Worth Another Glass? How reliable are the wine reviews in Gambero Rosso’s annual Vini d’Italia Guide?

Publisher’s Note: In this provocative article Joel Butler, one of the International Wine Review’s Contributing Editors,  assesses the validity of the Gambero Rosso’s  methodology and evaluations by conducting his own tastings of the Guide’s 3 Bicchieri wines at a comprehensive tasting held in San Francisco earlier this year. In addition to providing his tasting notes on the wines, Joel reflects on the validity of its methodology. As we expected, Joel concluded that Gambero Rosso does an excellent job overall, notwithstanding some differences with the GR’s evaluations of particular wines.  Moreover, he believes that GR’s evaluations offer a credible alternative to the unfortunate “grade creep” of many of today’s publications that evaluate Italian wines.The International Wine Review share’s Joel’s assessment of Gambero Rosso.  Indeed, we have had few differences with its wine evaluations in the many reports we have prepared on Italian wines over the years.  Readers will find these reports listed on the i-winereview website.   You may also enjoy reading the article we wrote recently about our meeting with one of the founding fathers of Gambero Rosso, Danielle Cernilli.

Worth Another Glass? How reliable are the wine reviews in Gambero Rosso’s annual Vini d’Italia Guide? by Joel Butler MW

The Early Wine Guides

The business of reviewing wines, in which the International Wine Review has diligently participated since 2005, performs a service that until approximately 40 years ago was not considered vital. Sure, there were a few wine publications written as ‘newsletters’ or magazines that began in the 60’s and early 70’s, like Vintage, Robert Finigan’s Private Guide to Wines and Balzer on wine, but these were in limited distribution to subscribers and often quite localized in their circulation. As the expansion in production of California wines took hold in the mid-1970’s and their reputation became increasingly recognized across the globe (Remember the Paris Tasting of 1976?), new ‘guide’s and ‘reviews’ began, like the seminal Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wines, The Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate  in the United States, and Decanter Magazine  in the UK.

Some of these began to write about Italian Wines, haphazardly, but there was little in the way of serious consideration on a wider scale yet. France and California ruled the pages.  I remember writing my first column for Vintage in 1977 on Chianti Classico’s  complexity of climate and geology, and how one could (I did!) make analogous comparisons with the key communes of the Medoc in Bordeaux when considering the wines of the area. It was an early article about Italian wine quality, but admittedly, I framed the argument relative to the more ‘familiar’ wines of Bordeaux!

Beginning in the mid-1980’s, however, Italian wines gained greater traction in the US market especially, both qualitatively and quantitatively. The US reviewers periodically looked at the famous Italian wine districts, but there really was no serious voice speaking up for the totality of the Italian wine scene in all its diversity.

Gambero Rosso

From 1987, that changed, when a little ‘red shrimp’, Gambero Rosso, began to publish a comprehensive guide to Italian wine, titled Vini d’Italia. First in Italian, shortly thereafter in English and other languages, the Guide became the most influential within Italy and elsewhere. Originally published under the aegis of the new SlowFood organization (no longer since 2010), Gambero Rosso, named after the tavern in Pinocchio where Fox and Cat dined, soon became the most important guide to eating, drinking, and even touring in Italy. Their yearly compendium, Vini d’Italia, is the most famous, long-lived, and if one believes their own press, the most comprehensive evaluation of Italian wines in the world.

Of this we have no doubt, but as a consumer, connoisseur or professional wine trade member, does their methodology yield a reliable guide to the best of Italian wines?  After 30 years of observations, tasting many of the wines noted and knowing several of the people involved, we would say, “Yes…but”.

The Gambero Rosso website claims that, for the 2018 edition, 45 thousand samples were tasted by regional tasting teams of ‘experts’ who classified each and wrote up notes. Most tastings are done ‘blind’ according to the editors.  These were furthered whittled down to 22 thousand wines for the final Guide. Then, those wines that were judged at the highest levels were tasted blind to determine the top 3 glass awards and so on.

I have always like the Guide’s non-judgmental (that is, non-point driven!) award system based upon 1-3 glasses (Bicchieri), with 3 glasses representing “Excellent wines in their respective categories”, 2 red glasses “very good to excellent wines that went forward to the final tastings”, 2 glasses “very good to excellent wines in their respective categories” and 1 glass “moderately good to very good wines in their respective categories”. Simple and effective, this system, like Michelin’s 3 Star system for restaurants, shows the erudition that comes with recognizing that many wines can be superior quality, but different in style, without the ‘grade’ implications of using a 100 point system and its inherent judgmental bias. Additionally, to this qualitative mark and in conjunction with written comments, each wine reviewed has a number assigned to it from 1-8 reflecting its price band, 1 being the least expensive up to 5 euro, and 8 the most expensive at 50 euros plus.

