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Gambero Rosso Recap

Posted by guest, Mar 11, 2009.

About this time last year, I blogged about the top Italian wine tasting event of the year - the Gambero Rosso “Tre Bicchieri” road show.

Last week, I was able to attend the event for the second year in a row.  It is an understatement to say that I was knee-knocking excited and pedal to the metal from Napa to San Francisco on that bright, sunshiny day.  I arrived promptly at 2 p.m. for the trade portion of the program to find the place already swarming with Italophiles.  I fingered the pages of my tasting guide, but decided quickly to start with the white wines from the first table and continue from there to completion before moving on to the reds.

There were 122 producers present from Gambero Rosso’s 2009 guide of top Italian wines.  In a world of rating, i.e. score, escalation, it is always amazing to me that the folks at Gambero Rosso review 2,000+ producers and over 18,000 wines each year and only give their top score, “Three Glasses,” to three hundred plus wines.  As consumers we have to tip our tastevins to the publication’s discerning palate.

However, in hindsight of the event, I was disappointed.  Understanding that we are in a worldwide economic recession, and the dollar isn’t as attractive to Europeans as it was last year, there was a less significant number of producers present this year.  Second, the tasting was prominently categorized by Distributor.  Not saying it hasn’t been done as such in previous years or other events, but this time around it was obnoxious.  If a Distributor was fortunate enough to have two, three or more top Italian wines in their portfolio, the wines were stationed side by side and sometimes there was one person pouring the wines of two or three different producers.  I understand this for Trade purposes - i.e sell the strength of the portfolio - but during the couple of hours when the San Francisco wine cognescenti were tasting, the grey-flannel pant and oxford shirt brigade of Distributors floating behind the tables were schmoozing to push the wines more than they were trying to pull you into the allure of these spectacular representations of Italian appellations and artisanship.

And this was not the only drawback.  First the white wines were chilled to Titanic, glacial proportions.  Not a single white wine in the first hour of my tasting showed any discernable character beyond razor acidity. The most disappointing interaction was with a Friulano white when two of us tasting stated that the wine they were pouring was flawed.  The rotund Distributor called for one of his colleagues to taste - the colleague then passed off an ambivalent face as to say, ‘Bu’ (translation, ‘whatever’).  It took persistence from the woman from a top San Francisco wine store and myself to say, “this wine is corked.”  With reluctance, a new bottle was opened and tasted, ice cold.

I have been fortunate to be on both sides of the table over the past couple of years.  And when pouring wines at such events like this, I am gracious and thankful that someone would (a) stop by and taste our wines, (b) be already familiar with our wines and (c) have an opinion about the quality and presentation of the wines.  Larkmead is a boutique producer in a world of big-time, big-price Napa Valley wineries.  Similarly, Italian ‘three glass’ wines from Friuli are a small fraction of the American awareness; the first rule of sales - the customer is always right.  If you don’t want to believe that, find a new profession.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad day.  I was quite impressed with the completeness of the 2004 Barolos I tasted.  I was intrigued with some of the older, ready to release white wines, and I was shocked by the elegance and approachability of the handful of Amarones present at the tasting.  Later this week, I will post some of my tasting notes directly on this site and will announce it on the bulletin boards.  I would be curious if any of you Snooth’ers went to this tasting in San Francisco or in other parts of the country that the Gambero Rosso road show is presenting.  I’d love to hear your thoughts - especially you Southern Californians who had to wait five hours for the wines to arrive!
Dan Petroski is Assistant Winemaker at Larkmead Vineyards in Napa Valley. Dan has an MBA from New York University and worked as an Ad Exec in New York for several years, before switching it up and trading his suit for a move out west.


Blog comment by Jill, Mar 11, 2009.


At least the wine arrived to the SF event, which is more than happened in LA, where the wine didn't show until after most people had already left...

Reply by Rodolphe Boulanger, Mar 12, 2009.

