Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri 2012 – Great Wines lost in a sea of Chaos

Not exactly a photo from the event - but you get the idea...

Having been in the wine business my entire professional career – approaching 30 years now – and having spent those years in many of America’s largest cities (from Dallas to Houston and beyond), one thing has quickly become very obvious to me – now that I’ve landed here in the Bay Area. In all my years as a wine professional, I have never personally experienced one single city that attracts as many high-profile wine events as San Francisco.

To illustrate my point, in February of 2012 alone, I have received invitations to the Italian Wine Master’s tasting, the Frederic Wildman 2010 Burgundy event, the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri USA event, multiple 2010 Burgundy barrel sample events, countless 2007 Brunello events, and now – barely half way through the month – my invitation to the annual Le Paulee de San Francisco 2012 event has arrived (spare $5,000 anyone?). Like I said, San Fran can easily count itself as one of the epicenters for all things vinous.

So it was with this recognition that I loaded a few colleagues into old faithful last week and headed across the Bay Bridge for the annual Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri USA event, which was hosted here in San Fran at the Fort Mason Center on February 15th. Perhaps the locals take this for granted, but I’d like to preface this post by mentioning that the Spring-like weather was simply fabulous; the weather actually made the balance of the afternoon practically tolerable.

Upon our arrival to what is unquestionably one of THE wine tasting events of the year – every year – for those who love Italian wine, our collective enthusiasm was quickly dashed. The line outside the event resembled what you come to expect when attending a rock concert (or a ZAP tasting, as one in our group quipped); attendees standing 4-8 people wide stretched for blocks – as if awaiting their opportunity to view a famous person lying in state. What’s more, of the half dozen doors that could have been used to accommodate arriving guests, only 2 were being utilized. The disorganization at the door didn’t bode well for the day’s event.

Once finally inside, the chaos reached an entirely new level. The Fort Mason Center is a massive location – a place where events the size of rock concerts can be held. Visitors to this enormous mini-city know full well what to expect – as did I – but the sheer mass of people encountered at the Tre Bicchieri event was nonetheless overwhelming.

There were literally hundreds of tables erected, which were each adorned with dozens of wines. Spit buckets were conspicuously placed to aid the professionals, but with the mass of humanity it was very often necessary to hold a mouthful of jammy Corvina until you could elbow your way to an overflowing spittoon. And the note-books? To say that note-taking was an afterthought for the organizers of this event is the understatement of the year. I literally had to borrow hot pink note paper from the media booth to facilitate note-taking for this report.

I will say however that once I settled in at a couple of the more famous importer’s tables (flatly refusing to budge once I found a square foot to secure myself to) that I did discover about 30 fairly serious wines worth seeking. And while I’m quite certain that there were far more than merely 3 dozen great wines to be discovered – especially considering the hundreds of wines being liberally poured for seemingly thousands of eager “tasters” – at some point during the chaos I simply had had enough.

After all, considering how many great wine events are scheduled for San Fran this quarter alone, I’m certain I’ll discover plenty more wine worth writing about – as well as buying.

Tasting notes:

Organized according to the importers who presented these wines, I hope you’ll find something new to explore and seek out from the 2012 Tre Bicchieri event that I’m reporting on (as attended this year in San Fran) –




2010 Mastroberardino Greco di Tufo

A fresh, fruity, bright, white-grape, clean, crisp, and very focused aromatic profile gives way to similar palate nuances that are tightly wound and supported by crisp acidity. The flavors include lemon zest and the finish is persistent. This is quite good.

89 points


2007 Mastroberardino Taurasi Radici

An intense aromatic profile offers up nuances of spicy white and black pepper combined with copious dark fruits, which lead to a robust palate that is tightly wound and focused by gripping acidity. Overall, this balanced, while being quite structured and powerful.

91 points


2009 Librandi Ciro Rosso Duca Sanfelice Riserva

Pale rose in color. Quite fragrant. Interesting aromatic profile recalls morello cherry and cherry skins. Quite floral as well. On the palate there are the cherry notes, combined with stone fruits, a touch of cocoa and a delicious flavor profile that recalls northern Italian Pinot Noirs from producers such as Terlano. This finishes with clove, brown spice and a deliciousness that is a joy to discover.

