The Best of Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri Winners

By John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

No other nationally focused wine and food publication has become more internationally relevant than Italy’s Gambero Rosso. Serious Italian wine drinkers around the world will be familiar with the magazine’s red shrimp logo (the literal translation of gambero rosso), and eagerly await the publication of its annual wine guide, Vini d’Italia, and especially the announcement of the year’s winners of the coveted Tre Bicchieri, or “Three Glass” award, the publication’s highest honour bestowed on a wine.

Established in 1986, Gambero Rosso has become a reference standard for Italian wine, as recognized and respected internationally (some say even more respected), as at home. It remains Italy’s largest and most influential annual wine guide with an annual print run of half a million copies, a remarkable fact in the age of digital.

They’ve worked hard to achieve that standing to be sure, hosting annually over 170 events in 30 countries, including a yearly late spring stop in Toronto for a mini Tre Bicchieri celebration. And it’s fair to say that the Italian wine industry owes at least a part of its worldwide recognition and export success to the guide – to score highly in it is guaranteed to lift sales, and you can be sure that a Tre Bicchieri award increases the chances of a listing in Canadian monopoly stores.

This year for the first time, at the invitation of the Gambero Rosso, I attended the annual awards ceremony and tasting on the 22nd of October in Rome, the 31st edition. An auditorium packed with Tre Bicchieri-winning wine producers from all over the country and a host of local and foreign journalists were on hand for the announcements of the top wines of the year, other special prizes, and to listen to reflections on the past, present and future of the Italian wine industry and hear from outsiders how Italian wines are viewed internationally.

One point in particular that resonated with me was a reflection by one of Gambero’s editors on the growing confidence and regional pride exhibited by Italian producers. It was a reminder that ‘fine wine’ as we consider it today is relatively new to Italy; bottled wine was a rarity up until the middle of last century and much was consumed locally. Many techniques, and grape varieties were imported from France in the 19th and 20th centuries to improve local production, but at the same time, the ‘Italianess” of Italian wines was getting diluted and unique regional flavours were traded for broad international appeal.

As was pointed out: “Slowly but surely, Italian wines are becoming appreciated internationally because of what they are, not what they are trying to be, nor copies of other wines. Our wines are becoming ever-more “Italian”.

It’s curious to hear such words uttered about a country that has been making wine for over two thousand years. You could substitute “Canadian” for Italian and the sentence would still make perfect sense.

He continues: “We have great varieties that can produce naturally high acid wines, well-suited to ageing in botti grandi [large, neutral wood casks]. These are now strengths that perhaps were once weaknesses. There’s a big return to wines of the territory, and more attention is being paid to drinkability, and if we stay on that line, that would be a great thing”.

I couldn’t agree more. That the world’s largest (or second largest, depending on vintage) producer of wines is heading in this direction reflects the dawning of a new golden age of wine, one in which individuality, uniqueness and variation are prized above all, along with a return to wine’s real raison d’être, to be consumed for pleasure and not put on a pedestal. That means more flavour experiences for us, and more transparent, drinkable wines.

These thoughts kept coming back to me as I tasted through about 100 or so of this year’s 436 Tre Bicchieri winners, whittled down from a staggering 45,000 wines tasted, focusing on wines available in Ontario. It seems these words were not just spoken by Gambero Rosso tasters, but also truly believed, or made to be true. In the not so distant past, I had found many of the Tre Bicchieri winners disappointing, over made, over ripe, over extracted, over oaked caricatures of Italian wine with a clear international commercial leaning. But the range of this year’s winners reflected this new reality: singular, drinkable wines from too many grape varieties to remember, overwhelmingly native Italian. Considering the influence the Gambero Rosso exerts, this should be a wake up call to all Italian producers to get back to doing what Italy does best.

Below is my list of highlights, mainly from Piedmont, the Veneto, Campania and Sicily, non-exhaustive of course, with Ontario importers listed where known/available.

John Szabo’s Bonus Buyer’s Guide: Highlights from the Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri Winners


  • Giacomo Brezza & Figli Barolo Sarmassa Bricco Riserva 2011 – Classic, pale, old school Barolo (Natural Vines)

  • Castello di Neive Barbaresco Albesani Santo Stefano Riserva 2012 – Fleshy, varietally accurate, satisfying, top value. (Brunello Imports)

  • Marchesy di Grésy Barbaresco Martinenga Camp Gros Riserva 2012 – Spectacular complexity on a wide and generous frame. (Rogers & Company)

  • Elvio Cogno Barolo Ravera Bricco Pernice 2012 – A cru within a cru, the Bricco Pernice is gorgeously perfumed, firm and mineral in the extreme. (TWC Imports)

  • Bruno Rocca Barbaresco Rabajà 2013 – A more modern expression, silky, perfumed, seamless, pure pleasure. (Not represented)

  • Sottimano Barbaresco Pajoré 2014 – A very Burgundian expression of Nebbiolo, deep, haunting. Give it a few more years for the wood to settle. (Le Sommelier)

