If I could have one wish for wine lovers everywhere – aside from having all of them instantly grasp that White Zinfandel doesn’t come from white grapes(!) – it would be for everyone to stop clinging to this worn-out idea that sparkling wines are only for special occasions. Even my gorgeous domestic partner is prey to this antiquated notion, having implored me to wait to taste these two wines until we have an occasion that befits them. I chided her gently (it started with “Really?!? You too?…” and went downhill from there) about thinking that, as we had always preached, back when we had our wine shop in Woodinville, WA, that “Tuesday evening, bored silly” is easily enough of an “occasion” for dragging out the bubbles. Sparkling wines do, in fact, tend to create an occasion. They’re fun to drink. They don’t require a lot of rarified wine knowledge. They’re lively and crisp on the tongue, at least the good ones are, and finding a truly great one becomes, in the memory, one of those red letter events that sticks with us for decades.
I recently received two bottles of sparkling stuff via UPS; one from a wonderful, titanically underappreciated Italian producer, Ferrari – No, not that Ferrari, a name which, in Italy, I’m told is something like Smith is here. For years, sales reps told me that it was the same family but I was recently corrected by a member of the Lunelli family, the folks who actually own and run the place. Production is led by chief winemaker Marcello Lunelli, and four agronomists. Marcello’s cousin, Matteo Lunelli, is the Chairman of Ferrari F.lli Lunelli SpA, Camilla Lunelli heads up global communications, and Alessandro Lunelli, an engineer by training, is responsible for planning and technical oversight. Do, this Lunelli-intensive culture is adamently not a part of the car-making family, proving, I guess, that anybody can get a job selling wine.
When I was selling Ferrari “Perle”, nine years ago, it was even then my best value in high-quality sparklings under $30; all Chardonnay, crisp, bracing, pure as a fresh snowfall, and showing lovely, beautifully-presented fruit. Nine years along, it’s now no longer that good.
It’s flat-out spectacular.
Now retailing for around $35, Ferrari “Perle” delivers, with zero exaggeration, every single virtue that we Champagne freaks look for in an actual French edition. In terms of fruit – always the most problematic and most debated aspect of fine sparklings – Ferrari’s signature style is an almost perfect midway point between the occasionally out-sized fruit of California bubblies and the stony, flinty, yeasty austerity of genuine Champagne. The current trend of grower Champagnes that come off more Californian than The Eagles not withstanding, Champagne is prized as much for its elegant restraint as for any other aspect. The term “dry” doesn’t even begin to describe most great Champagnes and, I freely admit that – as much as I love fruit in other wines and routinely defend it against the vocal minority who belittle many wines as “fruit bombs” – I want my Champagne to taste like limestone, aspirin tablets, yeast, and seltzer water. I want it so freakin’ dry that I practically have to add water to get it out of the bottle. I want this mainly because MOST makers of sparkling wines try to basically make a white table wine with bubbles in it and that is, to me, NOT what bubblies are about.
Perle is made from some drop-dead gorgeous Chardonnay grapes, sourced mainly from Ferrari’s own estate vineyards. It’s made exactly as fine Champagne is and given four years on its lees and in the bottle. The result is, IMHO, a near-perfect balance of the mineral/yeast/stone continuum and that Western-style fruitiness. Elegant (sorry, I dislike using that hackneyed term but it’s the best fit, here) apples, ripe pears, apricots, orange peel, quince, almonds, fresh bread, and a yeasty creaminess that doesn’t mute the crispness one iota give this wine assertive Presence. But, past the gorgeous fruit, the remarkable restraint of the winemaking pulls it into a dazzling Balance and lets each element shine through with perfect clarity and an other-worldly purity that made it a sheer delight to drink. This is, for me, the best value in authentically great wine in the Champagne style made outside France…and it’s not even the best example in Ferrari’s roster. Ferrari “Giulio Ferrari” Metodo Classico Trento DOC, (99 Points) at $100, has beaten upper-tier Champagnes in blind tastings half a dozen times, over the past two decades, and may well be the finest sparkling wine in the world not made in Champagne.
