Category Archives: Sparkling Wine

Holiday Sparkling Wine under $20–Stock Up for New Year’s Eve

SparklingWineHoliday.jpg

As festive as shopping and wrapping gifts can be (if battling crowds in search of the perfect gift to present neatly in a beautiful, Martha Stewart-approved package complete with red ribbon can be considered fun), the joy of the season quickly evaporates when the credit card bill comes in January — and the post-holiday hangover and crummy weather make the first month of the new year depressing enough. To keep your celebratory, seasonal buzz going sans bank-account depletion, you need bubbles that are delicious and well-made, that provide layers of flavor, and that are a good value. I plumbed the under-$20 sparklers at Astor Wine and Spirits (399 Lafayette Street, 212-674-7500) (because most in the $10-$15 category just don’t pass muster) to find out how easy it would be to compile a recommended list.

My goal was to find five bottles worthy of your dollars, but assuming a stinker or three might end up in the group, I left with eight. Amazingly, all picks impressed. Good work Astor, and happy (tasty and affordable) holidays, readers.

Val de Mer NV, Crémant de Bourgogne, Chablis, Burgundy, France, $19.96
Chablis is known for crisp, mineral-driven Chardonnay, but the region also produces bubbles. This Crémant (“Crémant” signifies a French sparkling wine made in the traditional method), has full-bodied flavors of quince, apple, and chalk with vigorous bubbles.

Gruet Blanc De Noirs NV, New Mexico, USA, $15.99
Great value sparkler full of creamy, rich red fruits; this New Mexican house has been around since the 1980s.

Avinyo Cava Brut Reserve, NV, Penedès, Spain, $17.99
Cava has become a mainstream, reasonably priced alternative to Champagne; made in the traditional method with no dosage, this apple and lemon-scented bottle will appeal to those who like their tipple crisp and bone dry.

Szigeti Sekt Grüner Veltliner NV, Neusidlersee, Austria, $18.99
An unusual selection — although not for Austrians — this attractive, Grüner-based wine made in the traditional method is dry and creamy with lemon and stone fruit base notes and white pepper and celery seed laced throughout.

Luis Pato Bruto Baga Rosé, Vinho Espumante 2010, Bairrada, Portugal, $12.99
Ever heard of the Baga grape? You’re not alone if not. This Portuguese variety has been lovingly cultivated by distinguished winemaker Luis Pato — he’s pretty much dedicated his life to it. The resulting sparkling wine has the grape’s characteristic earthiness mingled with red fruits — plus a streak of blood orange — at a superb price.

Ch. Greffe, Vouvray Brut NV, Touraine, Loire, France, $21.96 on sale for $18.96
This delicate sparkler from Chenin Blanc grapes has pretty flavors of Bartlett pear and white peach, and it delivers a bright, citrus finish with each effervescent sip.

Col Vetoraz Prosecco Brut 2012, Valdobbiadene, Veneto, Italy, $15.99
I find much of the ubiquitous Prosecco too sweet and lacking in complexity; this bottle, recommended highly by a staff member, revealed toasty notes with its pear and stone fruit, all in a deliciously dry package.

Contadi Castaldi Rose NV, Franciacorta, Lombardy, Italy, $21.99
Okay, I cheated adding this wine since it technically lies $2 above my price limit. The premium sparkling wine region of Franciacorta is considered the Italian equivalent of Champagne, often with comparable prices, so finding a bottle for $22 piqued my curiosity. Fortunately, the wine’s delicate mousse carried lovely flavors of strawberry and rhubarb pie, making this a wine I would definitely toast the holidays with again.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Sparkling Wine

Four Alternative Sparklers to Champagne and Prosecco

bubbly-lead-sm.jpg

This holiday season I am putting to rest two widely held notions: Champagne is the only way to celebrate stylishly, and if you can’t afford Champagne, you must drink Prosecco.

Both have their place, but so do other regions that produce exceptional sparkling wines using the same time consuming, laborious method as the Champenois, with wallet-happy results.

So, let’s take it from the top!

Bubbles for Beginners

All sparkling wines undergo two fermentations: The first turns juice into wine; the second creates the bubbles.

Authentic Champagne comes from the Champagne region in North-Central France and the rest is sparkling wine. The Champenois have effectively stopped the rest of the EU (but not the Americans) from labeling sparkling wine products “Champagne,” hence the term méthode traditionnelle (traditional method) to identify wines made similarly.

