Monday, July 11, 2016

Picking Up Good Vibrations at the New Chandler’s at Cape Rey

by Frank Mangio
Hospitality and world class cuisine have found a new home in the beautifully re-freshed Chandler’s in the Cape Rey Resort along the Carlsbad beachfront. The new mantra at Chandler’s is “local, coastal and unexpected,” words to live by with the new cuisine team led by Culinary Director Teri Mcillwain.  This breath of freshness began a year or so ago.

Now it’s in the eyes of all who welcome you to Cape Rey and Chandler’s. Mcillwain is fun to be around.  She embraces the local Carlsbad community. “I love Carlsbad,” she enthusiastically declared.  “It’s our hometown and we want to serve it.  My great mission is to have our diners feel that they are coming to my home for a meal.  Over time we have lightened and freshened up the menu and expanded the wine and craft beer list.

Chandler’s Culinary Director Teri  Mcillwain.

We placed an Alaskan King Salmon and a Whiskey Brined Jidori chicken on our seasonal coastal menu.  The chicken is premium and  flavorful, with peach, mustard, fresh-shelled beans and local greens. I love it when the daily farm truck pulls up and I can do some tasting and personally approve the garnishes and sides for the day.”

The spirit of discovery courses through the wines, both by the glass and by the bottle. The knowledgeable staff takes a favored varietal and comes up with a best-of-breed brand that’ll soon become a permanent favorite.

Chandler’s of Carlsbad has its Whiskey brined Jidori chicken as its signature menu feature,
with cherizo beans, white peach, local greens and carmelized cippolini onion.
Fresh fruit opened the meal.

My wine “wow” list has the opener, a Barth Riesling from the Reingau district of Germany, 2014.   Next up was a familiar Chardonnay from the Frank Family of Napa Valley, 2013.  Finally with my Jidori chcken, I chose the Davis Bynum Russian River Sonoma Pinot Noir 2014.  Now here’s the eye-opener.  All these wines were by the glass, lovely on the palate and worthy of a premium bottle.

Cape Rey, poolside, has its Sunset Terrace, a light-hearted venue with live entertainment on select evenings, a 3 to 6pm Happy Hour with themed events and specials you will love, some delightful surprises in small bites, wines by the glass, cocktails and craft beers.  On Mondays, it expands to all evening.

The Sunset Music Series is top shelf with free pop music concerts the last Thursday of the month from 5:30 to 7:30pm.  See the OttoPilot Band  July 28th, Funk Shui Planet August 25th and Aquile on September 29th.  Live music also makes for fun every weekend.

 The best complimentary perk at Cape Rey is the magnificent ocean view, especially at sunset.  Soak it in without getting wet, by the pool or in Chandler’s farm-driven  restaurant. There, enjoy the glow and spirit of Chef Teri Mcillwain who is focused on fresh and flavorful food. Visit for more.

Wine Bytes
University of San Diego has its Wine Classic, Sat. July 16th starting  at 6pm. Vintners dinner is featured with a 4 course meal and wine pairings, Zinfandel blending seminar and live music.  Cost is $95.  For an RSVP call 619-260-4819.

Solterra Winery and Kitchen in Leucadia presents a Summer Wine Blending Class, Tues. July 19th from 5:30 to 7:30pm. $45. ea. for the class.  Call 760-230-2970 for your place.

The So Cal Food & Wine Festival is planned for Tues. July 19th from 6 to 10pm at Ramona Mainstage downtown Ramona.  10 local top chefs cook a variety of cuisine accompanied by wine pairings from 10 premium wineries.  Live entertainment.  This event to benefit the Center for Community Service.  $89. per guest.  Tickets at or call 760-789-7005.

Il Fornaio in Del Mar and Coronado has its latest Festa Regionale menu, this time celebrating the cuisine from Puglia, Italy, until July 24th.  Enjoy dishes such as Petto di Pollo a Carciofi, plus Puglia wines.

