My heart was beating a mile a minute, sweat formed on my brow and my mind raced as I approached the shiny red helicopter. I was randomly chosen to be in the first group to experience a magnificent aerial view of Trento, Italy, where the Dolomites, a UNESCO world heritage site, dramatically shot out of the earth. As I anxiously sat next to the pilot, I looked at all the equipment – everything seemed to be working properly, not that I would know otherwise, and I thought about the flight statistics of helicopters – I knew that commercial planes had better safety records, but helicopters might still be safer than driving a car, or maybe not… Okay, the pilot was telling me to buckle in and to place the headset over my head…. we were taking off… my heart stopped, I gasped and we were on our way, whether I wanted to or not…
Mountain wines hold a special place in many wine connoisseurs’ minds. The best mountain wines can have a beautiful expression of fruit and complex aromatics created by the swing in
temperatures from day to night, and high acidity giving a freshness and energy that brings overall elegance. But it has been occasionally argued that some producers use the term “mountain wine” on their labels when in reality, it should be called “a moderate hill wine”; the term being thrown about for marketing gain instead of being a true representation of the growing conditions for the grapes.
But Trentodoc sparkling wines, from Trento, Italy, are mountain wines in the truest sense of the word. These wines are traditionally styled sparkling wines, Metodo Classico, made from mainly Chardonnay and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) with some percentages of Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc) and Pinot Meunier used. In 1902, the now legendary Trento resident Giulio Ferrari took on the Herculean task of making world class wine in these steep mountains. Previously, he had spent time in Champagne, France, and realized that Trento held all the keys to making breathtaking
sparking wines. Last year, I was able to taste an array of Trentodoc sparkling wines and I was so impressed by their finesse and overall quality that I wondered why these wines weren’t better known in New York City, or the rest of the US for that matter.
And so, a few weeks ago, I found myself in Trento, surrounded by the unique section of the Italian Alps called the Dolomites. I was there with a few other wine writers and over 25 top sommeliers from around the world, as guests of one of the most prestigious sparkling wine producers in Italy – Ferrari Trento. The Lunelli family – starting with their grandfather who partnered with Giulio Ferrari – are the standard-bearers for excellence with Trentodoc sparkling wines. For decades, they have been the owners of Ferrari Trento, since Giulio Ferrari himself did not have heirs, and do justice to not only Giulio’s name and his legacy, but also help support 500 grape growers, each owning only a tiny plot in the area.
Leap of Faith
As my helicopter started to slowly descend towards the ground near the Ferrari Trento manor Villa Margon, built in the 16th century, I was saddened that my life changing aerial view of this remarkable place was over. It was surprising that all my initial fears had vanished once I saw the impressive Dolomites from the air with the enchanting Lake Garda in the background. It was completely surreal – probably just as surreal as when Giulio Ferrari first started leading the way to try to make great sparkling wines in such an extreme environment, or as surreal as the Lunelli family trying to carve Trento’s name into the list of great wine making areas.
There were many debates during the seminars given at the Ferrari Trento winery during my trip. Some sommeliers that had traveled from far and wide to get the Trentodoc experience had one big objection, even though everyone agreed the Ferrari wines over-delivered for the price… Why should they sell Ferrari wines when other sparkling wines had stronger international brands that were easier to sell? Well, why take a helicopter ride, in a place like Trento, when you have a major fear of heights, like myself? Because otherwise, once in a while, you may miss out on the best things in life if you don’t take a leap of faith.
Everyday Drinking Wine (less than $15)
Rotari, Brut, Trentodoc, Italy ($14): 100% Chardonnay. Ferrari Trento not only promotes their wines, but also wines from other producers in the area, such as Rotari. Many of the wines of Trentodoc are mainly dominated by Chardonnay because it is a variety that shows its exquisitely refined characteristics in this area. This crisp sparkling wine had bright flavors of green apple with toasted spice on the finish.
Special Occasion Wine (from $15 to $50)
Ferrari Trento, Brut, Trentodoc, Italy ($23) 100% Chardonnay. The Lunelli family said their Brut perfectly represented their house style – fiercely elegant with a linear shape and complex minerality that finished with white peach and mouth watering acidity. If you love traditional sparkling Blanc de Blancs wines, and you have never had Ferrari Brut, you are missing out! At around $23 in the US, it will quickly become your weekly sparkling treat.
2007 Ferrai Trento, Perlé, Trentodoc, Italy ($37): From a strict selection of 100% Chardonnay from top-quality zones in Trento. A richer style than the Brut with notes of brioche, marzipan and candied lemon and a velvety texture yet it still had that great Ferrari precision with a saline mineral finish.
Fantasy Wine (over $50)
2006 Ferrari Trento, Giulio Ferrari, Riserva del Fondatore, Trentodoc, Italy ($120): 100% Chardonnay from up to 1970 feet (600 meters) high slopes on the mountains of Trento that are owned by the Lunelli family. This sparkling wine is only made in the best years, and has at least 10 years of lees aging. When their namesake, Giulio Ferrari, fled Trento during World War II, he decided to build a wall in front of his cellar to protect his bottles from being stolen. When he came back after the war, after being gone for 7 years, he tasted some of these wines and realized how well they could age. This is why they named this wine – one of the longest lived Ferrari Trento wines – after him. This wine truly represents an impressive history in traditional sparkling wine and it is one of the greatest ways to pay respect to Giulio Ferrari. Toasted coconut flakes with brown sugar and an extra exotic layer of mangosteen flesh on the long finish that had a profound sense of finesse. A fantasy wine in so many ways.