Monday, November 9, 2009

Gambero Rosso's quirks

The 2010 guide from Gambero Rosso has been out for a few weeks now and I wanted to discuss their latest look at the top Italian wines of the year. While this admittedly is a far more important publication in Italy, there are many wine buyers and Italian wine fans in this country that look to this guide as a barometer of the finest bottlings from Italy.

I am not writing this to take them to fault with any one particular wine; that is an exercise in futility. If you like a wine and I don’t, it’s not a matter of one of us being wrong or right. Rather we can agree to disagree on a wine. It’s the same with Gambero Rosso, especially as they prefer riper, oakier wines more often than I do. But that’s the nature of the beast – you take them at face value. I may not like a particular Brunello, Barolo or Amarone that GR favors due to its style (and style is a large part of why any of us like a wine, whether we admit it or not), but at least if Gambero Rosso gives a wine its top award of Tre Bicchieri (three glasses), I want to know the wine is worthy of that honor.

Thus I have a problem with the 2010 guide awarding their highest rating to 33 examples of Barolo from the 2005 vintage. Barolo is certainly one of the two or three most exemplary red wines of Italy, but that doesn’t mean it’s great in every vintage and 2005 is proof of that. I tasted more than 150 examples this past May at the Alba Wines Exhibition, a first-rate event for journalists from around the world that I attend every year. Of the 150, I found four (that’s F-O-U-R) wines that I thought were of the highest quality.

Now granted, there are some famous bottlings I did not try then, so perhaps there are a few more examples I might have rated as outstanding. But it’s hard for me to believe that there are 30 Barolos from 2005 that are exceptional, as Gambero Rosso would have us believe. As I said previously, I want to know a wine is worthy of that honor and I don’t believe 2005 was the type of vintage that yielded greatness.

Perhaps Gambero Rosso has a quota for awarding a certain number of Barolos with Tre Bicchieri. How elese do you explain that last year (in the 2009 guide) they awarded 31 bottlings of 2004 Barolo with this award? Add in three additional 2004 Barolos given the award this year (these three wines were released later than most examples from 2004) and you have basically the same number of 2004 Barolos getting the top award as those from 2005. This is quite remarkable and in reality, quite a strange ranking of Barolo. I do like the 2005 Barolos very much (see my tasting notes on several dozen of these wines at the vinowire blog), but the vintage doesn’t come close to 2004. That was an outstanding vintage, as the wines were more deeply concentrated, with more pronounced aromatics and greater complexity. Quite simply, it’s a bit ridiculous to award as many Barolos from 2005 as highly as their counterparts from 2004. How else can you explain this except to think there is an allocation each year in the guide for a certain number of Barolos?

Contrast that with Brunello di Montalcino. While wine writers argue about the merits of 2004 for Brunello (I think it was excellent, while others have written that the wines are a bit light for the vintage and not that great), no one questions that 2004 was a far superior year for Brunello as compared with 2003. Happily, Gambero Rosso agrees, as last year they awarded only one 2003 Brunello (Biondi-Santi) with their top rating, while 16 bottlings of 2004 Brunello earned that award. This is a little more like it, so why the discrepancy between Barolo and Brunello? (By the way, GR, yes on the Tre Bicchieri to the 2004 Brunellos from Talenti – a wonderfully underrated traditional producer – Poggio di Sotto and Poggio Antico “Altero”, but why not Il Poggione, Col d’Orcia or Pian dell’Orino?)

I do want to point out that there are some very good Tre Bicchieri awards this year, especially to some wines that don’t get anywhere near the attention given to Barolo or Brunello. The 2007 Etna Rosso “Musmeci” from Tenuta di Fessina was honored with the top award and it’s nice to see this recognition for this new company. I visited the vineyards this past March and tasted the new releases and was thoroughly impressed. The “Musmeci” is a lovely, supple Etna red made from 80 year old vines; the morel cherry and red floral aromas are gorgeous and the wine is quite velvety. This is NOT a wine that favors power over elegance, so nice work by GR in recognizing this wine with their top honor.

Also, nice of GR to recognize Villa Monteleone with the award for their 2005 Amarone. Monteleone is managed by Lucia Raimondi, who has been responsible for everyday operations since the death of her husband a few years back. Her wines are as gentle as she is – she is such a lovely person and how nice that all of her hard work has paid off. This is an Amarone of suppleness; it’s nice to see another producer depart from the ultra ripe, oaky approach taken with too many examples of Amarone these days. By the way, if you like the Villa Monteleone Amarone, I think you’d love their Ripasso bottling labeled “Campo San Vito”; I think it’s a better wine than the Amarone.

Finally, congratulations to the superb Soave producer Ca’Rugate for two Tre Bicchieri awards, one for their 2008 “Monte Fiorentine” bottling (a wonderfully rich no-oak Soave Classico that is simply delicious) and for their 2007 Recioto di Soave “La Perlara”. For several years, Ca’Rugate has been one of the very best producers of Recioto di Soave (only Pieropan can match their consistency with this product, in my opinion) and it’s about time that GR gave them this award. In fact, I believe this is the very first time GR has given a Recioto di Soave their top rating. If you haven’t tried a Recioto di Soave, you will love this lush, lightly sweet dessert wine with a delicate nuttiness – it’s quite rich and it ages for a long time. Congratulations to winemaker Michele Tessari and the rest of his family for their work with these two wines and their entire lineup. Ca’Rugate is a great Italian winery and how nice that Gambero Rosso has noticed that (for several years now, I must add) as well!


  1. Are you finding in your area that the influence of GR is waning? Seems so in lower flyover country. I am more of a Slow Food person in my habits and the GR rating system seems more deep-throttle high-test rocket-to-the-moon wines are awarded these days.

  2. Alfonso:

    Yes, things are pretty much here in Chicago as in your area. Their ratings are not that important to customers.

    I agree that there are too many high-throttle wines getting the Tre Biccheri, but every once in a while, they do honor a more refined wine like the Tenuta di Fessina, so they get that right, unlike the Spectator, which is useless when it comes to Italian wines.

  3. Hi...We can't take an overall vintage profile and superimpose it on individual vineyards (unless it is a disaster like '02). Yes, '04 was better weather for nebbiolo than '05. GR seems to believe that alot of '05's were noteworthy. I have disagreed with them at times, but the pedagogical value of their guide goes beyond being just a buying guide. It is so much more. The writing is lively and engrossing; the familiar and the judgmental are perfectly mixed. Use it as an educational tool, with commercial flavor thrown in. There is nothing quite like it in the wine world. Gerard Marciano