To be considered traditional method, the second fermentation must take place in a bottle, spurred by the addition of yeast and sugar. Next, the wine must spend a minimum amount of time aging on the dead yeast (lees) to gain the desirable bread crust, biscuit and brioche notes for which Champagne is renowned. Finally, the yeast is coaxed into the neck of the wine bottle, the lees are frozen then expelled upon the uncapping of the bottle, and the bottle is corked.

Champagne alternatives
Keep in mind these suggestions are not replacements for Champagne; they don’t taste like Champagne because they aren’t Champagne. Rather, each region offers a sparkling expression of its time and place. But would you only travel to Paris when you could also visit Tokyo, Cape Town and Bali?

FRANCE: The French have perfected the art of bubbles, and produce them all over the country in the style of Champagne, identifiable by the term Crémant. Two regions to try:

cremant-alsace-sm.jpg

Crémant d’Alsace: I once had a sommelier tell me he wouldn’t put Crémant d’Alsace on his list because it wasn’t trendy enough. Ironically, this category of fizz tops the charts in sales amongst the French, after Champagne; gaining favor when the economy was tanking and bubble enthusiasts wanted less expensive, high-quality alternatives. The postcard-pretty region, set in the shadow of the Vosges Mountains, has been making sparkling wine since the 1880’s. The grapes allowed are Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois, Riesling and Chardonnay. Pinot Noir is the only varietal for blanc de noir or rosé. If you can’t afford rosé Champagne, look to Alsace for cheaper yet charming options.

Wine to find: Gustave Lorentz, Crémant d’Alsace Rosé NV, $24. This clean, crisp 100% Pinot Noir with a rose-petal tint exudes strawberry, raspberry and bright orange zest flavors with a hint of spice. Cheap and charming with a party-perfect hue.

cremant-limoux-sm.jpg

Crémant de Limoux: Located on the mountainous, western edge of the Languedoc, most people haven’t heard of this region; a good thing if you appreciate high QPR in your wines plus bonus points for obscurity. Locals claim a record of sparkling wine production that precedes Champagne, meaning they have been working on the formula a long time. The wines are made from three grapes: Mauzac, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. Modern Crémant styles utilize Chard and Chenin, but the ultra-traditional, more rustic Blanquette de Limoux is made from a majority of Mauzac.

Wine to Find: Gérard Bertrand Crémant de Limoux, $13. This dry, bright wine made from Chardonnay (70%), Chenin (20%) and Mauzac (10%) is how I imagine Chablis turned Crémant might taste. Fresh, zippy apple notes hang on an austere frame with nuances of bread dough and a chalky, mineral-laden finish.

ITALY: Prosecco is fun and friendly, but not made in the traditional method. Italy has two appellations offering serious yet affordable contenders to Champagne:

ferrari-brut-sm.jpg

TrentoDOC in Trentino: Metodo Classico wine production in Italy dates back to 1902 with the founding of Ferrari winery in Trentino. Guilio Ferrari learned to make Champagne in Épernay then returned home to produce his own luxury brand, bringing along the first Chardonnay grapes to be planted in Italy. The high-altitude vineyards of the appellation, nestled at the base of the Dolomite Mountains in North-Central Italy, produce stunning, refined and structured wines. The region would be poised for recognition as the premier producer of Italian sparkling if more of the 38 wineries were picked up for exportation. As it stands, Ferrari is the dominant, albeit superior, producer available in the U.S. Although four grapes are allowed for sparkling: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Blanc, blanc de blancs (100% Chardonnay) is the regional highlight.

Wine to Find: Ferrari Brut NV, $25. This creamy, elegant blanc de blancs with persistent perlage, offers bright lemon, fragrant pear and fresh bread-dough, for an incredible price. Make this your “house” sparkling.

bosco-cuvee-sm.jpg

Franciacorta DOCG in Lombardia: Franciacorta has at times been referred to as the “Champagne of Italy”, though never by the producers themselves who loathe the comparison. The wines are crafted where the Italian Alps descend into Lago D’Iseo in Brescia. The name Franciacorta applies solely to sparkling wines from this area, made in the traditional method using Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. Although the history of sparkling here is nascent as compared to Trentino, Franciacorta enjoys greater name recognition in the U.S., thus wider distribution and slightly higher prices. Relative to Champagne, however, the quality to price for these structured, elegant wines is still outstanding.

Wine to Find: Ca’Del Bosco NV Cuvee Prestige Brut, $35. Packaged like Cristal, this house’s entry-level bottling is made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc. The wine shows vibrant acidity, a creamy mousse and hints of pear, apple skin, and hazelnut, with a touch of honeyed happiness on the finish.

