Sunday, February 15, 2015

Tre Bicchieri 2015

Luca Currado of Vietti (on the left), my favorite Barolo producer at the event, and Iron Chevsky (me, on the right) holding the red wine of the year - Vietti Barolo Riserva "Villero" 2007

The 2015 Tre Bicchieri in San Francisco took place in February. The weather was spectacular, the setting at Fort Mason gorgeous, yet it seemed like few famous producers attended, and few bottlings per producer were poured, many of the wines ran out well before the event end. Despite my expectation to taste Brunello and Barolo from the much heralded 2010 vintage (because last year we tasted 2009 Barolo), there were but a handful of 2010's. Perhaps producers don't feel the need to promote their 2010's. Perhaps the famous brands of Italy are focusing on Antonio Galloni and James Suckling events rather than Gamero Rosso's. Whatever it is, I am left thinking that somehow this event is losing its importance to the big names, which is unfortunate as this has always been the top Italian tasting in the Bay Area and the guiding light into the world of top Italian wine each year. What the event has always done well, however, is expose me to a broad array of lesser known wineries of excellent quality, and perhaps that is the pronounced effect of the recent drop of attendance by the bigger names. Crowds still poured in, and there were plenty of wines to drink and generous variety of Italian cheeses to eat. Four hours of tasting flew by in a flash.

I tasted some shockingly good things (Capezzana Vin Santo di Carmignano Riserva 2007 - sweet wine of the year, and Cantina della Volta Lambrusco di Modena Rose 2010, incredibly elegant and unique sparkling wine), but looks like they are so under the radar, that almost no one in the US carries them. The 2012 Donnafugata Ben Rye dessert wine was a worthy follow-up to the magnificent 2011, perhaps with a touch less acidity. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2010 was most excellent - silky dark cherry and tar. As was Vietti's 2011 Barolo Brunate and Castiglione, and the 2007 Villero Riserva (red of the year). If Vietti ends up making 2011 Villero Riserva eventually, that will be a monumental wine too, his 11's are structured and delicious, as should be the Brigaldara Amarone Riserva in 2011, when it eventually comes out in a few years, based on how great the regular 2010 Brigaldara Amarone showed here - complex juniper and spices, with sensation of sweetness but not syrupiness, no heaviness, bitter coffee and tannins ensuring long life (and the 2011 is supposedly an even better vintage than 2010), both, if materialize, are future candidates for my son's birth year collection. Schiavenza Barolo Broglio 2008 was very nice too with smoky notes and elegant tannins, and the most amazing weightlessness like in outer space. Graci Etna Rosso Arcuria (2011 and 2012) were Burgundy-like, especially 2011 - so elegant!, while the '12 had more concentration and should be great in a couple of years - with notes of honeyed herbs, chocolate dust and volcanic tar, soft tannins and a velvety Pinot-like texture! A pleasant surprise was Poggio di Sotto 2009 Brunello, from a much maligned vintage, but delicious wine. (Once again telling me that the 2010 Brunello / Barolo hype should be taken with a grain of salt, because there are plenty of fantastic wines in all of the recent vintages of Barolo and Brunello.) The whites were generally underwhelming, with few usual suspects impressively standing out - sparklers from Ferrari (like drinking lace) and Ca'del Bosco (crystalline purity), and ripe, smoky and rich Pieropan Soave La Rocca 2012, as well as the ripe and almondy Jermann Vintage Tunina 2012 creating sensation of (Riesling-like) energy as if from remaining carbonation (and apparently there is some residual fermentation known to happen in this wine). One other white that captivated my taste buds was Casalfarneto Verdicchio del Castelli di Jesi Fontevecchia 2013 - with richness, almonds, herbs and ripe fruit.

Here are the photos and more notes on the memorable wines.

Ca'del Bosco Franciacorta a perennial top sparking wine - all three cuvee's were on point. The entry-level Cuvee Prestige NV (yellow magnum) was reliable. Annamaria Clementi Rose Riserva 2006 was expectedly great - a finely chiseled, minty freshness with hints of herbs and pine cones, a classy sparkling wine. This year I was particularly impressed with the Ca'del Bosco Brut Vintage Collection 2010 - the black bottle. More than matched by a set from Ferrari (Trento) - where the top wine Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore 2004 was in a class of its own, like drinking lace.

Impressive wines from Vietti, including their entry-level Barolo Castiglione, one of the annual bargains in Piemonte, which is showing more delicious than the 2010 bottling at this stage.

Poggio di Soto Brunello 2009 was a pleasant surprise - a delicious Brunello from a much maligned vintage, with flavors of fermented plum and cake.

G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2010 was up there with Vietti, and one of the top wines of the heralded 2010 vintage. Out of three of Vajra's Barolo bottlings from 2010 I tasted this year - the entry-level Albe, their other label - Luigi Baudana "Baudana", and this one -- the Bricco delle Viole is by far my favorite.

Top two sweet wines of the tasting, and some of the greatest I have tasted in my entire life. The Capezzana Vin Santo di Carmignano Riserva 2007 was the sweet wine of the year, and had an amazing silky texture and slightly oxidative (sherried) style, with flavors of walnuts, dried Turkish apricots, somewhat akin to a Pedro Ximenez, but finer, sleeker and more elegant, with great acidic balance and long, spell-binding finish - a wow dessert wine that was just a notch above the deliriously delicious Donnafugata Passito di Pantelleria Ben Rye 2012 - the essence of apricots with a hint of smoke.

Graci - an excellent producer of Etna Rosso (Sicily) featured his 2012 "Arcuria" Etna Rosso, but also supplied a 2011 for reference. Awesome wines, with Burgundy-like textures, but additional smoke and almost a volcanic tar nuance that make them unique. These are excellent with food, and can pair well with both meat and seafood (once tannins resolve in a couple of years), and can stand up to spice as well.

Second year in a row, I am very impressed with the wines from Cantina della Volta (in Emilia Romagna region) - incredibly creative and refined takes on Lambrusco sparkling wine. Their Lambrusco di Modena Brut Rose 2010 (the white label) is fantastically rich, luscious, and elegant (something that cannot normally be said about the rustic Lambrusco), with gently extracted red berries and herbs. It can age for 5-10 years, perhaps more. Wow!

I continue to be inspired by wines of Brigaldara from Veneto. Their Amarone Classico 2010 was complex with bitter-sweet coffee and herbs, fruity with sensation of sweetness and lushness but totally dry and without cloyingness or heaviness. Many an Amarone over-index on the heft and sweetness. Not this one. Antonio Cesari (on the photo), the owner's son, explained that these wines go through three phases as they age. First, young and tannic on release, they pair with robust stew-type dishes full of herbs and spices. Next, at 5-10 years, as tannins smooth out and wines lose some of their exuberance, they pair well with steak and such, and finally at old age, perhaps up to 20-40 years, they become intellectual wines to savor on their own.

And here are a number of other noteworthy wines that I would be happy to have in my cellar.

Once again I went away feeling that while Italian wines do not quite reach the heights of the best of France, the sheer diversity and uniqueness of flavors and expressions of Italians makes them incredibly interesting and stimulating companions - in both colors (though personally I am more inspired by the reds). From great Taurasi of Campania to Sfurzat of Alto Adige to Etna Rosso of Siccily and Sagrantino of Umbria, and on and on and on, bravo!

For reference, last year event is documented here.

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