Cheers for Craft Beers

by Frank Mangio
More than 4,000 breweries now operate in the U.S.  including more than 100 in the San Diego County area and over 400 in California .  Ballast Point Brewery in San Diego has just been sold to worldwide spirits company Constellation for 1 billion dollars.  The recent San Diego Brew and Food Festival at Waterfront Park in San Diego drew over 200 different craft beers including Ballast Point, Kona, Alesmith, The Lost Abbey, Pizza Port, Green Flash, Anchor, Bolt, and the king of the hill…Stone Brewing of Escondido and Berlin, and soon to be in Napa. Craft beer is booming!

Now, I have to be transparent here. Before TASTE OF WINE came along, I managed the largest Oktoberfest in north San Diego with lots of beer from Karl Strauss of San Diego .

Stone Brewing began in Escondido, co-founded by Greg Koch and Steve Wagner in 1996,
and is often called “the all-time top craft brewery on Planet Earth.”

A young, scrawny looking Greg Koch came up to me at the Oktoberfest  in 1997 and proclaimed he was making Stone Beer, it was better than Karl Strauss and could he sell at the event. Naturally I said no.  Little did I know I was talking to the future king of craft beer, now employing 1,100  around the planet, with two San Diego environmentally applauded restaurants in Escondido and Liberty Station San Diego.

Ballast Point is another San Diego area brewery with a great story, this one founded by Jack White, also in 1996.  He was a backyard brewer, but decided to open commercially with Home Brew Mart selling supplies and ingredients for others as well as his own Ballast Point. White’s success is driven by the never-ending search for flavor and aroma.

“We started this business with a vision to produce great beer that consumers love,” White said. “Our Gold Medal winning Sculpin India Pale Ale is a great example of what got us into brewing.  After years of experimenting, we knew hopping an ale at 5 separate stages would produce something special and pack a bit of a sting, just like the Sculpin fish.” (Ballast Point  emphasizes the sea and its inhabitants, in all their marketing, including names of beers).

Constellation Brands, owner of many top drawer wineries like Robert Mondavi ad Kim Crawford and international beers like Corona, Modelo and Pacifico, realized it didn’t have a driver in the craft beer space, which had doubled its share of the market in just 5 years.  So in came the mind-boggling billion dollar offer to Ballast Point, which is on pace to sell nearly 4 million cases, over 100 percent better than the previous year.  It employs more than 500 in 4 facilities in San Diego.

Most craft beers in San Diego are shooting for the “hoppy” flavored IPA style, accenting the pale ale as the preferred taste. Hops are the flowers from a vine that give beer its bitterness. Some of the most sought-after come from Washington state.  It increases the alcohol levels so that now, 9% alcohol can be found in some styles.

The city of Vista seems bent on being “beer town” in the San Diego County area with 12 breweries and a 2 million dollar plus fund to subsidize this plan.  It includes an idea to change the name of Highway 78 as it passes through Vista , to “ Hops Highway .”  Nearby Oceanside wants to open up coastal districts of its city to breweries, making it easier to establish and operate these businesses.  They have attracted 8 breweries in its city, with 2 more in the planning stages.  We have a lot more to tell about this phenomenon in beverage consumption, so with your indulgence we’ll occasionally visit craft beers.

Wine Bytes
A great place to start for sampling local craft beer breweries  is Chandler’s in the Cape Rey Resort in Carlsbad on Thursdays from 3pm.  “Hoppy” beers with $6. pints of featured crafts will be rotated, all will be local.  Call 760-683-5500 for details.

A Maddalena Wine Dinner is planned for BICE Ristorante, in the Gaslamp district, downtown San Diego , Thurs. July 14 starting at 6:30pm.  The winemaker will be there to explain the acclaimed wines and perfectly paired menu. Cost is $79.  RSVP at 619-239-2423.