The GR and Grade Inflation

I applaud Gambero Rosso’s continuation of this non-judgmental, less ‘commercial’ and equitable system, and believe it serves consumers quite well, especially in light of today’s “Grade Inflation” scoring. As described by another noted wine critic, Antonio Galloni : “A parallel development is the undeniable inflation of scores among some wine critics/publications that are more interested in self-promotion rather than in protecting the interests of the wine consumer. We can leave a discussion of whether or not this is a smart long-term strategy for another time. What is clear beyond any doubt is that 95-point scores do not move high-end wines to the degree they once did. So, publications are incentivized to go even higher to gain the attention they crave. This creates the current bubble-like situation in which 98-100 point scores are handed out like candy at Halloween. The number of wines with huge scores makes it impossible for the consumer to differentiate the epic from the outstanding from the very good from the average.” [Italics mine-JB] (Antonio Galloni Jan. 12 2018 ).

Given that Italian wines for many consumers still present a challenge stylistically and knowledge-wise, the simplicity and continuity of the 3 Glass system provides a very clear sense qualitatively, of a reviewed wine’s appeal and value.

Earlier, I wrote that overall one can trust the reviews and evaluations in Vini d’Italia. But…evaluating wine quality always depends on the acuity, experience and knowledge of the taster.  I cannot vouch for the scores of Gambero Rosso reviewers I don’t know, but the top editor(s) I have known for years and have confidence in. For the record, I have been professionally evaluating Italian wines since 1972, and have written extensively about them, imported and sold them and worked with many producers over the decades while travelling in country. The qualitative jump over the last four decades in Italy, which Gambero Rosso also notes, is nothing short of astonishing.

There is always room for disagreement about ultimate quality; is a wine really worthy of 3 glasses, or is it a one-glass wine?  When you see my comments below based upon a massive tasting put on by Gambero Rosso in San Francisco in March 2018, you will note that I dissent sometimes from their evaluation. Yet in no instance (well, almost none!), do I disagree with the notion that the wine is very good at least.  I tasted a wide range of wines, especially at ‘3 Bicchieri’ level, to ascertain the validity of the evaluations against my own experience. Thus, you won’t see reviews below of just the most famous wines or appellations, but across a spectrum I was interested in, and which reflect the diversity of the Gambero Rosso regional panel’s abilities.

Quality comes down to balance, length, complexity, interest and intensity, if you will. With Italian wines, the hundreds of indigenous varieties provide myriad experiences for wine-lovers to drink ‘outside the box’ of pre-conceived quality and style parameters based upon their enjoyment of such standard global varieties like Chardonnay and Cabernet. While one may disagree with the Gambero Rosso reviewers as to whether a wine is ‘worth a detour’ (3 glasses), or merely ‘very good’, you can honestly believe in their overall professional judgment.

Tasting Notes of 3 Bicchieri Wines 


[My marks (20 point scale) roughly equate as follows: 16/20 = 1 glass; 16.5-17= 2 glasses; 17-17.5= 2-3 glasses; 17.5+= 3 glasses. These marks do not consider price. In line with Gambero Rosso, high price is not a pre-requisite for high marks or quality within the framework of a particular wine’s style.]

2013    Paternoster : Aglianico del Vulture Don Anselmo- Aglianico del Vulture DOC; Aglianico Medium ruby garnet. Earthy, black cherry/graphite tobacco bouquet, echoed on palate.   Medium body, fine florality and firm tannins frame elegant rich fruit, though it lacks the length of Elena Fucci Titolo ’14 or ’15. Needs 5-7 years         14.5%  16.5     3 glasses

2014    Az Ag Elena Fucci: ‘Titolo’ Aglianico del Vulture—Aglianico del Vulture DOC; Aglianico Medium dark ruby, bare hint of both violet & garnet. Deep, fragrant, black plum, graphite, smoky-woodspice and anise nose; very Aglianico.  Medium + body. Full, ripe black fruit, earthy flavors; solid tannins, but not coarse (just youthful!).  Lots of flavor, fine acidity and hint of new oak on finish adding luster. Very long finish, Needs  6-8 years, and fine length, focus and  florality on finish,.      14%     17.5+   3 glasses (2017)

