Friday, April 18, 2014

Italian Wine, Food and a Book!

I am hosting a special Italian wine and food class on Friday, May 2 at I Monelli Pizzeria (5019 N. Western, Chicago. This will be an intermediate class on pairing Italian wines and food (though beginners are certainly welcome) - and what better way to learn about this subject than by hosting it at a trattoria!

We will try five or six wines, paired with several dishes off the menu, ranging from calamari to antipasti to pastas. The wines will be a range of products, from sparkling to white to red and will include Prosecco (sparkling), Greco di Tufo (white) and Taurasi (red). These last two wines are both from the Campania region; I'm choosing these, as the proprietors of this restaurant are from that southern region and these are two excellent wines that work beautifully with their food and deserve greater attention.

As a bonus, everyone who signs up will receive a copy of my book Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy's Most Distinctive Wines, which details more than 600 wines from Italy, covering all of the country's regions. Having made more than 60 trips to wine regions in Italy, I wanted to showcase hundreds of the finest wines from Italy, not just the most famous reds (such as Barolo, Brunello and Amarone), but also excellent examples of typical and delicious Italian wines such as Dolcetto, Gavi, Verdicchio and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.

So there you have it - several excellent Italian wines, first-rate Italian cuisine and a copy of a through book on Italian wine, all for a total of $55 a person (the book itself is a $24.95 value).  There will be limited seating for this, to ensure everyone gets enough wine to taste, so you need to sign up soon. To enroll, please email me at I can then tell you if there is still seating available. Payment is due up front (I will give you payment instructions in the email) and is due by April 27. The dinner starts at 7:00 PM and will run to approximately 8:30.

I hope to see you on May 2 for a great evening of Italian wine and food!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In Love with Champagne

Philippe and Veronique Glavier, Champagne Philippe Glavier, Cramant
(Photo courtesy of Champagne Philippe Glavier)

I admit it - I'm in love with Champagne. And why not? Each to his own, but I don't understand people who don't care for Champagne. But I don't have the time to argue with them - either you love it or you don't. And as a friend of mine likes to say, well if they don't like it, that means there's more for you and me!

I attended a small Champagne tasting in Chicago the other day; I'll go to any Champagne tasting, but I love the small ones, as it doesn't overwhelm you and it gives you time to talk to the proprietors. This tasting featured ten small producers, many of whom are recoltant-manipulant - producers that grow their own grapes. These small houses are the backbone of Champagne and each producer has an intriguing story to tell; they are all part of a membership called Les Champagnes de Vingnerons (website here).

The ten producers represented the four regions of Champagne: La Montagne de Reims; La Valle de la Marne; La Cote des Blancs and La Cote des Bar. Some of the houses use grapes only from one region where their winery is located, while others blend grapes from two or three of these regions in particular cuvées. Each producer poured at least four wines, some as many as six or seven, ranging from Rosé to Blanc de Blancs to Extra Brut.

Here are notes on some of my favorite wines from the tasting:

Champagne Benoit Cocteaux  - This small house is situated in the southern part of the Cote des Blancs in the town of Montgenost. As the Cote des Blancs is planted primarily to Chardonnay, this is the grape that dominates their Rosé, which was one of the finest of its type at this tasting. Their NV Rosé d'Helene (named for co-owner Helene Cocteaux) has a bright pink/strawberry color and pleasing cranberry and beet aromas and flavors. This has very good freshness and is quite elegant with a delicate finish.

Georges de la Chapelle - Another Cote des Blancs property; a very fine Rosé, a blend of 35% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 35% Pinot Meunier was excellent. Medium-full, this has beet and strawberry aromas with a round finish of excellent persistence. Another impressive wine is the Nostalgie, a blend of 70% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier; medium-full, this offers notes of coffee and brown spice along with dried pear and can be enjoyed over the next 5-7 years.