The Art of Baja Wine & Beer Dinner will be held at The Grill at Torrey Pines in La Jolla , Fri. July 15th from 6:30 to 9:30pm. Executive Chef Jeff Jackson presides with a 4 course family style dinner with showcase wines  and fine Mexican style craft beers. $125. per person.  RSVP by calling 858-777-6660.

The SoCal Food & Wine Festival is Tues. July 19th from 6 to 10pm at the Ramona Mainstage on Main Street Ramona. 10 top chefs  will cook  different dishes with 10 different wineries offering their varietals, including entertainment. Cost is $89. Event to benefit the Center for Community Solutions with prevention and intervention. Information at 760-789-7005.

San Diego Wineries Stage Coming Out Party

by Frank Mangio
As I write this column, today is National Wine Day.  No one that I know has the day off, there are no big celebrations or advertising going on. The only interesting story I see is that Millenials (the 21 to 35 year olds) now account for 42% of all wine purchased in the U.S. That is very bullish for wine sales.

San Diego wines are on their way to stardom and a key event recently gave them the juice in the right direction.  A Food & Wine Festival was recently staged at Bernardo Winery in Rancho Bernardo with over 30 wine and food booths generously pouring at least twice as many of their top wines.

Linda McWilliams is the President of the San Diego County Vintners Associations.  She is also the owner of San Pasqual Winery, with a tasting room and winery in La Mesa and a tasting room in downtown San Diego at Seaport Village. She gets her wine grapes in the San Pasqual Valley, as do many other wineries in this county due to lush soil properties and proximity to the coast. She features Bordeaux Blend, Italian, Rhone Valley and Spanish varietals. “There are 116 commercial wineries in two AVA’s, Ramona and San Pasqual Valley in San Diego County ,” she revealed. “We have maps with links to all our member wineries for easy direction.” Visit, and

A fascinating wine with strong Italian links was the Principe Di Tricase Winery and its Aglianico varietal, found in Campania , near Naples. Spokesman Alberto Sepe said “Naples has a climate similar to San Diego. The grapes love heat, producing higher sugar.  We keep our production of wine simple and straightforward… no rocket science.”

Veteran winemaker Jim Hart and his wife Christine, after years of making wine at his father’s winery in Temecula and time spent making wine at nearby Milargo Farm,  now has his own winery, Volcan Mountain near Julian.  He was pouring a 2015 Apple Sparkling wine, a 2015 Viognier and a 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel. His 10 acres have many Julian apple trees on the property. Visit at

San Diego was California ’s first wine producing area back in the days of Spanish missionaries and is just now showing up in a few large international competitions. It just might be the next great wine country in California .

Visit a Little Bit of Tuscany at Tuscandido
San Diego wineries are popping up like corks at a New Years Eve party.  My e mail messages are full of them.  One such e mail stood out a few weeks ago, from Tuscandido in Escondido. Was I going to pass this one up?  I grabbed my Italian vineyard farmer friend Leonard Ciarmoli, and we visited the owner, Jim Tondelli.  He had just won 3 Silver medals at the San Francisco Chronicle tasting for his Sangiovese, Syrah and Barbera.

Tondelli began planting Italian vines in 2010.  His 2013 bottles are now released and with “hard work and experience” Tuscandido wines are starting to make their way into the wine market.  “Oh yes, the name,” after I asked him about it. “I just sat on a rock on my 5 ½ acre property and thought it was the same view as some I’d seen in Tuscany , and we went for it.”

Tuscandido is all natural in its vineyard management.  It is fertilized by two active Alpaca and mushroom mulch. No pesticides or herbicides are used.  “We harvest by hand, getting rid of any small, unwanted grapes and thinning out clusters early,” he said. Two of the San Francisco award winners are my favorites: 2012  Sangiovese with a Brunello clone from Montalcino Italy ($45.) and the 2013 Barbera with 10% Merlot ($22.).  Nearby restaurants Vintana and Stone both have the brand on their wine lists. Learn more at

Big Red Fest on the De Portola Trail

by Frank Mangio
Have you seen and tasted wine on the De Portola Trail these days? It’s a compelling experience. With the recent opening of Fazeli Cellars and the new ownership of Masia de la Vinya by the current owner of Danza del Sol, the winery count is now 10 with an increasing visitor population that  likes the “elbow room” and scenic vistas that the De Portola Road wineries provide.

