As a wine writer and critic, I am frequently asked to name my favorite wine. It’s an annoying question, like asking an art critic what is their favorite painting, but it invariably comes from an innocent curiosity and enthusiasm, so I try not to roll my eyes when asked. Instead, I demur, and say that while I can’t name a single wine, my best answer to the spirit of the question is that if I had to drink the wines from just one country for the rest of my life, that country would, without question, be Italy.

I could provide many reasons for my attestation, including sheer variety, value-for-money, and many others, but why get specific? I adore Italian wine and always have. It’s fantastic stuff, from the top of the boot to the bottom.

All of which is why one of my favorite wine tastings every year (remember those?) was always the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri tasting, which involved hundreds of Italian producers showing up in San Francisco to show off their wines for members of the trade and media.

Gambero Rosso is, of course, the leading wine guide and source of wine criticism in Italy, and each year, they bestow their One, Two, and Three Bicchieri (glasses) awards on those wines they believe are the best of their kind. Tre Bicchieri, of course, being the top of the top, cream of the crop.

I don’t know about you, but I pay less attention to scores these days than I used to, having let my subscriptions to the Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, and other such publications expire long ago. But back when I was thumbing through them with some regularity, for any given set of scores, there were quite a few that I disagreed with. Which is to say, that tasting any random sampling of 10 or 20 highest-scoring wines, there would be quite a few that I didn’t care for.

Not so, for Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri. Any wine that has actually been awarded this coveted three glasses, I can almost guarantee that I will appreciate it, and most of the time I will really enjoy it. At least that has been my anecdotal experience having tasted the Tre Bicchieri selections with some regularity for the past 10 or 12 years.

All of which is a very long explanation for the fact that when the Gambero Rosso sent a note asking if I’d be interested in receiving a few cases of Tre Bicchieri wines to taste in the absence of the large public tasting, my answer was, of course, “Hell yes!”

Here’s what they sent, and what I thought of the wines. There are some absolutely stunning values in this list, not the least of which is possibly the first $12 wine I have ever given a 9 to 9.5 rating on my approximate 10-point scale.

The wines are largely from the 2017, 2018, and 2019 vintages with a few older vintages in there as regional aging regulations might dictate.

While these aren’t the absolute top Tre Bicchieri wines of Italy (i.e. no Ornellaia or Sassicaia or Massetto below –most of whom would never be bothered to send a whole raft of samples to a bunch of US journalists as part of such a scheme) these are all fantastic examples of their style, and several are among some of my favorite Italian wines.

Note that some of the vintages I tasted are not yet in the US. I find that many Italian imports tend to lag sometimes as much as a year or two from their release dates overseas. It just depends on the size of the importer, which often relates to the size (and financial power) of the producer. The larger and more successful the winery, the more efficient their global distribution.

Enjoy.

Tasting Notes

2019 Bortolomiol “Brut Ius Naturae” Prosecco Superiore, Conegliano Valdobbiadene, Veneto, Italy
Near colorless in the glass with just a hint of greenish-gold highlighting its very fine bubbles, this wine smells of white flowers and green apple and citrus. In the mouth, a moderately coarse mousse delivers crisp and clean flavors of green apple and white flowers with a hint of citrus pith. Ethereal and effortless, with just a hint of salinity on the finish to add complexity. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $21. click to buy.

2019 Biancavigna “Rive di Soligo Extra Brut” Prosecco Superiore, Conegliano Valdobbiadene, Veneto, Italy
Near colorless in the glass with a hint of green and very fine bubbles, this wine smells of white flowers and star fruit. In the mouth, lime and green melon, wet slate and white flowers have a crisp, lean quality to them. A moderately silky mousse caresses the palate and leaves the mouth feeling refreshed as notes of lime zest and green apple linger in the finish. 11.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $ . click to buy.

2019 Borgoluce “Rive di Collalto Extra Brut” Prosecco Superiore, Conegliano Valdobbiadene, Veneto, Italy
Essentially colorless in the glass, with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of JuicyFruit gum and salty lemon pith. In the mouth, wonderfully saline flavors of white flowers and seawater are borne on a voluminous, silky mousse. Delicate and very refined, this wine has a subtlety and faint floral quality that is quite alluring. Saline notes of green apple linger in the finish. 11.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $32.