Champagne Philippe Glavier - Both Philippe and Veronique Glavier were present to pour their wines; they are a delightful couple that makes elegant Champagne in a delicate, charming style. Most impressive here were the Genesis, a 100% Chardonnay from Grand Cru vineyards and the Folie de Cramant; Cramant, a village in the Cote des Blancs, is the location of this house. The former is a silky Champagne with a long, round, very pleasing finish, while the latter, fermented in barrel and aged on the lees for five years, is fuller on the palate and has very good acidity and lovely complexity. This can be enjoyed over the next 5-7 years.

Champagne Jean-Jacques Lamoureux - This house is located in the Cote des Bars - also known as the Aube - in the far southern reaches of the Champagne district. The wines here tend to display a charming fruitiness; though they do not tend to be as rich as the best wines from the other regions of Champagne, they are very impressive in their own right. A highlight here is the 2008 Alexandrine, produced entirely from Chardonnay. Medium-full, this has appealing aromas of lemon and lime with a distinct yeastiness. Quite elegant and charming, this is a delightful wine to be served on its own or with lighter seafood preparations; enjoy over the next 3-5 years.

Champagne Boulard-Bauquaire - This house is situated in the Montagne de Reims region; this area surrounds the town of Reims in the northern section of Champagne. There were several intriguing cuvées offered at this event; one of my favorites was the Carte Noire, a blend of 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Pinot Meunier. Displaying a light copper color along with bread and biscuit aromas, this is a full-bodied wine with a light creaminess and very good acidity. I was also impressed with their Rosé, a blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% red wine; this offered delicious strawberry fruit and very good acidity. Also their Vielles Vignes, from 70 year-old vines, has lovely pear fruit and distinct yeastiness and a dry, lightly austere finish.

Champagne Gratiot-Pilliere - From the Vallée de la Marne region, a bit south and west of the town of Reims, this house offered two excellent Brut bottlings; the first, a NV Brut Tradition, an intriguing blend of 74% Pinot Meunier, 10% Pinot Noir and 16% Chardonnay. Medium-full, with pear and apple aromas, this has impressive persistence. The 2009 Millesime, a blend of 70% Pinot Meunier, 10% Pinot Noir and 16% Chardonnay, is a winner! Medium-full with excellent concentration, this has a long finish, excellent persistence and beautiful complexity; enjoy this over the next 5-7 years.

Champagne Michel Gonet - Last, but certainly not least, we have the marvelous cuvées of Michel Gonet, a house located in the Cote des Blancs. I had tasted their wines previously and have always enjoyed them; however, at this year's tasting, it seemed to me that the wines had reached even higher levels of quality. As you might expect from a Cote des Blancs house, Chardonnay is their speciality and the proprietors offered several Blanc de Blancs, usually Grand Cru. The 2004 Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs is an impressive wine with dried lemon and yeasty aromas; medium-full, this is tasting out beautifully now.

Even better - and clearly among the two or three finest wines at this tasting - were the 2009 and 2008 Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs. Both wines have a pleasing yeastiness along with a distinct minerality in the finish. These are wines made from first-rate vineyards and treated with great care in the cellars; both are extremely flavorful and beautifully balanced with excellent persistence. I loved both wines, giving my preference to the 2008, which is a powerful wine, one with a rich mid-palate and a lengthy finish that goes on and on. The 2009 is first-rate, while I think the 2008 is a great wine! This is clearly a Champagne house that deserves to receive much greater attention.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sauvignon Blanc - The Greatest Grape - Part Three

Reports on Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, Australia, Chile, South Africa and Italy

This is part three of my report on Sauvignon Blanc, a grape that produces spectacular results around the world. Part one of my report dealt with Sauvignon Blancs from France, while part two was about Sauvignon Blanc from California and Washington. In today's post, I'll cover much of the rest of the world, primarily from the Southern Hemisphere - New Zealand, Australia, Chile and South Africa - as well as a few beautiful examples from Italy. 