The trail is part of the Temecula Valley wine country, winding south of the main body of wineries. Most of these DePortola owners have sunk lots of improvement money into their properties and most importantly, the wines are vastly improved. Owners like Robert Renzoni  understood early that a complete wine experience was crucial, so he set about to make fine Mediterranean style wines with lots of choices, from Tuscan Sangiovese to the complex star-quality Sonata, which matches The Italian Super Tuscans. After years of crucial funding searches during the great recession, a state of the art tasting room was buit, with indoor-outdoor amenities second to none. An Italian style bistro serves an authentic old-world menu (try the pizzas…meats and cheeses direct from Italy !)  Lots of live entertainment, even a bocce court.

We have documented the newest wine attractions, Fazeli Cellars, next door to Robert Renzoni and the exciting CAVE produced by Oak Mountain Winery a few blocks up the road.  I stopped in to see Christina and Ken Gershon of Gershon Bachus Vintners in the same neighborhood as the others. The winery produces 12 varietals of wines, and none are released less than 5 years old.  The Gershons have been owners for some 10 years and were pouring wines like a 2010 Zinfandel ($45.) and a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($59.). These wines  are in limited production offering the highest quality possible. The cab received 93 points in Wine Enthusiast.

I asked Gershon what he has observed about this wine region over the last 10 years.  “We weren’t wine people. We came from L.A. to build a house for weekends. One thing led to another and it became a winery.  First few years we found out this was not Cabernet country like Napa Valley. But over time and maturity in the vineyards., even the cabs are so much better now.  Our biggest challenge is marketing, getting the word out about this valley. Most of the media think we’re a party valley and don’t take our wines seriously.  We want visitors who enjoy the wines.  We’re pooling our resources and linkng up to make it easier to visit.  We’re really pleased to see that this Big Red event has brought a lot of new people to our wineries.”  Visit their website at

Big Time Wins for South Coast Winery
The 2016 Pacific Rim International Wine Competion is in the books and Temecula Valley ’s long-time winning winery South Coast Winery Resort & Spa has done it again.  Their talented wine team of winemaker Javier Flores and Master Winemaker Jon McPherson brought home the Grand Champion Best Red Wine award with a 2014 Mourvedre ($14.) among other honors.  This wine is classic red cherry fruit and a Rhone Valley French favorite.  I have walked the vineyards with these two winemakers who are veteran Temecula Valley  creators, who have aways kept up with the changing trends in wine production. Other winners were the 2015 Verdelho and the 2014 Muscat of Alexandria. Other Temecula wineries that did well included: Thornton, Callaway, Falkner, Maurice Carrie and Hart Winery.  For more, go to

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Rhonies Find Another Favorite – Gerard Bertrand

by Frank Mangio
If you want to call me a Rhonie, I guess I’m guilty as charged. In case you just dropped in from Mars, the Rhone Valley in the south of France is one of the most talked about wine countries in the world.  It straddles the Rhone River where, from Lyon in the north to the Mediterranean in the south, you have some 250 miles of old worls and romantic wineries and vineyards.

To put it in perspective, Napa Vallley is just 30 miles long.  From the northern boundary at Lyon to the middle of the Rhone at Hermitage, Syrah rules. It’s Syrah’s birthplace and it explodes with a certain wildness.  At the most recent Rhone tasting at Vittorio’s Trattoria in San Diego , the Estates Group introduced Gerard Bertrand, a leading winery in the southern district of the Rhone . Syrah is still important wine here, but this district includes Chateaneuf -Du-Pape, Vacqueyras, Cotes-Du-Rhone and others including Languedoc which is home to Gerard Bertrand.  Here, grapes are blended into a rich mix of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and occasionally Cinsaut.

