A couple of months ago, I received three cases of wine for the online Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri wine tasting. Every year, Gambero Rosso, an Italian food and wine magazine, tastes thousands of Italian wines and less than 1% of the wines tasted receive the top rating of Tre Bicchieri (three glasses). In normal times, the tastings are conducted in person at several sites across the country (and it appears that they will resume this September).
For me, tasting 36 wines in three hours is more than a bit challenging, so instead, I tasted the wines one at a time, usually at dinner, in order to better evaluate each bottle. Here are the first six that I tasted:
2016 Le Morette Lugana Benedictus, Italy: Retail $25. 100% Turbiana. Turbiana is a variety that is primarily grown in the tiny Lugana wine region in north central Italy, which is known for Lago di Garda, Italy’s largest lake. It does not get as much attention as some of the more northern lakes (e.g. Lago di Como or Lago Maggiore) but Lake Garda is no joke, and neither is this Turbiana. Fairly dark in the glass–a deep golden in the glass with apple and other tree fruit predominant on the nose. The palate is simply lovely with plenty of fruit (even five years out from vintage) with both a mouth-coating roundness and a balancing acidity. Twenty years ago (maybe less), it would have taken some convincing for me to take a flyer on a random Italian white, but boy have they come a long way. Excellent. 91 Points.
2019 Pala Vermentino di Sardegna Stellato, Italy: Retail $25. 100% Vermentino. Under cork. B.A.B. I try not to say Vermentino as I am a Francophile and I refer to that variety as Rolle (it’s just how I ro… never mind, that was worse than I thought it would be). I hate to admit it, but I am coming around to the Italian version, at least the good ones. And this is one of the good ones. Rich tropical notes from this slightly golden wine, along with some yellow apple and a touch of minerality. The palate is scrumptious: rich fruit above all else, but also a balancing acidity and a chalky, wet rock aspect that sets this wine apart from other Vermentinos. This is stellar (did you see what I kinda did there?). Outstanding. 93 Points.
2017 Pietradolce Etna Archineri, Italy: Retail $35. Under cork. 100% Nerello Mascalese from near century-old vines in volcanic soils at nearly 3000 feet of elevation. Whoa. I was lucky enough to taste a previous iteration of this wine among the vines with the winemaker on a gorgeous day in Sicily. Yeah. Whoa. Many a wine writer claims that what happens outside of the bottle should not influence what you think of what is actually in the bottle. Bull. Sheet. OK, well, partially. When both the story of the wine and the quality of what is in the bottle actually align? Whoa. And that is what we have here. Pietradolce seems to be one of the “good guys” producing environmentally responsible wines in a bucolic locale with unbelievable results. This Nerello Mascalese might just be the best I have ever tried. Gorgeous (but held in check) fruit paired with a lip-smacking acidity, a healthy dose of earth, and silky (but also stubborn) tannins that define the finish. Gorgeous upon opening, but much more layered after considerable time open. Yowza. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2019 Terraviva Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo Giusi, Italia: Retail $20. 100% Montepulciano. Under synthetic “cork” (Nomacorc, ugh). I can honestly say that I do not taste much Italian Rosé outside of the peninsula since most of it seems to be consumed locally. And, until the last half-decade or so, many a rosé was a mere after thought, produced via the saignée method. Not this lovely Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, which is a True Rosé and has a lovely, rich, red hue, and is laden with aromas of fresh cherry, black currant, rose petal, and just a touch of funk (I love the funk). The palate is expectedly rich, with deep fruit, plenty of zingy acidity, and a finish that outlasts many a rosé and cries out for food–even a ribeye. Yeah. Steak. Drool. Excellent. 91 Points.
2015 Valle Reale Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Vigneto di Popoli, Italy: Retail $19. DIAM10 closure. 100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. The vineyards are located within a popular national park in Italy and thus have attained a bit of an exalted status. Ruby red color, dark and red berry fruit, savory, and meaty. Really meaty. The palate, though, is all about the fruit and the tartness–this is surprisingly rich and deep in flavors. For under twenty bucks? It would be hard to beat this beauty. Excellent. 91 Points.
2019 Vigne Surrau Vermentino di Gallura Sciala Superiore, Italy: Retail $24. 100% Vermentino (I prefer to call it Rolle, but I am coming around to the Italian way). When researching this wine, after the obvious (I love me some Rolle, er Vermentino), I noticed that it was from the island of Sardegna (Sardinia), which, along with Corsica, for me has become almost a mystical realm, a land beyond comprehension and of unfathomable beauty. Since I have never been to either, that is the way I choose to think until I am proven wrong. This wine is practically golden in the glass with lovely aromas of lemon grass, white and yellow flower, a bit of white pepper, and slightly underripe green apple. The palate is delightful with an initial wave of subtle fruit, followed by impressive acidity, considerable body, and a lengthy finish. Lovely. Excellent. 92 Points.