Simply Italian tasting in San Francisco

Yesterday, was a large-scale tasting called Simply Italian. These types of tastings are a mixed blessing as they give people in the “industry” the chance to taste a broad range of wines; many of which aren’t imported to the US yet, but they’re usually a zoo. It doesn’t really matter if they tuck it away with no signs (as they did on the second floor of the Regis Hotel) and have people checking business cards and credentials at the door, those looking to get a couple of free drinks manage to find their way in.

So, donning my darkest clothing to avert potentially over-zealous glass swirls, I headed down. In the main room all the winemakers/winery representatives were spread around the room in a one table apiece fashion. The food was in an adjoining room and was an impressive spread that was continually popular.

This event saw wineries from all over the country. From Sicily I tasted Avide which is apparently the only DOCG winery in Sicily. One of their standouts for me was the Sigillo 2005 which was an easy-to-drink, pleasing wine with a moderately hearty body that gave way to subtle plushness. Also enjoyable was their Passito, a dessert wine that was sweet, but not cloyingly so. It was more crisp in the finish than sticky with sugar. One of their higher-end wines, the 3 Carati 2006 I enjoyed, but an older woman next to me got completely enamored of the wine and asked if she was to visit the winery in Sicily, if it would be safe and if she would need a bodyguard (refer to the first paragraph).

The Piedmont wines from Tenuta Carretta were pretty solid across the board. The Cannubi 2007 was a Barolo that really stood out though and that’s likely due to it being aged for four years, but with two of those being in the very large oak botti that only impart a light hint of oak to the wine, strengthening up the tannins a bit, but leaving the grapes otherwise untouched and allowed to shine. Also pleasant was the Bric Quercia 2009, a Barbera with a light body that had a touch much oak for my tastes, but drifted more to pleasing chocolate elements that tree-sucking ones.

While I will always be partial to Croatian wines if for no other reason that my family ties, I have to say that I am absolutely in love with what is coming out of Friuli these days. Maybe it’s because it touches Slovenia or maybe it’s because so many of the winemakers are adverse to heavy oak, but whatever the reason, I was thrilled to try three different wineries from the region. The first was Aquila del Torre, a winery established rather recently in the mid-nineties and is a family-run operation. Their Friulano 2010 is slightly tart, but with good acidity and perfect for foods. The Riesling 2009 was very light, but not at all sweet with a well-structured body that was enjoyable. The Sauvignon Blanc 2010 was light with citrus undertones and an interesting light touch of ash. The Refosco 2008 was very interesting with a stronger body than what I’m used to with this wine. There was a touch of plum and berries, but it remained light and well-suited for food overall.

Then I moved on to Castel Cosa. For me, their Cabernet Franc 2007 was exceptional and one of the best bottles of this grape I’ve had in a long time. While peppery in the nose and in the body, it is still even-toned and would be great with food or on its own. Plus it retails for around $12, which really can’t be beat. Their SoleTerraVite 2004 was also impressive. A blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Refosco, it’s plush, soft and while spending 26 months in US oak, it presents itself as everything I want in a bottle when I want to sit back and linger over wine.

Lastly, it was on to Forchir whose wines are all very neutral in presentation and perfect for meals. Sometimes this translated in to a wine that might be a bit weak in the body, like the Quarnerie 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon and other times it resulted and a nicely balanced, easy-to-drink, clean finish bottle like the Manin 2010.

Obviously, it’s impossible to cover all the wines tasted as there were 60+ of them represented. These were just some of the highlights and a continuing testament to how great the wines are coming out of Italy and honestly, California winemakers could learn something from them.