90 points


2009 Librandi Gravello

Similar, pale rose color here as with the Duca Sanfelice (the color in the Librandi wines is attributable to the Gaglioppo grape these are based on). The aromas here are more intense and offer nuances of cranberry, sweet spices and pomegranate. The palate too is a bit more intense and offers full red fruits, and a warm, delicious finish. Nice discoveries here.

90 points


2009 Di Majo Norante Molise Aglianico Contado Riserva

Nearly opaque in color. Wonderfully sappy aromatic profile. Quite jammy on the nose. Here we have a serious palate presence: buckets of red fruits are proportionately buffered by the grippy tannins, and a spicy, powerhouse finish wraps around the palate to suggest some cellar time might be warranted.

90 points


2007 Tasca D’Almerita Contea di Sclafani Rosso del Conte

Approaching opaque in color. Aromatically, this is quite complex, offering tar, tobacco leaf and buckets of assorted fruits. The palate is jammy and packed with fruits, offering a delicious combination of New and Old World where the jammy fruit notes and nuances of expensive saddle leather are well balanced against each other.

92 points


2008 Zenato Lugana Sergio Zenato

Pale gold in color. Very intense, exotic, tropical fruit aromatics give way to a full bodied, wonderfully spice-filled, toasted, slightly oaky palate. The oak influence on this Trebbiano-based wine is persistent yet well integrated. This is a serious, toasted, world class effort and would impress most White Burgundy enthusiasts.

91 points


2008 Valle Reale Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Medium opaque in color with a pronounced dark cherry fruit aromatic profile. Expensive saddle leather nuance to the aromatics, as well. On the palate, there is good sweetness to the fruit, adequate acidity, and a good purity to the ripe fruit. Quite good.

89 points


2008 Valle Reale Montepulciano d’Abruzzo San Calisto

Opaque, black-purple in color. There is extreme concentration here. The aromatics are extremely dark fruited and packed with cocoa, dark chocolate and espresso – this is an intense aroma. On the palate, the intensity continues and includes sweet, lush black cherry, that cocoa/chocolate nuance from the nose, and a roasted component to the dark and very serious fruits. What a wine.

93 points


Dalla Terra


2010 Chiarli Lambrusco di Sorbara Vecchia Modena Premium

Pale pink in color. Along with the effervescence in this utterly fascinating semi-sparkler, one will experience a gorgeously fragrant aroma of crushed fruits and wild flowers. This is frothy on the palate, yet remains serious in its off-dry character with flavors of strawberry kept bracing by bright acidity. Whether as an aperitif of with appetizers, this is one of the best discoveries of the year. Wonderful.

90 points


Chiarli Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro Vigna Enrico Cialdini Secco Rosso

Deep red in color. As intriguing as the Modena is from Chiarli, this is in another class altogether. A nose of blackberry offers a serious aromatic profile to a semi-sparkling wine that recalls Barbaresco more than Lambrusco. On the palate, this is equally serious, offering ripe, lush, juicy blackberry and red currant fruit flavors inside the semi-frothy, effervescent personality of this individual offering. A serious food wine that stands on its own just as easily, this too is one of the “finds” of the year.

91 points


2007 La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Spelt”

Opaque, black-purple in color. Positively penetrating aromatics of black fruits of every description, expensive leather, pipe tobacco and blood orange. Rich, decadent, palate coating flavors are dense and include cocoa, dark chocolate, chicory and multiple other torrefaction nuances. An amazing texture grips the palate and this wine is very sweetly fruited; it all combines for great clarity, focus and power. Fantastic wine.

93 points

2007 Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Amarone della Valpolicella Campo dei Gigli

Beautiful in so many ways. A sexy, alluring, perfumed bouquet sets this up as the “anti-Amarone”; offering no sense of over-blown or cooked fruits, this is not the typical “over the top” Amarone – and it’s all the better for it. Offering a gorgeous mouth-feel and amazingly balanced yet penetrating fruit, this is a real one-of-kind Amarone. Buckets of fruit are evident, yet this steers clear of the pruney category. This is lush, packed and balanced. An Amarone for grown-ups.

