Thursday, January 12, 2012

Italy’s Top Wines and Wine Makers – The 2012 Gambero Rosso Vini d’Italia

Christian G.E. Schiller with Barone Ricasoli at Castello di Brolio. I toured the Chianti Classico region last year and wrote about it on schiller-wine: Wining, Dining and Blogging in Chianti Classico (#EWBC), Tuscany, Italy

The best Italian wine guide is Gambero Rosso’s Vini d’Italia. The top winemakers of Italy are awarded glasses, from 1 glass to 3 glasses - Tre Bicchieri. Individual wines are also awarded glasses, from 1 to 3 glass(es).

This is the 25th edition of Vini d’Italia, which was first published in late 1987 in newsletter format with reviews of a limited number of wines. It has grown in size and coverage each year since then. The latest edition is over 1,000 pages big and contains reviews of about 20,000 wines from about 2,300 wineries.

The Gambero Rosso Vini d’Italia 2012 was issued in October 2011. The German and English versions are scheduled to be released in February 2012.

See here for the Gambero Rosso Vini d’Italia 2011.

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. The 4 classes are:

(1) Vino da Tavola (VDT): A very basic wine, made for local consumption; the bottle label does not indicate the region or grape variety. This is the wine you typically get served in a Pizzeria or Trattoria in Italy, when you ask for the “house wine”. Simple, cheap and decent. Sitting late in the evening at a Piazza in Italy and eating Pizza with a Vino da Tavola, served in a 1 liter jug, is just great.

Christian G.E. Schiller with Giovanni Folonari from Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari Tenute at Kobrand’s Tour d’Italia 2011 in

(2) Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT): Wines that are considered to be of higher quality than simple table wines, but which do not conform to DOC and DOCG regulations. Sometimes, these are premium wines of winemakers who dropped the DOC/DOCG designation and instead carry the broader IGT designation, allowing them to try to improve quality by using nontraditional grapes, blends, viticultural practices or vinification techniques that are not allowed under the DOC and DOCG standards. A typical IGT wine is the so-called Super Tuscan.

(3) Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC). Soave is currently the largest DOC appellation in Italy, with 15,500 acres of vines.

(4) Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG). DOCG wines are a tick higher in terms of quality requirements than DOC wines (maximum yield for example), which is the highest category in Italy's wine-classification system. About 13,000 acres of vine of the 15,500 acres of the DOC appellation also qualify for DOCG. 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.

Wine Map of Italy

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.

Christian G.E. Schiller with Franciacorta Producer Maurizio Zanella,founder of the renowned Ca' del Bosco and current President of the Franciacorta Consortium. I visited Franciacorta last year and wrote about it on schiller-wine: The Up and Coming Premium Sparklers of Franciacorta (#EWBC), Italy

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, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino.

Christian G.E. Schiller with Roberto Stucchi at the Badia a Coltibuono in Chianti Classico. I toured the Chianti Classico region last year and wrote about it on schiller-wine: Wining, Dining and Blogging in Chianti Classico (#EWBC), Tuscany, Italy

Nebbiolo - The most noble of Italy's varietals. Nebbiolo is difficult to master, but produces the renowned Barolo and Barbaresco.

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.

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.

Christian G.E. Schiller at the Palazzo Vescovile in Monteforte d’Alpone with the SoaveCru Winemaker Allessandro Danese from Corte Moschina. I visited the Soave region last year and wrote Wining and Blogging in the Soave Region, 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.

The 2012 Gambero Rosso Tre Bichieri Wines

This year, 375 wines got the top award of Tre Bichieri, down from 402 wines last year and 392 and 339 wines in the years before, respectively. The top four regions continue to be Piedmont, Tuscany, Veneto and Friuli, accounting for a combined 184 awards, slightly less than half of the total number.

Wines from the Piedmont region again received the largest number of awards – 72, with Barolo and Barbaresco wines dominating. With 62 awards, Tuscany received the second-highest number of Tre Bicchieri awards. Brunello di Montalcino wines account for the largest part of the award winners from Tuscany. The number of award-winning Chianti Classico wines declined from 13 last year to 9 this year. A sizable number of super-Tuscan wines received Tre Bicchieri awards. The Veneto area got 34 Tre Bicchieri awards. 12 wines are Amarone della Valpolicella wines and 5 Soave Classico wines.

The 2012 Gambero Rosso Vini d’Italia Awards

Red Wine of the Year - Sardus Pater, Carignano del Sulcis Superiore “Arruga” 2007: Sardus Pater is a cooperative on the island of San’Antioco, southwest of Sardinia.

White Wine of the Year - Umani Ronchi, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Superiore “Vecchie Vigne” 2009 : Umani Ronchi is a famous winery in the Marche region in central Italy.

Sparkling Wine of the Year - Ferghettina, Franciacorta Extra Brut 2005: Franciacorta sparklers are the “Champagnes” of Italy, close to Brescia. I recently visited Brescia and Franciacorta and wrote: The Up and Coming Premium Sparklers of Franciacorta (#EWBC), Italy

Sweet Wine of the Year - Roeno, Cristina V.T.(Vendemmia Tardiva) 2008: A late harvest wine from the Roeno Winery in Brentino Belluno in the Veneto region.

Winery of the Year - Tasca d'Almerita: A Sicilian winery that is a driving force behind the recent surge in popularity of the native Nero d’Avola grape.

Best Ratio of Price to Quality (Best Buy) - Gianfranco Paltrinieri, Lambrusco di Sorbara Leclisse 2010: A red sparkler made from Lambrusco di Sorbara grapes, using the Charmat method.

Grape Growers of the Year - Sergio Mottura: Sergio Mottura owns and runs the Mottura estate in the Lazio region. The vineyard area totals some 120 hectares, organically farmed.

Grape Growers of the Year - Giuseppe Russo: Giuseppe Russo, a trained pianist with a degree in Italian literature, manages the certified organic family estate on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily.

Up and Coming Winery - Mattia Barzaghi: Mattia Barzaghi is a niche winery in Tuscany, following a biodynamic approach.

Award for Sustainable Viticulture - Alois Lageder: A wine giant from the German speaking part of Italy. The name Alois Lageder is synonymous for the highest standard of quality. Alois Lageder follows biodynamic principles on his 60 hectares of vineyard land.

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

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In the Glass: 3 Easy Drinking Wines from the Soave Region in Italy

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Blogging, Wining and Dining at the European Wine Bloggers Conference (#EWBC) October 2011 in Brescia, Italy – A Tour D’ Horizont

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Dining and Wining where the Royals Eat: Dario Cecchini’s Solo Cicca Restaurant in Panzano – the Butcher of Chianti Classico

1 comment:

  1. Christian,

    Good job in education about Italian wines. It's a big subject. I find Sicily interesting.

    Some very good wineries are there along with the bad ones. The Book Palmento by Robert Camuto is a good read.

    The Winery Baglio di Pianetto has very good wines and is heading for greatness.