New Zealand and Australia - New Zealand took the wine world by storm in the 1980s and 1990s with releases of Sauvignon Blanc from several wine zones in the country. Most notable of these was Marlborough at the far northern reaches of the South Island; this zone receives more sunshine hours than almost anywhere in the world; combine that with a maritime climate and you have an ideal situation for this grape with a long, cool growing season resulting in intense aromatics as well as vibrant acidity.

But what really made everyone take notice was the flavor profile of these wines, with perfumes of gooseberry (many tasters had probably never used that term before when describing a Sauvignon Blanc from anywhere in the world) as well as lime and pear. In certain years, warmer temperatures meant more of a tropical fruit profile (passion fruit, mango); but in almost every year, Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough was unmistakable. (Note that other regions in the country also produced rich, singular Sauvignon Blancs as well, especially the Nelson district, also on the South Island). 

The first famous Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was from Cloudy Bay; the winery is still one of the country's leaders with this variety, but there have been others - such as Grove Mill, Seresin and Villa Maria - that have consistent track records of excellence with this variety. A few years ago, Kevin Judd, the first winemaker at Cloudy Bay (as well as a world-class photographer and all-around nice guy) left to establish his own label; named Greywacke (pronounced grey-wackey) for a native bedrock found in local vineyards, this Sauvignon Blanc ups the ante and is one of the country's most remarkable Sauvignon Blancs.

As for Australia, while Semillon and Riesling are far more notable white varieties there are several zones where Sauvignon Blanc performs well; a few of the best are from Western Australia, especially from vineyards close to the sea in the Great Southern and Mount Barker territories, while Adelaide Hills in South Australia is a fine site for the variety as well. These Sauvignon Blancs are rarely as intense as the versions from New Zealand, but they are nicely balanced with some touches of gooseberry in the aromas along with notes of tomato plant.

A few reviews:

2009 Plantagenet "Omrah" Sauvignon Blanc (Western Australia) - Light yellow; aromas of lemon peel, Bosc pear and a hint of basil. Medium-bodied, this has very good acidity, good persistence and a tasty, satisfying finish. Good freshness - this tastes as though it seems younger; enjoy over the next 1-2 years. $16 (Imported by Old Bridge Cellars)

New Zealand
2012 Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) - Brilliant light yellow; aromas of gooseberry and tomato plant. Very good concentration. Tangy acidity, good persistence and varietal focus. Nicely balanced, relatively straightforward; enjoy over the next 2-3 years. $16 (Imported by Terlato Wine Group)

2013 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc "Private Bin" (Marlborough) - Straw/light yellow; varietal aromas of gooseberry, Anjou pear and lemon peel. Medium-bodied, this has very good acidity and a clean, round finish with impressive varietal character. This is such a pleasure to drink and it is an excellent introduction to the Marlborough style of Sauvignon Blanc; pair this with mussels. Enjoy over the next 1-2 years. $15 (Imported by Ste-Michelle Wine Estates)

2012 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc "Taylors Pass Vineyard"(Marlborough) - Packaged with a handsome black label, this is from a vineyard on the north bank of the Awatere River in Marlborough. Brilliant light yellow with golden tints; gorgeous aromas of gooseberry, passion fruit, gum and a hint of eucalyptus. Very good concentration; rich mid-palate with excellent ripeness. Notable persistence, striking acidity and excellent length in the finish. Lovely wine of great typicity and beautiful complexity. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years. I have enjoyed the Sauvignon Blancs from Villa Maria for some time and believe this is one of the area's finest estates; yet somehow it has remained in the shadows of a few of the more famous Marlborough producers. I hope this will change soon! $25