94 points


Banville & Jones

2008 Cantina Terlano Nova Domus Riserva

Pale straw yellow in color. Striking aromas combine white peach, apricot and an almost Gewurztraminer-like zestiness. On the palate, this is ripe and exotic and that spiciness from the nose carries through to offer a complex and unique flavor profile. There’s a creamy texture and even a Viognier-like nuance on the finish. Very unique.

91 points


2007 Cottanera Etna Rosso

Medium deep in color. Aromas of crushed bing cherries. This has a fresh, fragrant, ripe, sun-kissed fruity nose. On the palate, this is lush, jam packed with fruit and sweetly powerful. Just delicious. While softly tannic – just enough to grip the palate – this is really all about the fruit. A delicious effort.

91 points


2008 Tolaini Valdisanti

Medium opaque in color. A tightly wound aromatic profile takes time to unwind, eventually (with coaxing) opening up to reveal Bordeaux-like nuances of cassis, truffle and barrique. On the palate, this has a sweet attack, with a broad mid-palate of sweet oak, vanillin and a sense of caramel. This is a serious, world-class, modern effort that resembles (in all the best ways) the finest wines of Bordeaux. But the tannic structure demands time in the cellar.

92+ points


2008 Tolaini Picconero

Also deeply colored (as is the Valdisanti), this is more forward than its stable mate. Notes of ripe dates, prunes and plums are immediately discernible in this forward wine’s aromatics. Good tannins on the palate support otherwise jammy fruit nuances, as this wine is powerful and already fully drinkable. Quite palate staining with the acidity to keep it all focused, this is overall quite good if not just a bit 1-dimentional.

90 points


Bedford International

2009 Umani Ronchi Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore “Vecchie Vigne”

Very pale in color. Serious minerality in the nose. Loaded with stones, flint, sea shells, and richness from the lees that carries over to the palate. The flavors mirror the aromatic profile and include richness on the round, pure, focused, almost creamy palate that is very well textured and quite serious. This has buckets of style and loads of flavor that keep on coming. Focused, crystal clear acidity and a finish brimming with flowers, stones, and that leesy character throughout. Serious stuff.

91 points


2007 Umani Ronchi Conero Cumaro Riserva

Medium ruby in color. Subdued aromatics offer red fruits of various descriptions that are more laid-back when compared to others today. On the palate, this is sweet, subtle, juicy, red fruited and held together well by a nice zip of grippy acidity. A lush, juicy, warm and friendly wine. There’s a nice fruit to acid balance here and the finish is delicious.

90 points

— Christopher Massie

2007 Brunello – Certainly Great – But Outstanding?

While the hype surrounding these currently entering the market 2007 Brunelli doesn’t quite match that which preceded the fanfare of last year’s versions (as evidenced by the multiple 100 pointers consumers witnessed for those oh-so-glorious 2006s), the news is none the less exalting. Early reviews from certain publications exclaim back-to-back 5-star vintages; while wine-makers from Castelnuovo dell’ Abate to Camigliano posit insights ranging from, “it’s a wine-maker’s vintage” (suggesting that only the finest of produttores released 5-star wines in 2007), to “it’s even better than our 2006s” (leaving everyone to believe that they’ve produced their vintage of a life-time). Be one a pessimist or eternal optimist one thing is certain, the happy medium of all this free flowing information is a vintage most certainly worthy of our attention.

So it was with that sense of enthusiasm for these newly arriving 2007 Brunelli that I and a group of colleagues set out for the annual Italian Wine Masters Tasting today, which was held in San Francisco on this absolutely beautiful Spring-like day on February 9, 2012. Scheduled to present their wares was no less than 3 dozen of the most highly regarded Brunello producing estates (along with dozens and dozens of additional producers spanning every district from Valdobbiadene to Veneto as well as the other Tuscan zones to include Chianti, Montepulciano and more). To state that our team of professional tasters was eager for this experience is quite the understatement.

As the notes that follow will attest, 2007 is indeed a vintage for Brunello which covers the range. Top producers – as should be expected – released excellent wines. Did they produce their greatest wines ever? Not quite; but certainly quite nearly. As for those producers who routinely hang their hats in the “nearly-there” or “almost as good as the greats” range, well: 2007 definitely had a way of showcasing the shortcomings of the average wine-makers. In summary, not only is 2007 a 4 (out of 5) star vintage, it’s a vintage where consumers as well as buyers need to know full well what they’re doing.