2015    Cantina Terlano: Terlano Sauvignon Blanc ‘Quarz’–Alto Adige DOC; Sauvignon Blanc From the 50 year old Winkel Vineyard.  Peppery, herbal-jalapeño nose; very intense!  Fine rich fruit flavors on attack, then herbs & orange-citrus fruits. Very good, long finish and quite focused. Definitely 3 glass quality.    13%         17+      3 glasses

2013    Allegrini:  Amarone della Valpolicella Classico–Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG; Corvina+   Medium ruby color.  Dense fine flavors, fine rich tannins and gentle, velvety texture reflect beautiful fruit and refined extraction. This is quite elegant for Amarone, and carries its hefty alcohol/weight quite well. 8-10 years. 15.5%  17.5+     3 glasses

2016    Bruno Giacosa: Arneis –Arneis del Roero DOCG; Arneis  Medium intense aromatics, soft finish. Lacks energy of the best versions like Correggia, Malvira, though.     16       1 glass

2011    Bruno Giacosa: Albesani Vigneto Santo Stefano Barbaresco—Barbaresco DOCG; Nebbiolo  Garnet brick ruby. Earthy, dark cherry bouquet with VA/balsamico accents and fine hint of truffle or coffee.   Medium intense dense palate, showing solid fruit, firm fine tannins and good length to age 4-6 years further.  14%            17        2-3 glasses?

2015    Luciano Sandrone: Barbera d’Alba–Barbera d’Alba DOC; Barbera  Dark ruby-violet. Lovely length & finesse, with creamy ripe red fruit, black pepper and licorice flavors framed by soft tannins and fine acidity. Textbook Barbera.        14%   17.5   2 glasses

2015    Luigi Coppo: Pomarosso Barbera d’Asti–Barbera d’Asti DOC;  Barbera Dark ruby, hint violet.  Rich full fruit flavors,supple but noted acidity. Solid black fruit flavors with nice relief and length. Very polished. Very good.  14.5%     17           2 glasses

2013    Az. Ag. Brandini: Barolo ‘Resa’ –Barolo DOCG; Nebbiolo  Organically Grown. Medium ruby-brick. Earthy, dark cherry-coffee bouquet. Medium body, ripe red fruit flavors with earthy accents and hint of balsamic flavors.  Moderately rich texture; not the length of some, but great fruit and focus. Can use 4-6 years aging.  14%   16.5-17  3 glasses

2012    Bruno Giacosa:  Barolo Falletto di Serralunga—Barolo DOCG; Nebbiolo Good medium ruby garnet. Very powerful, chewy palate. Classic bouquet; earth, tobacco, dark sour cherry & mushroom. Very firm but ripe tannins, classic depth and needs 8 + years.  14%   17+

2012    Ca’ Viola: Barolo Sottocastello de Novello—Barolo DOCG ; Nebbiolo  Garnet brick. Dense, full, fine structure flavors, though a little shy, closed on finish compared to Giacosa Falletto, which is mildly surprising considering the vineyard locations.  Still, has a fine character, good fruit intensity in mid-palate, but needs another 3-5 years to open up.  14%     16.5-17  3 glasses

2015    Az Ag. Jermann: Vintage Tunina–Bianco Venezia-Giulia IGT;  25% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Chardonnay, 23% Ribolla Gialla, 22% Malvasia Istriana and 5% Picolit.  Medium yellow gold. Fine, nutty, lees inflected bouquet showing ripe apple, then honey and hazelnut accents. Medium acid, fine length and richness with lots of characterful, rich flavors.  Softer than usual? Perhaps, but wonderfully complex, medium full body and good length. Keep five plus years at least. 13.5%      17-17.5            3 glasses

2015    Tenuta Ornellaia:  Le Serre Nuove—Bolgheri DOC; 64% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 9% Petit Verdot   Good ruby-violet.  Rich, cassis-cedar fruit aromas. Very good length, with fine tannins and well balanced acidity framing moderately rich, refined medium-bodied flavors.  Very claret-like finish, with subtle sweet oak-vanilla evident (25% new French oak aging).  Rich yet poised wine needing 4-6 years. Better than 2014 Ornellaia?   13.5%  17-17.5            2 glasses

2014    Tenuta Ornellaia: Ornellaia Rosso–Bolgheri Superiore DOCG; 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 20% Petit Verdot, 14% Cabernet Franc  Medium ruby. Floral, cherry-plum and sweet oak vanilla bouquet with hints of cocoa (75% new French oak aging).  The flavors are somewhat flat, with a lack of depth and structure and a simple finish. Possibly an off bottle?  If not, very disappointing compared to Le Serre Nuove ’15.  14%         16       3 glasses         

