Imagine a group of the top 148 U.S. wines with no Chardonnays, or the top 148 New Zealand wines with no Sauvignon Blancs.
That's what the Tre Bicchieri tasting this week in San Francisco was like: great wines, but an odd, self-conscious omission.
Tre Bicchieri means "three glasses." It's the top rating given by Gambero Rosso, a well-meaning Italian wine organization that is loosely affiliated with Slow Food. The organization prizes heritage varietals and traditional techniques; very few super Tuscans score well, despite their popularity with Robert Parker and Wine Spectator.
Some wine critics have called the annual Tre Bicchieri tasting the best group of wines assembled in one room. It is a fabulous collection, particularly because so many of the wines are not the Italian wines you normally encounter. I loved the Verdicchios and Sagrantinos and Greco di Tufos and some grapes I hadn't heard of before.
That said -- there was not one Pinot Grigio. How can that be? This grape makes up more than half of all Italian wine exports, and they couldn't find even one worthy of inclusion?
I'm not saying I'm a big fan of Italian Pinot Grigio. Most of them are characterless, and I believe it sells for exactly that reason -- many people want to drink wine that doesn't have a strong flavor. It's the greatest thing since sliced bread, which I also never buy, but consider that there's no cliche saying, "It's the greatest thing since crusty misshapen bread with seeds in the dough."
There are rumors that all is not well with Gambero Rosso, a well-meaning group that publishes a magazine and guidebook in addition to running these tastings. The organization's tasting in Los Angeles was a disaster, as the wines arrived hours after the tasting was supposed to start. The San Francisco tasting was poorly publicized, but those who came early were rewarded: the doors opened to the general public more than 2 1/2 hours before the scheduled start. The downside of this was that many of the wines were emptied shortly after the original general-public opening.
Perhaps Gambero Rosso has taken a philosophical stand against the inclusion of Pinot Grigio in its awards. Such a stance would be popular with the wine intelligentsia. But to reach the wider public, you need to acknowledge the preferences of the general audience. Robert Parker and Wine Spectator wouldn't have the power they wield if either had said at some point, "We will no longer recommend U.S. Chardonnay, it's entirely too popular."
Next year, I hope Gambero Rosso works harder to find us an outstanding example of what Pinot Grigio can be. There's got to be at least one.