Italian Wines 2013
“The main benefit of Italian Wines for most U.S. wine lovers . . . is to broaden one’s horizon of the variety of Italian wines.”
If there is a book that the wine lover needs to buy the new edition of each year, it is Gambero Rosso’s Italian Wines.
Since we last reviewed Italian Wines in its 2011 edition, there have been changes that we will discuss shortly, but the basic premise has remained constant. In the course of a year, 60 wine experts sample 45,000 wines throughout Italy. Of these, 20,000 wines are chosen to rate and include in the book. Those experts rate the wines either “one glass” or “two glasses,” with some two glasses being selected as potential “three glasses.”
Those potential three-glasses wines are evaluated at Gambero Rosso’s offices in Rome, and a few hundred are selected to be designated with the coveted “three glasses.” This year, 399 wines received that distinction.
The wineries are grouped by region, not alphabetically but more or less north to south, and west to east within a particular latitude. Within a region, the wineries are listed alphabetically (Gambero Rosso seems to be getting more consistent in going by the last name of the producer—for example, the Alto Adige winery Elena Walch was listed in the “E”s in the 2011 edition but in the “W”s in the 2013 edition).
Those wineries with more than a few rated wines are listed two to a page, while at the end of each region, those wineries with just a few rated wines are listed six to a page.
For each of the wineries, Gambero Rosso lists the address, telephone number, and web site (or email address). For the wineries listed two per page, Gambero Rosso also indicates whether the winery has cellar sales, allows pre-booked visits (very few wineries in Italy are like U.S. wineries, where one can simply drive up during open hours and get a tasting), rooms and food, or visitor facilities (relatively few).
All this information makes Italian Wines an essential book when contemplating winery tourism in Italy.
It also lists the annual production (in bottles), the number of hectares under vine, and whether the viticulture method is natural, certified organic, or biodynamic.
The 2012 edition of Italian Wines saw a major shrinkage of the dimensions of the book, from 11 1/8” tall and 5 5/8” wide in 2011 to 8 5/8” tall and 4 ¼” wide in 2012. This smaller size is carried over into the 2013 edition.
In so doing, the font size shrunk a bit, but the main effect has been to eliminate tasting notes from each winery. Whereas in pre-2012 editions each winery had a paragraph describing the vineyards, winery and winemakers, and a second paragraph describing a number of the wines being rated, now each winery just gets the first paragraph.
As we indicated in our review of the 2011 edition, our own tasting notes bore little resemblance to the notes in Italian Wines for the same wine. Still, it is interesting to read others’ views on particular wines, but the tasting notes disappeared without explanation.
Nevertheless, it remains remarkable that the entire book is re-written from scratch every year. Not only the opening comments on each region, but the notes on each winery are newly written for each edition.
The editors at Gambero Rosso clearly feel no need to curry favor with regions or wineries. The notes do not read like the copy from the regional marketing boards. For example, for the region Marche, they write: “Producers appear to have lost their way. They seem incapable of imbuing their wines with the aromatic finesse and fine-honed extract needed to stay abreast with other areas of Italy. What might help would be to streamline the aromatic spectrum of the main variety, montepulciano, recovering wholesome fruit and drinkability by keeping maturation under control and gauging the tanning effect of small barrels more accurately.”
Of the region Basilicata, they write: “Wine in Basilicata seems to be at a crossroads, unsure of which way to go. … A glance at the number and names of award winners in recent Guides shows that not many winemakers have managed to maintain high standards, conserving an identity and matching their interpretations of variety and territory to prevailing tastes.”
Building a library of editions of Italian Wines allows one to check on older wines that may become available, or to trace the ebb and flow of individual wineries. For example, one of our wine shops recently offered us a 2004 G.B. Odoardi Vigna Garrone, from the Scavigna DOC of the Calabria region.
The 2008 edition of Italian Wines gave that wine three glasses, and wrote a glowing description. So we bought a bottle and tried it immediately. While it was not bad, especially at the steep discount offered, it did not quite live up to the description.
Odoardi continued to be written up in the 2009 and 2010 editions, but received no three glasses wines. The winery disappeared entirely from the 2011 and 2012 editions. For the 2013 edition, the notes for Calabria merely state: “Around Catanzaro, however, the historic Gregorio Odoardi winery has bounced back into form.” The winery, however, is relegated to the six-per-page section, with only two wines rated. There may be quite a story behind all that.
The book may be a bit frustrating for U.S. wine lovers, because only a fraction of the wines are available in the United States. Further, the U.S. wine market is horribly regionalized by the three-tiered distribution system for alcoholic beverages, so one typically has access only to a fraction of the fraction.
One must therefore be sure to alert your friends living in Italy to Gambero Rosso, and make sure to say, “Oh, you’re visiting Basilicata? Make sure to visit Elena Fucci and pick up some Titolo.” Elena Fucci’s one wine rates a three glasses every year, but she produces only 18,000 bottles a year. Such friends are the only reason we have any Titolo in our collection.
The main benefit of Italian Wines for most U.S. wine lovers, who are not planning trips to Italy or have friends in Italy who can procure certain wines, is to broaden one’s horizon of the variety of Italian wines. The editors of Gambero Rosso are very eclectic, and like each variety of wine for what it is. Peruse the book with an open mind, and pay attention to those regions that are less familiar.
Exciting new wines could await.