2013 Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) - As noted above, this is the label of former Cloudy Bay winemaker Kevin Judd; he established this brand in 2009. The 2013 is a marvelous wine, one that shows the world-class quality of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Brilliant straw; sublime aromas of honeydew melon, golden apples and chervil. Very good concentration, excellent persistence, lively acidity and spot-on varietal focus in the finish along with a touch of white pepper. So beautifully balanced and appealing, this is an outstanding wine of great typicity and elegance. I also want to note that this is not the most herbaceous, aggressive Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc available; I realize that some wine drinkers are somewhat turned off by that style. Thus, this year's version of Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc should appeal to a wider audience. Enjoy this over the next 3-5 years - perhaps longer. $20- a great value! Good on you, Kevin! (Imported by Old Bridge Cellars)

Chile - Most of us think of Chile as a warm, if not hot, wine territory, but there are some excellent zones with very cool climates, especially a few near the Pacific Ocean that runs the length of Chile's western border. The most famous of these are the Leyda and the San Antonio Valleys. There are only a few producers in San Antonio; one of these estates is Casa Marin, run by the diligent and passionate Maria Luz Marin. She produces two single vineyard Sauvignon Blancs; one of these sites, the Cipresses Vineyard, is situated only one mile from the Pacific Ocean, making this the vineyard with the closest vicinity to the Pacific in the Western Hemisphere. Needless to say, this is an assertive wine and in very cool years, the grapes struggle to ripen, resulting in an almost aggressive style of Sauvignon Blanc.

Another producer in San Antonio is Matetic, who produces a Sauvignon Blanc from San Antonio labeled as Corralillo that is more elegant and subdued than the wine from Casa Marin. 

Matetic also produces a lovely Sauvignon Blanc from Casablanca Valley, located further inland than San Antonio. Lately a few producers have also planted Sauvignon Blanc in the Colchagua Costa zone, much further south in the country. Much of Colchagua Valley is quite hot, making this an ideal zone for big reds, but the Colchagua sub-zone, only about 5 miles from the Pacific, offers a suitable cool environment for racy Sauvignon Blancs.

2012 Matetic Sauvignon Blanc "Corralillo" (San Antonio) - Straw/light yellow; aromas of basil, gooseberry and grapefruit rind. Medium-full with very good concentration. Rich with good freshness and ripeness and a finish with decidedly tangy acidity and very good persistence. Clean - no oak- with excellent cool climate character and a slightly racy edge. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years. $15 (Imported by Qunitessential)

2012 Matetic "EQ Coastal" Sauvignon Blanc (Casablanca Valley) - Brilliant straw; beautiful varietal aromas of freshly cut hay, chervil and hints of marjoram and white pepper. Medium-bodied with good to very good concentration. Lively, tangy acidity and very good persistence. Nicely balanced, well made wine with clear cut varietal focus. Enjoy over the next 1-2 years. $20

2012 Koyle Costa Sauvignon Blanc (Colchagua Costa) - Light yellow; aromas of Bosc pear, melon, spearmint and a hint of gooseberry. Medium-full with very good concentration. Bracing acidity, very good persistence and excellent varietal purity. This is a vibrant expression of Sauvignon Blanc with a slightly racy edge. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years - perhaps longer. $24 (Imported by Quintessential)

South Africa - While South Africa still struggles for placements in the American wine market, the producers there have certainly done their work as far as Sauvignon Blanc is concerned. The most famous district for this variety in South Africa is Stellenbosch, situated some 30 miles east of Cape Town; vineyards here are situated very close to the Atlantic Ocean. The wines tend to display vibrant acidity and flavors of gooseberry and herbal notes, much as in New Zealand, although tropical aromas are often a key feature as well.

