Chicago is lucky enough to be one of only 6 U.S. cities that the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri World Tour passes through. This annual event features winners of the coveted Tre Bicchieri (meaning “three glasses") award which are generally regarded as Italy’s best wines. As a wine blogger, I have the additional benefit of entering an hour early which makes all the difference in the race to try as many of these fantastic wines as possible.
This tasting is always one of my favorites due to the uniqueness of the wines and grapes varieties on hand as well as the general warmth and charisma that seems to exude from the producers. The setting in Bridgeport Art Center is also a complementary location with its floor-to-ceiling windows and loft-like feel (one of the cooler event spaces in Chicago).
As with most large tastings, it’s good to have a strategy going in or it becomes simply overwhelming. This year I spent most of the time searching out Sicilian wines to enable my research for an upcoming Sicily wine trip. It was exciting to see more wines than ever from this dynamic region with at least 9 producers onsite.
Sicily’s Mediterranean climate produces characterful wines from the robust Nero d’Avola to the more elegant Nerello Mascalese with many varieties in-between including Zibibbo (Muscat of Alexandria), Grillo, Catarratto, Carricante, Tannat, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
One of the new finds for me was Cantine Nicosia which is located near Mount Etna. The volcanic soils found here produce truly special wines such as these which have both power and finesse. The 2011 Nero d’Avola Sosta Tre Santi was a standout with subdued energy, smooth tannins, lush black fruit, and a few more gears waiting to be unleashed.
The 2016 Etna Bianco Fondo Filara Contrada Monte Gorna, made from Carricante and Catarratto, tasted of citrus fruit, nut, and honey. It was one of the most elegant expressions of these varieties that I found at the tasting.
The 2015 Etna Rosso Fondo Filara Contrada Monte Gorna was also excellent, made from Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. This wine reminded me of a cross between savory Oregon-style Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo with its earthy, licorice, dried herbs, and tart red fruit notes. It was one of the best Nerello Mascalese-based wines that I’ve had in some time. This producer does a great job of preserving elegance and fresh minerality in all of its wines which makes them distinct.
Next up was Donnafugata, whose name means “donna in fuga” (a woman in flight) and refers to the story of a queen who found refuge in the Sicilian vineyards where the company operates today. This adventure inspired the company’s logo which is a woman’s windblown hair found on each bottle.
Donnafugata has vineyards in 5 territories – Etna, Marsala, Pantelleria, Contessa Entellina, and Vittoria which provide it a wide range of styles and varieties. The showstopper here was the 2015 Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé which is made from sun-dried Zibibbo grapes yielding a sweet wine exuberant with orange peel, apricot, honey, and fig flavors. Its 14.3 percent alcohol melded seamlessly with its 193 g/L of residual sugar into perfect harmonious delight.
At Firriato, we found the dry counterpart to Ben Ryé’s lusciousness, the 2016 Jasmin Zibibbo. Tasting of white flowers, exotic yellow fruit, sweet spice, and saline mineral notes, this wine aged 3 months on its lees in stainless steel resulting in its creamy texture. The dry finish was unexpected and lingered in a zesty vibrant style.
Even the best plans get waylaid a bit at Tre Bicchieri and I had to divert along the way to try a few other wines that caught my eye. I’m always looking for my beloved Barolo and the best one I had this year was the 2009 Vietti Barolo Villero Rieserva. Delicate rose petals, violets, dried tobacco leaves, tar, and black cherries cascaded into an ethereal regal finish. I couldn’t throw that one away.
Paternoster’s 2013 Aglianico del Vulture Don Anselmo was also a great discovery. Aglianico grapes produce full-bodied structured red wines with high tannins and high acidity that typically take time to settle down. The Pasternoster version was rich and velvety with notes of prune, raisin, and earthy red cherry notes. Twenty months in Slavonian oak casks and French barriques helped speed the taming process contributing round tannins and spicy notes on the long finish.
I also enjoyed Fattoria Le Pupille’s 2014 Elisabetta Gippetti Saffredi which was a super-Tuscan-styled wine made from 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 10% Petit Verdot. Fine-grained tannins and brisk acidity backed savory mushroom, black currant, mocha, and leather notes. The layered flavors and firm structure culminated in a very long peppery finish.
Last but not least, the most dynamic producer personality (a high bar at this gregarious tasting) was Giampaolo Tabarrini. Giampaolo is a fourth-generation winemaker at his family’s estate in Umbria specializing in Sagrantino. He had an amazing array of Sagrantino wines which is a grape he says “has too much of everything”. After a two-minute crash course on tannins, we tried his lovely 2015 Bocca di Rosé (made from Sagrantino) which was bursting with wild strawberry, wet rock, and citrus notes with great depth and a crisp mineral finish.
By this time, the crowd had become wall-to-wall people so I made my way to Cantina Sociale di Carpi e Sorbara, which is a 1200-member cooperative focused on Lambrusco. I always appreciate well-made Lambrusco which is a lively and refreshing end to any event or meal. Their 2016 Lambrusco di Sorbara Secco Omaggio a Gino Friedmann was excellent with elegant notes of brambly red fruit, iron, and violet notes with racy acidity and fine froth – a perfect end to a day filled with delights.