After several years of absence, Janet and I returned to Vinitaly in April 2013, a little apprehensive about how we would find it. In recent years we have spent the corresponding time with growers and winemakers in their own places which is the best experience of all, but time consuming and partial. At the huge national trade fair you get a great overview of the sector or at least as much of it as can be take in within four days of tastings, seminars and chance and planned encounters. It is great if you don’t weaken!
But Vinitaly also presents opportunities that just don’t occur elsewhere. The vertical tasting of Ferrari bottle-fermented sparkling wines, or rather of their very top wines, was the highlight of Vinitaly 2013 for us. Cantine Ferrari, no connection with the cars but the name can’t hurt, is the market leader in this sector in Italy … brindisi Italiani (Italian toasts) … and rightly has a proud heritage. Giulio Ferrari started the business in 1902 having studied in Alto Adige and Montpelier. He saw and, more importantly, believed in the potential of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as bottle fermented sparkling wine in his native Trentino. The company is now run by a third generation, Matteo and Marcello Lunelli, urbane and very knowledgeable ambassadors for the brand.
These are ‘mountain wines’ with some of these vineyards being as high as 600m, thus combining the relative warmth of northern Italy with the cooling effect of altitude. In comparison with the wines of Franciacorta, this results in a very potent combination of ripe fruit, intense aromatics because of the long ripening period and retaining of acidity because of the cold nights For us personally we had visited Trentino last Easter but had not managed to visit Ferrari in its shiny new modern winery so this was a chance to catch up. And generous though they would have been, they would not have been opening pairs or triplets of their top wines in magnums for us. Nor would there have been a small army of impeccably uniformed sommelier in attendance and probably not a gastronomic surprise at the end of the tasting. All’s well that end’s well.
Ferrari Perlé 2006 – we start on the third tier up in the Ferrari universe, above simple Ferrari and Ferrari Maximum. The wine is made exclusively from grapes from their own vineyards and spends five years on the lees during the second fermentation period. A Blanc de Blanc and thus 100% Chardonnay with a fine fresh nose with enticing aromas of brioche, ripe melon and honey with superb fruit with that ripeness to the fore on the palate, lemon, lime, apple, almost sweet but with balancing acidity and a cool mineral finish. If this big but subtle wine was the starting point, we were going to be in for a real treat.
Ferrari Perlé 2000 – now thirteen years old, this vintage wine leads with its rich yeasty nose followed by ripe apples and creaminess. The pronounced chalky finish contributes to the impression of greater dryness – but this is northern Italy not northern France and this is still an impressively rich wine.
Ferrari Perlé Rosé 2006 – ten hours of skin contact goes into this sumptuous salmon pink-to-peach colour, set off by Ferrari’s stepped glasses: no overly slim flutes here, but a glass with a decent bowl to let the wine interact with air and express itself. The blend is 80% Pinot Nero and 20% Chardonnay with 4-5g of residual sugar. Developed red berried fruit, complex herbal notes, sweet ripe fruit at the core again, very drinkable, very attractive. The older wine of the pair here was the Perlé Rosé 1997, with a slightly darker colour you can see in the picture. Camomile and thyme aromas greet you from the glass but there is still an excellent freshness, the acidity has rounded out and there is a fine depth on the palate. Slightly sweet finish to a very fine wine.
Ferrari Perlé Nero 2004 – the vintage here moves from the outstanding 2006 to the very good 2004 and the grape composition to an unusual 100% Pinot Nero. It spends six years on the lees and this wine has been disgorged for three years. Striking yeastiness, fine developing fruit, not as long as the 2006 which showed remarkable mineral and even seaweed notes, the same core sweet red fruit especially on the mid-palate and then returned to the saline and mineral theme on the finish.
The penultimate line is the Riserva Lunelli, using the surname of the current owners for the first of the two lines of riservas.
Ferrari Riserva Lunelli Extra Brut 2004 – back to 100% Chardonnay from the Maso di Villa Margon vineyards, and then eight years on the lees in bottle. This wine is fermented in Austrian oak large barrels and shows an extra rich ripe apple palate and greater roundness from its long sojourn on the lees. The 2005 is very similar but with an extra freshness.
The final flight of wines is named, appropriately enough after the founder and here we were treated to three older vintages:
Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore 2000 – made from the fruit of single vineyard Maso Pianizza at 600m above sea level with sandy soil. 100% Chardonnay which is harvested in late September at optimal ripeness, two to three weeks after other plots. It then spends a whole decade on the lees in the bottle. Pronounced nose of apple, peach and some dried fruit notes, brioche; sensationally rich fruit on the palate with intense orange rind to follow; remarkable length, then a combination of fruit and chalkiness on the very long finish. The 2000 was followed by the 1997 vintage with same 10 years on the lees and now four years post-disgorgement. The broad toast and yeast aromas are beginning to dominate on the nose with a high-toned perfume note, ripe apple and melon fruit, citrus rind and lavender/rosemary themes on the palate; a strongly mineral finish under ripe fruit. The 20-year old 1993 provided a suitably grand finale for a truly remarkable tasting. In that year, unusually, the wine was not put through malolactic fermentation but was otherwise made to the same formula. By this stage in its development the nose is strongly tertiary in character with mushroom and lavender very evident. The palate exhibits rich fruit and remarkable complexity showing that these wines can develop over the long term with floral, balsamic, and orange rind themes joined with the continuing high acidity and a very long finish.
The family Lunelli are great hosts and the finale was provided by their genial chef who came on to take a bow and receive the acclaim for his exquisite and eye-catching plate of mini-antipasti.
This tasting was a feast for the eyes – shades of lemon, peach and apricot – of physical sensation in the mouth – persistent fine mousse – and then of course an array of aromas and tastes emanating from those perfect celebratory glasses.
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