2012 Simonsig Sauvignon Blanc "Sunbird" (South Africa) - Brilliant light yellow; aromas of lemon zest, gooseberry and white flowers. Medium-full with very good to excellent concentration. Lively acidity, excellent persistence and impressive complexity. Rich with lovely ripeness and tightly constructed, as the flavors develop slowly. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years. $18 (Imported by Quintessential)

Italy - And to end my posts about Sauvignon Blanc, let's discuss this wine in Italy. Here the variety is known simply as Sauvignon, not Sauvignon Blanc and while it's grown in various regions- including Tuscany, where some excellent versions are made near the sea in Bolgheri and other parts of the Maremma, the most famous versions are made in two northern regions, Friuli and Trentino-Alto Adige. These two cool climate regions, both with mountain ranges (The Julian Alps for Friuli and the Dolomites for Trentino-Alto Adige) are ideal for a style of Sauvignon Blanc that offers herbal characteristics. These are often assertive, almost aggressive styles of Sauvignon Blanc that are clearly not for everyone. Yet, these are wines of marvelous complexity with bracing acidity and excellent structure. They do need strong white meats or seafood for pairing purposes, but they are clearly among the world's most distinctive Sauvignon Blancs.

2010 Livio Felluga Sauvignon (Colli Orientali del Friuli) - Straw; lovely aromas of grapefruit, freshly cut hay, Bosc pear and notes of sage and mint. Medium-full, this is extremely well balanced and flavorful with lively acidity and notable persistence. Quite elegant, this has beautiful varietal focus and is a more restrained style than many other examples from this area. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years.  $20 (Imported by Mionetto, USA)

2011 Cantina Terlano Sauvignon "Quartz" (Alto Adige) - Light yellow; intense aromas of Bosc pear, hyacinth, apple peel and basil. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Vibrant acidity, excellent persistence, great freshness and outstanding complexity. Elegant with a focus on fruit, backed by a subdued herbal character in the finish. Beautiful wine that will age well; this should drink well for the next 5-7 years, perhaps longer. A classic from Alto Adige! $55 (Imported by Banville and Jones)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Robert Mondavi Winery - Doing Just Fine, Thank You

When it comes to California wines, the media loves to talk about the new kids on the block. There are plenty of stories about some small producer who's got a few acres on a Napa Valley hillside or in the Sonoma Coast just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean. The fact that many of these estates don't produce much wine is also another reason they get coverage - the wines are often difficult to find. 

That translates to larger, more established California wineries often getting the short end of the stick as far as media coverage. These producers aren't hip enough for some people or perhaps the wines are TOO easily available, as though that's a problem in the large picture. But whatever the reason, the successful California wineries with an excellent track record just don't receive the same critical analysis the newbies do.

All of this brings me to the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley. This is one of California's most renowned and historic wine estates, as Robert Mondavi opened his own winery in 1966 in Oakville; his aim, to produce some of the best wines in the world. He used France as a guideline, admiring the balance of their wines, but at the same time, Mondavi knew that his wines would reflect their origins and that his products would have their own identity.

Well, the rest is history as they say; everyone knows how many glorious wines were crafted at Mondavi, be it Cabernet Sauvignon, Fumé Blanc, Pinot Noir, etc. This was a focal point for California wines throughout the late 1960s as well as the 1970s, '80s and '90s. What was even greater in my opinion was that Mr. Mondavi promoted not only his own wines, but those of Napa Valley in general. He knew that by endorsing his neighbors' wines, he would do a lot of good for himself as well as other producers in California as well as the New World. 

Mr. Mondavi passed away in 2008 at the age of 94, but a few years before that, his beloved winery was sold to Constellation Brands, a large, public-traded company that owns other wine estates as well as some spirits brands. That move turned a good number in the wine business away from Robert Mondavi wines and for better or worse, some of those same people - as well as many in their 20s and 30s who today are starting to head up wine programs around the country - tend to dismiss the Robert Mondavi brand as less than first-rate.

Well, I've never been one to automatically accept popular opinion - I like to make up my own mind. So with that in mind, I recently tasted five current releases from Robert Mondavi. One, the 2011 Reserve Fumé Blanc from the renowned To-Kalon Vineyard at the winery, was a wine I labeled as "extraordinary." (see post here) I'm passionate about wines, but I can count on one hand the number of wines I've tasted which I thought were of this caliber. That got me to thinking that there are some pretty special wines being made these days at Robert Mondavi.

