste like this. I ate it all before I even thought about taking a picture...


Moving on to the Riserva Range...



Ferrari Riserva Lunelli 2006, 100% Chardonnay, $59

This wine goes back to Chardonnay, but has more tartness and minerality than the Perlé made from Chardonnay. It's quite rich, with vanilla aromas that come from the 1st fermentation in oak.

Giulio Ferrari 2001, 100% Chardonnay, $100

Due to the age, this wine was a dark yellow color, almost gold, and smelled of roasted pineapple, brioche, honey, pastry, and almond. Amazing.

With the previous 2 wines we ate halibut with caviar, raisins, and kale.




Giulio Ferrari 1995, 100% Chardonnay, $100

I felt so lucky to get to try this one. It was still amazing after 19 years, with aromas of almonds, honey, vanilla, floral, a maybe a little raisin?

For dessert we had a pineapple and white chocolate "candy bar," which was even more decadent than it looks.






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