The prestigious Tre Bichieri or "three glasses" award is a coveted honor and a robust endorsement that is published annually in Italian Wines (Vini d'Italia), produced by Gambero Rosso and Slow Food. Surveying over 20,000 Italian wines, grading each on a scale from one to three glasses, or bicchieri, the guide is designed to provide readers with both an understanding of the history and development of producers and their wines. The guide has helped to identify new Italian wines and wineries and introduce them to enthusiasts around the world. Each year independent local panels collect more than 70,000 bottles from across Italy that are sampled by nearly 30 tasting groups, each composed of five judges. More than 10,000 are rejected outright, while the remaining wines are awarded one or two bicchieri. Then the 1,500 of the top-ranking wines move on to the Tre Bicchieri taste-offs. The final commitee of judges is composed of seventeen experts, each a prominent local taster and the process involves multiple blind-tastings, cross-checks and controls over a period of fifteen days, concluding with three final tastings. Much deliberation is involved in the final selection, with each aspect and element of each wine analyzed and discussed at length.
At 2pm on March 4, in Fort Mason's Herbst pavilion in San Francisco, the great Italian wine tasting extravaganza of the year (at least as far as the Bay Area is concerned) hit the pedal to the metal, and the crowds of the industry insiders poured in. The general admission for non-trade started at 4:30, at which time I must say, many wines had been gone, the place looked ravaged, cheese nibbled away - one questions whether in this economy consumers got their $54.13 worth. But for the members of the trade - this is a "must-have" event that could wake up the Italian wine lover in even the most blasé francophile.
Of the hundreds of wines presented, I had the pleasure (and stamina) of sampling a good 50+. Here are my favorites that warrant further investigation, pursuit, stocking up on (if you can afford!) and cellaring. Forgive the brevity of the tasting notes - I was trying to keep up with my friends who kept running off and discovering more noteworthy specimens in all corners of the pavilion.
- Costa d'Amalfi Marisa Cuomo "Fiorduva" 2005 - great flavor, balance, ripe, some tropical pineapple, baked apple, touch of baked lemon.
- Biancosesto La Tunella 2007 - tasty!
- Vignalta Arqua and Vignalta Gemola 2004 - 75% Merlot / 25% Cab Franc. Fresh, full. Arqua brighter.
- Massolino Barolo Parafada 2004 - good red fruit, strawberry, tannic, tart
- Chianti Classico Reserva Montegiachi Agricoltori del Geografico 2005 - solid!
- Bertani Amarone della Valpolicella 2001 - delicious nose, sweet cherry compote, deep, impressive. (That's me tasting it on the photo above).
- Travaglini Gattinara TreVigne 2004 - very good wine in an awesome bottle!
- Vietti Barolo Lazzarito 2004
- Elvio Cogno Barolo "Ravera" 2004 - dark fruit, good tannin, good balance
- Biondo-Santi Brunello di Montalcino "Tenuta Greppo" 2003 - gorgeous honeyed cherry nose, great taste, a bit of spice.
- Bolgheri Sassicaia 2005 - light texture, red+black fruit, 85% Cab Sauv / 15% Cab Franc. The only appellation (DOC) in Italy named after a single wine and having no other producers. Nice. $$$$.
- Giulio Ferrari Reserva Trento DOC - 100% Chardonnay.
- Ca'del Bosco Franciacorta "Cuvée Prestige" Rose - foamy and lush
- Ca'del Bosco Franciacorta "Cuvée Annamaria Clementi" 2001 - best sparkler. If you haven't heard of Franciacorta, it is considered the highest expression of Italian sparking wine, made in the traditional method, this particular cuvée having an almost imperceptible yet palate-pleasing touch of residual sugar (dosage). Ca'del Bosco winery is regarded as the best producer of Franciacorta, run by Maurizio Zanella, whom we had the pleasure of meeting (see the photo at the bottom). $$$$
- Vin Santo di Montepulciano Avignonesi 1996 - best of show - phenomenal! $$$$
At $8000 for a spot at a demo table, many famous Italian producers simply did not show up. Understandable when their wines are still sold apparently without much need for marketing. Gaja and Conterno were conspicuously absent. Piedmonte wines were clearly under-represented, especially in the Barbaresco and Barbera departments.
Put me against the wall with a gun to my head and ask me to pick the absolute super-stars of the show, and I will say... The Ca'del Bosco "Cuvée Annamaria Clementi" was superb, and the Vin Santo (half-bottle) was divine. Both well north of $100. In this economy, at least a guy can dream, right?
Sipping on Ca'del Bosco top of the line cuvée with the winery's owner and winemaker Maurizio Zanella (aka the "scarf-man") - what a treat!