Thursday, January 27, 2011

Italy's Top Wines - 2011 Gambero Rosso's Vini d'Italia Wine Guide

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Pio Boffa, owner of the famous Pio Cesare Estate in the Piedmont region, in Washington DC.

One of the best, if not the best, Italian wine guide is Gambero Rosso’s Vini d’Italia. The 2011 issue includes 2.350 winemakers with over 20.000 wines, divided by region. The best winemakers are awarded glasses, from 1 to 3 glass(es). Individual wines are also awarded glasses, from 1 to 3 glass(es). This year, 402 wines got the top award of 3 wine glasses. This compares with 392 wines last year and 339 wines in the year before.

The Gambero Rosso 2011 was issued in October 2010. The German and English versions are scheduled to be released in February 2011.

The winners are listed at the end of this blog posting.

Italian Wine

Italy is home of some of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. Etruscans and Greek settlers produced wine in the country long before the Romans started developing their own vineyards. Two thousand years later, Italy is world leader in wine, accounting for about 20% of world wine production. Italians also lead the world in wine consumption by volume, 59 liters per capita, compared with 8 liters per capita in the US. Wine is grown in almost every region of the country.

The Classification System

Italy's classification system has 4 groups of wine, with 2 falling under the EU category Quality Wine Produced in a Specific Region (QWPSR) and 2 falling under the category of table wine. The 4 classes are:

Table Wine: (1) Vino da Tavola (VDT) - a basic wine, made for local consumption; the bottle label does not indicate the region or grape variety. (2) Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) - this appellation was created in 1992 for wines that were considered to be of higher quality than simple table wines, but which did not conform to the strict wine laws for their region.

QWPSR: (3) Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) and (4) Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG). Both DOC and DOCG wines refer to zones which are more specific than an IGT, and the permitted grapes are also more specifically defined. Presently, there are about 120 IGT zones, 310 DOC and 30 DOCG appellations.

Wine Regions

There is wine everywhere in Italy, from the Alps in the North to Sicilia in the South, clustered into 20 wine regions, which correspond to the 20 administrative regions. The about 30 DOCG wines are located in 13 different administrative regions but most of them are concentrated in Piedmont and Tuscany.

The Piedmont area of northwestern Italy is further divided into the two popular regions of Barbaresco and Barolo. The predominant grape there is the Nebbiolo. Northeastern Italy has the Veneto area. Soave and Valpolicella are two important regions that produce many local varieties.

The large area in central Italy is Tuscany and is known for Chianti. The Sangiovese is the predominant red grape in Tuscany. The Chianti area of Tuscany is a large geographic area that is divided into eight zones. Each zone has a Chianti DOCG that regulates the Chianti made in that zone.

In Italy’s South are Puglia and the island of Sicily. The Negroamaro grape is widely grown in this area.

Italy’s Grapes

There are several hundreds of indigenous grapes in Italy. The following is a list of the most common and important ones.


Sangiovese - Italy's claim to fame, the pride of Tuscany. It produces Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino. Sangiovese is also the backbone in many of modern-styled blends with Bordeaux varietals, typically aged in French oak barrels, to produce a wine for the world market: high-alcohol, fruity and jammy.

Nebbiolo - The most noble of Italy's varietals. Nebbiolo is difficult to master, but produces the renowned Barolo and Barbaresco. Traditionally produced Barolo can age for fifty years-plus, and is regarded by many wine enthusiasts as the greatest wine of Italy.

Montepulciano - The grape of this name is not to be confused with the Tuscan town of Montepulciano; it is most widely planted on the opposite coast in Abruzzo. Its wines develop silky plum-like fruit, friendly acidity, and light tannin.

Barbera - The most widely grown red wine grape of Piedmont and Southern Lombardy, most famously around the towns of Asti and Alba, and Pavia. Barbera wines were once considered as the lighter versions of Barolos. But this has changed. They are now sometimes aged in French barrique, intended for the international market.

Corvina - Along with the varietals rondinella and molinara, this is the principal grape which makes the famous wines of the Veneto: Valpolicella and Amarone.

Nero d'Avola - Nearly unheard of in the international market until recent years, this native varietal of Sicily is gaining attention for its plummy fruit and sweet tannins. The quality of Nero d'Avola has surged in recent years. Trader Joe’s sells a very good Nero d’Avola at a very reasonable price.

Dolcetto - A grape that grows alongside Barbera and Nebbiolo in Piedmont; a wine for everyday drinking.


Trebbiano - Behind cataratto (which is made for industrial jug wine), this is the most widely planted white varietal in Italy. It is grown throughout the country, with a special focus on the wines from Abruzzo and from Lazio, including Frascati. Mostly easy drinking wines.

Moscato - Grown mainly in Piedmont, it is mainly used in the slightly-sparkling (frizzante), semi-sweet Moscato d'Asti.

Pinot Grigio - A hugely successful commercial grape, known as Pinot Gris in France and Grauburgunder in Germany. Produces crisp and clean wines. Typically mass-produced wine in Italy.

Arneis - A crisp and floral varietal from Piedmont, which has been grown there since the 15th century.

Garganega - The main grape varietal for wines labeled Soave, this is a crisp, dry white wine from the Veneto wine region.

Gambero Rosso’s 2011 Awards

Red wine of the year: Biondi Santi – Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2004 (Tuscany)

White wine of the year: Köfererhof – Südtiroler Sylvaner 2009 R (Suedtirol)

Sparkling wine of the year: Le Marchesine – Franciacorta Brut 2005 Secolo Novo (Lombardy)

Sweet wine of the year: Fattoria Zerbina – Albana di Romagna Passito AR Riserva 2006 (Emilia Romagna)

Best price/quality of the year: Pievalta – Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore 2009

Winery of the year: Valentini (Abruzzen)

Winemaker of the year: Walter Massa (Piedmont)

Viticulterist of the year: Ruben Larentis - Ferrari (Trentino-Südtirol)

Shooting star of the year: Polvanera (Apulia)

Award for sustainable wine making: Sandi Skerk (Friaul)

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