2016    Antonio Moretti: Passi di Orma–Bolgheri DOC; 40% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc       Medium intense ruby violet.  Suppler tannins with fine graphite-cedar flavors and very good balance, along with moderate oak influence, gives this wine an earlier drinking  window.  Though not much less complex a  wine than its big brother, it Fresh, youthful and can keep 5 years at least. Aged in 10% new French oak barrels      14%     16.5+   2 glasses

2014    Antonio Moretti: Orma Rosso–IGT Toscana; 50% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Cabernet Franc    Aged  18 months in new & 1 year old French oak barrels. Medium dark ruby. Floral, cassis/cherry bouquet. Elegant tannins, fine fruit with great freshness and good acidity for balance. Long fresh, well balanced and moderately intense well-extracted texture. Solid wine from Bolgheri area (why it is not Bolgheri DOC labeled is beyond me!). 14.5%           17    3 glasses

2015    Podere Sapaio: Sapaio Bolgheri Rosso–Bolgheri DOC; Bordeaux blend       Ruby-violet. Strong, fine graphite-cedar, cassis bouquet with some distinct brett gaminess. Dense, rich flavors showing classic currant-graphite nuances. Fine tannins, good extract and length. Very Medoc-like style. Keep 7-8 years. 13.5%        17-17.5            3 glasses

2014    Poggio al Tesoro: Sondraia-Bolgheri Superiore DOC; 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc.  Full ruby-violet color. Ripe, fine berry aromas with light cedary flavors. Well-oaked but integrated dark cherry flavors with hints of plum and currant; more Saint Emilion-like than Medoc. Less cassis and fine silky tannins showcase a lovely wine and allow aging for another 6-8 years. (Allegrini-owned)    14%            17.5     3 glasses

2014    Az. Ag Pala: Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva–Cannonau di Sardegna DOCb ; Grenache  Full, ripe strong flavors with good length highlight substantial darker cherry fruit and lighter earthiness than many.  Supple tannins and ripe almost ‘jammy’ finish checked by good acidity. 14%  16.5     2 glasses

2015    Tenuta Piaggia: Carmignano Il Sasso–Carmignano DOCG; Sangiovese 70%, Cabernet  Sauvignon 20%, Cabernet  Franc 10%  Good medium ruby color. Ripe rich style-Very fruit forward, less earth and typicity than say, Ambra or Artimino. Sweet tannins frame ripe fruit which show some definite Cab Franc herbal notes on finish,. Succulent ripe style that is very appealing if a bit ‘New World’?             13.5%  16.5   2 glasses

2014    Tenuta Piaggia: Carmignano Riserva–Carmignano DOCG; Sangiovese 70%, Cabernet Sauvignon 20%, Cabernet Franc1 0%.  Full ruby color. Solid richness on palate with fine structure and fairly full, fleshy cherry and leather flavors. Well judged oak and fine tannins frame the appealing fruit and give the wine very good length. Excellent in a difficult year 13.5%            17        3 glasses

2014    Az Ag. Torrevento:  Castel del Monte Nero di Troia Ottagono Riserva–Castel del Monte DOCG;   Nero di Troia   From a 480m high vineyard, about 64 years old just below the Castello,  aged in cement for 8 months, then 12 months in older botti.  Medium ruby-garnet. Fine, earthy, violet-cassis bouquet with lots of fruit evident.  Very good length, medium full body, richer fruit and sweeter spiciness from oak on finish adds luster and richly frames this wine’s dense flavors.  13.5%          17      3 glasses (2017)

2014    Az Ag. Torrevento:  Castel del Monte Rosso Vigna Pedale Riserva–Castel del Monte DOCG; Nero di Troia           From a 40 year old +- vineyard between 400-500m altitude, aged in cement for 8 months, then 12 months in older botti.  Medium intense ruby-garnet.  Rich, full, elegant floral (violet) bouquet. Very supple, forward flavors framed by fine integrated tannins and good acidity.  The wine finishes with a distinctive ‘ferrous’ mineral accent, adding length. Not quite as rich and lengthy as the Ottagono (higher yield), but still quite lovely and fine example of Castel del Monte.   13%  16.5-17    3 glasses (2018)