Here are some brief notes on four other recent releases from Robert Mondavi.

2012 Pinot Noir (Carneros) - Deep garnet; aromas of red cherry, wild strawberry, brown sugar and cardamom. Very good concentration; this is nicely styled with medium-weight tannins and good acidity. Elegant finish; good persistence; enjoy over the next 2-3 years. This is fairly priced at $26 and is a Pinot Noir all about varietal character and elegance. This was made not for points, but for food.

2011 Chardonnay Reserve (Carneros) - Here is a rich, slightly showy Chardonnay in a style that is meant for very rich seafood. Aromas of toasted almond, mango, Anjou pear and a hint of flint. Medium-full with a rich, lush mid-palate. Impressive persistence, good acidity and excellent varietal character. The oak is noticeable, but not overwhelming. Lobster or halibut would be an excellent pairing for this wine. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years - perhaps longer. ($40).

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) - Bright ruby red; aromas of black currant, black cherry and a hint of licorice. Medium-full with very good concentration. Elegantly styled finish with round, medium-weight tannins, good acidity and nicely integrated wood notes. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon has become a classic over the past four decades and this is a textbook bottling meant for consumption over the next 5-7 years. The $28 price tag reflects that and while I like this wine very much, I love it for its price - very good value!

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville District - Deep ruby red/light purple; aromas of black plum, anise, iodine and purple iris. Very good concentration, nicely expressed mid-palate, medium-weight tannins and notable new oak notes. Good persistence and acidity, this is a bit austere and lean now, but time will resolve that. Give this some time - best in 7-10 years. A very fair price at $40.

Director of Winemaking Genevieve Janssens, who started with the winery in 1978 and has been in charge of winemaking since 1997, is continuing the vision of Robert Mondavi today. In other words, these are wines that reflect the land; combine that with some exceptional vineyards in Napa Valley and you have a roster of excellent wines. And as you may have noticed in my tasting notes, these are not the most powerful, deeply concentrated wines made in Napa Valley; if you want those wines - often the ones that receive scores in the mid to high-90s, look elsewhere. But these are beautifully made wines made for enjoyment with food tonight and over the next few years.

Maybe some of the new kinds on the block could learn a few things by tasting these wines!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Highlights from Tre Bicchieri

Gianluca Grasso, Az. Agr. Elio Grasso (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

The Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri  tasting was held in Chicago yesterday - stops in New York City and San Francisco are also part of this current tour - and wine lovers in the trade and media were treated to an embarrassment of riches, as far as Italian wines go. This publication, generally regarded to as the Bible of Italian wines, each year tastes 20,000 wines for their guide and rates wines on a scale of one to three glasses, with the highest being three - tre bicchieri - wines that are considered by the tasting panel as the finest in the country. As only 415 wines were given this rating for the 2014 guide - barely more than two percent of the wines tasted - these truly are special wines.

What I love about this guide is that the highest ratings for Italian wines are not relegated to the most famous full-bodied reds such as Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino or Amarone; rather there are dozens of Italian wines that are honored as worthy of a Tre Bicchieri rating, be they sparkling such as Prosecco or Franciacorta, elegant whites from Alto Adige, Friuli, Campania and several other regions or gorgeous reds such as Aglianico del Vulture, Taurasi and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo that often do not get the attention they deserve.

So at this tasting yesterday, one could pretty much receive a thorough education in Italian wines; yes, tasting the finest Italian wines of the year is quite special, but when you realize that you'll taste a wide range of wine types, well, that makes a day like this even more enjoyable.