— Camigliano:

This property describes themselves as “between the modern and traditionalist camp”.

2007 Camigliano Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

The color here is gentle, pale rose. Aromatically this seems a bit closed, somewhat tight and reticent, only gently hinting at the fruit today. On the palate this is soft, not overly expressive, but with some bright and clean fruit nuances of cranberry and Bing cherry. The acidity is soft, leaving a juicy quality overall and a bright, lifted, moderately intense finish. Nice.

89 points

2006 Camigliano Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG

Medium-dark ruby in color. 50/50 on the wood regimen here: barrique and Slavonia. More expressive aromatically here; with a floral nuance apparent. Again, though: not overly forthcoming today. Certainly more body, with black fruits, good tannic structure and some wood spice. Just not as complex as one looks for in a Riserva. Smoky/barrique notes do add complexity, with the black fruits coming through to add a modern touch to the overall character. Good overall.

90 points


Here we encounter another of the steadfast traditionalists, yet an estate who practices fermentation exclusively in new barrels. And while the barrels are solely Slovenian – both for fermentation as well as the extended aging before bottling – that’s about the only aspect at this estate that one could consider truly traditionalist in nature. Having tasted multiple vintages of these ethereal beauties, as for this taster, the only conclusion is we have a very forward-thinking producer with Capanna.

2007 Capanna Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

Very deep ruby in color here. Smashing aromatic profile combines myriad torrefaction aspects with deeply fruited, jammy aromas of pure currants and other black fruits. Jammy, sweetly spicy, cinnamon, clove, allspice; just amazing. Very modern, jammy, sweet and powerful style of wine making. This is a real wow wine. Big, powerful and quite serious. Very complex, completely balanced and all there. Wow.

94 points

2006 Capanna Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

Opaque. An aroma that captures the senses and fills the room. This is penetrating. This 06 Riserva is big, deep, powerful, massive; just a huge, sweet, structured, decadent, gripping, unreal wine. There are buckets of the most complex fruit nuances, all allied to ethereal power, precision and punch. Aspects of dates and macerated currants melt seamlessly into the wood smoke and other torrefaction notes as vanilla extract coats the palate. A three minute finish suggests decades of pleasure ahead – but why wait? This is possibly as good as Brunello gets.

96+ points

—Col d’Orcia:

Col d’Orcia’s owner, Count Francesco Marone Cinzano presented the wines of his family’s estate today. To say that the man doesn’t suffer fools gladly is the understatement of the decade; but once you engage the man on his family’s steadfast adherence to the traditionalist approach, you’ll understand. The man has quite literally written (if not the book) several documents on the subject. This is THE traditionalist estate of the Brunello zone.

2007 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino DOCG  

Traditional color here: brick-ish red. Beautifully floral aromatics married to crushed cherries – quite expressive aromatically. Also quite the palate presence, with grippy tannins and a big, powerful, bracing, black fruited personality. Amazingly structured wine. Quite long and palate staining. A real wow wine.

93 points

2004 Col d’Orcia Poggio al Vento Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG

Approaching opaque in color. A cornucopia of aromatic nuances. The wood smoke is very well integrated and frames nuances of sweet spices to include cinnamon and clove as well as a bevy of floral aspects. While completely palate coating, this remains soft, subtle, deeply complex and very serious. The fruit is equally complex and wrapped in toasted / roasted characteristics of truffle, smoke and graphite that allow the currant notes to really linger. Very fine stuff.

94 points

—La Lecciaia:

When one turns to the dictionary and looks for the definition of traditionalist – in terms of Brunello producers – one just might expect to find these folks as a reference. Not only were there no English speaking folk anywhere in sight at the table in San Fran on this day of tasting, the phrase “barrique” (as in French barrels) was met with utter distain. This is as “old school” as they come.

2007 La Lecciaia “Normale” Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

Classic, pale, rose petal color. Very plummy, very juicy nose, combining the fruit and classic floral nuances to offer a very traditional yet forward aromatic flavor profile. This is extremely juicy / fruity and mouth-coating, with palate drenching fruit nuances of dates and ripe Bing cherries. Adding to the flavor cornucopia is a bevy of spices, especially cinnamon. Absolutely delicious wine. Full bodied, very ripe, yet classic and well balanced. A potentially long-lived wine in the making. Another wow wine.

