The Best Italian Wines of the Year

 


There’s only one source for the best Italian wines in the world: Gambero Rosso. You can think of this publication as Italy’s answer to the United States’ Wine Spectator. Every year, Gambero Rosso puts on a worldwide “roadshow” known as Tre Biccheri (which means “Three Glasses” in Italian), to pour their best wines of year. “Three Glasses” is the magazine’s top rating for wine excellence. As I discovered at this year’s event in New York City, these wines live up to their title. While the three big red B’s of Italy (Barolo, Brunello, and Barbaresco) traditionally receive most of the attention and hype, there is so much more to Italy. From the sparkling wines of Franciacorta and Prosecco, the northern whites of Alto Adige, or the distinct southern reds produced from various local varieties, the choices are practically endless. Read on for my top picks.
When you take more than a cursory look at what’s being accomplished in Italy you’ll find a stunning level of diversity. In some cases the winemaker’s mission is to work with local varieties or classic examples such as Chianti or Vermentino. In other cases they’re playing the vanguard role, experimenting with international varieties or blends that are not historically traditional. In all cases they are making wines they want to show off to the rest of the world. In addition to the aforementioned Big B’s (Barolo, Brunello, and Barbaresco), I sampled some impressive expressions of Sagrantino, Merlot, and Aglianico. In fact, the Sagrantino wine grape is on a lot of wine drinker’s radars. Pay attention to these bottles. But by all means, continue to enjoy the classics. The fun, and oftentimes value, is found in the under-sung varieties. This event is a reminder to Italian wine lovers everywhere about the gorgeous patchwork quilt of delicious colors, flavors and aromas coming out of the big boot. Here are my thoughts on ten wines from throughout my tasting day that stood out, made me take notice, and most importantly, I hope to drink again before long.
 
This offering is produced exclusively from Pinot Noir. It has a gorgeous light yellow hue. Bits of restrained yellow fruit, yeast and brioche are all apparent on the gorgeous and remarkably even-keeled palate. White pepper spice and a burst of flaky biscuit appear on the above average finish. This lovely and perfectly dry Sparkler is just a baby. I would hold it for 5 or so years and drink it in the decade that follows.
 
This Prosecco is produced entirely from the Glera wine grape. Lemon zest, white flowers and a hint of vanilla bean are present on the nose. On the palate there is a gentle complexity that screams elegance. White fruits such as peach and a hint of apple are evident along with a tiny bite of nutmeg. The finish is long and refreshing with racy acid and a hint of crème fraiche. 
 
Toasted hazelnuts and lychee fruit dominate the nose here. Apricot and white peach are apparent on the palate but play a secondary role to lychee which simply steals the show here. Lots of spice, bits of honey and continued yellow fruits are in evidence on the long finish. Firm acid keeps everything in check here. This is a stunning example of Gewürztraminer.
 
Green apple aromas are prevalent on the nose. From the very first sip, wave after wave of golden delicious apple flavors dominate the notably fresh palate. Baker’s spices, baked apple and a gentle wisp of honey mark the crisp finish. This incredibly refreshing wine is just a delight to drink.
 
Red cherry, plum and hints of black pepper leap from the nose here. An ample bit of raspberry emerges on the palate which is dominated by continued red cherry characteristics. Black tea, minerals and a lovely complement of spices are present on the long finish. Firm tannins and rock solid acid provide excellent structure. There is elegance in this wine which seems to belie its big shouldered structure. However give it a decade and this Barbaresco will be beyond stunning.
 
There is deep golden hue to this wine emblematic of the time spent in bottle. Wisps of linseed oil and a bit of pleasing and pungent petrol mark the nose here. From the first sip the depth and character of this offering are on display. Dried apricot and hints of tangerine zest are present. Minerals and spice are in evidence on the long, complex finish. I also sampled the current vintage (2014) of this wine which tastes like it will one day be as complex, layered and intriguing as this offering. If you’re looking for a marvelous selection, to geek out over with your wine loving friends, this 2007 wine from the Custoza region is it.
 
Red fruit and leather aromas are strongly evident on the nose here. The palate is stuffed with red cherry and a host of spices. Bits of savory herb make their presence felt as well. Black tea, finely ground earth, cinnamon and a continuing red fruits mark the persistent finish. Firm tannins and zippy acid provide the backbone upon which this Barolo will age effortlessly for the next two decades. Patience will indeed be rewarded.
 
The “radar” grape of 2016, there’s a gorgeous deep, dark color to this Sagrantino. Blackberry and black fig aromas dominate the rich nose. The palate is similarly filled with deep and intense flavors. Plum, black raspberry and more are joined by spices galore. The long finish shows off roasted espresso, earth and bits of kirsch liqueur. The tannins here are big and somewhat brawny. While delicious now this wine needs some additional time in bottle to fully resolve itself. It’s a tremendous example of Sagrantino that will only get better. 
 
Dried mission fig aromas are joined by savory herbs such as sage, thyme and rosemary on the expressive nose. The palate is sweet but restrained with remarkable depth, precision and a nuance not often seen in such a young Amarone. A host of red and black fruits are on display. The finish is long, persistent and spicy with fig, balsamic vinegar, and black pepper. It’s still very young and will improve tremendously with time, but at just over 4 years old it’s still a pleasure and a revelation to drink.
 
A gorgeous deep, yellow hue is striking when this wine hits your glass. Rich, lychee fruit, apricot and toasted almond aromas are all present on the somewhat boisterous nose. The palate is a study in perfect balance as sweetness and acid dance a tango on your tongue in perfect symmetry. White and yellow fruits are joined by spices and bits of mesquite honey. Golden delicious apple and a touch of vanilla appear on the long mellifluous finish. Just glorious on its own this passito-style wine (made from slightly dried grapes) is a tremendous partner for soft, creamy cheese’s, including those with a bit of funk.

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