Sommeliers’ Best Italian Wines

November 15, 2010 at 12:23 pm 2 comments

A few weeks ago, I reported on the list of 2011 Tre Bicchieri winners from the guide published by Gambero Rosso. This has been looked upon as the most influential list of the year’s best in Italian wines for many years now.

However, for the past twelve years, the Associazione Italiana Sommelier (A.I.S.) has been publishing an excellent book called Duemilavini (“2000 wines”) that serves as a nice pairing with the Gambero Rosso guide. The A.I.S. book is based upon the same theme – taste thousands of wines from every region throughout Italy and rate them accordingly. The rating system here is based on grappoli (“grape bunches’) instead of bicchieri (“glasses”); three of four grappoli designate very good and excellent wines, while the top award is cinque grappoli (“five glasses”); this award is the decree from the A.I.S. as one of the best wines of the year.

For the 2011 guide, over 20,000 wines were tasted with 900 finalists for the top rating; ultimately 390 wines representing a total of 339 wine estates were given this award (here is the list). As I did with the Tre Bicchieri ratings last month, I’d like to comment on a few of the wines that were given top honors this year.

First, any list is open to debate; the wines chosen by the members of the A.I.S. reflect a number of styles, which in turn reflect upon the individuals themselves. This is the natural byproduct of group selections, so there are a large number of traditional wines  as well as more modern, internationally-styled releases that received top honors; don’t look for one particular bias with this guide. Also, while there are wines I don’t agree with, it’s much more important if I comment on wines I’m glad to see receive the cinque grappoli award. It’s also neat to compare this list with that of the Tre Bicchieri from Gambero Rosso. So here goes:

The region that received the most recognition was Piemonte with 91 wines named as cinque grappoli winners. This is as it should be, as  I believe there are more great wines emerging from Piemonte than anywhere in the country. This year, many of the awards were for the new releases of 2007 Barbaresco as well as 2006 Barolo. One of my favorite producers of Barolo (and one I think you will hear a lot about in the coming years) is Giovanni Rosso (currently managed by Giovanni’s son Davide) in Serralunga d’Alba. He received the award for his 2006 La Serra Barolo; interesting that Gambero Rosso awarded Rosso Tre Bicchieri for his other 2006 Barolo from the Ceretta vineyard. Both wines are quite special; the La Serra is more tannic and will need more time to settle down, while the Ceretta is more approachable and elegant at this time – take your pick!

Also nice to see cinque grappoli for traditional Barolos such as the 2006 Vajra “Bricco delle Viole” and the 2004 Cavallotto “Bricco Boschis San Giuseppe Riserva” as well as the more modern stylings of the 2006 Brunate and Bricco Rocche from Ceretto (the latter wine being one of the finest I’ve had the pleasure of tasting from this producer) as well as the “Conca” from Renato Ratti, a wine that is in a middle ground between traditional and modern; as for the quality of the wine, it’s deeply concentrated and a remarkable offering from this ultra consistent, historic Barolo producer. (I do however think the A.I..S. missed it a bit by not awarding any of the 2006 Barolos from Elio Grasso with their top honor.)

Tuscany was the second-most awarded region for 2011; I was most happy to see the recognition for several 2005 Brunello di Montalcino, most notably Le Chiuse and for numerous 2004 Riserva Brunello such as the “Vigna Paganelli” from Il Poggione, the “Pian d Conte” from Talenti along with Poggio di Sotto and Caprili. Il Poggione is one of the most famous Brunello estates, but the latter three are not as well-known, so it is nice to see the A.I.S. honor their winemaking excellence.

One other wine I was delighted to see receive top honors was the 2002 Vin Santo from Castello di Cacchiano. This small estate in Gaiole in Chianti has been a top producer of Vin Santo for many years now and while it used to be a lush, almost fat wine laden with butterscotch flavors, owner Giovanni Ricasoli Firidolfi changed the style of the wine a few years ago, making it more elegant and delicate. It is a gorgeous Vin Santo – seek it out if you are looking for a textbook example of this wine.

From Friuli, I was delighted to see the awards for two wines from the tiny Zuani estate in the Collio; both the “Vigne” (steel-aged) and the “Zuani” Collio Bianco blends are first-rate and display a gentle winemaking hand as well as the gorgeous aromatics of the 2009 Friuli whites. Also nice to see the 2009  “Biancosesto” from La Tunella. I haven’t tasted the 2009 bottling yet, but have been impressed with this Friulano/Ribolla Gialla blend for some time now (the 2008 is especially lovely), so I’m not surprised to see this recognition, especially from this outstanding vintage.

Finally, it was really a pleasure to read that the 2008 Fiano di Avellino “Vigna della Congregazione” from Villa Diamante was awarded cinque grappoli. This estate makes only two wines – one white and one red and this single vineyard bottling of Fiano di Avellino – aged solely in stainless steel – is as powerful and as mineral-laden as any in the zone. I truly believe this is one of the great Italian white wines, so congratulations to owner/winemaker Antoine Gaita and his wife Diamante on this honor.

P.S. While the magnificent 2009 “Fiorduva” from Marisa Cuomo, a spectacular Amalfi Coast white and the sensuous I Favati Fiano di Avellino Pietramara “Etichetta Bianca” were also awarded the top honor, the A.I.S. gave out only 13 cinque grappoli to the region of Campania. Consider the fact that Campanian winemaking has undergone a wonderful renaissance as of late and then consider that there are 18 cinque grappoli wines from Abruzzo, it seems to me that the A.I.S. has missed out on some deserving wines from Campania. Let’s hope they correct this in the upcoming years.

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A Dazzling White from Friuli Ringraziamenti

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dan  |  November 16, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    Tom, among all the Italian guides to wines, which one do you personally tend to agree more with? Put in another way, if you had to pick an Italian wine that you’ve never had, which guide would you trust more?
    Keep up the good work!

    • 2. tom hyland  |  November 16, 2010 at 2:51 pm


      An excellent question! I don’t follow Veronelli or the Espresso Guida, so I go with both Duemilavini and Tre Bicchieri.

      I have to say that I used to think that Gambero Rosso favored too many modern, international wines, but the have definitely changed their approach over the past few years and now recognize many lovely traditional Barolos and Brunellos. They also do an excellent job with wines from Friuli, Alto Adige and Campania.

      Duemilavini is alo excellent, though I’ve noticed a bit of shift towards modern reds. Still, they do honor excellent traditional wines, especially from Brunello.


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