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Looking for the Blue Fairy?

Posted by guest, Mar 5, 2008.


I missed the gala Italian wine tasting hosted by Gambero Rosso and Slowfood held this past Monday to celebrate Italy 's best wines. As the old saw states, no one goes there anymore - it's too crowded. Gambero publishes an Italian wine guide (Vini d'Italia - clever) and awards the coveted tre bicchieri (three glasses) to approximately 300 wines. I think enough ink has been digitized on the subject of ratings in wine so I will leave that topic alone, but you have to admire a system that bestows "greatness" on a wine by filling three tiny glasses with what appears to be a rosé. It has become fashionable in recent years to denigrate the publication of the guide both for its rating system and its seeming favor for International styled (read as new oak aged, higher alcohol and extraction and in the case of certain wines, softer tannins and earlier approachability) wines over the more traditional styles. I have come to neither praise nor bury the publication. I have always felt that guides such as this should provide us mere mortals with a starting point rather than an end point in our wine exploration. If you blindly follow the advice of any guide book without any reflection whatsoever, well, you get what you deserve. Gambero specifically does a good job of illuminating smaller producers that might not receive any attention through other means, although in classic Italian style the guide is arranged by Italian province, which is great if you happen to be standing in Cuneo but less than useful otherwise. Exploring the wines from these Cantinas may open new vinous doors for you. On the other hand, if you decide to limit yourself to only the three-glass wines - after all, why drink anything but the "best" - I posit you have done yourself a great disservice. Not because you have entered an already crowded room - there are plenty of unique and/or quality wines out there with rather large followings and the goal is not to find a wine so obscure that you are the only one to have heard of it - no, because you have subjugated your taste.
And on and on; there are too many wine guides out there to draw generalities, Amazon.com brings back over 3,000 results for 'wine guide,' and too great a variation in their relative worth to lament their use and misuse so here is my short "guide" to using guides:
When you are at base-camp 2 in the Himalayas and the Sherpa gentleman suggests that the weather coming over the summit is preventing your forward progress and suggests that you follow him back to camp. Please follow him.
When you are flipping through a pocket guide to wine and the author suggests that Chateau d’soandso is the best drop ever bottled kindly think to yourself "I think I'll be the judge of that, but thanks for the tip."
When used in this context all guides can become tools to help further our understanding and open new doors. Who knows, with some thought and some research we might even become real boys and girls someday.
 
Robert Scibelli is a lecturer and administrator at New York’s premier wine school, International Wine Center .

Replies

Blog comment by alesha, Mar 5, 2008.

I tend to use wine guides as a suggestion, but I know several people who rely slowly on the wine guides to tell them what to do. I find the same is true with food ratings or guides as well. Have we forgotten our own individual voices or opinions?

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Reply by Philip James, Mar 5, 2008.

Robert - great mountaineering reference! As a climber myself, even the sherpa guide is being supplanted. Last time I was in the Himalaya we relied on a stream of very expensive weather data which gave us wind direction, strength and temperature at 1,000 meter intervals up and down the mountain. I think it was $300 per day for the feed.

Blog comment by Dan, Mar 5, 2008.

Good post, Robert. I am off to San Fran in a few moments to attend Gambero Rosso's Italian traveling road show. I have also had the good fortune of living and working on a vineyard in Italy. And I remember the first thing that my weather worn, wine growing mentors told me: we want to make a wine that when you finish the first glass, you want another. And this is the philosophy of the "three glass" rating system. According to Gambero Rosso there are six four ounce pours in a bottle of wine. The bottle should be shared between two people. If after the first glass you wish another, then you drink a second glass and the wine has been lifted in "rating." If after the second glass, etc., etc. Well, you must give the wine reviewers at Gambero Rosso credit. Of the 18,000 wines they review, they only give three glass scores to 300 wines (1 in 60). That is quite impressive (and discerning), but more impressive is the very simple approach to rating wines that any consumer could do at home. Devo andare; piu presto!

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Reply by Mark Angelillo, Mar 5, 2008.

Great post. Last weekend I was at a restaurant with some friends and asked after the Sauvignon Blanc from Trentino Alto Adige. The waiter told me "You have to understand that Alto Adige is the best wine region in Italy." Afterwards I quipped to my friends "Were I to repeat that information to someone else I might end up in a fist fight." Wine suggestions are important though -- I actively seek them out.

Blog comment by Stephen, Mar 5, 2008.

Robert, very nice post. As an attendee this year, I can say that it was more than crowded... it was a zoo. The wines were quite good, though, and they displayed a wide range of tastes and styles, as they should coming from such a diverse wine-producing country. As for limiting oneself to only three glass winner, I couldn't agree with you more. Wine has always been, and will hopefully always remain a subjective experience and by tasting only a small subset of critically acclaimed wines you do yourself a disservice. Comparing Decanter ratings to Robert Parker ratings is a prime example, what one loves the other often doesn't. The key is to keep trying and to know what qualities you value.


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