Gambero Rosso’s 2018 “Tre Bicchieri” Wine Tastings

Welcome to “Tre Bicchieri” and the fine wines of Italy.

Publisher Gambero Rosso produces guides for both wines and restaurants in Italy. “Tre Bicchieri,” meaning three glasses, is named for the highest designation Gambero Rosso ascribes to wine. Their trade show of fine wines from Italy visits several American cities annually, and in San Francisco the 31st anniversary was held at Fort Mason on March 8, 2018. Participation is limited to wineries that have earned the tre bicchieri designation.

So why is a trade show of interest to our readers? Because it offers insights into Italian wines available in the U.S. and provides sources and direction for consuming them in Italy, as well as identifying opportunities to visit quality vineyards. We recommend referring to Gambero Rosso’s publication Italian Wines (in English) or Vini d’Italia (in Italian) for the most authoritative information on the industry.

There is no way to savor all of the wines showcased by the 120 participating wineries, each of which has multiple excellent wines for tasting. So what follows are several recommendations from our experience, each from a different region of Italy, including at least one sample of white, red, dessert, and sparkling offerings. We now embark on a wine tour of a few areas of this bountiful country beginning in the northern mountains, traveling to the south, and ending in the rugged football off the toe of Italy’s boot that is Sicily.

Our first course of this wine fest begins with a fresh white wine that reminds us of the stark clean air of its origins, Alto Adige in the Dolomite mountains. This Sylvaner Aristos 2016 from Cantina Produttori Valle Isarco sports a lovely pale yellow color and a fruity, peach and green apple flavor with a long crisp mineral finish. It matches well with fish and light finger foods.

Moving slightly Southwest to Tenuta Sant’Antonio in the Veneto region, we find Amarone Della Valpolicella Campo dei Gigli 2013. This intense wine has unusually rich deep flavor because for the Amarone designation, the grapes are dried for three months on bamboo mats before the crush. It is best drunk at least 5 years after harvesting. Well-balanced and full-flavored, it begs for an appetizer of game or mature cheese with truffles. This 16% alcohol wine with notes of dark fruit, prune, licorice, chocolate and coffee from near Verona would be perfect for any Montegu or Capulet extravaganza.

As we travel a bit further south into Emilia Romagna to Cantina Sociale di Carpi e Sorbara, we are most surprised to find that Lambruscos no longer have the cloying sweetness prevalent in the United States in the past. Lambrusco di Sorbara Secco Omaggio a Gino Friedmann 2016 is complex like its tongue twisting name. This fine froth sparkler of light rose color has a bouquet of white fruit and flowers, lively flavor and bottom yeast. It would be perfect as a palate cleanser mid-meal. Better yet, enjoy a flight of bubbly from white to deep red.

Although we cover wines from regions that are not so well-known, a tasting from Italy would seem incomplete without at least one wine from the beautiful hill country of Tuscany. Our choice this year is Chianti Cl. Belcanto 2015 from Fattoria Nittardi. In the world of opera belcanto denotes complex beauty, as does this typical red Chianti Classico. Grown in soil of limestone and clay, this wine is 90% Sangiovese and 10% autochthonous varieties. After 12 months in used French oak barrels it spends a few months in bottle. With a nose of cherry and raspberry it is medium bodied with grippy tannins and a fresh long finish.

We thought that we knew the names of all the provinces in Italy, so we were caught off guard by Molise. A small little-known agricultural region on the mid-Adriatic coast, its Di Majo Norante winery won high accolades for Molise Aglianico Contado Ris 2014. With 100% Aglianico grapes hand-harvested in late October and an extended period of maceration, fermentation occurs in stainless steel, maturing in stainless steel and barriques for 18 months. All this builds a complex, layered and deep flavored wine. It is a very easy drinking mellow ruby red wine with light well-balanced tannins, aromas of ripe fruit and almonds with undertones of leather and wood and a long velvety finish on the palate. If your mouth is watering how about a pairing of grilled venison?

The last red that we wish to highlight is from Felline winery in the southeastern region of Puglia. You may wonder at the name – Primitivo di Manduria Sinfarosa Zinfandel 2015 since Primitivo is an Italian varietal whereas Zinfandel is its American twin. The interesting story behind these two is that in the 1990s Paul Draper of California’s Ridge Winery swapped vines with Felline. These vines were planted and trained low to the ground with roots running 14 to 20 feet deep, and the resulting winner has a fruitiness and power that we would associate with warm climate California, old vine Zins.

Last but certainly not least comes dessert and the Sweet Wine of the Year from Sicily’s Donnafugata winery, “Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé” 2015. The Zibibbo grapes grow on the small isle of Pantelleria, just southwest of the main island of Sicily. Because of formidable winds (ben ryé means son of the wind), vines need to be planted in a hole using the traditional bush-training system which was awarded world heritage status by UNESCO. One immediately notices its brilliant amber color, then its fragrant, captivating bouquet with scents of thyme and rosemary. With strong notes of fresh apricot, dried fig, and candied citrus zest, the palate amazes with freshness yet intricacy and lingering persistence. So bewitching it is that we are somewhat ashamed to say, we had to taste this richness three times over the course of the tastings.

Needless to say, there were many other great wines at this event that we tasted and many more that we didn’t. Our only solace about what we missed is knowing that Gambero Rosso’s “Tre Bicchieri” show will be returning to San Francisco same time, next year. We look forward with great anticipation to “work” our way through next year’s offerings.