2022 is here and a rear-view mirror look at 2021 reveals a number of interesting wine trends. High on the list of highlights is the surge in sales of sparkling wine.
It is conventional wisdom that wine consumption is occasion-driven. Generally packaged in a multi-serve 750 ml bottle, many consumers need a reason to pull the cork or twist the screwcap. (There are exceptions — I have friends who insist they need no excuse at all …)
Time to Pop a Cork?
Sparkling wine is even more occasion-driven here in the United States, where it is often reserved for special celebrations such as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and so forth. This fact was bad news for sparkling wine when we entered the time of covid in 2020 because those festive gatherings disappeared or were in any case much smaller. The spaces we think of for those celebrations such as restaurants were greatly diminished in number and scope. Sparkling wine sales took a big hit.
So one of the pleasant surprises of 2021 is sparkling wine’s rising sales volume in a relatively stagnant overall market. Part of this is due to re-opening of on-premise venues where friends and family can gather over bubbles. But I think there is something more going on.
Consumption may still be occasion-driven, but it seems to me that the occasions have changed in at least two ways. First, given the impact of covid restrictions, it seems like many have opened themselves up to sparkling wine’s ability to brighten any day and not just Hallmark card celebrations. Thanksgiving at the Wine Economist household, for example, featured a different sparkling wine on each evening of the extended weekend. Bubbles work nicely with the rich food and they can sure elevate leftovers!
To Champagne … and Beyond!
A second change is that the sparkling wine spectrum, which starts with Champagne and then fans out in all directions in terms of style, grape variety, and origin, has broadened. Prosecco’s great pre-pandemic success has continued, but there is more to it than that.
An unlikely place to observe this important trend is on the victory podium of a Formula 1 race, where drivers have for some years now celebrated by gulping down and fiercely spraying jeroboams of Champagne.
This season, however, the wine of choice wasn’t from France (although it was made from the same grape varieties using the same traditional method). It came from the mountain vineyards of Trentino in Italy and was made by Ferrari — Ferrari Trento, the Trentodoc wine producer, not the Modena-based maker of the sleek red race cars with the prancing horse badge.
Ferrari Trento is one of the world’s leading sparkling wine producers. Earlier this year it was named Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year at the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championship. The brand is known throughout Italy and beyond. Indeed, Wine Intelligence named Ferrari the most recognized wine brand in Italy. That’s wine brand, not just sparkling wine brand.
When wine lovers think of sparkling wine in Italy, Ferrari Trento is on their minds (along with Prosecco maker Bisol 1542, a sister winery in the Lunelli Group). Ferrari Trentto exports 15% of their production to over 70 countries (the US, Germany, and Japan are the top three export markets). Italy’s domestic market accounts for 85% of sales.
Taking Ferrari for a Test Drive
We have been meaning to visit the Ferrari Trento headquarters for several years, but it just never happened and now with covid protocols the trip is postponed again. So Sue and I jumped at an invitation to participate in an online media tasting event with Marcello Lunelli, Ferrari Trento’s chief winemaker. We were sent three wines: – Formula 1 Limited Edition NV blanc de blancs, Ferrari Perlé 2016, and Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore 2008. All three wines are 100% Chardonnay hand-picked from high-elevation mountain vineyards in the Trentodoc zone. Super wines, but very different.
The NV Formula 1 spent 38 months on yeast but was noteworthy for its freshness. It’s the wine that new F1 Champion Max Verstappen can be seen chugging from the big bottle in the image above. Bone dry and refreshing — that’s my tasting note. It is too good to gulp down like that and I hope McLaren F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo doesn’t insist on a “shoey” — drinking the wine from his own sweaty shoe — the next time he’s on the podium.
The Perlé wine is a step up the ladder in terms of grape selection and winemaking — the wine rests at least 50 months on yeast. What struck us about this wine were its savory notes, which called out for food. It paired nicely with schnitzel and salad. About a million bottles are made each year, a significant quantity given that the entire Trentodoc appellation accounts for about 20 million bottles of sparkling wine each year.
The Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore is the summit for Ferrari Trento, with grapes from a special vineyard and aged on the yeast for at least 10 years. I admit that I haven’t had the nerve to pop the cork on this wine yet. It may be that everyone is more casual about sparkling wine occasions now, but this wine seems to demand a serious occasion, especially given its aging potential.
The Year of Sparkling Wine
It was fascinating to hear Marcello Lunelli talk about his wines and winemaking in the Trentodoc zone. The mountain environment presents challenges, of course, but also opportunities, he noted. The winegrowers expect climate change to increase growing season temperatures, for example, which can be mitigated to a certain extent by establishing new vineyards at even higher elevations.
Lunelli recognizes that wines like his are luxury products and you can see it in the glass, the bottle, the presentation. Given this, you might be puzzled at the images of Max and Lewis and the other F1 drivers chugging Ferrari Trento wines and spraying each other and the crowd. How does this make sense given the wine’s luxury cachet?
Well, I think it might be one of the many reasons why 2021, Ferrari Trento’s first year with Formula One, is my Year of Sparkling Wine. F1 is a global phenomenon and Ferrari Trento’s place on the podium sends a strong message to F1’s vast global audience about sparkling wine in general and wines from the Italian northeast in particular.
So a toast to 2021, the Year of Sparkling wine, and to Ferrari Trento and all the other producers who have made up appreciate the beauty of bubbles to enrich our lives.