Italian Wine Week: San Francisco 2019

It was that time of year! In a four-day period in March 2019, San Francisco is home to three premier that are exclusively (or in the case of the third, primarily) Italian wines. If you love Italian wines, we probably saw you. And if you don’t live in San Francisco, fear not because these events also take place in other cities. Check out their web sites for details.

James Suckling’s Great Wines of Italy

James Suckling’s sold out event gathered together a handpicked list of close to 90 top Italian wineries who poured two of their best wines (which Suckling rated 90 points or more) and new releases. Although the wines came from across all of Italy, four regions were especially well represented:

  • Tuscany (especially for its Chianti Reservas and Super Tuscan blends);
  • Piedmont (especially its Barolos and Barbarescos);
  • Veneto (a region that encompasses Venice, Verona, Lake Garda and the Dolomites, especially known for Valpollicella and Amarone); and
  • Montalcino (actually a district in Tuscany, for its Brunellos). Since a number of these producers earned the award for more than one wine, most offered tastings of two (the maximum allowed) wines.

Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri

Gambero Rosso is an Italian food and wine magazine that publishes guides to Italian wines. Its Tre Bicchieri event highlighted wines that earned Gambero Rosso’s coveted “three glasses” ratings in its 2019 Guide to Italian Wines. The tastings included 114 of this year’s 447 total Tre Bicchieri wines from almost as many different producers. (Six of these producers earned the award for two different wines.). While the “three glass” wines were the stars of the show, each participating winery was also allowed to bring two additional wines (many of which earned two stars). While the Suckling tasting was overwhelmingly focused on red wines, Gambero Rosso’s award-winning wines offered a much larger selection of whites from across the entire country.

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Slow Wine

Slow Wine Guide rates wines not only by quality, but also by the winemakers sustainability practices and respect for their particular terroir. It focuses especially on small-scale winemakers who employ traditional techniques and that offer good value for the price. Although the Slow Wine movement began in, and most of its members and greatest adherents are from Italy, it has since expanded to many other countries—including the U.S. So, in addition to the tasting’s traditional (and overwhelming) focus on Italian wines, about 20 of the 85 total producers represented in the San Francisco tasting were from the U.S. (primarily California, followed by Oregon). Virtually all the others were from Italy, ranging from Sicily and Puglia in the south to Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto in the North. Then there was the one outlier—a single representative from Slovenia. Most participating wineries tasted two or three of there wines, with strong representation of both reds and whites, not to speak of a few roses.

A Chance to Talk to WineMakers

Many of the wineries—especially those in the Suckling and Gambero Rosso tastings which included many larger, well-known wineries with global distribution and selling $100+ wines—were represented by the winemakers and winery owners themselves, rather than by importers and distributors. This provided many opportunities (especially in the less crowded “trade” phase of the tasting, before the public was admitted) to ask and get detailed questions about the wines. While the Suckling tasting focused overwhelmingly on still (and especially red) wines, the other two tastings also had large numbers of sparkling wines. Slow Wine, in fact, had a number of tables devoted to sparkling wines—especially primarily white-based Prosecco and roses from Lake Garda’s Bardolino.

Did we have any favorites from among these several hundreds of wines? Duh!

Although we can’t clam to have tasted all, or even most of them, we did have several that were eligible for our much more subjective Active Boomer awards. So many, in fact, that we can’t even begin to list them. Unfortunately, not all of our favorites had a distributor in San Francisco, but we can always buy online…especially our favorite Moscato at the show.

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This being said, we do find ourselves drawn to a number of styles from particular regions of Italy. These reds include Chianti Classico and Gran Selectione wines from Tuscany, Barbaresco from Piedmont, Sicilian Nero d’Avolas and Etna Rossos (the latter from the slopes of Mount Etna) and insufficiently represented (at least for our tastes) Nobile de Montepulciano, from the Montepulciano region of Tuscany. While our tastes and tastings lean primarily toward reds, we also enjoy some Italian whites such as Sicilian Grillo, Pinot Grigios from Friuli.

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