For it was precisely these wines that were the focus of my recent trip to Piedmont and the final picnic above the vineyards: sparkling wines from the house of Martini. The tradition is old. Already since the company was founded in 1863, Martini et Rossi has been producing Asti and Prosecco in addition to the world-famous vermouth. Almost exclusively by the Martinotti method, that is, in steel tanks with strong pressure. There have also been a few excursions into the méthode champenoise, but currently the company is returning to its roots for the regular program and fermenting in the tank, not in the bottle.
While traveling through the region, I have the opportunity to examine the entire process from A-Z. Whereby the method of production differs fundamentally depending on the product. The Asti is produced entirely under Martini’s own management. About 300 winegrowers from the homonymous region have joined the company as conferenti and deliver their grapes to the plant in Santo Stefano Belbo. Here the must is extracted from the grapes to be later processed in the large winery in Passione. Fittingly, we are on site exactly during the grape harvest. 2018 is a good year, but not a sensational one, for the hilly region.
The yield is good, but the quality is somewhat below the usual standard. Like everywhere else, people have to deal with the extreme weather. In general, the harvest in the vineyards of Piedmont is an arduous one. Small plots, mostly on slopes, can only be cultivated manually. The Muscat grapes, however, benefit from this. They are sweet, but already clearly reveal the typical slight acidity. Due to the barren slope and the resulting undersupply of nutrients, they are predestined for sparkling wine production. The yeasts find less nourishment in the must of these grapes and fermentation stops more quickly. That the must is already unfermented a delicacy, we can taste immediately after pressing the grapes on site.
The actual refining process then begins at Martini’s headquarters in Pessione near Turin. Unlike Asti, Prosecco is made with base wines purchased from other producers. On the one hand, this is due to the sheer volume that is produced here – after all, Martini is the largest producer of Prosecco in Italy. On the other hand, the flexibility in purchasing different base wines gives Head Winemaker Livio Prandi the opportunity to develop cuvées of almost identical quality and aroma every year. An exciting job. At least one day a week, Prandi retreats to his office, locks all the doors, turns off the phones and tastes. The cuvée is first created in the head. Only then are the orders triggered and production begins according to his recipe. At this stage it is necessary to avoid mistakes, the responsibility large. The selection of grapes varies, of course, per product, but also partly depending on the market. For example, the American Martini Rosé Extra Dry uses a different recipe than the one available in Europe.
The wines undergo a second fermentation process in huge, temperature-controlled steel tanks called autoclavi, using the Martinotti method. For Martini Prosecco DOC and Rosé Extra Dry, this second fermentation lasts about one month, for Martini Brut more than twice as long. Once this process is completed, the wines are bottled under pressure.
As a special highlight of the tour of the Passione plant, we can taste a wide selection of Martini’s current sparkling wine range directly in the production hall. Incidentally, the on-site museum, which stages the history of Martini in a very exciting way, is not only open to trade visitors. Winemaker Marco Boero proves to be an extremely competent expert and guides us through the individual production methods, cuveés and aroma profiles of the wines. The spectrum of our tasting ranges from Martini Brut (from Chardonnay, Trebbiano and Garganega), Martini Prosecco DOC (Glera, Pinot and Garganega), Martini Rosé Extra Dry (Riesling Italico, Chardonnay, Trebbiano and Nebbiolo) to Martini Asti DOC and Martini Asti.
Also available in Germany since 2018
In Germany, three of Martini’s high-quality spumante are available since this year: Martini Brut, Martini Prosecco DOC and Martini Rosé Extra Dry.
When we arrive for our rustic picnic on the hill overlooking the vineyards, I am sitting at the table together with Livio Prandi. The Head Winemaker of Martini. So much concentrated knowledge and love for the product is more than impressive. Great that I start directly into the conversation with a maximum faux pass: I generously add a few ice cubes to my glass of Martini Asti. According to my gusto, a drinking temperature around 6 degrees is ideal; with outside temperatures of 32 degrees, you would have to drink very quickly to maintain this until the last sip. Of course, the Master Blender’s heart bleeds at this robust approach. But that’s how we get to talk about it, and I find out that I’m not alone at all in my requests. Currently Livio Prandi is developing new Ice variants of Asti, crafted precisely to work perfectly with ice. A little more sweetness and somewhat stronger basic flavors should harmonize better with the ice cream. He also gave me the tip to use a lot of ice cubes if possible. These keep the temperature more constant, so less water is released and the taste remains more unadulterated. Later, Giorgio Castagnotti, Production Manager Martini, joins us at the table to give a further preview of current products and planned new developments. In his glass a Martini Prosecco DOC. With ice cubes. I am relaxed again.
The fresher, the better!
Unlike other sparkling wines, such as Champagne, it is important for Asti and Prosecco to be consumed as fresh and young as possible. So instead of long storage, Martini Spumante should be quickly put in the fridge and then drunk quickly, preferably as an aperitivo with a few small delicacies.
Even before our tour of the region, I had the opportunity to talk at length with Marco Mazzini in Turin. A summary of our conversation, along with some impressions of the trip, can be seen in this video.