2018 I Campi “Campo Vulcano” Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle, unripe apple, candle wax, and wet pavement. In the mouth, gorgeously brisk flavors of lemon pith, unripe apple, wet chalkboard, and lemon cucumber flavors crackle with phenomenal acidity and leave a crystalline impression in the mouth. Includes 15% Trebbiano. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2018 Pieropan “Calvarino” Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy
Pale yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of honeysuckle and wet pavement. In the mouth, honeysuckle, chamomile, bee pollen, and deeply crystalline, quartz-like minerality shimmer and snap, thanks to fantastic acidity. There’s a wet chalkboard quality to the finish. Contains 30% Trebbiano. Fermented and aged in cement. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $32. click to buy.

2018 Tenuta Luisa “I Ferretti” Friulano, Isonzo del Friuli, Friuli, Italy
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of unripe peaches, citron, and white flowers. In the mouth, beautifully bright honeysuckle, exotic citrus, and grapefruit flavors have an electric sizzle thanks to fantastic acidity and a deeply mineral wet-chalkboard finish. Clean, crisp, and delicious. About half of this wine’s grapes are left to dry on the vine for 10 to 12 days following the fresh harvest. 30% ages in oak, with lees stirring. 13.5% alcohol. 4000 bottles made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $32. click to buy.

2019 Tenuta Stella Friulano, Collio, Friuli, Italy
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of chamomile and celery, wet pavement, and green apple. In the mouth, green apple, chamomile, and rainwater flavors have a bright crystalline quality that crackles with fantastic acidity. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $30.

2018 Edi Keber “K” White Blend, Collio, Friuli, Italy
Pale yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of chamomile, exotic citrus, and melting snow. In the mouth, gorgeous citrus pith, wet chalkboard, and yellow herbs have a brisk snappiness thanks to fantastic acidity. Pomelo and pomelo pith linger in the finish. A blend of Tocai Friulano, Malvasia Istriana, Ribolla Gialla fermented with indigenous yeasts and aged in cement. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $36. click to buy.

2019 Bosco Del Merlo “Turranio” Sauvignon, Friuli, Italy
Near colorless in the glass with just a hint of greeny-gold, this wine smells of passionfruit and kiwi. In the mouth, passionfruit, kiwi, and cut grass flavors have a bright crystalline quality to them. Deeply mineral and bright, with a lovely passionfruit flavor lingering in the finish. Clean and refreshing. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $23. click to buy.

2019 Tiare Sauvignon, Collio, Friuli, Italy
Palest greenish gold in the glass, nearly colorless, this wine smells of green apples and gooseberries. In the mouth, incredibly bright green apple and cut grass flavors seem filtered through glacial ice. Incredibly clean and bright. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5 . Cost: $24. click to buy.

2019 Cantina Kurtastsch “Kofl” Sauvignon, Sudtirol Alto Adige, Italy
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lanolin, citrus oils, and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, exotic citrus, wet chalkboard, and a hint of musky animal funk mix with a crystalline quality thanks to fantastic acidity. There’s just something interestingly savory about this wine, like a hint of green olive or dashi. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.

2018 La Roncaia “Eclisse” White Blend, Venezia Giulia, Italy
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of star fruit and struck match with a hint of citrus pith. In the mouth, star fruit, lemon cucumber, and winter melon have a faint floral quality that wafts above a deeply mineral core. Fantastic acidity leaves the mouth feeling like it’s just been washed in a mountain stream and wiped dry with a buddha’s hand citrus. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Picolit. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2019 Cusumano “Alta Mora” Etna Bianco, Etna, Sicily, Italy
Light greenish-gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet pavement, yellow flowers, and exotic citrus. In the mouth, the wine is deeply stony, but brimming with bright neon lemon zinginess thanks to fantastic acidity. Flavors of chamomile, bee pollen—but above all Meyer lemon—simply make the mouth water. Deeply satisfying. 12% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $27. click to buy.

2019 Pala “Stellato” Vermentino di Sardegna, Sardinia, Italy
Pale yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of pears and green melon and white flowers. In the mouth, juicy pear and green melon flavors mix with thyme and a hint of other green herbs. Excellent acidity keeps the mouth watering, but there’s definitely some alcoholic heat in this wine. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.

2019 Surrau “Sciala” Vermentino di Gallura Superiore, Sardinia, Italy
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, citrus pith, and pears. In the mouth, juicy pear and grapefruit pith flavors have a bright zing to them thanks to excellent acidity. Great crystalline depth and a clean floral finish with hints of yellow herbs. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.