2014    Castello di Ama: Chianti Classico Gran Selezione San Lorenzo–Chianti Classico DOCG; Sangiovese 80%, Merlot 13%, Malvasia Nera 7%  Good ruby color.  Lovely, rich fruit and finesse on nose showing proper Sangiovese sour cherry/kirsch (marasca) aromas.  Flavors are moderately rich, framed by fine elegant tannins. Some oak-coffee torrefaction accents the fruit adding definition. A hint of leather to finish completes this very good wine for this difficult vintage. 2013 was 3 glasses, incidentally. 13.5%   17       2 glasses

2012    Marina Coppi: “Marine”–Colli Tortonesi DOC; Favorita (Vermentino)  Remarkably pale lemon-straw color. Fairly rich, hazelnut/lees nutty nose and flavors. Medium acid frames the fruit well and the wine shows some richer mid-palate texture befitting a maturing wine. Yet the finish is also still quite vibrant and fresh, reflecting more youthful vitality. Altogether distinctive and delicious wine.  13%       17   2 glasses

2012    Marina Coppi: Fausto’–ColliTortonesi DOC; Timorasso  Also rich & lengthy, with more structure than Favorita. Fine honey, dried apricot-skin flavors and firm acidity. Reveals very solid, finely etched flavors and long finish. Another delightful anomaly of a wine made from a long neglected but clearly striking variety.  13%  17   2 glasses

2016    Tiberio: Pecorino–Colline Pescaresi IGP; Pecorino    Vines planted in 2000 from original massale Pecorino cuttings. Big fruit! Oily, rich flavors with apple, citrus, apricot-tinged flavors and a distinctive spiciness. Lively and long.  Very good length.  13%    17+         3 glasses

2015    Az Ag Ronco di Tassi: Collio Bianco Fosarin–Collio Goriziano DOC; Pinot Blanc 50%, Friulano 30%, Malvasia 20%           Medium green-straw color. Fine, floral, ripe peach and almondy aromas; quite layered.  Medium body. Minerally, spicy-floral flavors with some hazelnut accents on finish and very positive length. Texturally rich, but so balanced by fine acidity.  13.5% 17+   3 glasses

2015    Az Ag. Cavalchina: Bianco di Custoza Superiore ‘Amadeo’–Custoza Superiore DOC; Fernanda, Trebbiano, Garganega.   Med green straw color. Ripe honey, pear-melon flavors with medium body are accented by a touch of lightly toasted almonds. With good acidity and medium body, this wine shows a lot of depth and a firm finish for so ‘small’ an appellation  12.5%     17    3 glasses

2016    Donnafugata:  Anthalia Bianco–DOC Sicilia; Grillo & Cattaratto  Good crispness, fresh and lively fruit flavors with good length reveal white peach/citrus fruit and well balanced finish. 12.5%    16.5     2glasses

2012    Donnafugata: Milla e Una Notte Rosso–DOC Sicilia; Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon Dark ruby violet.  Supple ripe, rich dark cherry/plum and earthy fruit flavors.  Lots of fine concentration without being heavy, and densely focused with fine tannins, velvety texture and good length.  4-5 years  14%   17+    2 glasses

2015    Donnafugata:  Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé–Passito di Pantelleria DOCG; Muscat/Zibbibo   Medium intense green-gold. Fragrant, candied-orange peel, floral muscat and raisin bouquet with  gorgeous hint of toffee-caramel as well.  Lovely full, sweet, rich, honey-orange marmalade and sweet spice flavors. Medium-strong acidity freshens the wine, adding a refreshing lift to finish. Long, floral, complex finish. Medium plus sweetness, great viscosity and bright aromas propel this utterly beguiling, delightful, complex and ageworthy wine.       14.5%    18+   3 glasses

2015    Ca’ Viola: Dolcetto d’Alba  Barturot–Dolcetto d’Alba DOC; Dolcetto  A very rich, but hard wine, with a strong finish and rather too tannic,  given the otherwise medium-bodied, moderately intense fruit on finish.   13%     16        2 glasses

2016    Cantina Cusumano: Etna Bianco ‘Alta Mora’–Etna Bianco DOC; Carricante   A very well-defined example. Solid, pear-skin/lightly nutty aromas. Ripe peach flavors are cut by distinctive mineral (crushed rock?) texture, while fine acidity provides incisive definition on finish.  Not as richly textured as some others, but nicely etched, more austere style. 13%   17-  3 glasses

2016    Tasca d’Almerita/Tenuta Tascante: ‘Buonora’ Carricante Bianco–Etna Bianco DOC; Carricante    Fresh, floral & strong aromas showing good freshness. High fruit intensity, with underlying ‘stony’ flavors and medium plus acidity.  Hint of savory herbs adds allure and good definition to this new release. Lively finish.  12.5%  17- 2 glasses? (2015- 3 glasses)