Leave a comment

Filed under Four Alternative Sparklers to Champagne, Sparkling Wine

The secret to Cantine Ferrari: A Family Formula

Instead of wine, I want to talk about family. Or rather, about a family that makes wine. There are thousands of them in Italy. But not all families making beautiful wines can sell them in the modern, international marketplace; vintners need more than a deft hand in the cellar to grow the business, be financially successful all while preserving the wine’s integrity.

Nowadays, a successful wine business taps multiple skill sets: business acumen, social networking, mastery of marketing and media, and old-fashioned sales panache. To fill all these roles effectively as a family is like climbing Kilimanjaro—it’s not impossible conquer, but how many people do you know have done it?

Let me get a few details out of the way before I dig in. This article is about the Lunelli Family who own and run Cantine Ferrari in Trentino, Italy. Their sparkling wines are impeccable. If they weren’t, there wouldn’t be much point to me writing this—I don’t care about a family that can sell the hell out of a mediocre wine (of which notably, there are several).

I am not going to spend time espousing the finer points of each wine in the Ferrari line-up, offering tasting notes and professing the sublimity of wines like the Guilio Ferrari Riserva (which is sublime).  Anybody can—and should—taste these wines to understand their elegance, finesse and role in the market as an exceptionally priced, luxury product. All of Italy has figured this out, annually voting with their dollars Ferrari the preferred choice for Metodo Classico in the marketplace.

And if selection by the masses isn’t convincing—it certainly isn’t here in America (hello, Gallo?)—then consider that Prada, the fashion-house synonymous with style, toasts with Ferrari too. Does this mean the average Italian has better taste than Americans?

Matteo, Camilla, Marcello and Alessandro - The Fab Four

Matteo, Camilla, Alessandro and  Marcello – The Fab Four

Instead, I want to share my observations of the family behind the brand. The Lunellis: Matteo, Camilla, Alessandro and Marcello, are the third generation to run Ferrari winery, founded by Guilio Ferrari in 1902.

Ferrari learned the art of Champagne making in Épernay; he brought the craft and Chardonnay grapes home to Trentino as the forefather of Metodo Classico in Italy. Ferrari didn’t have any children, so he tapped local cantina owner Bruno Lunelli to replace him as steward of his vinous contribution to the world. Bruno and his sons built the brand from nine thousand bottle production to one of the most famous and successful sparkling wines in the world, all while staying true to quality.

Campers!

Campers!

In late October, I spent several days at the inaugural Metodo Classico Sparkling Wine Camp hosted by the Lunellis in Trentino. The camp was a beautiful week filled with tastings, seminars, tours, dinners, helicopter rides and side-trips to spectacular cities like Venice. One might wonder how I could have an objective bone left in my body after attending what felt like the Super Bowl of wine camp. I questioned this as well. So, I waited a month to write my review of the experience, allowing time to truly reflect on the people I met and my feelings about them. What I am left with is this: family envy.

Let’s consider the idea of “family” for a second. We all have one, you can’t pick them, and many aren’t good—consider the Lohans and Jacksons as celebrity examples.  Even if your siblings and parents are smart, talented AND sane, the likelihood you will all have the same professional interest and get along in business is improbable—your mom can belt out a few Joan Jett lines in the car, but you aren’t going to start a rock band with her.

Watching the inner workings of the Lunellis—some siblings, some cousins—reminded me of how rare it is to be born with the right recipe of family members who can bring a different and necessary ingredient to the pot.  Most impressive, however, is the fact that none of the Lunellis were entitled to work at Ferrari until stepping out into the world to prove themselves before returning willingly as leaders.

Camilla Lunelli

Camilla Lunelli

Charming and gracious Camilla first worked for Deloitte Consulting. She then opted to work with the United Nations in two of the poorest regions of the world, Niger and Uganda, before returning to Ferrari to become the first woman manager in the 100-year-old company. She is now responsible for communications and public relations, with a keen awareness of social media, a PR component often overlooked by wineries.

Matteo is a natural leader—he is the charismatic Chairman of Ferrari Winery and C.E.O. of the Lunelli Group, having spent several years prior in financial consulting at Goldman Sachs.

Marcello is clearly the passionate master of the cellar as the Chief Winemaker at Ferrari. He learned the trade alongside his uncle and predecessor Mauro Lunelli; then he spent time in the wineries of South Africa, California and Europe before returning home to Ferrari in 1995.

Alessandro, kind and inquisitive, began his managerial career with McKinsey. He spent several more years with Unilever working across the globe before returning home to Trento and joining the general management team of Ferrari and the Lunelli Group.