2019 Feudo Antico Pecorino, Tullum, Abruzzo, Italy
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lanolin, lemon zest, and dried herbs. In the mouth, grapefruit and lemon brightness is filtered through a dried herbal quality, as hints of dried sage and cumin mix with a stony minerality. Quite savory, with excellent acidity, and a very long citrus-tinged finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $12. click to buy.

2018 Ottella “Molceo Riserva” Lugana, Lombardy, Italy
Palest greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of poached pears, honey, and apples. In the mouth, silky and juicy flavors of apples and chamomile, pears and a hint of kumquat have a nice brightness thanks to good acidity. Quite pretty and drinkable with that nice balance that Lugana can have between richness and zip. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2017 Perla del Garda “Madonna della Scoperta” Lugana Superiore, Lombardy, Italy
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apples, apricots, and pink grapefruit. In the mouth, very silky flavors of pink grapefruit, green apple, and Asian pear are shot through with a hint of exotic citrus pith. Good acidity and a marmalade finish. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $ . click to buy.

2019 Tenuta Terraviva “Giusi” Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, Abruzzo, Italy
Light ruby in the glass, this wine smells of struck match and river mud. In the mouth, tangy sour cherry and redcurrant flavors have a bright intensity thanks to excellent acidity. The wine’s vibrance seems to build on the palate, leaving the mouthwatering as saline flavors of citrus, unripe strawberry, and some herbs linger in the finish. Faint, faint tannins. This wine qualifies as slightly funky, but in a very good way. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $22.

2015 Valle Reale “Vigneto Di Popoli” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Abruzzo, Italy
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and boysenberry. In the mouth, bright boysenberry fruit is wrapped in a light, fleecy blanket of tannins as hints of orange peel and dried herbs linger in a long finish. Excellent acidity and lovely texture. 13.5% alcohol. 27530 bottles made. Score: around 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.

2017 Poggio le Volpi “Edizione Limitata” Red Blend, Roma, Latium, Italy
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of richly oiled leather, cassis, and maraschino cherry with a hint of roasted nuts. In the mouth, dark cherry, cedar, and leather flavors are bright with excellent acidity, which leaves an orange peel citrus note on the finish, along with river mud and leather flavors. Supple, suede-like tannins only emerge with some time on the palate. A blend of Cesanese, Montepulciano and Syrah. 14% alcohol. 22,600 egregiously heavy bottles made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $100.

2016 Donnachiara Aglianico, Taurasi, Campania, Italy
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry and leather, dried herbs, and earth. In the mouth, rich flavors of black cherry and blackberry are held in a muscular fist of tannins. Bright acidity makes the mouth water and the finish of blueberries and herbs soar for many minutes as darker dusty flavors rumble in the bass clef. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.

2017 Accademia dei Racemi “Zinfandel Sinfarosa Terra Nerra” Primitivo do Manduria, Puglia, Italy
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberries and earth. In the mouth, blackberry and black pepper flavors mix with potting soil and a touch of dried oregano. Powdery tannins coat the mouth as brambly, citrusy flavors linger in the finish. 15% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2017 Coppi “Senatore” Primitivo, Gioia del Colle, Puglia, Italy
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry and cassis. In the mouth, juicy blackberry, cassis, and licorice flavors have a wonderful taut tannic skein to them, with hints of citrus, black pepper, and dried green herbs. Notes of dried flowers linger in the finish. Quite pretty. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2017 Pietradolce “Archineri” Etna Rosso, Etna, Sicily, Italy
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of dried flowers, rock dust, and forest berries. In the mouth, incredibly bright flavors of strawberry, mulberry, and redcurrant are electric-bright thanks to racy acidity. Gorgeous notes of citrus rind and dried flowers linger in a very long finish as powdery tannins leave the mouth with a deeply mineral impression. Incredible texture and length, and only a tiny bit of heat hinting at the substantial 15% alcohol. Made from vines between 80 and 90 years old grown at 850 meters of elevation. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2016 Cottanera “Feudo di Mezzo” Etna Rosso, Etna, Sicily, Italy
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of forest berries, wet pavement, and dried flowers. In the mouth, intense flavors of dried flowers, strawberries, and mulberries are deeply stony, as the powdery tannins coat the mouth and leave the feeling of having inhaled a mouthful of chalk dust. Long and persistent and beautiful. Taste the volcano. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $50.

2016 Tacchino Albarola Barbera del Monferrato, Monferrato, Piedmont, Italy
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of earth, blackberries, and black cherries. In the mouth, dark and rich black cherry flavors are shot through with dried herbs, earth, and leather, as notes of citrus peel and pink peppercorns linger in the finish. Gorgeously wispy tannins are barely perceptible at the edge of the palate. There’s a touch of wood flavor underneath this fruit, but it is subtle and well-integrated. Excellent acidity and despite the intensity of flavor, a drinkability that is charming. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $36.

