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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…

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Complex, With A Complex (Vinas del Vero Somontano Recent Releases)

Old Vines Somontano

What do you do when your identity, your story, and even your best efforts are only seen through the contextual lens of your more famous cousins?

Besides developing an inferiority complex, I mean? After all, major characters in Greek tragedies were written with this stuff in mind; and it happens to be the defining lucha of Northern Spain’s Somontano wine region. That’s not the entire Somontano story, of course; as it happens, the region just might be the home of your next favorite Garnacha or Cabernet. While the DO is probably more familiar to WSET students than to American consumers, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot have been grown in Somontano for over one hundred and twenty years.

Viñas del Vero old vines

Viñas del Vero’s old hillside vines

Somontano is a place that’s relatively high on quality fine wine and winemaking prowess, but low on the ohhhhh-producing items (think indigenous grapes, or trendy stylistic techniques) that make for easy feature article material in the wine trade. The area largely produces wines from international varieties, in some cases from vines with significant age on them, done up in styles that are clean, fresh, and modern enough to all but dilute any defining sense of place.

But a sense of place does exist in Somontano, albeit courtesy of more famous wine regions. When the phylloxera epidemic spread throughout France, Somontano’s proximity and favorable climate made it an attractive spot for planting French vitis vinifera; which was later followed by declining demand and the abandonment of vineyard sites that were promising but difficult to farm. Sites like Viñas del Vero‘s “rediscovered” high-elevation plantings.

Situated at the northeastern slopes of the Somontano DO, along the edges of the European plate, these vineyards had dwindled down to 5 hectares by the time that Viñas del Vero rescued them (they’re now up to about 55 hectares). The oldest of the field-blended vines along those 800-meter-high, calcareous hills are in excess of 100 years in age. As Viñas del Vero’s vineyard manager José María Ayuso put it (during a media tour of the region), “you can get maybe one bottle per vine” from those old souls…

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Long Notes (Selva Capuzza Recent – And Not-So-Recent – Releases)

Vinted on July 7, 2017 binned in crowd pleaser wines, elegant wines, on the road, wine review

Lake Garda ruins

Like most musicians (ask me how I know), Luca Formentini has a day job.

That job would be helping to helm his family’s wine business in Brescia: Selva Capuzza.

As far as day jobs go, the one with an office that’s actually a picturesque vineyard spot about four kilometers from the shores of Lake Garda, in the heart of Lombardy’s Lugana winemaking territory doesn’t seem so bad. To wit: he soft-spoken (by Italian standards) Formentini usually has a wide smile plastered on his face. After tasting his family’s Lugana offerings, you might have one, too.

2017 marks the 100th harvest for the Formentini family, who now focus on the Lake Garda region’s indigenous varieties, and with whom I tasted during a media trip to the region earlier this year. In the 1980s, they changed the name of the business to reflect the locality, and their main focus is the annual production of about 250,000 bottles of the decidedly tricky white Lugana.

Selva Capuzza's Luca Formentini

Selva Capuzza’s Luca Formentini

Lugana’s has few better vectors for displaying its mischievous side than in the Formentini family’s wines. Tropical, vibrant, and mineral-driven in its youth, there’s little (other than the acidic scaffolding) in the young Selva Capuzza Lugana releases to betray the honeyed, toasty, and dazzling treat that awaits the more patient among us when a Lugana from a great vintage is allowed to rest on its haunches for several years…

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Give Us This Day Our Daily Red (Talking Piemonte Barbera DOC At MyNameIsBarbera.com)

Vinted on June 20, 2017 binned in Italian Wine, learning wine, on the road

Piemonte Barbera 2016

For my latest entry over at MyNameIsBarbera.com, we return to some video action for the Barbera: In the Glass  section. In this short episode, I get schooled by Vinchio and Vaglio‘s Tessa Donadieu on why the wine that forms the base of the Monferrato Barbera quality pyramid – the Piemonte Barbera DOC – ought to be my go-to daily red wine.

As I lay out in the introduction to the vid, Tessa has a (very) good case; not just for me, but probably for you, too, if you dig zesty Italian reds.

You can check out the vid in the embed below, and see more in the Your Daily Wine (Piemonte Barbera) article over at the MYiB site.

Cheers!

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