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Tre Bicchieri – fine Italian wines tasting

Veni, Vidi, Vici.

So it is with Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri, a trade show of fine wines from Italy held at Fort Mason. Italy’s corollary to Michelin, Gambero Rosso produces guides for both wines and restaurants in Italy. Tre Bicchieri is so named because every invited winery must have been awarded the top honor (three glasses) for least one of their wines. 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.

How it Began

This Italian world wine tour, which celebrates its 30th anniversary, began when the sponsor’s publication Vini d’Italia became inadequate to highlight the talents of Italian winemakers internationally. The road show for top Italian wines now goes to Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America. Today, Tre Bicchieri Week is a highlight for lovers of Italian wine, with events in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. These shows during the first week of February attracts almost 10,000 press and trade visitors.

The growth in the tour is mirrored by the growth in Italian wine exports, which grew by 575% between 1986 and 2015. Italy is the second largest wine producer in the world (France 4.3 million tons, Italy 4.1, United States 3.2, Spain 3.2). It has overcome scandals concerning massive volumes of adulterated wines and is now distinguished by exemplary quality and choice by grape varietal and by terroir. Fine wine is produced in each of the provinces of Italy.

On Your Mark, Get Set, Taste

There is no way to savor all of the wines showcased by the 135 participating wineries, each of which has multiple excellent wines for tasting. What follows are the highest recommendations from our experience with Tre Bicchieri recipients at the show, including samples of white, red, dessert, and sparkling offerings.

First – two wonderful white wines. Karin’s preference for table wines runs almost exclusively to reds, so her giving these two high ratings is unusual. From the Campania (Amalfi Coast) region, Tenuta Sarno 1860 offers their 2015 Fiano di Avellino, a complex salty, smoky, white from chalky volcanic rock aged in stainless barrels. From Liguria (the coastal region north and west of Tuscany), La Baia del Sole – Federici winery’s 2015 Colli di Luni Vermentino Sarticola, is also aged in stainless steel. It is another fresh taste, coming from an area with lots of sun and great soil drainage. Both of these easy drinking wines are available now or soon in a few local restaurants and retail at reasonable cost, in the $25-$30 range.

Italy wine Picture_Schloss_Lebenberg-10Three red varietals of note follow. First, we enjoyed a 2013 Shymer from Baglio Di Pianetto in Sicily. As the name implies, it is a Shiraz/Merlot, and it is a sumptuous, smooth, deep red with strong dark red fruit. It will be available in the Bay Area soon for under $20, so it will be a fine daily go-to wine. The winery is in Santa Cristina Gela, near Vic’s ancestral home town in the hills outside of Palermo.  We had a private tour of the winery from owner, Count Paolo Marzotto, several years back.

Next, from the Veneto region’s Tenuta Sant’Antonio winery, is a 2012 Amarone della Valpolicella Campo dei Gigli. This 16% alcohol wine from Verona tastes of dark fruit, prune, coffee and chocolate and dries on bamboo mats for three months before pressing, giving it a rare intensity.  As a higher priced bottle, it would be a fitting gift to any Romeo or Juliet. A final selection in this category was judged “Red of the Year.” It is from Puglia, suggesting that fine Italian wines are no longer limited to the northern regions. From Chiaromonte winery, it bears a tongue twisting name – Gioia del Colle Primitivo Muro Sant’Angelo Contrada Barbatto 2013. Primitivo carries the same DNA as our California Zinfandel. These vines are trained low to the ground with roots running 14 to 20 feet deep, and the wine develops a fruitiness and power that we would associate with warm climate, old vine Zins.

gambero_rosso_09-thumb-300x225-553And now for dessert, and the Sweet Wine of the Year, from Friuli Venezia Giulia, northeast of Venice and a mere 2 to 3 kilometers from Slovenia. Lis Neris winery’s Tal Luc Cuvée Speciale 2013. This delectable very sweet but not sticky, long drying/low yield Verduzzo with 5% Riesling tastes of honey, dried apricots, fig, date, and orange skin. Honorable mention goes to Sicilian Donnafugata winery’s Passito di Pantelleria Ben Rye 2014. Having 14.5% alcohol, with strong notes of apricot and candied citrus zest, its grapes grow on a small island just off the southwest coast of Sicily in such a windy climate that the vines need to be planted in a hole. At around $40 retail, it costs less than half of the Tal Luc.

To clean the palate comes the Sparkler of the Year, a rare vintage Prosecco from the Veneto region. This is Ruggeri winery’s 2015 Valdobbiadene Extra Dry Giustino B.   This delightful sparkler is produced from five specific vineyards with 40 to 80 year old vines with grapes that sit on lees for a year. The wine was especially created for the now 95 year old winery owner (Giustino B.), in honor of his 80th birthday.

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.