Watching their interactions reminded me of my siblings a bit. I appreciated the Lunelli’s tight-knit bond, daily opportunities to work with each other, and do so successfully and seamlessly, given their four distinct personalities.  But I believe they function effectively as a team because each member has a clearly defined role, respect for each other, and most importantly, strict discipline to not poach on each other’s turf.

Matteo jibing Marcello in the cellar

Matteo enjoys ribbing Marcello in the cellar

Of course, all families have quibbles. They must. To be family is to endure drama. For as much time as we spent with them, the Lunellis had the grace not to air most discrepancies, a not so easy feat, Kardashians! A spark or two did fly though, most notably when Matteo tried to school Marcello on the English language, not always correctly, and in Marcello’s domain. You don’t mess with a winemaker in his cellar.

Perhaps they duped us at Camp, and it was all a grand show. I asked myself: could they be this perfect? Are they really Stepfords disguised as cousins? Then I realized what I really wanted to know: are they looking to adopt?

I happen to adore my family, idiosyncrasies and all, but having met the Lunellis, I fully appreciate that my family should never go into business together–we could not replicate the magic formula that lies in the Lunelli genes.

In the last few years, my sisters and I reinstated an annual family trip we call Father-Daughters. This Christmas we are optimistically off to Tortola for what will probably be a too-long ten days of sibling arguments, dad’s crazy driving and lots of cocktails, over which a family business plan will inevitably be hatched. And the trip will end; we will return with mostly wonderful memories, beautiful photos and bottles of BVI rum. We will also be empty-handed of a business plan, and be all the better for it.

Image by Lauren Mowery

1 Comment

Filed under Cantine Ferrari, Sparkling Wine

Got the Champagne Price Tag Blues? Try TrentoDOC in Italy

Lots and lots of sparkles

Plenty of well-priced sparklers in TrentoDOC

The first week of December is a fitting time to discuss sparkling wine—many of us reach for a bottle of bubbly during the holidays. Since I use this blog as a forum for promoting wine regions deserving of more attention than they receive from the American wine drinker, I thought I would focus on one that does bubbles really well. Bubbles on par with Champagne. Bond-worthy bubbles James might drink if he weren’t already in bed with Bollinger. And by the way, they cost a lot less.

The region is Trentino, located due south of Alto Adige, and it is the Italian-speaking part of this pristine, central alpine region of Italy (they mostly speak German in the AA). The regional capital is Trento—as in Council of Trent—which combined with DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), provides the TrentoDOC appellation devoted to this region’s sparkling wines.

Beautiful Downtown Trento

Beautiful Downtown Trento

What makes Trentino special? The craggy terrain at the foothills of the dolomites provides a solemn, spiritual backdrop to the task of winemaking. The air is pure and fresh, and the rivers sparkle while gliding through the glacial valley. But perhaps most significant is the intense bond between the locals and their landscape.

Amongst the people to whom I spoke, a conversational theme was the region’s “mountain magnetism” and the constant pull they felt to be amongst them. I met one professional who manages to mountaineer between office meetings. Yet everyone, from a winery’s brand export manager to the winemaker himself, spoke of vocational excellence, seemingly as fond of their jobs as the outdoors. I believe this attitude drives the quality of the wines. For ultimately, what is the tending of a vineyard, the crafting of wine and the business of selling it, if not the culmination of a career tied to nature?

View of high altitude vineyards

View of high altitude vineyards

Just as the mountains are integral to the psyche of Trentinos, one can’t discuss TrentoDOC without acknowledging the role of Cantine Ferrari. Ferrari singlehandedly set the quality bar on sparkling wine and has tirelessly promoted the region’s uniqueness domestically and worldwide.

Nearby lake amongst the mountains

Nearby lake amongst the mountains

Ferrari’s founder Guilio was the forefather of méthode traditionnelle in Trentino, known as Metodo Classico in Italy. Of equal note, Guilio brought Italians their first Chardonnay grapes. Enamored of the wines of Champagne, he spent time in the region learning the art form of its production so he could return to Trentino in 1902 to create a luxurious sparkling wine for Italians, by Italians.

Ferrari’s instinct that Trentino would be a superb sparkling wine region due to climate and terrain was correct. After pioneering the effort, the region now boasts a few dozen wineries producing sparkling wine under the TrentoDOC guidelines. Four grapes are allowed: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Blanc. In line with the Champagne method, the second fermentation must take place in bottle, and wines must age at least fifteen months on the lees for “brut” and “rosè” varieties, twenty-four months for vintage, while “reserve” label wines must be aged a minimum of thirty-six months. Just as in Champagne, many Trentino wineries age their bottles much longer than required.

