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Sparkling Wine

Ferrari Metodo Classico: Italian Sparkling Wine That Drinks Like Champagne

November 28, 2012

The Ferrari Metodo Classico prestige cuvée is called Giulio Ferrari, after the founder. It’s aged for a mind-blowing 10 years before bottling. In that time, the yeast creates heavenly toastiness and depth, though the freshness of the 100% chardonnay wine persists.

I’ve sipped a lot of sparkling wines in the past several years, but I was intrigued when I was invited to taste Ferrari sparkling wines. They’re from Italy, but they don’t make prosecco, Moscato or sports cars. Rather, Cantine Ferrari makes fine, metodo classico (classic method) sparkling wine.

While I love discovering methode champenoise sparkling wines from around the world, I have a tendency — like others — to compare them to the sparkling wines of Champagne.  The best champagne has this electricity to it, a combination of elegance and power.  Few sparkling wines made elsewhere have this quality, but Ferrari Metodo Classico does.

As I took my first sip of the Ferrari NV Brut, I might have thought the toasty nose and bright golden apple flavor sprang from the famed chalky soils of Champagne. But Matteo Lunelli was sitting next to me in a private dining room at Spruce in Presidio Heights, eager to talk about the beauty of his family’s wines from Trentino-Alto Adige.

Ferrari Metodo Classico is a line of fine sparkling wines from Northern Italy’s Trento DOC  that drinks like champagne. Here the Ferrari Perlé 2004 during a tasting at Spruce SF.

“Italian sparkling wine is very well appreciated. But there is a very low understanding of the high end sparkling wine,” he says, managing not to smile at his play on words.

For all it delivers, the 100% chardonnay Ferrari NV Brut is a shockingly affordable $25. The next wine, the Ferrari NV Brut Rosé with 60 % pinot noir/40% chardonnay, tastes of effervescent plums and red berries.  It’s dreamy with confited duck leg paired with a bittersweet duo of roasted pears and three kinds of endive, showing how well sparkling wine pairs with a range of foods.

At Spruce SF, duck leg confit with pears and roasted endive paired beautifully with the Ferrari Brut Rosé and the Perlé Rosé a vintage wine with pinot noir and chardonnay from special vineyards. Yes, sparkling wine is perfect for pairing with food.

Besides the beautifully crafted wines, Ferrari has a good story, too. The winery was founded in 1902 by Giulio Ferrari, an enologist who studied at Montpelier in France and San Michele all’ Adige, a prestigious Northern Italian wine school. Ferrari was a big thinker who wanted to elevate wine from a rustic, agrigultural product to something more fine and artistic. He realized that the cool climate and rocky hillsides of the Trentino Alto Adige on the edge of the Alps would be perfect for growing chardonnay and pinot noir. Ferrari is credited as the first to plant chardonnay in Italy.

His wines were soon poured by the finest hotels and cruise ship lines in Italy. After 50 years of building his winery, Ferrari ended up without heirs. He turned to his friend Bruno Lunelli — a family man and wine merchant — and told him he should buy the winery and continue his legacy. And so he did in 1952, paying it off over the years.

“Excellence is not a single act, it is an attitude,” is a favorite Aristotle quote that Lunelli says guides his family’s wine-making philosophy.

Matteo Lunelli, Chairman of the Lunelli Group which makes Ferrari Metodo Classico, says his father “always presented it as a great opportunity, but never forced me” to join the family wine business.

Here’s what I’ve noticed about the less expensive, international sparkling wines that shine next to champagne. They’re grown in a cool climate or at a higher elevation, ensuring that the wines have crisp acidity and beautiful aromas. Choosing the right grape varietal for the area — be it xarello in Spain’s Penedes or chardonnay and pinot noir as Ferrari does — is critical. Longer aging on yeast matters too. Rather than rushing the wine to market, which would be cheaper, most Ferrari sparkling wines age on the yeast for a minimum of  three years. The spectacular Giulio Ferrari 2001, the current vintage of their prestige cuvée, spends TEN years on the yeast, giving it this yummy, buttery richness, aromas of brioche and nuts. And all the Ferrari wines are crafted from pesticide-free grapes; I’ve noticed an extra-sheer quality in wines made from naturally raised grapes.

So, it’s no surprise that Ferrari Metodo Classico is the toast of Italy, poured at the Italian president’s house and events like the Venice Film Festival and the World Cup. It’s also appreciated by American cognoscenti at spots like to A16 in San Francisco to Eataly in NYC.

And now that I know, about this game-changing Italian sparkling wine, I’ll be joining them.

