Raising a Glass (or Three) to Italian Wine

Raising a Glass (or Three) to Italian Wine

Post by Chuck Hayward | February 25th, 2011

Founded in 1986, the Gambero Rosso (which translates to“red prawn”) has done a great deal to advance the Italian wine industry both domestically and, more recently, internationally. It quickly progressed from a newspaper insert to a monthly magazine focusing on Italian wine, food and travel and its Vini d’Italia wine annual is one of the industry’s most comprehensive wine publications today. The legacy of the Gambero Rosso will forever be tied to its association with the Slow Food movement, which also began in 1986, as their efforts to promote traditional, local cuisine married nicely to the Gambero Rosso’s concentration on regional wine education.

As more Italian wines began to enter the American market from less celebrated regions of Italy, consumers and members of the wine trade looked for alternative and local sources of information, and Gambero Rosso‘s guide to the top wines of the year was the perfect remedy. The best wines are awarded three glasses, or “tres bicchieri”, with lesser wines awarded one or two glasses. Only 300-400 wines receive the highest honor each year out of the approximately 14,000 reviewed.

Since the wines are listed by region in the Vini d’Italia, readers can easily seek out the best wines from each appellation. With obscure regions such as Valle d’Aosta listed alongside the better known Tuscany and Piemonte, the layout serves to raise awareness and elevate the status of these lesser known DOCs. Another result is that sales increase for wines produced from rare indigenous varietals grown in remote areas of Italy.

Publishing an influential wine guide does not come without problems, though, and the wine trade is full of people who like to take potshots at successful enterprises.While many credit Gambero Rosso with shining a light on wine regions throughout Italy, others see the magazine as promoting modern wine styles over traditional winemaking techniques, an interesting argument given the publication’s close association with the Slow Food movement, their snail logo prominently displayed on the cover and spine of the wine annual.

There have also been issues with the organization’s leadership, as founding editor Stefano Bonilli was fired in a management struggle in 2008. The departure of the respected writer prompted the Slow Food association to recently end their relationship with the magazine. Other critics raised eyebrows when Daniele Cernilli was named as editor, it was considered a conflict of interest since his wife ran a public relations firm specializing in wine. However, he resigned his post last month.

Getting Ready to Taste Many Glasses

Problems aside, the Gambero Rosso has attempted to raise its profile in the United States through their annual Tre Bicchieri Tastings, where both members of the trade and consumers can taste the winning wines of the previous year. The events are a great opportunity to sample the diversity of wines and styles coming from Italy, and the JJ Buckley wine staff attended this year’s tasting held at Fort Mason, in an effort to uncover the best and most interesting wines. It was not an easy task.

The concise organization of the wine guide, which highlights wines by region, was not evident in the way the wines were arranged at the event. With over 150 wines set up on the tables of some 50 importers, vernaccias were poured next to amarones while barolos were poured next to falanghinas.  Many of us were forced to bounce from table to table, and of course, had to fight the hoards trying to taste some of the more popular and expensive wines like Sassicaia and Solaia.

Nevertheless, there was a great deal of information to be gleaned from the 2011 edition of the Tre Bicchieri event. Among the reds, there was only a smattering of Brunelli presented, as 2005 was not a particularly stellar year for the region. However, there were many 2007s from Tuscany, highlighting the rich, concentrated flavors that we’ve come to expect from this vintage with the Chiantis being exceptionally appealing. An assortment of wines from Piedmont could also be found with many showing the elegant, compact profiles of the 2006 vintage. Renato Ratti’s 2006 Barolo “Rocche” showed why this winery remains one of the most consistent nebbiolo producers. Finally, for lovers of rich and modern styled amarones, look out for the winning 2006 vintage from Allegrini.

Tre Spumanti at Tre Bicchieri

Many of our staff commented on the large number of white wines at this year’s tasting. Indeed, there was a wide assortment of examples coming from throughout Italy, with an especially high percentage of Verdicchios being awarded three glasses in the latest guide. And while these and other whites provided a welcome respite from the many tannic reds, the showstopper was once again the 2001 Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore Brut Sparkling from Trentino. This is truly one of the best, if not the best, sparkling wines to come from Italy. It maintains amazingly fresh lemon scented fruit flavors despite almost ten years of aging en tirage. Youthful and still vibrant, there is no trace of the yeasty, toasty notes often found in Champagnes that spend a similar amount of time on cork. A revelation at last year’s Tre Bicchieri tasting that was confirmed again at this one, it was a fitting ending to a long afternoon.

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