2014    Tasca d’Almerita/Tenuta Tascante: Il Tascante Nerello Mascalese–Sicilia DOC; Nerello Mascalese         All from Contrada Sciaranova at 750m. Approximately. 55 year old vineyard.  Earthy, floral-leather and Marasca bitter-sweet cherry, gamy bouquet.  Medium body. Fine tannins highlight chewy, red fruited flavors and provide real definition to the savory, somewhat dried herbal undertones to finish.  Good length and style. Very solid Etna Rosso to keep 5-7 years.  13.%5   17+           3 glasses

2015    Az Ag Villa Raiano: Fiano di Avellino ‘Alimata’–Fiano di Avellino DOCG; Fiano  A fine example of this ‘best’ white wine of southern Italy!  Ripe, rich more honey than pear aromas lead to vigorous mineral-saline flavors and elegant finish. 13%     17     3 glasses

2010    Ferghettina: Franciacorta Pas Dosé 33 Riserva–Franciacorta DOCG; Chardonnay  Seven years on lees, 1.5 g/l RS.  Fine, elegant appley-mineral flavors showcasing subtle toastiness, good length and freshness. This is a very clever combination of fruit and autolytic complexity.  Long finish, fine mousse. Very good.  12%   17+     3 glasses

2010    Guido Berlucchi: Franciacorta Nature ’61–Franciacorta DOCG; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir 20%        Seven years sur lie. Fine perlage, yellow-gold color. Elegant lightly toasty and fresh appley nose highlights  fine autolytic-biscuity definition. Well focused flavors with brioche evident, crisp acidity, good length and finesse enveloped in a creamy mousse. Lovely fizz! 12%   17+         3 glasses

2016 Vigneti  Le Monde: Friulano–Friuli DOC; Friulano  Floral, ripe peachy fruit flavors, supple finish.  Acidity is fine, however, with well defined light nuttiness of Friulano and good length. Good finesse too, for this variety. 13%           16.5+  2 glasses

2016 Vigneti Le Monde: Ribolla Gialla–Friuli DOC; Ribolla Gialla  More crisp and fresh as well as ‘drier’ finish than Friulano, with slightly nutty green almond, apple-skin flavors. Not the length of the Friulano, however.  13%  16.5      2 glasses

2016 Vigneti Le Monde: Pinot Bianco–Friuli DOC; Pinot Blanc  Medium body. Rich, hazelnut-apply aromas framed by a hint of vanilla (10% fermented/aged in 1 year old french oak barrels). This aspect adds finesse and depth to this lovely, well- fruited wine. Layered flavors and richness, with good acidity framing rich fruit, leads to a crisp, lengthy finish.   12.5%           17-17.5          3 glasses

2014    Tenuta Chiaromonte: Gioia del Colle Primitivo Muro Saint’Angelo, Contrada Barbatto–Gioia del Colle DOC; Primitivo (Zinfandel)        A mouthful of a name to be sure! Matured only in stainless steel. Ripe berry, fine tannins, rich full, dark berry-licorice flavors showcase this wine.  Plush texture, real definition and mercifully, no overt jamminess show thoughtful winemaking.  Good length and should keep well for 5+ years. 14%     17+      3 glasses

2017    San Salvatore 1988:Falanghina–IGP Campania; Falanghina   Rich, fruity pear aromas and flavors. A bit light on length, but good flavor intensity and refreshing acidity show quality fruit. 12.5%     16.5     2 glasses

2013    Castello di Ama: Vigna L’Apparita Merlot–IGP Toscana; Merlot      Medium dark ruby. Dark, plum-cherry aromas highlight typical Tuscan earthy-cedary accents.  Moderately intense dark red fruit flavors, firming tannins, medium body and a fine mineral/saline finish show a well-judged ripeness and lack of over-extraction.  Needs 5-6 years. very solid wine. 13.5%    17           2 glasses

2015    Cantina Falesco-Cotarella: Montiano Merlot–IGT Lazio; Merlot      Good dark ruby. Deep, black plum, light graphite and sweet cherry bouquet. Ripe, yet elegant flavors with less overt oakiness and more Pomerol-like density and soft tannins. Rich, full deep cherry flavors, and pleasantly earthy. Very good to age 8-10 years         14.5%    17-17.5   3 glasses

