Gambero Rosso's Tre Bicchieri tasting, the Oscars of Italian wine, undoubtedly qualifies as The Most Anticipated Event of the year for Italian wine buffs. Crowded and intense, it’s an afternoon of frenzied tasting, jostled elbows, truncated conversations, and barely legible notes. But boy, is it worth it. Where else can you sample the best of the best, from the Alps to Sicily, all in one room? This year, 391 wines received the top score of Three Glasses (Tre Bicchieri), and 152 of those wines were presented yesterday in New York. (See the full list.)
It takes a strategy to work a room with 152 producers and perhaps 200 wines (the winning producers could also pour their Two Glasses wines). This year, I zeroed in on several grape varietals and regions I normally pass over, delving into Liguria’s Vermentino and Sicily’s Nero d’Avola, and Nerello Mascalese, among others. It was tough ignoring the siren call of Barolo, Amarone, and other old suitors, but the Italian wine world is a big place, so I thought I'd don my explorer’s cap.
A few highlights:
When I visited Modena last year, a well-regarded Lambrusco winemaker told me that the day a Lambrusco won 3 Bicchieri, “there will be a revolution.” Well, that day has come. For the first time ever, this slighted grape has penetrated the winners circle -- not with one, but two wins: Chiarli’s pale, elegant Lambrusco di Sorbara Vecchia Moderna Premium 2008 and Ermete Medici’s bone dry Reggiano Lambrusco Concerto 2008. I loved the latter’s grapey flavor, the product of a single vineyard of Lambrusco Salomino grapes. Equally appealing was Chiarli’s 2 Glasses winner, Lambrusco Graparossa di Castelvetro Pruno Nero 2008, which has a touch of residual sugar. Served it slightly chilled alongside some pumpkin-filled ravioli, and you'll be a convert too. Let the revolution begin!
Another rare sighting was Gavi wine. This piemontese white won 3 Glasses only once before, and it was for the same winery’s cru: Villa Sparina Gavi del Comune di Gavi Monterotondo 2007. Since Villa Sparina is just up the hill from our house, it’s a sentimental favorite. Plus, it’s good! The 60-year-old vines offer concentrated fruit and an appealing nuttiness that complements Gavi’s characteristic freshness. A second Gavi made its Gambero Rosso debut: Broglia's Gavi del Comune di Gavi Bruno Broglia 2008. Here’s one for the home team!
PERFECT WITH PESTO
Poor Ligurian wine. Grapes have been losing ground to flowers as Liguria’s preferred cash crop, and no wonder. The steep Riviera cliffs are excruciating to work. So I was happy to see several Ligurian winemakers rewarded with 3 Glasses. My favorite was Lunae. Located near La Spezia and sourcing from 150 miniscule growers, they make two styles of Vermentino: the racy and lean Colli di Luni Vermentino Lunae Etichetta Nera 2008 (3 Glasses) and the complex and rich Colli di Luna Vermentino Cavagino 2008 (2 Glasses, but my personal preference). These beg for focaccia, pasta with pesto genovese, seafood, and a view of the Riviera. (If this sounds good, try our PIEDMONT & CINQUE TERRE TRAILS tour, coming up this June and September.)
It’s hard to argue with those who say Italy’s best whites come from the northeast. Not when there are Friulian wines like Vintage Tuniga 2007, a late-harvest field blend from Super White pioneer Jermann; or Villa Russiz’s Collio Sauvignon de la Tour 2008, whose heady aromatics and layered complexity create a benchmark for Sauvignon Blanc; or Kerner 2008 from the venerable Abbazia di Novacella in Trentino. All eye-rollingly good, as is the champagne-style sparkler from Ferrari, the Trento Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore Brut 2000, aged on its lees for 10 years. I’m tickled we’ve added Ferrari to our ITALIAN ALPS hiking tour and can’t wait to visit this June.
THE BEST FROM BOLGHERI
Crowds were thick around Tenuta San Guido, where the legendary Sassicaia 2006 was being poured. It’s a meaty wine, but beautifully integrated, even at this young age, with a burnished oak provided backbone without overstatement. I was amazed how drinkable their second label was: Guidalberto 2007; that was the Merlot talking, no doubt. Dark berries, chocolate; yum. We'll be tasting Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Grattamacco, and other Bolgheri pioneers in situ on our XTREME TUSCANY tour in June.
My tasting notes had stars scrawled next many other names, as well. I loved the Etna Rosso 2006 from Cottanera, an old Sicilian winery with new energy and investments; it showed delicious fruit with floral rose, minerality, and a touch of milk chocolate. I couldn’t resist stopping at the Zenato table to taste one of my favorite Amarones, the decadently luxurious Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2005. But I saved the best for last: Donnafugata’s unearthly dessert wine from sun-dried zibbibo (moscato) grapes, Passito di Tantelleria Ben Ryé 2008. An orange blossom nectar from the Sicilian gods -- and a worthy finish.