37th Heaven (Highlights From The 2017 San Francisco International Wine Competition)

SFIWC 2017 1

All smocked up and ready to go

By the time that you read these words, the results of the 37th (!!) annual San Francisco International Wine Competition should be publicly available, so I thought that I would share some of the highlights among the event’s big winners.

The SFIWC is one of my favorite weekends of the year. Under the watchful eyes of Executive Director Anthony Dias Blue and Director of Judging Tim McDonald, SFIWC assembles a top-notch volunteer crew and some of the best and most experienced tasters in the U.S. wine biz (and yes, I’m still trying to figure out why they keep inviting me to judge).

That large, talented team happens to be chock full of some of the funniest, liveliest, and kindest people in wine, and so it’s a real pleasure to interact, work, and generally just break bread with all of those folks.

SFIWC 2017 2

Sweepstakes and super tasting require smocks, not capes…

We also happen to taste some killer juice over that weekend, all done blind within categories, in panels of 3-4 people,  with “super tastings” and an eventual sweepstakes round to help determine the best-of-the-best. It’s from that latter category – the wines fully deserving of having Tenacious D’s To Be The Best as their theme song – that I draw my personal competition highlights…

elegantBest in Show Sparkling & Best Brut:
2008 Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvee Brut Sparkling (Carneros, $37)

This is GF’s late-disgorged, first-pressed marvel of a bubbly, and in my experience one that out-performs some sparkling wines that run $15-$20 higher per bottle. All that aging means more yeasty, briche-toasty-goodness for you, but with ample apple and stone fruit action courtesy of the warm California sun.

crowd pleaser

Best in Show White & Best Other White Varietal Wine:
2016 Pearmund Cellars Petit Manseng (Virginia, $25)

Some would (justifiably) balk a bit in skepticism over a Petit Manseng from Virginia taking a Best in Show trophy nod, but before you join their ranks (and believe me, I understand, because I briefly went there myself), please consider this: a) it’s possible, but not easy, to make excellent Petit Manseng, b) it’s possible, but not easy to make excellent wine in Virginia, and c) it’s very much not easy to make excellent Petit Manseng in VA. To achieve all three, delightfully, and with ample citrus and aromatic joie de vivre that can stand toe-to-toe with much pricier and more recognizable competition is quite an accomplishment, and one deserving of recognition.

SFIWC 2017 3

Another day at the office…

elegantBest Furmint:
2015 Barta Oreg Kiraly Furmint (Tokaji, $39)

Included in this list only because it’s a sentimental favorite, and one that I am personally happy to see get serious props from the SFIWC judging squad. Long-time 1WD readers will recognize Barta from my Furmint USA promo days, and it’s good to see some prize-winning by these champions of dry Furmint, who are quite literally salvaging part of the grape variety’s history in Tokaj. As for the wine: think deep, focused, linear, mineral, and lovely.


SFIWC 2017 4Best in Show Red, Best Rhone Varietal Wine, & Best Mourvèdre
2015 Jeff Runquist Wines “R” Three Way Vineyard Mataró (Paso Robles, $32)

This one won’t be easy to find, but those who dig Mourvèdre will want to try anyway, because this red kicks a lot of wine booty and is well deserving of its triple SFIWC winnings. Equal parts dense, spicy, and lively, the dark berry fruit flavors here are buoyed by good acid structure and the kind of black pepper and floral notes over which Mataró lovers go all cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs.


crowd pleaserBest Late Harvest White:
2014 Szent Tamás ‘Mád’ Late Harvest (Tokaj-Hegyalja, $35)

Hungary strikes again, beeeeatches! A traditional blend of Furmint and Hárslevelű, my understanding is that this sipper is made in partnership with Szepsy Winery, meaning that it has some of the resources of one of the world’s truly great winemakers behind it. If anything, this honeyed, floral, spicy, grapey, and delicious nectar is accessible, but for all of its unctuousness it lacks neither complexity or vibrancy.


Best in Show Dessert Wine, Best Fortified Wine, & Best Port:
1967 Kopke Colheita Port (Portugal $225)

I believe the word we’re looking for here is “ringer.” Hazelnuts, toast, smoke, spice, dried fruits, caramel… this is intense, traditional, and Old School all the way. Monocle, cigar, well-weatherd leather chair, and dark, wood-appointed smoking room not included.




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