On Wednesday, March 5, Gambero Rosso landed in San Francisco with one or two more stops on their "best of" Italian wine road show. On this site, Robert Scibelli blogged about Gambero Rosso's famed Three Glass rating system and how he missed the tasting. He opened quite amusingly with a Yogism (i.e. Yogi Berra's famous one liners) about the New York event held on Monday, March 3 saying, "no one goes there anymore, it's too crowded." This must be the reason, I guess, there has been black hole of blogging about the event. I was expecting something, a word or two, a review or three, but I received nothing when I googled, "Blog Gambero Rosso 2008." I even checked the professional bulletin boards, a la, eBob, et al. Nothing. I highly anticipated that Eric Asimov would have posted something in his (almost daily) The Pour. Niente. This event is the big PR push from the worldly wine producer that imports the most wine to this country and is year in and year out, the most consumed imported wine. And there was/is a Mafia-like Omerta, "code of silence" about it. As for me, I was overly excited about the event. I had it on the calendar for weeks, months even. And it's been a week and I am still talking about it.
When the first Greeks landed on the Italian peninsula, way back then, they reported to their fellow countrymen that Italy was "Oenotria" - the land of the (grape) vine. With twenty distinct wine producing regions and countless indigenous grapes (grown virtually no where else in the free wine growing world), Italy offers wine drinkers a uniqueness so profound that one can spend their life drinking Italian wine and have a fulfilling one at that, with what the Wine Spectator calls the "excitement factor," the final piece of the puzzle when they decide on their top 100 wines of the year. I remember vividly when I poured, blind, a glass of Sicilian Nero d'Avola to a good friend, Bourguignon born and one of California's best white wine makers, his response was, "I don't particularly like it, but I have never tasted anything else like it." He smelled and sipped again until he finished the glass and was disappointed when there was no wine left in the bottle.
In Gambero Rosso's 2008 edition of their wine guide, they list 2,256 producers, review 18,000 wines and award 305 wines with their top score, Tre Bicchieri (Three Glass). At the San Francisco event, 135 producers poured 176 wines - a couple of the wines were awarded Two Glasses from Three Glass producers and a couple of wines were pulled out from under the table as a treat to those who knew how to ask the right questions. My enthusiasm and anticipation were both fulfilled on that very day. I tasted over half the wines at the event and filled my tasting notebook with reviews of 50+ wines. Below are some of the wines that stood "best in show" and will be on my short-list for 2008 purchases. Before getting into it, I want to echo another Snooth blogger's comments about the 2003 vintage in Italy. On March 6, Giampiero Nadali wrote about Benvenuto Brunello, which is the annual release of the famed Sangiovese Grosso from Montalcino. Giampiero stated bluntly that the 2003 vintage of Brunello was a disappointment. I am adding to his statement saying that the 2003 vintage in (all of) Italy was a disappointment. Giampiero had the good fortune of tasting a number of wines from that vintage from a particular region, whereas I only tasted a spattering of wines from that vintage from different regions, but all the 2003 reds I tasted were extremely volatile. The blazingly hot vintage from top to bottom stressed the vines so much that it was hard to find a wine that didn't display sharp, high toned red fruit that was piercing on the nose and dominated the entire wine in the glass and in the mouth. After tasting a 2003 wine, I found myself rinsing my glass thoroughly or even getting new glassware to continue. So, for you vintage shoppers who use such information as a guide to select wines (especially on restaurant lists), my advice is to avoid this vintage. OKay. Onward and upward. My favorites below.
RED - 11 wines I really liked.
Cantina Produttori Santa Maddalena/Cantina di Bolzano: A.A. Lagrein Scuro Taber Riserva 2005 - indigenous grape varietal; from nose to tongue consistent power and complexity; completely in balance. Won the the Three Glass award nine out of the last 11 years.
Benanti Il Drappo 2004 : Nero d'Avola. Lovely and unique Nero d'Avola from Southeast Sicily. Has cedary, tobacco notes not characteristic of Nero d'Avola. Finishes with dark, black fruit and elegant tannins.
Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto 2001 : Amazing density of color. Liquid liqurice. Very dramatic on the nose and depth on the mid-palate but finishes short with noticeable tannins and slight acidity.
Librandi Gravello 2005 : 60% Galiopo, 40% Cabernet. Inviting, playful nose. Just the word Galiopo makes you want to laugh, a fun wine. Finishes bright red on top of soft elegant Cabernet tannins. Drank this wine again at dinner later in the night, when paired with food it showed a little darker and subdued, allowing the food and the wine to work well together.
Librandi Magno Megonio 2005 : Couldn't get a fix on this wine; a bit mysterious and a bit deviant. Made me go back for a curious second sip which was a little rugged and harsh around the corners of the mouth. A fighter.
Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto Riserva 2001 : "Red Label" given once a year to his best wine of the vintage. This may not be the best description of this wine, but it is the description that makes me most happiest - and caused me to go back for a second glass before leaving the venue - Smuckers jam on the nose, Jolly Ranchers in the mouth. Tangy acid and softening tannins on the finish.
Tasca d'Almerita Contea di Scalfani Rosso del Conte 2004 : On a day where a fair number of wines felt out of balance, this wine didn't. However, I am subdued by the wine which makes it not overtly impressive. From southern Italy you hope to find a wine with a little more savage instinct. Wine lingers on the palate for minutes or more.
