The Italian wine community is especially proud this year. The tasting panel at Wine Spectator, one of America’s top sources of information, sampled 13,500 wines from around the world in efforts to select this year’s ‘Top 100.’ Not only did Tuscan wines take first place (Casanova di Neri, Brunello di Montalcino, Tenuta Nuova 2001) and ninth place (Brancaia Toscana Il Blu 2004), but 11 of the 100 winners are Italian wines, including four Brunellos.
Italy’s best known and most consulted wine guide is Vini d’Italia, which reflects the collaboration between Gambero Rosso and Slow Food (GR/SF), currently celebrating its 20th year. Their tast-ers tried 16,000 wines from 2,206 producers as they struggled to choose the wines that would merit their Tre Bicchieri (‘Three Glasses’) award. This year they recognized 282 wines with this rating, 55 of which were Tuscan. Somewhat unusually, they also reviewed some previously tasted wines, and awarded Tre Bicchieri to 25 of these for having ‘grown into their feet’—as one might say about large puppies. Five of the 25 previously reviewed wines were Tuscan. Other sources reviewing and spotlighting Italian wines include publications by the Italian Sommelier Association, L’Espresso, Veronelli and Luca Maroni. Additional world-wide reviews can be found in Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, and Britain’s Decanter Magazine.
Gambero Rosso and Slow Food also chose a Brunello 2001 as its wine of the year; namely, one from Cerbaiona. The top white came as somewhat of a surprise since it’s from the Cam-pania region: Cupo 2005 from Pietracupa. This wine is made from the little-known Fiano grape and matured in steel. I was delighted to see Gatti’s Franciacorta Satén 2002 chosen by GR/SF as the sparkling wine of the year (www.enricogatti.it). Not just for New Year’s Eve, sparkling wines should be enjoyed year round. In my opinion, this is an excellent choice and good value for the money.
Wine Spectator’s number one wine, the Brunello di Montalcino, Tenuta Nuova 2001 from Casa-nova di Neri (www.casanovadineri.com) has a 14.5 percent alcohol rating. Its San Giovese grapes were harvested in September 2001. It stayed in small oak barrels, before being bottled in July 2004. One weakness of guides is that they do not pay attention to the availability of a rated wine. That is, they may give a high rating to a wine with very limited availability. Luckily, this was not the case with this particular Brunello. When sales opened in January 2006, there were some 52,000 bottles to be had. There are three other Brunellos in the year’s ‘Top 100’ list. In 12th place, we find the 2001 from Sirio Pacenti. While GR/SF only gave this wine ‘two glasses,’ they note that 15 years ago Gian-carlo Pacenti was among the first winemakers of Montalcino to realize the necessity of follow the lead of the great chateaus of France to be more widely appreciated. In 23rd place is Fanti’s 2001. GR/SF also gave this wine ‘two glasses’ and found it ‘sober, austere and powerful.’ The final Brunello 2001, in 27th place, is that of the Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, Castelgiocondo (www.frescobaldi.it). Since they have over 1,000 hectares of vines and have been making wine for over 700 years, it’s always great to see the Frescobaldi recognized for quality as well as quantity.
Il Blu, 9th on Wine Spectator’s list, is a ‘Super Tuscan’ blend of 50 percent San Giovese, 45 per-cent Merlot, and 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. See www.brancaia.it for more information about the estate and its products. Also in the top 50 are Pio Cesare’s 2001 Barolo (www.piocesare.it) and Sette Ponti Toscana Oreno 2004 (www.tenutasetteponti.it), a blend of San Giovese, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The final three ‘tops’ are certainly worth seeking out—they sell for far less than the others. In 66th position we find Alois Lageder Pinot Bianco from Alto Adige, 2005 (www.lageder.com). The tasting notes for this wine make me want to go seek it out right away: ‘Ultrarich, with layers of opulent tropical fruit and light mineral undertones. Full-bodied, with a long, long finish.’ Number 76 is Terredora Falanghina Irpinia 2004 (www.terredora.com). This is another wine from Cam-pania also made from a lesser known grape, the Falanghina. In 81st place, we are back in Tuscany with Avignonesi’s Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, 2003 (www.avignonesi.it). This wine is a blend of Prugnolo Gentile, Canaiolo Nero and Mammolino grapes. It ages in oak barrels for 24 months and then spends 6 months in the bottle before becoming commercially available.
A recent joint study carried out on www.winenews.it and www.vinitaly.com found that over half of the nearly 10,000 wine lovers asked reported that they ‘always’ pay attention to the evaluations provided by wine guides when making a selection. Of course, another of the problems with us-ing a guide is that tastes and opinions can often vary. The Neri Tenuta Nuova 2001, which took 97 out of 100 points from Wine Spectator and received Tre Bicchieri from Gambero Rosso and Slow Food, achieved a rating of only 14.67 out of 20 in Decanter’s list. As experts agree, the best guide is your own personal taste.
Whichever of these wines you decide to seek out, Enjoy! Enjoy! Enjoy!