FOOD/Wine — ROTARI WINE
By Robert Stepanek, food and wine correspondent
Perhaps the most striking group of mountains within the domain of the Alps are the Dolomites, situated in the region of Trentino-Alto Adige. They point towards the sky not in the pyramidal or conical forms commonly seen elsewhere, but rather as a collection of craggy, singular sentinels looming over a very distinct area of Italy with a rich artisanal tradition and agricultural bounty. Thus it is apropos that the unique soil and environment in this realm of pristine air, clear lakes, glaciers and diverse microlimates gives rise to some exceptional wines.
Now being introduced to America are some new outstanding examples: Rotari Rosé, and Rotari Brut (#LetsRotari, www.rotari.it). Produced according to the traditional system known as Metodo Classico – as the Champenoise method is known in northern Italy – these sparkling wines are among the few that showcase vintage, emerging from estate fruit harvested in 2013. The results of this manner of labor-intensive, expensive and time-consuming cultivation, involving the manual selection and harvesting of grapes before a soft pressing, first fermentation of the must in steel tanks at controlled temperature, and a second fermentation after bottling (whence the wine is stored horizontally), are wines equally complex and refined. They are further distinguished by meriting the TRENTODOC appellation, the world’s second-oldest such designation governing the production of sparkling wine (which features stricter quality-control regulations to those established with regards to champagne itself); only four grapes are allowed in wines bearing this label, and they must grow in a restricted area while utilizing traditional viticulture techniques established historically.
Winemaker Lucio Matricardi, Ph.D, was in New York to present the wines to a select group of local journalists, and his voluble joy at the occasion made him both an expert and welcoming ambassador for the wines and the regional culture they represent. Guests were first offered tastings of the Rosé, which is comprised of 75% Pinot Noir grapes and 25% Chardonnay. The color was pale, with a somewhat blond cast, and the faint nose had a touch of a mineral quality, with notes of strawberry and cherry. On the palette the wine was medium dry in character, round and even in body, and well-balanced, yielding several flavor aspects – the fruitiness was complemented by a mild acidic bite, suggestive of red currents, and the trace of spiciness brought red peppercorns to mind. Overall my impression was of a wine with a character more savory than sweet. The Brut, comprised of 100% Chardonnay grapes, was also medium dry and medium-bodied. As with the Rosé, there was also a pleasing blend of the flavor notes, with the fruitiness here bringing to mind pears, golden currents and golden delicious apples – the acidity and sugar are well-balanced; unlike the Rosé, however, the Brut didn’t have much latent spiciness. The two wines shared a character of having delicate yet rich aromas, completed by an elegant and round finish upon tasting.
We were shown a six-minute video, sort of mini-travelogue, demonstrating the uniqueness of the region and the winemaking process and practicioners, and thereafter, punctuating the images, Signor Matricardi expounded on why the environment, the grapes and the means of production make the wines so special. “Who is the mother of Rotari?” he asked, then turned and pointed to the images projected behind him – at this point displaying the Dolomite Mountains which loom over Trento – and said “that is the mother – the Dolomite Mountains.” He elaborated that it is the coral and chalky aspects of the soil which lend the wines their singular character; unlike what Americans might expect or be accustomed to, the Chardonnay grown in such a region does not produce the kind of sweet and heavy wine characteristic of a California Chardonnay (which owes more to the character of the west coast terroir, as well as the custom of the winemakers there of leaving their grapes on the vine longer). Moreover, Matricardi continued, “the huge mountains are the secret of the grapes”; though this is more southerly by 900 kilometers than where they are typically harvested – “closer to the Mediterranean but in the middle of the mountains” – this makes Trentino “an exceptional area for the cultivation of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.” Matricardi further suggested that the wines prompt those enjoying them to ask “How was the air? How was the moisture? How was the soil?” that produced them, adding that “you feel the sun” while drinking them.
The wines are produced by Gruppo Mezzacorona (www.gruppomezzacorona.it), which originated as a group of 20 vintners in 1904, and evolved to become Gruppo Mezzacorona in the 1970s; as of the 1980s sustainability has become a priority of the group with “The Protocol for High-Quality Wine Production in Trentino” being a prime initiative. For American consumers, the wines are very affordable, with a price point of $19.99. It feels appropriate to give Signor Matricardi the last word; he says: “I can describe Rotari as a fantastic friend, the one that you want to spend time with, because Rotari can be paired with every occasion, every moment.”
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