Elio Grasso Barolo Ginestra Vigna Casa Mate 2003 : Can't overcome the sensitivity I have to the super stressed nose - the high tones, the volatility. Once it subsides the wine is lovely with mocha and bittersweet chocolate covering gripping tannins and a taste of acidity. Because of the harsh conditions in Italy in 2002 (rain) and 2003 (heat), Grasso will not be releasing its highly regarded Riserva, Gavarini Vigna Chiniera.
Castello di Ama Chianti Classico La Casuccia 2004 : Rich and dense, soft and elegant, a touch of class. One of the "best of show" wines.
Palari Faro Palari 2005 : A unique example of a Mt. Etna red that has softer acidity and minerality than most from the region. Gambero Rosso's Red Wine of the Year. The guide says that some consider it the best in Italy for it's remarkable resemblance to Pinot Noir of Burgundy.
Feudi di San Gregorio Irpina Serpico 2005 : Showed power but balanced with old world grace and elegance. Delicious, one of the top wines from the event. Disappointed in the 2003 Serpico which was poured after, the wine showed hot and volatile.
DESSERT - 2 delicious wines.
Donnafugata Passito di Pantelleria Ben Rye 2006 : Viscous peachy and apricot syrup on the nose and mid-palate; finishes very clean and bright, acidic.
Avignonesi Vin Santo 1995 : Liquid Caramel. Had to change the glass after tasting this wine. Marsala like. Diesel. Volatile. Oily. Viscous. Never seen anything like it except in my automotive parts store.
WHITE - 6 wines from Friuli.
Ronco dei Tassi Collio Bianco Fosarin 2006 : Delicious Tocai. Soft and elegant. Supple and seductive.
Eugenio Collavini Collio Bianco Broy 2006 : Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Tocai. Massive in its complexity but the best of everything. Creamy Chardonnay, racy Sauvignon and blossomy Tocai.
Venica & Venica Collio Tocai Friulano Ronco delle Cime 2006 : Epitome of a Tocai nose. Intense, rich and dense overall, racy and crisp on the finish.
Jermann Vinnae 2006 : A two glass wine that really outshines its higher rated sibling (Capo Martino). This wine is made of Ribolla Gialla, Tocai and Riesling and is flat out elegant.
Volpe Pasini Tocai Friulano Zuc di Volpe 2006 : Stunning white. Lush and balanced. Noticable fruit under a hefty, warm blanket.
Castello di Spessa Segre 2006 : Very Sauvignon Blanc like. A two glass wine that is a winner. Perfect summer sipper.
Dan Petroski is Assistant Winemaker at Larkmead Vineyards in Napa Valley. Dan has an MBA from New York University and worked as an Ad Exec in New York for several years, before switching it up and trading his suit for a move out west.
Three Glass Recap
- Reply by Philip James, Mar 12, 2008.
Dan - excellent post, I think the viewpoints that people like Robert, Gianpiero and yourself offer are a great addition to what the Snooth team can provide [data and aggregation experts we may be].
However, I do identify with the wines that taste like "jolly rancher" - I use that myself frequently.
- Blog comment by Rodolphe, Mar 12, 2008.
Dan, Great post, but one big omission. I thought the Monfalleto (Cordero di Montezemolo) Barolo Enrico VI 2003 outshone all the other reds in the room. Did you get a chance to taste it or did the teeming masses in front of the nearby Sassicaia table keep you away?
- Blog comment by Dan, Mar 12, 2008.
Rodolphe, thanks for the comment. Sadly, no I did not taste the Monfalleto. I will admit, I was one of the teeming masses that you speak of. It is rare that you can actually taste the wines you hear so much about: Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Oreno, Masseto, Tignanello, etc., etc. But thanks for giving me the heads up - I will add it to my list of 'seek out' wines.
- Blog comment by Scott, Mar 13, 2008.
Not long ago, I was introduced to my new best friend, Brunello. It was at an Italian friend's home abnd I don't know which Brunello it was, but it was amazing... big like I like it, but so complex, too. Your tasting menu here looks amazing to a relative novice but lover of the reds.
- Reply by Mark Angelillo, Mar 13, 2008.
I sincerely hope to make it to this event soon. Thanks for the information Dan -- I'll hopefully get to look some of these up.
- Blog comment by garnet eyes, Mar 16, 2008.
My new best friend is not just brunello but Castello Romitorio's Brunello di Montalcino 2003. w o w z e r s!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- Blog comment by Jennifer, Mar 17, 2008.
Great post! It is great to see someone in the blogging community excited about the great Italian wines. I would like to say that not all of Italy had a bad year in 2003. If you tried anything from the Abbruzzo region, you would know this is true. Also, in Puglia it is always hot and the grapes grown (mostly primitivo) are meant for this hot area.
One wine in Particular from Abbruzzo was the Illuminati Montpulciano D'Abbruzzo 2003 called Zanna. Illuminati (not the cult, but the Illuminati family starting with Nico and Dino) wines have been chosen for the Tre Bicchieri many years consecutively, not only for the "Zanna", but also for the even higher end, "Pieluni". They have chosen not to produce Pieluni again until 2006 because it will not be the best production. They are very particular and can afford to not produce their wine in the years of less attractive production.
Beyond that, I agree with your selection of great wines from the tasting. What do you think about really opening it up to the public? not just press and trade?