2016    Tenute Rubino: Oltreme Susumaniello–IGT Puglia; Susumaniello   Medium dark ruby.  Like the 2015 Tre Bicchieri winner, but somewhat richer.  Floral, violet-graphite berry nose with a hint of cedar (brett?). Rich fruit flavors with low tannins and medium acidity show a lot of ‘moxie’ and definition for so inexpensive a wine.  Graphite finish adds depth, and only a trace of alcohol heat gets in the way of its youthful vitality 13.5%   17-   3 glasses

2015    Luce della Vita: Lucente–IGT Toscana; Merlot & Sangiovese  Medium deep ruby. Good clear fruit aromas with modest weight. Very sangiovese, bitter cherry flavors augmented by Merlot plumy ripeness. Fine tannins and decent length all considered for this mid-priced wine. Keep 3 years. 14.4%     16.5  1 glass

2015    Marotti Campi: Lacrima di Morro d’Alba Superiore ‘Orgiolo’–Lacrima di Morro d’Alba DOC; Lacrima Nera (Morro d’Alba)         Aged in neutral botti. Darkish ruby, hint purple. Floral-graphite/violet berry nose with subtle earthy complexity (brett?). Solid, dark cherry fruit and fine tannic flavors, not unlike fine Chianti Classico Riserva, but softer texture and more florality.  A unique wine of class and freshness with intensity 13.5%    17-     2 glasses

2016    Az Ag. Vicara: Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese–Monferrato Casalese DOC; Grignolino           Not the most fashionable variety, and a very difficult to make wine; done well here.  Pale ruby, some garnet.  Fresh, herbal aromas with well-defined sour cherry and floral accents. Light-medium body. The flavors show solid cherry fruit, a hint of dried earth and good depth to finish; not all acid as Grignolino often shows.  A fresh lively wine that is well-suited to drinking with salamis, ripe cheeses and richly sauced, meaty pastas.  12.5%  16.5   3 glasses

2011    Az Ag. Còlpetrone: Montefalco Sagrantino Fidenzio–Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG; Sagrantino   Medium ruby garnet.  Rich, full flavors with solid fruit extract typical of Sagrantino, yet also strong tannins with solid acidity. This should be a little richer in center to balance the more austere tannins. 14%   16       1 glass

2012    Tudernum: Montefalco Sagrantino Fidenzio–Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG; Sagrantino       Property started in 1958. Medium dark ruby, touch of garnet.  Very elegant, long fine flavors. Fine, less coarse tannins than most Sagrantini. Still quite firm, mineral (graphite) flavors and densely structured (high extract) for aging a decade at least.  A far more refined and less ‘rustic’ Sagrantino than most which fully deserves 3 bicchieri.   13.5%        17.5+     3 glasses

2013    Tudernum: Todi Rosso Superiore ‘Rojano’–Todi Rosso Superiore DOC; Sangiovese 60%, ,Merlot 30%, Sagrantino 10%  Medium ruby garnet.  Gamy, cedary bouquet with hints of brett-gaminess/barnyard earthy accents. Yet the wine shows very full fruit flavors enhanced by some earthy tones, fine tannins and generous finish. Overall very balanced and a proper drink with grilled lamb! 13.5%   16.5-17   2 glasses

2014    Masciarelli: Marina Cvetic Montepulciano Riserva–Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva DOC; Montepulciano        Medium full ruby, hint violet. Dark fruit flavors highlight a rich mid-palate. Slightly aggressive tannins and firm acid provide a firm structure framing ripe plummy aromas, cedar-inflected flavors & a somewhat astringent finish. Needs 4-5 years. 14.5%  16.5   2 glasses?

2015    Luciano Sandrone: Nebbiolo Valmaggiore–Nebbiolo Valmaggiore DOC; Nebbiolo  Pale ruby. Good weight with focused flavors. Suppler flavors with fine length and finesse showing more balance and deeper fruit center than Giacosa Nebbiolo. Elegant tannins. Needs 4 years. 13.5% 16.5-17    2 glasses

2016    San Salvatore 1988: Trentenare Fiano–Paestum IGP; Fiano   Fresh, elegant yet ripe and round flavors. Rich fruit and fine length in this wine grown just above the Greek ruins at Paestum on the Tyrrenian Sea coast.  A biodynamic producer.  12.5%  17       3 glasses