Ferrari Perle sparkler is a stunning value and the job that Marcello Lunelli and his team of six assistant winemakers have done with this wine, over the years, is nothing short of inspirational. 96 Points
The Perle was a little surprising for just how exceptionally fine it was, but it was a matter of degree. I knew it would be fine before I ever opened the bottle. But what followed it was a complete rabbit-out-of-the-hat shocker that had me retasting five or six times, thinking, “This cannot be that good“..but it is.
I admit to having had Codorniu wines drop off my radar about eight years ago. I’m no less prone to bypassing old and trusted names in the wine biz in favor of celebrating the next new discovery than many people are, so good ol’ reliable Codorniu – whose wines I used to drink at least monthly in the mid 90s – fell by the wayside. I am officially apologizing to all the folks in Barcelona right now. Mea Culpa, I effed up. Codorniu has been around since 1551, so I suspect I am not the first to forget them in favor of new delights. But five hundred and sixty-four years will give a winery time to get good and it has made Codorniu so casually brilliant that one sip of this relatively new wine told me how freakin’ stupid I was to ever let my affection lapse.
Anna de Codorniu is a little miracle; a rosé that costs well under $20, delivers dazzling, fresh, authentic fruit, and – in an age when an increasing number of wineries are starting to sneak sugar back into pink wines in an effort to make them more appealing for all us American “soda pop drinkers” – gloriously dry, crisp, and beautifully balanced. This is one of the best rosé wines – still or sparkling – that I’ve tasted in years and is a testament to a number of things: Codorniu’s stunning estate vineyards in Lleda, DO Cava, where both the 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay are grown; meticulous viticulture, with all grapes used in this wine picked at night, to retain maximum freshness and avoid oxidation; no hurry-up winemaking, as the secondary fermentation is carried out in the bottle and the wine is kept there for a full year. The gorgeous pink in the glass comes from just four hours of skin contact with the Pinot grapes, and the flavors…well, WOW. This is classic rosé: strawberries so real and un-fiddled with that, as opposed to most pinks that require some imagination to detect any strawberries, the flavor is every bit as immediate as biting into a fresh, cold berry. Behind that are grace notes of raspberry, dried cranberry, teaberry gum, sweet spices, cherries, a little green apple, and a haunting woodsy character that recalls a walk in the forest after a rainstorm. Despite the grapes used, this reminds me powerfully of one of my favorite American rosés, Sleight of Hand Cellars’ Renegade Rosé, a wine which echos the spices and vibrant textures found here, minus the bubbles. I cannot remember when I’ve had a better time just siting back and enjoying a totally unfamiliar bottle of wine and having it with our pork tenderloin at dinner was sheer perfection.
Named for the original Codorniu Anna, who married Miguel Raventos in 1659 and led to an unbroken lineage of Raventos ownership that’s lasted 356 years, Anna is a wine frankly made for women and packaged to give it a very feminine appeal and vibe. Maybe it’s my Inner Woman talking but this is just about everything I look for in a bottle of sparkling wine, never mind the color. I’ve never once scored a bottle of rosé this highly and I cannot completely equate it with certain other rosato or exactly with the Renegade, but I have to observe that, in sheer bang-for-buck terms, Anna de Codorniu is as good a wine value as I’ve found maybe ever. This is what a dry rosé is supposed to taste like and it takes a producer with Codorniu’s vast history and the confidence that breeds to toss a wine this dry and, yes, elegant out into the marketplace without that mitigating sugar and say, “Hey, this is a great wine and we know it and we think ‘great’ is enough.” That’s a bold statement, in itself, but then you plant it squarely in the price category most prone to excess sugar? THAT is confidence. And best of all: This stuff is fifteen dollars, folks – and I’ve seen it listed for as much as seven dollars less than that! Fifteen bucks for a wine that was babyed along for over a year, crafted with infinite care, and delivers this much style, vivid flavor, and gorgeous effervescence. I cannot stress just how fine this wine is, but maybe this will give you some idea: 94 Points