Thursday, November 03, 2011

Italy’s 1%

Recently I was perusing Doctor Wine’s website. Dr. Wine, aka Daniele Cernilli, had to settle for the English moniker (Dr. Vino having been snapped up by Tyler Colman years ago). But don’t cry for Cernilli, for he hasn’t missed much. If anyone knows how to monetize the internet (or anything else) it is Doctor Wine.

On his site, he has a post about the Gambero Rosso awards from 1988 up to now. Cernilli recounts, “The idea of a classification in terms of ‘Glasses’ was mine”, in case anyone had doubts. Whomever had the idea, a virtual Pandora’s Box was unleashed, when Slow Food, in concert with Gambero Rosso, and their “Three Glass” awards started gaining momentum. Recently Gambero Rosso and Slow Food parted ways, with both pursuing their own “awards” process. It is too soon to tell if the separation will dilute an already fatigued public, confused from now having to follow Wine Spectator and James Suckling, a new Wine Advocate (with Galloni taking much of the work over for Parker), all the fractured publications along with the eno-blogosphere and any number of other critical corridors in the wine world, all supported by what the futurist Alvin Toffler called “The great growling engine of change - technology.”

With that I managed to spend an evening looking over the lucky list of Gambero Rosso winners (I Tre Bicchieri 1988/2012) from a link on Doctor Wine’s site. A hefty document, if one were to actually print it out (163 pages), which thankfully as a PDF can be perused from a laptop, an IPad or for those with young eyes, an IPhone.

What I read from this report was virtually the 1% of Italian wineries (or perhaps the .1%) make up a small percentage of the wine production of Italy. Many of the producers have gotten wealthy, like Angelo Gaja, who is the undisputed king of Tre Bicchieri, with 49. Marchesi Antinori srl, old money, have 43 between Tuscany, Piedmont and Apulia, while cousin Nicolò Incisa's Sassicaia estate has garnered 23 coveted Tre Bicchieri awards. Piero Antinori's younger brother Lodovico Antinori's Tenuta dell’Ornellaia fared slightly less with a paltry 19. Pity.

The richest regions for the Tre Bicchieri awards(mind you Due Bichierri just ain't as sexy as Tre): Piedmont comes in 1st with 1066, followed by Tuscany with 967. The leanest awarded regions? Molise (7), Calabria (16) and flood ravaged Liguria (25).

As if to prove this club isn’t just for old royalty and new Capitalists, a few Co-ops, by-products of the Socialist experiments of the 1900’s made the list. Our friends at Produttori del Barbaresco garnered 11 awards. But Alto Adige took home the biggest share of Tre Bicchieri in the Cantine Sociale/Produttori category. Cantina Produttori S. Michele Appiano (23) and Cantina Produttori di Tramin (21) were the leaders in the region but a huge majority of the 315 Tre Bicchieri winners were from co-operative winemaking ventures (who said a committee couldn’t make winning wines?).

Sparkling wines also fared well, with Ca' del Bosco taking home 36, Ferrari (21) and Vittorio Moretti’s Bellavista (21) leading the charge. And what about Prosecco, the sparkling darling of America? Bisol took home a paltry 1 and Nino Franco (2) and Ruggeri & C. (3). Lesser known Follador received 1 for their Cartizze; Villa Sandi (of Geox shoe fame) took home 2 for their Cartizze (a grand cru zone if there ever was one for Prosecco).

A fascinating list, these 163 pages of awards. In the 1990’s Gambero Rosso “made” some wineries. I know it sparked a whole generation of winemakers (and winemaking) much in the same way as Robert Parker did. Unfortunately it also steered much of the premium Italian wine industry towards an internationalization of style we are only beginning to dig out from. Not to say that all wines were formed from the global mold. Josko Gravner (21) definitely danced to beat of his own drum, as did Bartolo Mascarello (10) and Edoardo Valentini (27).

Oddly the just because a wine had a DOCG didn’t necessarily include it in the pantheon of winners. Of the 73 current DOCG designations, there are many of those who didn’t make the cut. And there are many “outlaws”, wines made outside the regulations, that placed often from 1988-2012. So no real pattern, no conspiracy, at least that I could tell.

And has it been good for business? Well, there are more than a few farmers now riding around their vineyards in their Range Rovers and Porsche Cayennes, having taken the opportunity to capitalize on their success by raising prices. They definitely shoved themselves into the 1% club. These days, they better have those fancy cars paid for, as the whole world shudders from an economic global chill. Let’s hope they have seat warmers in those vehicles; winning another Tre Bicchieri in 2012 will not provide enough “warmth” for some of those pampered behinds.

Take a look at the list; as I say it’s a fascinating read, sociologically, culturally and economically. It is likely an end of that era- big wines, big awards and bigger prices. As the palindrome goes, “are we not drawn onward to new era?”

Say good night Dino, Angelo, Piero, Josko, et al. You made it into the 1% club.

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