Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Tasting of Ferrari with Matteo Lunelli

I was pleased to attend the Ferrari-Trento sparkling wine lunch at Tony’s for wine trade and media with Ferrari President, Matteo Lunelli; it was undoubtedly the wine highlight of my month. In addition to the fabulous food that one can always expect from Houston’s favorite upscale Italian eatery, each course was also being paired with some of Italy’s most award-winning sparkling wine. 

I learned many interesting things during the course of our meal. The history of the company began with the dream of one man, Giulio Ferrari.  He began his study of wine in the late 1800’s in Italy. He later moved to France to continue his studies and ended up traveling to Champagne to learn to make bottle- fermented sparkling wine. He would also study in Germany before bringing his knowledge and ideas back to Trentino at the end of the 19th century. Well-traveled and well educated, he believed his home was ideal for making a bottle-fermented sparkling wine like he had seen in other parts of Europe. In 1902, he started production.

His goal was to make the best sparkling Italian wine that he could, in the tradition of the great wines of Champagne with the same grapes but from his terroir. He bought Chardonnay plants back and spread them around Italy. He was interested to see it respond in different environments. As he had expected, Trentino’s limestone gravel slopes had the perfect conditions for growing Chardonnay grapes for sparkling wine. The area would help balance the acidity with aromatic complexity due to its elevation which is sitting at an even higher level than the vineyards of Champagne.

A childless Giulio Ferrari would pass the torch of his dream to his friend, a wine merchant named Bruno Lunelli in 1952, and thus begin another family’s wine making dynasty. Bruno would gradually increase production and his sons and their children would follow him into the business; this is how third generation Lunelli family member, Matteo, finds himself in Houston.

He talked a lot about the mountain and how it affects everything –the climate, the terroir, the culture of the people; it dictates how its vineyards should be tended. He spoke of the high altitude vineyards sitting at 300-600 meters, the “kissed by sun” grapes and those warm temperatures by day with those chilly nights.  He talked of their decision to ban herbicides and pesticides in favor of more natural growing techniques in the vineyard. The family feels a move towards organic is actually a return to the older ways.

Interestingly, Matteo doesn’t think this move will help him sell more wine. He doesn’t believe that organics is important to most sparkling wine consumers but he believes it is important for the people within the community, that the local people are the reason for making the change. He believes it is an ethical one. His concern is for the worker that applies the chemical treatment and for others that live nearby whose health may be affected. He said it was difficult to get some farmers to change to more sustainable methods when they had always done things one way.

Stainless steel became more important in their Blanc de blancs wines though wood barrels were always used. The Riserva wines are aged in oak to gain richness; wood can rob the younger wines of elegance. They have experimented with different types of wood and different sized barrels but they have returned to the older ways of their grandfather in the winery as well with some large Austrian oak barrels for some of the wines.

Matteo Lunelli believes the prestige of the brand rides on the Ferrari Brut Non-Vintage. Excellence must be achieved and the classic house style maintained. He says that doing this is far more difficult than getting a beautiful expression from a special vineyard or from a better year. Stylistically, the Perlés are expected to be lighter and fresher while the Riservas should be more complex.

He is proud to see his wine served in places like Tony’s though he would rather that they not serve it in flutes as he feels that some of the complexity of flavor is lost in favor of the visual experience. This comes up often from sparkling wine-makers; it may be time for American restaurants to start listening.

Despite the stemware, the wine still shone along with the fabulous meal and service. Thank you to Matteo Lunelli for sharing both your stories and the wine.



Menu and Tasting Notes

Tasmanian Salmon Tower with avocado, mango and Granny Smith apple.
  • Ferrari Perlé  2007 – (100% Chardonnay) Elegant, crisp, fresh acidity, aromas of apples, yeast and bread crust. I really enjoyed this, it balanced the fattiness in the salmon tower perfectly. SRP $35
Risotto All’ Astice with lobster mushrooms and Maine lobster roe
  • Ferrari Perlé  Rose 2006 - (80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay) Color comes from short skin contact. Red berries and orange candy character. Per Matteo, the Chardonnay brings elegance and drink-ability while the mountain Pinot Noir has lower tannins, nice acidity with lighter color and more delicate flavors. It gives the finesse that they look for. He recommends it with pizza or pasta carbonara. SRP $59
Heirloom Beet and Sonoma Foie Gras Soup
  • Ferrari Perlé  Nero 2006 – (100% Pinot Noir) More powerful, more structured with more delicate aromas and flavors. Excellent with the soup. SRP $78
  • Ferrari Riserva Lunelli 2006 - (100% Chardonnay fermented in oak, bottled and aged on the lees for 7 years) This was an intense, rich yeasty wine with lighter aromas and flavors of spiced citrus that can stand up to rich foods. SRP $59
The pinnacle of Italian sparkling wine production. The Maso Pianizza vineyard area creates wines that can last for years. Matteo Lunelli said, “This Chardonnay has the power to win the challenge of time.”
Line caught Halibut with Imperial Ossetra cavier, organic kale and golden rum raisins.
  • Giulio Ferrari 2001 - (100% Chardonnay) Fresh, fruity tropical aromas and flavors of lychee and pineapple with almond pastry. Very drinkable and surprising young tasting, I found it easy to agree with my host’s assessment that “one glass calls for another.” It was excellent with the fish. SRP $100
  • Giulio Ferrari 1995 - (100% Chardonnay) At 19 years old, this wine proves the longevity of the line with its fresh aromas of honeysuckle and apricot with honeyed brioche flavors and a crisp, saline minerality in the long finish. Fresh and complex with persistent bubbles, this wine is no longer available but older vintages are obviously well worth seeking out.
Pineapple White Chocolate Candy Bar for dessert.