2018 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy
Light to medium ruby in the glass this wine smells of strawberries and cherry and wet potting soil. In the mouth, wonderfully bright cherry and strawberry fruit is shot through with dusty, dry herbs and enclosed in a gauzy haze of supple tannins. Fantastic acidity and beautiful depth. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $24. click to buy.

2017 Barone Ricasoli “Gran Selezione Colledilà” Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of cherry and new oak. In the mouth, bright cherry fruit is shot through with the nutty toastiness of new oak and cocoa powder. Excellent acidity keeps the fruit bright, and notes of dried herbs also appear as the wine finishes, but the dominant “spice” here is oak, which is too much for my taste. A shame, really, as this would have been a truly exceptional wine without it. As it is, the wine is merely very, very good. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $72. click to buy.

2017 Teunta Arceno “Riserva” Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby in the glass with a touch of garnet in it, this wine smells of bright cherry fruit. In the mouth, intense cherry fruit has an incredible purity to it and a stony backdrop against which hints of dried flowers and dried herbs emerge. Mostly, however, this is a ringing crystalline chime singing the flavor “cherry” more intensely than you can imagine is possible. Outstanding. Gorgeous acidity, perfect poise. There is wood here, but it is so well integrated into the wine, it is but a whisper of the leathery tannins and a whiff of toasted espresso. Pierre Seillan strikes again. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2016 Tenuta Monteti “Monteti” Red Blend, Tuscany, Italy
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and blackberries. In the mouth, smoky notes of black cherry, toasted oak, espresso, and cocoa powder are bright with juicy acidity and clasped in a muscular fist of fine-grained tannins. Dark and powerful, but with some lift thanks to the excellent acidity. Notes of oak and licorice linger in the finish. A blend of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. Matures in 70% new French oak for 18 months followed by 2 years of bottle aging. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $34. click to buy.

2017 Piaggia “Riserva” Red Blend, Carmignano, Tuscany, Italy
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry, roasted figs, and black olives. In the mouth, flavors of black cherry, niçoise olives, licorice root, and a hint of bitter wood are deeply savory. There’s decent acidity here, but I would love some more. As it is this wine provides a very brooding character, and may simply need some time in the cellar to open up. A blend of 70% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, and the balance a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Ages in 10% new French oak barriques 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $43. click to buy.

2016 Caiarossa “Aria di Caiarossa” Red Blend, Tuscany, Italy
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and tobacco leaf and pencil shavings. In the mouth, gorgeous dark cherry, cedar, and pipe tobacco flavors mix with brighter notes of orange peel and dried sage. Suede-like tannins caress the edges of the palate and settle in with some weight as the wine finishes beautifully floral and long. Excellent acidity, this is a wine that is built for the long haul. Give it 10 years and watch out! A blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with a dollop of Syrah and Petit Verdot. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $54. click to buy.

2015 Tenuta di Sesta Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby in the glass, with hints of orange at the rim, this wine smells of strawberries, cherries, and cedar. In the mouth, cherry and sandalwood flavors are matched with dried orange peel and a wonderful freshness like chopped green herbs. Gorgeous acidity and incredible poise, this wine is incredibly drinkable, with only the barest grip of tannins at the edge of the palate at this point. Incredibly elegant 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2016 Speri “Sant’Urbano” Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of chocolate-covered raisins and black cherries. In the mouth, rich flavors of black cherry, chocolate, raisins, roasted figs, and licorice all remain quite juicy thanks to excellent acidity. A classic note of incense lingers in the finish along with dried cherries. Very drinkable. A blend of 70% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, and 5% Molinara dried in the traditional manner to 60% of their former weight before pressing. 15% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2016 Tenuta Sant’Antonio “Campo dei Gigli” Amarone della Valpolicella, Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried cherries, prunes, and sawdust. In the mouth, strong notes of incense and dried herbs mix with raisins, chocolate, licorice, and black cherry fruit. There’s a spicy peppery quality that lingers in the finish. The tannins drape like a weighted blanket over everything, but the excellent acidity keeps the saliva flowing. This is a breed of Amarone that is just a bit too much for me. A blend of 70% Corvina and Corvinon, 20% Rondinella, 5% Croatina, and 5% Oseleta. 16% alcohol in a terribly heavy bottle. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $70. click to buy.