  • Vietti Barolo Riserva “Villero” 2009 – A monumental wine, solid, structured, profoundly perfumed, extraordinarily complex, one for the ages. (Brix and Mortar)

  • Vigneti Massa Colli Tortonesi Timorasso Costa del Vento 2015 – One of Italy’s best, least-known white varieties, Timorasso here reaches sapid and saline extremes, full and densely packed with stones. (The Case for Wine)

The Veneto

  • Ca’ La Bionda Valpolicella Classico Superiore Campo Casal Vegri 2015 – One of the most perfumed, elegant and complete Valpolicella’s I’ve ever come across, particularly fleshy and generous in the 2015 vintage, yet still vital and fresh. (Le Sommelier)
  • Le Fraghe Bardolino Classico Brol Grande 2015 – Both during a recent visit to the region and later at the Gambero tasting, this wine consistently impressed for its elegance, freshness and sophistication. A top regional reference. (Not represented)

  • Albino Piona Bardolino ‘SP’ 2013 – Along with Le Fraghe above, Piona is a reference to know in Bardolino (and Custoza). The 2013 is a remarkably spicy-perfumed expression of corvina, with complexity well above the mean. (Not represented)
  • Gini Soave Classico Contrada Salvarenza Vecchie Vigne 2014 – Always a top reference from Soave, the volcanic Salvarenza hillside yields fleshy, fiery, highly stony and honeyed wines of massive depth and power. (

  • Pieropan Soave Classico Calvarino 2015 – Another superb vintage for Pieropan’s volcanic classic, dense, dark, with extreme salinity. (Vonterra)
  • Graziano Prà Soave Classico Staforte 2015 – Prà’s volcanic expression of garganega, given extra time on lees in tank, takes on an extra dimension of flesh and succulence in 2015, with extraordinarily long, salty finish. (Rob Groh – The Vine)

  • Suavia Soave Classico Monte Carbonare 2015 – A properly smoky, salty, full-bodied Soave from the basalt soils of the Monte Carbonare cru, with exceptional length. (Cavinona)


  • Agnanum Campi Flegrei Piedirosso 2016 – Delicate, salty, high-toned and open, a wine lovers’ wine to be sure. (Not represented)
  • Alois Caiatì Terre del Volturno IGP 2015 – A pure pallagrello bianco (an indigenous variety), gritty, saline, purely mineral. (Brand New Day Wines)

  • Contrade di Taurasi Grecomusc’ 2015 – I was impressed from the first time I tasted this rare Campanian white grape from Contrade di Taurasi when it came through Vintages last year, and this exceptional 2015 confirms its stature, a full-bodied, smoky, liquorice tinged white. (Goupe Soleil)

  • I Favati Fiano di Avellino Pietramara 2016 – The Gambero Rosso’s white wine of the year, and deservedly so, a magnificent expression of Fiano in all of its mineral, stony, honeyed glory. (Not represented)
  • Mustilli Sannio Sant’Agata dei’ Goti Piedirosso Artus 2015 – A fine and refined, lovely earthy-spicy, firm Campanian red. (Not represented)

  • Pietracupa Greco di Tufo 2016 – A subtle, stony, tightly wound Greco that needs another couple of years to unwind, from a top reference in the appellation. (Not represented)
  • Fattoria La Rivolta Falanghina del Sannio Taburno 2016 – A perfectly mid-weight, saline, lively expression of falanghina. (Cavinona)

  • Villa Raiano Fiano di Avellino Alimata 2015 – An excellent cru of Fiano, sharp, tight, slaty, with excellent length. ( 


  • Pietradolce Etna Rosso Vigna Barbagalli 2014 – A highly ageworthy cru from the upper slopes of Etna, still firm and tannic but with extraordinary potential. Revisit after 2020.  (Empson Canada/Woodman Wines)
  • Planeta Etna Bianco 2016 – The best white yet from Planeta’s operation on the north side of Etna, pure, sharp, lightly spicy and crunchy. (Noble Estates)
  • Cantina Rallo Sicilia Bianco Maggiore 2016 – A pure grillo, very concentrated and fruity, like an exotic tropical fruit salad. (Small Winemakers Collection)
  • Girolamo Russo Etna Rosso ‘A Rina 2015 – Although this is Giuseppe Russo’s ‘entry’ Etna rosso, year in and out it delivers a beguilingly elegant, smoky, accurate reflection of volcanic soil, unadulterated by oak. (Connexion Oenophilia)

  • Tasca d’Almerita Sicilia Nerello Mascalese ‘Tascante’ 2014 – An Etna red on the more spicy, delicate side deisigned with finesse, not power in mind. (Authentic Wines & Spirits)

  • Tornatore Etna Rosso 2015 – Just the second release from Giuseppe Tornatore, but like the 2014, this 2015 is all finesse and perfume, elegant and discreet. Also a top value. (Nicholas Pearce)

That’s all for this report. See you around the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS