Tag Archives: sparkling wine

Skip the Caipirinhas, Drink Brazilian Wine During the World Cup

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Brazilian wines sweating with the rest of us at a World Cup match

Brazil. Quick: what springs to mind first?

FIFA World Cup, Rio Carnival, postcard-pretty beaches, oversized rainforest insects, and unlimited amounts of sizzling skewered meat served tableside? Or perhaps caipirinhas and cachaça, Capoeira, or the upcoming 2016 Olympics?

Of the hundreds of thought permutations possible, few likely included Brazilian wines. That is slated to change.

Last year, Wine Enthusiast declared Brazil a top wine destination for travelers. This year, the World Cup has helped spotlight the Brazilian wine industry. According to Cassie Hitchner of Countertop Wine Collection, an NYC wine importer and distributor who carries Brazilian producer Vinicola Salton in her portfolio, her clients have exhibited greater interest in Brazil than wines from classic European regions. “Everyone wants to taste Brazilian wines right now,” she said.

World Cup attendees can sip on Brazilian wine while watching the fútbol matches, too. Lidio Carraroa, a respected producer of still and sparkling wines, beat out larger rivals for the coveted opportunity to be the official wine supplier of the Cup. Curiously, the brand characterizes itself as “boutique” and espouses dedication to “preserve [sic] the authenticity of each grape variety, each terroir” but then doubled its production to meet the demand requirements of the event, including creating a new line of easy, approachable wines with “global appeal,” as reported in Decanter.

Where do Brazil’s wines come from? Most of the country’s viticultural pursuits occur near the Argentinean border in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul; the area accounts for nearly 90 percent of the country’s production. Within Rio Grande do Sul, the most developed and important region is Serra Gaúcha within which lies the country’s first Denominación de Origen, the sub-region of Vale dos Vinhedos, awarded in 2001 for Merlot and Chardonnay. (The system of Origin Indication is modeled off of Europe and imposes restrictions on yields and grape varieties within a notable, delimited geographical area).

Despite Brazil’s deep Portuguese heritage, Italian immigrants who settled in the region in the 1800s founded the wine industry. True modernization and expansion started in the 1970s, particularly with the arrival of Moët et Chandon upon its recognition of the area’s potential for sparkling wine. The company built its own facility to produce fizz from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for the local market. Other important names have invested in the region, and famed “flying winemaker” Michele Rolland has been retained by the Miolo Wine Group to produce high-quality still and sparkling wines.

Although Brazil’s core wine production has been in Serra Gaúcha, acclaimed wine journalist Jancis Robinson and co-author of World Atlas of Wine, 7th Edition, Hugh Johnson, question whether the soil and climate are optimal for the finest expression of vitis vinifera. They observe that “rainfall is exceptionally and inconveniently high and soils tend to drain poorly,” explaining why a preponderance of rot and mildew resistant hybrid grapes, like Isabel, are grown. They note that important producers “have been moving south, developing the Campanha region on the Uruguayan border and neighboring Serra do Sudeste with their drier climate, longer days, and less fertile granite and limestone soils.” Sounds like a promising region to follow over the next several years.

Although the U.S. is an important and leading export market for Brazil, and the last two years saw slight export growth; the wines still remain elusive to consumers (and wine journalists hoping to review them). Fortunately, I was introduced to Ms. Hitchner, who provided samples of her Vinicola Salton collection, which are available in NYC.

Vinicola Salton proclaims to be the first winery in Brazil, celebrating over 100 years of continuous production since the company was officially established in 1910, by…Italian immigrants. Brothers Paulo, Ângelo, João, José, Cézar, Luiz, and Antônio formalized the business started by their father, Antonio Domenico Salton, an amateur winemaker (like most Italian immigrants who arrived at the time).

I received four samples: a dry sparkler; a semi-sweet white blend of Gewürztraminer, Malvasia, and Moscato; a Pinot Noir; and an older 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Tannat blend.

For those who don’t mind — or prefer — a touch of residual sugar in their wine, the 11.3 percent alcohol NV Salton Flowers makes a lovely, summer aperitif with aromatics of a blooming garden and warm baked peaches.

However, of the four wines, the NV Traditional Salton Brut sparkling for $15, a blend of Chardonnay and Riesling, surprised me most with its satisfying, consistent bubbles (despite being made in the charmat method) and attractive, crisp flavors of green apple and citrus.

It’s a fine effort that I would be pleased to bring to a party — or the next World Cup match. Fortunately, both the U.S. and Brazil squeaked into the next round of play, so I’ll be watching with a glass of Brazilian bubbles in hand.

Where to Buy: 
Alphabet City Wine Co. (carries all four wines),100 Avenue C, 212-505-9463
Astor Wines 399 Lafayette Street, 212-674-7500

Where to Try: 
Fogo de Chao 40 West 53rd Street, 212-969-9980
Calle Ocho 45 West 81st Street, 212-873-5025
The Fourth 132 Fourth Avenue 212-432-1324

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

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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.

 

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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

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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

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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

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Where I am going – Trento, Italy for Metodo Classico Camp

Good Morning Trento!

Have you ever wished to learn how to make Champagne? Perhaps attend an intensive course held in the shadows of the Dolomite Mountains in Northern Italy, led by leaders in the art of the Italian version, Metodo Classico?  Thanks to Ferrari Winery and the Lunelli Family in Trento, the first ever Metodo Classico Camp went forth last week!

Metodo Classico, like Méthode Traditionelle and Champagne, refers to the painstaking process of crafting sparkling wine by inducing a second fermentation of the still base wine in a bottle by adding sugar and yeast; allowing the wine a minimum ageing period on the lees (spent yeast) for complexity; and the unwieldy process of riddling and disgorgement which is the consolidation and removal of the yeast, while keeping the sparkling wine under pressure and in the bottle. Phew. What a pain, but the finest and most complex sparklings in the world are produced this way.  You want to drink the best, right?

Day 1 of the inaugural camp, and I am honored to be in the company of a handful of wine pros from the U.S. as we join Ferrari winery in learning about the regional topography and viticulture in Trento, as well as Ferrari’s method for sparkling wine production.

Here are some images from the first day:

Sun is shining over Ferrari today!

Stand-up provided by Marcello, Luke and Philip

Tasting from the tank

A toast to base wine – there would be no bubbly without it!

A walk through the cellar

They keep the naughtiest wines behind bars

So lazy, resting while her lees do all the work…

Beauty in the bottling line

All days should end at the Villa Margon

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