93+ points

2007 La Lecciaia “Manapetra” Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

Again, very pale, rose petal in color. Here we have a more earthy, minerally, peaty nuance combining with the sweet fruit aromas. While not as expressive in the fruit category, certainly interesting in the earthier sense. Still a very sweet fruit attack on the palate, with a very jammy, plummy style to the fruit and that juicy style found in the “normale”. Good tannic grip here, but overall I prefer the normale to this one. Quite good, though.

90 points

2006 La Lecciaia Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

Pale red rose in color. Nice red fruits on the attack are met immediately and intensely with a strong whiff of earthy minerals. This is a very old school style of wine, that while very juicy / fruity on the palate – with literally buckets of red fruits and jammy nuances – may be simply too earthy for the “modern” world. Combining this much truffle with macerated fruits will have a LOT of folks murmuring.


2006 La Lecciaia “Manapetra” Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

The first of these wines to be approaching the opaque spectrum, while remaining rosy colored. This is almost Gevrey-like, with a Burgundian nose of ripe plum, mineral, assorted dark fruits, truffle and forest floor. On the palate, this really sings, with a full body, rich, mouth-coating fruit and a complexity and balance one expects in a Riserva. Great balancing acidity, grip, focus as well as dynamite fruit complete the package. Quite nice.

93 points

—Tenuta Oliveto

As one begins to make their way through a few dozen Brunelli, you begin to assume that the colors of the wines will indicate a wine-maker’s position as it relates to the modernist versus traditionalist camp (or so Col d’Orcia would have us think). Darker colors tend to indicate a more modern approach to wine-making, while those “faded” colors announce an old-school wine-making theory. And then we discover the exception to the rule. Here we have the quintessential “modernist” Brunello wine-maker: 100% French barrels, no old Slovenian to be found. And yet the colors of some of the wines are as “faded” and rosy as many of the traditionalists in Tuscany today. Completely modernist – and proud to pronounce that fact – yet unless tasted, one might not recognize that fact.

2007 Tenuta Oliveto Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

Medium pale ruby. Mostly wood smoke and over ripe plum in the aromatics. Very fruity and forward on the attack. This is extremely expressive in its modern style and sweetly fruited nose as well as palate. Almost exotic on the palate. Very candied, too. This is as modern as any tasted today. This is a wine that makes folks drink wine – a pleasure seeker’s wine. While not complex or one meant for aging, this is a fun wine for immediate consumption and gratification. A fun wine.

90 points

2006 Tenuta Oliveto Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

A bit deeper in color than the 2007 – the wine-maker states this is indicative of the vintage differences. This aromatic profile is loaded with wood smoke nuances. The smoke and truffle aromas border on interfering with the otherwise sweet, candied and jammy red and black fruits. The 2006 is a bit more structured and serious than the 2007, but retains the jammy house style. There’s a tannic grip to hold it all together. This is a powerful wine and it’s a bit aggressive, but for those who like power, this will capture one’s attention.

91 points

2004 Tenuta Oliveto Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

Approaching opaque in color. This is so loaded with wood smoke, charcoal and barbeque notes on the nose that it recalls many a California Cabernet sampled recently. This is decadently thick, rich, roasted, jammy, smokey, yet tannic, and very grippy. This is so powerful, and the prunes, dates and currants – again – recall California Cabernet more than Brunello. While certainly a fine wine on the scale of wine in general, this may be too controversial for some in the scope of Brunelli. Worth trying for the experience itself.



A winery whose representative coyly answered the questioned regarding traditionalist versus modernist with the answer, “the best of both worlds…”

2007 Voliero Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

Deeply colored here, towards the darker spectrum. Quite a modern aromatic profile of red fruits. Quite juicy with a spicy nuance combining zesty cinnamon with the juicy / fruity/ plummy fruitiness. This shows a powerful palate presence with a big, gripping style and buckets of fruit. There’s a lot of wood spice as well and the finish is big, lush and a bit tannic. Good stuff.

93 points

—- Christopher Massie