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10.31.2009

2002 Ferrari "Perlé" Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Wine, Trentino, Italy

2002_ferarri_perle.jpgWho knows what it is, exactly, about sparkling wine that entices us so. But go to any wine region around the world, and you're bound to find someone making sparkling wine there (for better or worse). Most, even the best contenders, have a hard time holding a candle to the benchmarks of Champagne. There are a select few regions and producers outside of France, however, that manage to make sparkling wines that are truly exceptional. Two of them (at least) are in Italy, and this is the story of one of them.

At the turn of the 20th century, Champagne was definitely the center of the universe for sparkling wine, as it had been for at least two centuries before that. So when an enterprising young Italian winemaker wanted to learn about making sparkling wines, there was really only one place for him to go.

Giulio Ferrari completed his winemaking degree in Italy, and then moved to Epernay, France, in the heart of the Champagne region to work and learn all he could about how the French were making their sparkling wines. In 1902 he returned to Trentino, in Italy's Alto Adige, bringing with him cuttings of what would be the very first Chardonnay grown in the country, and the passion to make sparkling wine that could rival Champagne.

From his early plantings, and gradually expanding vineyards, Ferrari made small quantities of meticulously crafted sparkling wines for nearly 50 years. Known with great affection for his stubborn dedication to quality and attention to detail, his wines were sold to a group of customers that signed up months, even years in advance to purchase their allotment of wines. In the course of those five decades, Ferrari's production grew from a few hundred bottles to only 9000. Bottles, not cases.

Aging, and without any heirs to carry on his work, Ferrari sold his winery and the brand to the Lunelli family, who, over the course of three generations, have turned the Ferrari into a small empire. At the same time, they have firmly established themselves as one of the foremost producers of sparkling wine in the world.

Now producing nearly five million bottles of wine a year, Cantina Ferrari is responsible for roughly 25% of the sparkling wine produced in Italy, a level of production that certainly matches the house against any of the big names in Champagne for significance.

Of course, Ferrari clearly didn't care about volume, he cared about quality. To scale production is one feat, but to do it while maintaining quality is quite another. Remarkably, the Lunelli family has managed to do both. While I'm not one to put much stock in awards as guarantees of quality, the fact that Ferrari has won Gambero Rosso's coveted Tre Bicchieri award for 13 vintages in the past couple of decades definitely means something.

Indeed, Ferrari is widely recognized as one of, if not the, top sparkling wine producer in Italy. Their portfolio of wines is quite broad, but still leans towards the Chardonnay based wines their founder strove so hard to bring to fruition.

The vintage wines produced each year are sold with the name Perlé, and include both this blanc de blancs as well as a Rosé and a blanc de noirs, both of which receive extended bottle aging.

This particular wine is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes grown exclusively in the estate's hillside vineyards surrounding Trento. Averaging between 1000 and 2000 feet in elevation, and generally oriented to the south, these vineyards provide Chardonnay with an environment of warm days and cool nights that let them mature slowly until they are harvested by hand in mid-September. After destemming and pressing, the wine ferments in tanks and then is transferred to individual bottles with a special homegrown yeast culture to undergo a second fermentation, in the traditional Champagne method. The wine is aged with this yeast in the bottle (on the lees) for a minimum of 5 years, and up to six before the yeast is disgorged and the wine corked for sale.

Tasting Notes:
Light yellow-gold in the glass with medium fine bubbles, this wine has a gorgeously savory nose of butter biscuits, toasted bread, and wet stones. In the mouth it is explosively juicy, with an incredible yeasty biscuit quality that I adore, and a stony apple and lemon juice core that turns decidedly nutty as the wine finishes long on the palate. Incredibly drinkable and delicious, this wine puts 98% of Italy's Franciacorta to shame, and would give Champagnes costing twice as much a serious run for their money. Hot damn.

Food Pairing:
What wouldn't this go with? From shellfish to fried chicken to popcorn this wine is made for drinking with food. I had it recently with mixed salumi and thin Italian breadsticks called grissini and loved every sip.

Overall Score: between 9 and 9.5

How Much?: $30

This wine is available for purchase on the Internet. It is imported by Palm Bay Imports.

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