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.
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?
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.
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?
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 fare 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:
- Osteria le Due Spade: Same family over 500 years of service, wonderful food.
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.