Pop Culture, Sparkling Wine

Prosecco Party: Getting Bubbly With Francesco Zonin

July 25, 2012

Francesco Zonin is at a loss for words.

Dressed in a dark bespoke suit crafted by a tailor in Naples, the president of Zonin USA is  friendly but reserved, with the bemused air of someone who has been very fortunate in life. During a tasting with friends and writers (including BrokeAss Gourmet Gabi Moskowitz and Morgan First of Second Glass/Wine Riot) on the patio of the former Colosseo in North Beach, the model-handsome scion of one of the most important wine families in Italy seems like he’s used to being master of his universe.

Yet, when I ask him why Prosecco has gotten so popular, Zonin gives that Italian “non lo so” shrug.

“We’ve been trying to figure that out over the past few days,” he says, sipping a glass of their flagship wine. “The answer is we really don’t know.”

“Prosecco is gaining market share from other sparkling wines in Italy,” Zonin says. “And sparkling wine sales are growing in the US.”

If it seems like prosecco is everywhere lately, it’s not your imagination; prosecco sales in the US grew by 50 percent in 2011, according to the Champagne Category Report. It’s estimated that prosecco is on pace to outsell Champagne for the first time ever in the US.

Prosecco 1821 is the flagship wine for Casa Vinicola Zonin.

“We have an idea that depending on the style of wine it’s made with a grape that’s lightly aromatic,” Zonin said. “It’s between brut and extra dry, so it’s refreshing and as with any Italian wine, it is a perfect match with a lot of food.”

He was right about that. Our hosts at Colosseo put out a spread of prosciutto, dry white cheese, salami followed by a first course of fritto misto. The 1821 Prosecco — Zonin’s flagship wine — paired beautifully with all of these foods, gently cutting through the fattiness while lifting the flavors.

This sparkling wine made in Northern Italy is so appealing because it’s easy to drink, without the strong carbonic acid burn that you get while drinking other sparkling wines.

While we call both the wine and the grape prosecco, it’s actually made from the glera grape. The wine is made in a number of places in Northern Italy, like Friuli. The best prosecco comes from around the towns of Conegliano and Valdobiaddene.

I believe so many people enjoy prosecco for the same reason they’ve taken to wines like pinot grigio and gruner veltliner: It’s refreshing, uncomplicated and affordable. Zonin says Italians are discovering the same thing, and rather than treating prosecco as an aperitif, they’re drinking it more than ever, too.

“We needed an excuse to drink it before, but the interesting thing is in Italy, people are starting to have sparkling wine more often,” he says. “The phenomenon (to drink prosecco) during lunch or during dinner is recent.”

Prosecco is also my favorite mixing bubbly of all time; its softer green apple and pear flavors don’t compete with other elements in a drink. In a vintage Bubbly Girl post called La Dolce Vita, I shared five prosecco cocktail recipes using everything from strawberries and limoncello to lavender and honeydew melon. And if you haven’t tried it yet, the Lilikoi Batida, a creamy passion fruit cocktail from the Four Seasons Maui Resort at Wailea, is crazy-good.

The fashion for cocktails made with prosecco makes Zonin smile; the family is the supplier to the Cipriani restaurant Harry’s Bar in Venice, which made the Bellini popular.

Since white peaches are in season, check out this post on Maria’s Good Things, for an easy recipe from the chefs of Zazu Restaurant for Bellini sorbet with sparkling wine.



Bubbly Girl Cocktail Recipes

Bubbly Girl Drink of the Week: La Mattina Appassionata

November 14, 2009

Mattina Appassionata
I just did a fun Saturday morning radio interview with Mario Martnoli and Amy Strong of the “Food & Dining” show on KLAA AM 830 and are they ever Italo-philes! We talked about buying hand-blown champagne flutes in Venice, sipping cocktails made with Aperol and the Lemon Ice, a delicious digestif cocktail from The Bubbly Bar made with prosecco, vodka, lemon sorbet and fresh mint.

Our conversation got me thinking about all the lovely sparkling wines and liqueurs that come from Italy. When I’m mixing a cocktail, probably the first wine I think of is prosecco, the sparkling wine from the Veneto. Wines made from the prosecco grape have such a delicate quality with soft bubbles and hints of green apple, minerals and white flowers.

I recently received a sample of a new one called Passionne di Fiore.It’s a likable little wine, with lots of fresh green apple and hints of underripe peaches in its aroma. It’s a spumante style of prosecco, meaning it has about 4.5 to 5 atmospheres of pressure in the wine; a frizzante style of prosecco is softly sparkling and has just 2.2 to 2.5 atm of pressure. I also liked that it’s available in the 375 ml size which is perfect for making a couple cocktails for brunch.

