Great sparkling wines have a special place in the heart of wine lovers and sommeliers. It is rare that I’ve met one of these people whose eyes don’t glaze over as they speak of the twinkling liquid in their glass with hushed reverence for the méthode champenoise. Wines made in the Classic Method are special, and these bottles are, in fact, vastly unlike their peers Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with whom they share the rows of wine store shelves. Sparkling wine is distinctly different for one very prominent reason.
The royalty of fine wine, such as Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, Amarone, or Bordeaux, focus heavily on a very careful attention to the vineyard and to grape type. The goal here is to not alter the purity of the grape and its terroir and to express the sense of place through selection of the best fruits, often from a single vineyard. The best still wines shine a spotlight on the grape and the place it was made by creating the best expression of these elements. We could say that still wines can be compared to Realism. Each artist uses his or her own method to create a piece their own, but always to resemble the subject as accurately as possible.
Sparkling wines, on the other hand, are much more similar to the artistic movements of the 20th century, expressing more abstract interpretations of a subject. The focus is on the artist and what he or she creates from the raw material. In fact, many of the metodo classico houses in Northern Italy are bedecked in sculptures by contemporary artists such as Arnaldo Pomodoro (you may know him from his “Sphere within a Sphere” located in the Vatican Museums), whose sculptures appear at wineries around Italy – Cantine Ferrari, Castelbuono, and Ca’ del Bosco are but a few. Unlike still wine, sparkling wine emphasizes a focus on the winemaker’s creation in the winery. This makes perfect sense, as the famous Champagnes were initially made from juice left over from previous years or grapes whose quality was not good enough to be vinified and bottled. Faced with these less-than ideal products, a method had to be devised to transform them into something drinkable, and what resulted was something much more.
The Day of Bello e Buono: An Insider’s View of Italian Sparkling Wine
It was late morning when the taxi pulled up for our private visit to Cantine Ferrari. The sun was brilliantly shining on what would have otherwise been a any unpretentious office building on the outskirts of Trento if not for the 7-meter-high spiraling bronze sculpture, Centenarium Ferrari, created by the great Arnaldo Pomodoro for the 100th anniversary of the winery. It is said the sculpture was created to evoke the festive atmosphere that surrounds sparkling wine, and it was a welcome which piqued our eagerness to step inside.
Cantine Ferrari was not the first to make metodo classico (Italy’s version of méthode champenoise) wines – the region of Piedmont had been doing it since 1865 – but Giulio Ferrari was the first to bring Chardonnay to Italy in the early 1900’s, and was the first to make these wines from the French grape. “Since the winery was given to my father in 1952 by his close friend Giulio, we have also striven to keep the passion and dedication to quality alive,” Marcello Lunelli, one of the current owners and the winery’s charismatic enologist, recounts. As we begin our walk through the chilly cellars he points to large steel cisterns, organized by provinces, in which grapes from their 500 growers are stored. “We do pay quite a bit of attention the growing of the fruit in the vineyard,” he continues, “in order to achieve a sustainable practice, we insist that our growers do not use herbicides and chemicals, and then only the best juice is selected for the making of our wines.”
Marcello’s work is that of the contemporary artist: at the turn of the year, he will taste the juice from each individual steel tank and then create a complex mix for each of the family’s wines in what is traditionally known as assemblage. As any good Italian would, Marcello offers a food metaphor for the process: “It’s not like a torta della nonna [grandmother’s cake]. Your grandma will always make the most delicious cake because she uses the same ingredients with the same recipe. We have to make the torta della nonna, but with different ingredients.” He continues to explain that this is the challenge of the Trento DOC maker – the juice is different every year, and every year the winemaker must find a perfect formula to make a consistent wine using different ingredients. We continue through the cellars lined with bottles prepared for their first fermentation as Marcello explains the concept of leaving the wine to ferment on the lees for 2-12 years before the careful process of riddling, performed by hand. Finally, we pass a room of machines dedicated to disgorgement, or expelling, of the dead yeast, and final corking of the bottle (be sure to ask about their elaborate process of approving the quality of the corks when you visit – it’s an epitome of the family’s obsession with quality).
As he pops open a bottle of the newest Perlé, Marcello turns the bottle over and points to a date stamped over a beige box on the otherwise dark label. “Unlike Champagne houses of France, we always mark the date of disgorgement.” Marcello is visibly proud of this fact and earnestly continues, “This is necessary for us. If the bottle has a year, it will be when it was initially bottled, not when we corked it for the second fermentation, and if you do not know how long each bottle was aged, you have no way of knowing when the lees were removed and a bottle was re-corked and shipped off for consumption. A bottle changes significantly in the years after it is disgorged and re-corked, and we don’t want any surprises for our clients. It is quite an experience to expect a fresh metodo classico sparkling wine and be hit with the intense flavors of an aged one.” This is the hallmark of the family: an intense attention to deal not only of the product, but also to the experience of its consumers.
As we toast to family, health, and a continued perfect Italian vacation, I am struck by a deep appreciation and admiration for this artist standing in front of me, whose passion and vision has continued to fuel the most well-respected and well known metodo classico in Italy. Yes, when I look at the effervescent bubbles rising festively to the top of the glass in this beautiful place, I am reminded of Arnaldo Pomodoro’s swirling sculpture echoing the festivity of sparkling wine just outside. But even more so, the sculpture for me recalls a much deeper image: the Lunelli family and the artistic vision of the people in this Trento winery, bursting in a swirl of inspired creation towards the sky.
The Ferrari winery is located in the Italy’s northern town of Trento, a breathtaking city in the Dolomites that is just a 2 hour drive from Venice. Book your visit to Cantine Ferrari, followed by a gourmet lunch inspired by Ferrari sparkling wines at Locanda Margon at selectitaly.com or email email@example.com to customize your experience.