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09.27.2006

The Best Italian Wines: Announcing The 2007 Tre Bicchieri

There are very few awards for that mean anything in this modern age we live in. There are so many different judging bodies and associations that most of them are marginalized before they even begin. I've lost my faith in gambero_rosso_07.jpgmost of them, and some, like the Oscars®, I gave up on decades ago. The Nobel prize, the Pulitzer, the Pritker prize for architecture -- there are only a few that I think cling to respectability in an age of meaningless popularity contests.

One more that I might be tempted to add to the list, and the only one in the wine world worth mentioning is the Tre Bicchieri awards which are given away each year by the Gambero Rosso. While I attend the tasting of most of these wines each year and don't agree with all their picks, I'm pretty impressed with the level of quality and the selectivity of these awards. Each year they manage to sift through literally tens of thousands of wines and highlight some pretty tremendous ones. I'm sure these awards have their politics, but I'd use them as a guide for buying much more readily than any other set of wine awards that I'm aware of in the world.

Even among the most famous of wine authorities, there are few that equal the depth, the comprehensiveness, and the sheer exhaustive coverage of the Gambero Rosso. Often referred to as THE Italian Wine guide, the Gambero Rosso debuted in 1986 as an eight page newspaper insert. Within a few years of that first insert, it grew into the most respected and most complete guide to Italian wines in the world, and its trademark "uno, due, and tre bicchieri" (one, two, and three glasses) rating system for wines became Italy's (and the world's) gold standard for evaluating everything from Barolo to Zibibbo. The guide is now printed in English and German as well as Italian, and weighs in at roughly 900 pages and reviews about 14,000 wines produced in Italy each year.

The Tre Bicchieri designation was conferred on only 282 of those 14,000 wines this year (up from 246 last year). Unfortunately the news is so hot that the press release hasn't been translated into English yet, but you'll get the gist of it, and you can see the list of wines, of course. Incidentally, this year is the 20th publication of their guide.

I'm very happy to see a couple of Gravner wines on the list, as well as Poggio di Sotto, Dino Illuminati, Feudi di San Gregorio, Firriato, and Giuseppe Quintarelli, all of whom are among my favorite Italian producers. I've gotta say, I can't wait to taste them! Check out the list.

Thanks to Jack over at Fork & Bottle for tipping me off to the news.

Comments (5)

Alfonso wrote:
09.28.06 at 4:18 AM

See you in Torino?

09.29.06 at 4:29 PM

I always enjoy reading the latest edition of the Gambero Rosso guide and find about 2/3s of their "Tre Bicchieri" picks to be really nice, interesting wines.
*****
Worrisome, though, is that some vintners are written about formally, while others are mentioned by their nickname or a very "familiar" name. This makes me wonder if they taste each producer's wines with the same level of objectivity.
*****
As I understand it, some wines are evaluated in a blind-tasting format and others, sometimes, are tasted with the vintner.
One winemaker pointed out that it's possible for a winery to stack the deck by providing particular samples for tasting which might not be representative of the wine which is actually sold to customers.

We have the same "issue" here in the U.S., where few publications which critique wines actually go out and buy bottles for evaluation. The journal "Connoisseurs Guide to California Wines" actually BUYS about 70% of the wines which they critique.

The Italian vintner suggested that wineries whose products are being evaluated should simply authorize the Gambero Rosso (or other wine critic) to purchase their bottles in a store, at the winery (anonymously) or from a restaurant and submit a bill for reimbursement. This would prevent some producers from sandbagging the critics (and, ultimately, consumers).

Then you have the issue of whether or not the critics are capable judges. I could understand some winemaker complaining that the critics are not capable were that winemaker to have received a poor 'score' for his or her wine. But when I hear this from vintners whose wines have fared well, I can only imagine the winemaker does, indeed, not have great faith in the critic's ability. (Each region in Italy has “specialists” who collect the samples and who critique the wines…)

I know one producer who received a call to inquire if it would “be a problem” were their normal bottle of wine got a Tre Bicchieri rating and their “riserva” wines did not. This was interesting to me: the critic was allowing a producer to reject such a lofty award!

Another interesting tidbit/gossip/controversy:
This past year we purchased a lovely Chianti Classico from a small, independent importer. We were able to offer this wine to our customers for $17.99. A wine with an identical label turned up in the chain store called Trader Joe's for $7.99. It was brought in by another import firm and was retailing for LESS MONEY THAN OUR IMPORTER HAD PAID TO THE WINERY.
The wine, by the way, had a "DUE BICCHIERI" rating in the last Gambero Rosso guide. We bought a bottle from Trader Joe's and tasted both samples, side-by-side with the sales rep from the local importer. They were not at all identical and, in fact, there was some question as to whether or not the lower-priced bottle was even, in fact, actually from the Chianti Classico region!
I called the winery and, after about the fifth phone call, was finally able to speak with the proprietor of the estate. He claimed, at first, the wines were "identical," but I told him we had tasted them together and they were clearly not the same. He ultimately admitted his enologist had pasteurized and filtered the wine sold in such large container-load quantity as he did not want to risk any "problems" with a shipment of such large monetary value. The winery owner told me the little importer had the exact same "cuvee" as is sold in Italy.

So...the Gambero Rosso guide in English writes about the 2 star wine, but, of course, how can a consumer know one bottling is different from another? The answer is, of course, you cannot.

Still, I enjoy reading the Gambero Rosso tome each and every year. I also pick up a copy of the Vini di Veronelli book every year, as well as the DueMilaVini book put together by the Italian Sommeliers’ association. Each has merit.

Jassmond wrote:
09.29.06 at 9:16 PM

Mr. Weisi,

That is a pretty serious accusation to post on a well-read site.

I don't frequent TJs so I can't guess at the wine you are talking about. There are many problems with the little shrimp but your comment makes me wonder what your agenda is. Please elaborate despite my lurker status.

Best Regards,
Mr. Jassmond

Gerald Weisl wrote:
09.30.06 at 8:34 AM

My point was that the Gambero Rosso, like any of these critical tomes, is but a "guide" and not the bible.

I did not mean to impugn the integrity of these various critics or retail establishments, but the validity of their efforts is impeded when wine producers play games as did the Chianti winery by using the same label (which had been nicely praised in the Gambero Rosso guide)on a wine which turned out to be quite different.

Terry Hughes wrote:
10.01.06 at 5:45 PM

It's interesting to me and to many who frequent Italian blogs that the wines GR rates highest -- not just 3 bicchieri but relatively fulsome prose -- are the lush, international-style wines that RP would rate highly (and very often does). I don't blame RP for that, I blame a herd instinct.

Taht said, Alder, your overall assessment of the GR ratings is probably just and correct. They may not be perfect, but they are damned good in a very imperfect world.

To me the great fun and challenge of the past year has been to find estimable wines that are nowhere to be found in GR. That's why nosing around in the obscurest of Italian provinces is such a blast...

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