So without further ado, on to a few highlights from the 2014 Tre Bicchieri tasting:

Sparkling - Everyone knows Prosecco, the famous sparkling wine from the Veneto region, but this is a product generally thought of as an everyday wine, one without distinctive characteristics. One taste of the 2012 Ruggeri "Giustino B"Extra Dry would prove how special this wine can be; medium-full with an explosive mid-palate and a lengthy, elegant finish, this is a classy sparkling wine! 

As for Franciacorta, arguably Italy's finest sparkling wine category, there were several first-rate offerings featured, including the beautifully-structured Lo Sparviere 2007 Extra Brut and the Ferghettina Pas Dosé "33"Riserva 2006, a blend of three of their finest wines (100% Chardonnay) that is perfectly balanced with lovely complexity. Then there were two of Italy's most sublime sparkling wines, the 2005 Ca' del Bosco "Annamaria Clementi" and the 2006 Bellavista "Vittorio Moretti"; both are quite powerful, with amazing persistence are absolutely delicious and can rightfully take their place among the world's finest sparkling wines.

Marica Bonomo, Monte del Fra (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Whites - Italian white wines just don't get the attention they deserve from the major wine publications; I've been commenting on this for years. So how nice of Gambero Rosso to honor the country's finest whites, whatever the type and style. At Monte del Fra, proprietor Marica Bonomo produced a lovely 2011 Custoza "Ca' del Magro" from her estate vineyards in the Veneto; a blend of several grapes (primarily Garganega), this is a charming dry white with beautiful acidity and subtle charms. The 2012 Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo "Cutizzi" from a single vineyard in Santa Paolina in Campania, is a rich white with beautiful citrus and floral aromatics and lively acidity, a trait of this vintage's white from this region. Drinkable now with rich seafood, this will be even better with another 3-5 years of aging.

The white that most surprised me was the 2011 Valle Reale Trebbiano d'Abruzzo "Vigne de Capstrano." I say that as most examples of Trebbiano d'Abruzzo are quite simple, even one-dimensional; how nice to experience a Trebbiano that breaks the mold! Fermented with wild yeasts and unfiltered, this has a cloudy appearance; quite full on the palate, this has spicy, nutty perfumes and a powerful finish; here is a Trebbiano of great complexity, one that has aging potential. This estate has been a leader in this region and this wine is, in my opinion, one of Italy's most distinctive whites!

Gerardo Giuratrabocchetti, Cantine del Notaio (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Reds - Of course, there were the usual suspects presented in this tasting, including Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino. Of the former, the best examples were the Giacomo Fenocchio "Bussia" and the Elio Grasso "Gavarini Chiniera", both from the 2009 vintage. That was a rather difficult year for Barolo, but these wines displayed the elegance one has come to expect from the finest examples of this iconic wine. Both are made in a traditional style and are ideally balanced with good acidity; these are examples of Barolo that are meant for food, whether in a few years or 10-12 years down the road.

As for Brunello di Montalcino, the Mastrojanni "Vigna Schiena d'Asino"is a stunning wine. Traditionally made with great Sangiovese purity, this is a wine of elegance, breeding and first-rate complexity. Offering excellent depth of fruit, subtle wood notes and very good acidity, this is a textbook Brunello meant for 12-15 years of aging.

Arguably the finest red wine at this event - and that's saying something - was the 2010 Cantine del Notaio Aglianico del Vulture "La Firma." Aglianico is the great red variety of Southern Italy, but one usually reads about this grape when referring to Taurasi of Campania. But in Basilicata, there are several distinguished examples from the Aglianico del Vulture zone; wines that are rugged, yet elegant with firm, but refined tannins. I included this wine in my book Beyond Barolo and Brunello; I can now reaffirm that the Cantine del Notaio "La Firma" is truly one of Italy's most distinguished red wines after tasting this 2010 version; full-bodied with a beautifully developed mid-palate and tremendous persistence, along with balancing acidity, this is a marvelous effort, a great bottle of wine on so many levels.

So it's a year off, but I can't wait until the 2015 Tre Bicchieri tasting!