2015    Az Ag. Felline: Primitivo di Manduria Sinfarosa–Primitivo di Manduria DOC; Primitivo (Zinfandel)           Interestingly if weirdly, the cuttings for this wine came from Ridge Vineyards! Aged about six months in French and American oak barrels. Medium-dark ruby.  Smoky dark berry fruit aromas with hint of black licorice at first, then  a touch of brett adds some positive gamy  accents on nose.  Rich, sweet flavors and soft tannins suggest a touch of residual sugar, which actually balances moderately well the firming tannins on finish.  I would like this wine more if it had a more minerally firm structure. Tastes a bit simple, but quite exotic and plush!   15%    16.5        3 glasses

2015    Torre  a Oriente: Falanghina del Sannio ‘Biancuzita’ –Sannio Falanghina DOC; Falanghina  Lots of fruit with pear, honey and melon accents. While it lacks some structural definition with only medium acidity, it does have a fine nutty finish and medium full body with a hint of creaminess to texture. Just missed getting 3 glasses like ’14.  16.5  2 glasses

2015    Cantina Leonildo Pieropan: Soave ClassicoCalvarino–Soave Classico; Garganega  Medium yellow-straw. Fine and classic mineral-peach aromas with hints of pear and green almonds.  Medium acidity frames lovely elegant fruit flavors, though not particularly dense in texture.  Excellent definition and length. Lovely. 13%  17-        3 glasses

2013    Feudi di San Gregorio: Taurasi–Taurasi DOCG; Aglianico     Aged 18 months in French oak barrels. Medium-dark ruby.  Rich, deep flavors with classic Aglianico graphite, dark plum and earthy aromas. The flavors are powerful, but balanced with fine tannins, a sweet core of fruit and finishing with a discrete minerality, even salinity.  Excellent wine to keep a decade.  14%  17-17.5    3 glasses

2013    Tenuta San Leonardo: San Leonardo Rosso—Vigneti delle Dolomiti DOC; Cabernet  Sauvignon 60%, Carmenere 30%, Merlot 10%  Aged 24 months in French oak barrels. Medium ruby-garnet.  Maturing, claret-style nose; cedar, dried tobacco, leafy and light cassis and dried blackberry aromas. Elegant Left Bank Bordeaux- style flavors showing medium body, herbal-tea and black currant fruit.  Less rich than Sapaio, but more ‘expressive’. Needs 6- 8 years.   13%   16.5-17           3 glasses

2016    Allegrini: Valpolicella Classico–Valpolicella Classico DOC; Corvina 65%, Rondinella 30%, Molinara 5%     Medium  ruby-violet. Youthfully fresh, lively and crisp red fruit flavors with medium body, light tannins and moderate acidity.  Fresh, bright and quite forward with typical juicy mid-palate fruit sweetness. Serve it cool. Very good            13%     16.5+   2 glasses

2015    Az Ag. I Campi: Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso ‘Campo Ciotoli’–Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso DOC; Corvina & Corvinone 85%, Rondinella 10%, Croatina 5%       Medium dark ruby, a hint of garnet.   Intense, pungent, floral-herbal and kirsch bouquet. Balanced and fresh fine fruit flavors are framed by moderate tannins and good acidity, with blessedly little raisin or prune flavors. A lot of character and definition for this style. Keep 4-6 years.  14.5%     17      3 glasses

2014    Marotti Campi: Verdicchio Classico dei Castelli di Jesi ‘Salmariano’ Riserva–Verdicchio Classico Riserva DOCG; Verdicchio         Yellow-green straw. Aged 12 months sur lie, 20% in French oak barrels, 80% in tank.  Strong, rich, nutty white peach and dried apricot nose is quite pronounced. Creamy flavors balanced by medium acidity and fine bitter almond accents continue to finish. Quite layered, balanced and lengthy wine highlights the potential for aging that Verdicchio can have at the highest level. 14%   17+      3 glasses

2016    Az. Ag Pala: Vermentino di Sardegna Stellato–Vermentino di Sardegna DOC; Vermentino  Sixty year old vines, 22 hours skin contact before pressing, then aged on fine lees for several months.  Rich, pear-honeysuckle aromas lead to fine rich melony flavors framed by medium acidit.  This is a characterful, very layered and rich Vermentino. Perhaps lacking a touch of mineral or acid relief, but definitely not your ordinary Vermentino!   13.%    16.5+   3 glasses

2014    Tenute del Cerro: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano–Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG; Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile) 90%, Mammolo 10%       Medium ruby-garnet.  Rich, deep dark cherry-leather bouquet. Supple, ripe flavors with good earthy, coffee and dark fruit intensity are balanced by medium tannins and fine depth on finish. More harmonious, less rustic tannins than many other wines from this DOCG.  14%   17    3 glasses


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