Tre Bicchieri – The Best in Italian Wines

Union Station in Chicago

Every year for the last 24 years Gambero Rosso, the premier Italian guide to the country’s best wines, has been profiling and evaluating wines.  The result is  the much coveted Tre Bicchieri, or “Three Glasses” award, the highest level of appreciation that can be bestowed on a wine.  This year Gambero Rosso hosted tastings throughout the country, and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the event in Chicago.

I think I’ll start with my favorite surprise red, Agricola Punica’s 2007 Barrua, a Sardinian wine which received the 3-glass award.  The blend is 85% Carignano, 15% Cabernet. The winemaker, Sebastiano Rosa, also manages Tenuta San Guido.  A very intense ruby color, the aromas were dominated by dark fruit, minerality, velvety tannins and good acidity.  The wine regions of Sardinia and Sicily have been awarded 11 and 15 3-glass awards, respectively.  This is an encouraging sign that quality is on the rise and winemakers are lowering their yields and picking fruit that retains more of that all important acidity.  Speaking of Tenuta San Guido, I also tasted the ‘07 Sassicaia and ‘08 Guidalberto.  The latter’s tannins are still quite firm; the wine needs more time.  The Sassicaia was smooth and elegant but a little disappointing as I hoped for a bit more complexity.
During my discussion with the representative from Giacomo Borgogno & Figli, I was able to learn about the traditional casks of Ital, the  Botti. Italians have used all manner of cask size to ferment and age their wines, especially large ones.  Botti up to 1,000 litres are referred to as “Picola” Botti, 2-3,000l are simply Botti.  Those casks at the larger end of the scale (up to 5,000l) are made in Italy from imported oak.  While I listened, I was also sipping the ‘05 Barolo Liste, a very traditional style not made for early drinking.  It was elegant with dried fruits and still plenty of firm tannins which will be much more approachable in the next 5 years. This is a great one to buy and lay down in your cellar.  By the way, this wine was aged in a 14,000 litre Botti!
Pio Cesare’s single vineyard ‘06 Barolo Ornato was more forceful and assertive than the Liste with more cigar box aromas and flavors, lean tannins.  Another one which will taste better in 5 years.  Other notable Barolos were Michele Chiarlo’s ‘06 Barolo Cannubi and Fontafredda’s ‘04 Barolo Casa E. di Mirafiore Riserva, racked three times and unfiltered.
La Spinetta’s ‘07 Barbaresco Vign. Starderi was just delicious with its wonderful dried cherries and cinnamon spice on the palate. ‘07 was a great vintage for this region.  The rhino on the label was inspired by Albrecht Durer.  A keeper.
At Antinori’s table I tasted the ‘07 Solaia. very much the Bordeaux blend with its dominance of Cabernet Sauvignon.  In general, I found the reds from 2007 to be very extracted, rich, full-bodied with well-ripened fruit, many with a sweetness to the nose.  The ‘07 Castel del Monte Aglianico Bocca di Lupo is a wine with which I am well-acquainted, very food-friendly and approachable.  My favorite Bordeaux style wine would be Castello del Terriccio’s ‘07 Lupicaia, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot, very drinkable.
Sagrantino di Montefalco made a big splash this year.  All the wines I tried were dark and inky with rich fruit. Giampaolo Tabarrini’s ‘04 Colle Alle Macchio was aged for 3 years in oak and 3 years in bottle.  For a grape that is known for being one of the most tannic varieties in the world, no wonder they age it for so long.  As a matter of fact, 29 months is a minimum to attain DOCG status.  Another wine region to watch as it develops.
A number of Amarones were a bit on the sweet side, but two stand out which were more to my liking: First was Tenuta Sant’Antonio’s ‘06 Campo dei Gigli.  It was velvety smooth, elegant, eminently quaffable.  Secondly, Speri’s ‘06 Monte Sant’Urbano was offered instead of the ‘07 as the winemaker considered the warmer vintage to be a better expression of quality. Valpolicella has 10 indigenous varieties that can be used for Amarone with Oseleta and Croatina included in the latter blend.
With all that discussion of the reds, it was the whites that truly surprised.  One outstanding example was Elena Walch’s ‘09 A.A. Gewurztraminer Kastelaz.  This grape variety is known locally as “Tramin” and had a gloriously aromatic nose so characteristic of the Gewurtz.
Planeta had only wine available for tasting, the ‘09 Cometa, made from 100% Fiano, but it was also very appealing with its aromatic floral and peachy aromas.
Another great new wine was the award-winning Fattoria Monticino Rosso’s ‘08 Albana di Romagna Secco Codronchio in Emilia. What aromatics! Foral, lychee. There was a very rich, almost oily mid-palate but wrapped with a refreshing acidity.
In Friuli there was an intriguing blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Picolit (also sound in the Southern Rhone) and Moscato Giallo all found in Livon’s ‘08 Collio Braide Alte.  Beats me how they came up with that blend, but it’s got weight and power.  This is the 7th year in a row it has won this top award.
Finally, in the sparkling wine category, Guido Berlucchi’s non-dosaged wine, his ‘05 Franciacorta Brut Extreme Palazzo Lana was interesting.  From 100% Pinot Noir it was aged for 5-7 years.  But, it was his ‘61 Brut Rose Cuvee, from 50% Pinot Nero and 50% Chardonnay that was my favorite.
So, if you are looking for something new, give the Italians a try.  They will not disappoint!

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