The same company that makes Passionne di Fiore prosecco also makes a unique liqueur called Fragoli. It’s a wild strawberry liqueur that I wrote about here a few months ago after I discovered it at the W San Diego. Fragoli actually contains the little Italian wild strawberries called fragolini di bosco.

Since Mario, Amy and I were talking about good cocktails to serve to guests, I decided to create a brunch cocktail called La Mattina Appassionata (Passionate Morning in English) that mixes some of the flavors I love from Italy.

La Mattina Appassionata
1 ounce Fragoli
splash Aperol
juice of 1/2 tangerine
4 ounces prosecco

Add the Fragoli, Aperol and tangerine juice to a flute, straining out any seeds. Top with the chilled prosecco and serve immediately. Cin cin!

Bubbly Girl Cocktail Recipes

The Bubbly Girl Drink of the Week: Aperol Fizz

June 6, 2009
The brilliant orange Aperol Fizz made a lovely aperitif, Italian-style.

The brilliant orange Aperol Fizz makes a lovely aperitif, Italian-style. (Photo by Maria Hunt)

I just spent a week learning all about selecting, tasting and cooking with the best olive oils from the southern Italian region Puglia with the The Awaiting Table Cookery School. Most of the my fellow students came from Denver, led by chef and restaurateur Shelly Steinhaus of Bella Bistro. The class took place at a the Bacile castle in a little town and each evening we gathered in the large kitchen to prepare dinner as a group.

One evening Tim, came to the kitchen with a bottle of Aperol, one of my favorite Italian liqueurs. Aperol has a pleasant bittersweet orange flavor with hints of herbs; it’s part of a vast category of liqueurs called amaros or bitters. Sometimes they’re sipped after dinner to settle the stomach, but they’re often used as aperitifs to help stimulate the appetite.

Tim and Shelly were served this sparkling bittersweet cocktail called the Aperol Fizz when they checked into their hotel in Naples and wanted to share it with the rest of us. I couldn’t have been more pleased. It’s similar to the popular Italian drink called the Aperol Spritz or Sprizz which is made with club soda, but I like the extra bittersweet tang from the tonic water.

Aperol Fizz
Makes 1 cocktail
2.5 ounces Aperol
2 ounces prosecco
splash tonic water

In a rocks glass with a few ice cubes, add the Aperol. Top with the prosecco and finish with a splash of tonic water.

Food + Recipes, Wine + Food Pairing

Taralli Pugliese: The Perfect Snack with Any Bubbly

May 6, 2009
Taralli Pugliese, shown here at Babbo Ristorante in NYC, are neat olive oil crackers that shine with wine. (Photo Babbo NYC)

Taralli Pugliese, shown here at Babbo Ristorante in NYC, are crunchy and savory olive oil crackers that shine with bubbly or any kind of wine. (Photo Babbo NYC)

In March I spent a magical week at The Awaiting Table cooking school in Lecce, Puglia, where we cooked and ate  all sorts of wonderful regional dishes from chicken with green olives, thyme and fruity olive oil to handmade orecchiette pasta to simple seafood soup with the sweetest shrimp I’ve ever tasted.

But the Pugliese dish that may be my favorite is one of the simplest: a cracker. Actually, taralli aren’t just any crackers, they’re olive oil based snacks that have been made in Puglia for hundreds of years. They were on the table one night when the class went out to a wine bar that served all the regional wines like primitivo di Manduria, Nero di Troia and negroamaro along with the oddest assortment of country music and Beatles songs. A new friend Carolyn served them to me one evening as we sipped a brut sparkling wine from the Salento.

Whether they’re plain, seasoned with red pepper or fennel, all have a nice crunch, a crumbly texture and a satisfying flavor from all that good Italian olive oil. I was serendipitously surprised when a quick Google search turned up a recipe for taralli from Gina dePalma, the pastry chef at the Mario Batali restaurant Babbo in New York City. Here’s her recipe for Taralli al Peperoncino flavored with red chile flakes and oregano. They’re crafted from low gluten 00 flour, shaped by hand, boiled and then baked like a bagel. The spicy ones are popular, but dePalma also suggests flavoring them with crushed fennel seed and lemon zest.

Taralli -- olive oil crackers shaped like little bagels -- are a savory traditional snack served with wine in Puglia, Italy.

Taralli from A.G. Ferrari on

If making them from scratch sounds like too much work, then pick some up at your local Italian gourmet shop or  order them from  A.G. Ferrari on But there’s no way they’ll be as fresh as homemade.