One trait of the Trentino region that may prove advantageous in our brave new world of climate change is the high altitude available for vineyard sites. Should vineyard temperatures continue to rise, as has already happened over the last decade, Trentinos can respond by pushing their plantings further up the mountains to cooler temperatures. Unfortunately, the Champenois have nowhere to go. Perhaps still wines will be their future?

Image by Lauren Mowery

Wines to Find:

  • Ferrari: They are the leaders in the appellation. All of their wines are carefully made, of exceptional quality, and extraordinary value, particularly as compared to Champagne. If you are fond of vintage wines, Ferrari crafts a line called Perlé that is outstanding and retails around $35. Yes, $35. For vintage wine. Most from Champagne start at double that price.
  • Cavit: The largest producer in the region. You have probably seen their entry-level Pinot Grigio on a grocery shelf or by the glass at a chain restaurant. But they actually make nice sparkling wines (forget that Pinot Grigio crap). Look for Cavit Altemasi Brut and their vintage Riserva Graal 2004.
  • Cesarini Sforza: A small producer, but I was able to track down a bottle using wine-searcher: Tridentum Brut for $32.99.
  • Abate Nero: I tasted this in Italy. I couldn’t find it on wine-searcher, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t out there. Talk to your local wine shop or visit in person!
  • Maso Martis: I tried the rosé and the blanc de blancs while in Italy. Both had strong character, presumably reflective of the winemaker. Worth hunting down, but may be difficult. Look for this producer while in Trentino.

If you are considering a visit to Trentino, here are some details from my trip that may help you plan yours:

How to get there: Flying from the States, I took a direct flight to Rome, then a connection to Verona. We had a car service, but one could rent a vehicle from Verona to drive the last hour and a half to Trento.

Where to Stay: I stayed at the Grand Hotel Trento. Despite its modest, mid-century exterior, the rooms were nice with generously-sized marble baths. The morning breakfast buffet was plentiful, offered in a pleasant, sunlit room. Although I didn’t have a chance to partake, the daily spa deals sounded enticing

Dining: The best dining in the city can be found right outside of the gorgeous Villa Margon at the Michelin starred Locanda Margon, owned by the Lunelli family (Ferrari). One may dine with lighter Ferrari Metodo Classico Camp-42fare on the Veranda—perfect on a sunny afternoon with views of the valley; or in the elegant dining room which offers creative, gourmet dishes from the chef Alfio Ghezzi. Of note is their wine list. The family’s former wine shop is the source of inventory, so mine away at the unique, modestly priced selections. Once those bottles are drunk, they are gone forever.

Other dining options in the town of Trento include:

Activities: The region is known for its mountains(!), providing lots of opportunity for hiking in the summer, and skiing in the winter. And if you need a mountaineer man, I know just the guy named Federiko.

Wines of Ferrari TrentoDOC

Wines of Ferrari TrentoDOC

Leave a comment

Filed under Sparkling Wine, Trentino and TrentoDOC

Sparkling Wine Week: Where to taste free bubbles in NYC

As the chill of December descends upon us, we can’t help but notice the holidays have arrived. And what would the holidays be without a glass full of bubbles? Would a Fraser Fir be a Christmas tree without lights?

To put the “holiday” in your season, I am celebrating all things sparkling this week, starting with where you can try before you buy. Below is a list of the best gratis sparkling tastings throughout December in NYC.

Flatiron Wines and Spirits

Throughout the month, Flatiron will be focusing on Champagne and sparkling wines every Friday night from 5-8 pm. This Friday, December 7th they are showcasing a grower Champagne, the big trend out of the region the last few years. This is definitely a tasting to hit if you haven’t had a chance to sample this category of Champagne (wines are made by the growers of the grapes, rather than the big houses or brands). 929 Broadway, (212) 477-1315

Astor Wine and Spirits

This comprehensive shop is offering the following impressive line-up of tastings:

December 7th, 6-8 PM: Sparkles by André Clouet

December 12th, 6-8 PM: A taste of the Belle Epoque (a rare chance to taste Perrier-Jouët “Belle Epoque” Champagne 2004)

December 27th, 6-8 PM: A Selection of four Grower-Producer Champagnes

December 28th, 6-8 PM: Champagnes of Terry Theise Selections

140 Fourth Avenue, (212) 675-8100

Union Square Wines

Known for the generous tastings, USQ justifies their reputation with a big, boozy holiday party on Saturday, December 8th from 2-5 PM. With at least two dozen bottles of sparkling wine popped, you can expect a little of everything including grower Champagnes, Spanish Cava and Italian Lambruscos. 399 Lafayette St., (212) 674-7500

Leave a comment

Filed under Sparkling Wine