Dan - Had a similar experience at the NY event. Showed up early (1:40) and the place was already humming. I guess we'll have to show up WAY early next time!

This year, the event was under new management. The upside was that it was in an adequate space at last (no more Puck Buiding or the awful church and church basement of last year) with good lighting and a guide book that you can actually write in (as opposed to the tiny, glossy listing of years past).

However, I agree that the organization by distributor was taken to an absurd level this year. This left all the Barolos and Super Tuscans scattered all over the room making it especially hard to compare. Even more annoying is when the distributor reps are talking shop with their coworkers at adjacent tables and not talking to visitors or, sometimes, pouring for them!

For a change, we decided to taste all the whites first before moving on to the reds. This meant we missed out on Tignanello which the hordes had polished off by hour 2 of the tasting. Some of the whites were super cold, but it wasn't as bad as you describe in San Fran. Having all but skipped the whites in previous years, it was eye-opening. On the reds, it seemed that there were more Bordeaux blends than usual. Maybe this was because the Super Tuscan producers could afford to promote their wines here whereas the more autoctonous and authentic producers stayed home. However, I agree that the 2004 Barolos and Barbarescos were the star of the day. Too bad they were still babies in every sense of the word.

The lack of any dessert wines at all was met with great sadness.

Blog comment by Dan, Mar 12, 2009.

@Jill, sorry you had to deal with that. You missed some good wines.
@RB, yes, me too - I got no Tignanello because they were poured out by the time I got to them. And, yes, it felt a little disconcerting to taste Sicilian wines then Tuscan then to the Veneto, back down South then up to Piemonte. If I was a restauranteur and my wine list was lacking Barolo's, there was no way to really make it easy to do the proper research. And damn I hated it when the Distributors were talking to each other. But glad you had a good Italian white wine experience. The Benanti Pietramarina (Sicily) was the best white in the show. (And I really jones Northern Italian whites.) As for dessert wines, I tasted the '96 Avignonesi right out of the gates, it was Table 9. However, I found it to be a little too fleshy and lacking refinement. Compared to last year when I was a bit floored by it. Anyhow. This event, although disappointing this year, does not tarnish my love of Italian wine!

Reply by Philip James, Mar 13, 2009.

Dan - I've had my fair share of disappointing tastings too. I remember a Wine Spectator one. I arrived 30 minutes into it and all the Champagne houses had already run out.

Off topic, but I went to the Napa Valley Vintners tasting in NYC last week - didnt see Larkmead there. That was a well organized event, sufficient space, a lot of wineries with staff that knew what they were doing.

Some great wines.

One of the wines was corked (but it was very faint). I'm like a sniffer dog in my ability to detect corked wines and asked them to open a second bottle. Side by side the difference was clear.

To their credit the pourer was grateful that I told him and took it well.

The amusing part was that 85% of the corked bottle had already been served and no one had noticed thus far.

Anyway, overall the event was better than the NY Wine Expo, which because it was on the weekend, even though it was for the trade only, basically involved a bunch of bar/restaurant owners totally wasted.

I always get worried when there are no spit buckets to be found.

Blog comment by Dan, Mar 14, 2009.

Philip, I am glad you went to the event. The NVV are doing a great job promoting the brands out here and, yes, unfortunately we were not there - we have to pick and choose our opportunities and next week I will be in town for our Distributor tasting (on the 24th). So. As for the corked wine, did you read Sergio Esposito's newsletter this past week about not telling people that the wine is bad or flawed ? Very similiar situation, I think a lot of people may notice it and bottle it up inside, no pun intended; or more importantly, if you are not familiar with a wine, you may not have a reference point to say - hey, this is bad. In the Gambero Rosso tasting, I was very familiar with the Friulano, which made me want to speak up and taste the recent vintage at its best. So, good for you for speaking out and great for the pourer to be gracious (and probably embarrassed in the end). Come to the Polaner tasting, the 06 wines are superb!

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