Monday, December 5, 2016

Three Days in Trentodoc Italy Tasting “Sparkling Wine from the Mountains”

(November 2016) Did you know that high in the Dolomites Mountains there are vineyards that produce the first sparkling wines in Italy using the “metodo classic” with second fermentation in bottle? Even more amazing is the fact that the Trentodoc region became the first DOC classic sparkling wine region in Italy in 1993, second in the world to Champagne.

Steep Vineyards of Trentodoc Italy with Dolomite Mountains (Italian Alps)

Known as “Sparkling Wine from the Mountains,” the taste of the delicious bubbly from this northern part of Italy is fresh and exciting with zesty citrus and mineral notes. With only 45 wineries producing wines from vineyards that are located between 200 and 800 meters (600 to 2600 feet) high, these are special wines with a distinctive taste.

I was lucky enough to be invited to spend three days in the Trentodoc wine region this November with eleven fellow MWs, and we were honored to have the opportunity to taste more than 200 of these amazing wines.

About Trentodoc Sparkling Wines

The 800 hectares that make up the Trentodoc wine region are located along the mountain slopes of the town of Trento in northern Italy, just a one hour drive from Verona. Historical records suggest that city was found in the 4th century BC by the Gauls, but the Etruscans and Veneti were also in the region.  In the late 1st century BC the Romans arrived, and more vineyards were planted in the steep valleys with the snow-capped Dolomites towering above.

The sparkling industry took off when Giulio Ferrari, born in 1879, saw an opportunity to produce such wines after training in Epernay France.  He started the Ferrari Winery and encouraged others to produce sparkling wine as well.  Today Ferrari is one of the largest and most famous sparkling wine producers from Trentodoc.

A Collection of Trentodoc Sparkling Wines

The soil in the region is a combination of limestone, silica and volcanic rock, with some river gravel. Trellis systems on the steep hillsides are primarily the traditional high pergola, though some of the newer plantings are using VSP (Vertical shoot position). Most harvesting is done by hand.

By law the only grapes that can be used to produce Trentodoc sparkling wine are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir (called “Pinot Nero” in Italy), Pinot Meunier and Pinot Bianco (though very few wineries use this latter grape.).

Winemaking is similar to the Champagne region in that grapes are picked by hand, gently pressed, and the base wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and may or may not undergo malolactic fermentation (ML). The base wines are then blended and transferred to bottle for second fermentation. By law the wine must stay on lees in bottle for 15 months for Brut, up to 24 months for a vintage wine (called Millesimato), 36 months for a Riserva, and up to 10 years for special vintages. In general, most producers keep the wine on lees for much longer than the law requires.

Current annual production of sparkling wine in Trentodoc is around 8.5 million bottles, with exports of around 20%. The value of the 2015 production was listed as 78 million euros by the Trentodoc Wine Association.

A Visit to Cavit Winery

On our first day, we were greeted at the Verona Airport by the Trentodoc Winery Association representatives, and whisked to Trento along a beautiful paved road that wound through mountains that became taller and steeper as we approached the town. Our first stop was Cavit Winery where we were treated to a buffet lunch of tasty Italian cheeses, meats, salad, and fresh home-made pasta, before attending a presentation and tasting on their wines.

Visit Cavit Winery in the Trentodoc Wine Region of Italy

Cavit is one of the largest wine producers in the Trentodoc with 5400 vineyard acres and 10 different wineries producing around 400,000 – 500,000 bottles of still and sparkling wine annually. The majority of their production (70%) is white wine, and they have some very old vineyards ranging from 40 to 100 years old. They export 80% of their production, with the US being the main export market where they are known for their value priced pinot grigios and red blends.

However, Cavit also produces some very high-end wines under different brand names. Their top of the line sparkling wine is Altemasi, and it is truly delicious. We were treated to a tasting of six of these special wines (see photo), facilitated by winemaker Fabrizio Marinconz. My three favorites were:

Sparkling Wine Tasting of Altemasi Wines at Cavit Winery

Altemasi Brut Millesimato 2010  - 100% chardonnay, golden yellow color. Fuller-bodied with toasty oak, yellow apple and brioche.  This was a big, satisfying bubbly with 36 months aging on the lees.  From a glacier terrace made of limestone and volcanic soil.

Altemasi Riserva Graal 2009 – 70 months on the lees, this wine was filled with complex notes of caramel, citrus, mineral, apple, and toasty notes. 70% chardonnay, 30% pinot noir.  A crowd pleaser!

Altemasi Riserva Graal 1993 – though probably very hard to find, this sparkling wine was beautifully unique with hints of floral on the nose followed by a salty minerality mixed with citrus notes on the palate.  Linear body with very high acid, this wine had an extremely long refreshing finish.

Collection of Altemasi Sparkling Wines

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