The southern Rhone region is clearly a marriage of warmer weather, rockier soil and the Mediterranean  influence, where Grenache is king. There is no wildness, only a smooth, visceral, velvety pattern of gracious flavor.  Marcus Mizzau of The Estate Group presented each of the dinner wines from Gerard Bertrand, articulating its prominence in Languedoc . “The focus is on quality with this wine,” he said.  “The best example is the 2013 Chateaux l’Hospitalet “La Reserve” La Clape, Coteaux du Languedoc ($17. at the dinner) which absorbs long summer heat, rocky soil and a higher elevation than most.” Here we have Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre in perfect harmony.”

The Sun is Shining on Abruzzo Wines
Montepulciano is the location named for a red wine varietal sourced from the Italian wine district of Abruzzo. The Abruzzo region of central Italy is a rugged, mountainous body of land  whose western boundary includes the Apennines and its highest peak on mainland Italy, Corno Grande.  To the east lies the Adriatic Sea . Its most popular native grape is Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo, although there is no known tie to Montepulciano, a medieval city in Tuscany that draws 8.5 million visitors a year.  In Abruzzo, near the city of L’Aquila is the Nazzare’ Winery.  It has joined a special team of marketing professionals  in wine, olive oil and natural sauces, in a move to gain a greater share of Italian table products.  The organization is Re d’ Abruzzo.

Nazzare’ wines include Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo, Pecorino and Cerasuolo.  The minerality is complex  and intriguing, with red berry, and black pepper, and subtle hints of oregano.  And here’s an amazing statistic.  Abruzzo has only 38% of the vineyard land that Tuscany has, yet it produces 40 million cases of wine, twice the amount of production than that of Tuscany . To learn more about this vibrant farm to table land, visit

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Top Ten Wine Tastes 1st Half of 2016

by Frank Mangio
Welcome to the hardest test of my experience as a wine taster and commentator of wine: to select the top ten tastes from many hundreds of bottles of mostly excellent wines that are newly released this year. But somebody’s got to do it so here goes.  Four of the ten came from the center of the wine universe, Napa Valley , 2 from Sonoma , 1 from Italy , 1 from France , 1 from Temecula and 1 from the Sta. Rita Hills north of Santa Barbara. The 10 are treated equally as top tier wines with sensational bouquet, flavor, structure and value.  The list is alphabetical and does not indicate rank.

Banfi Rosso di Montalcino, Tuscany, 2011. $22.  Could be the best value in the roster.  Brunello-like flavor at a way lower price, from the winery that sets the standard in Italy .

Frank Family Pinot Noir, Napa Valley , 2013. $29. Beautiful aroma and flavor with lasting results.  Grapes come from the Pinot-perfect Carneros District of Napa Valley .

Gerard Bertrand Chateau La Clape Rhone Valley France . 2013.  $17. The southern Rhone is a rich mix of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre with a Mediterranean influence. Focus is on quality here.

Grgich Hills Zinfandel Napa Valley, 2013.  $36.  Mike Grgich celebrated his 93rd birthday on April 1st. His 30 acre Calistoga personal estate has only Zinfandel on it. Fresh flavors of blackberry.

Pedroncelli Wisdom Dry Creek Sonoma, 2012, $36.  Premium wine with 90% Cabernet, 10% Malbec. 16 months in French Oak. Tribute wine to the late John Pedroncelli.

Prodigal Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills CA., 2013, $29. Kudos to COSTCO for discovering this boutique winery only planted to Pinot.  Classic velvet , smooth  coating on the palate.

Robert Renzoni Sonata Temecula Valley, 2013. $42. A California peer to classic Italian Super Tuscans.  50% Cabernet and 50% estate Brunello di Sangiovese. Aged 20 months.

Roth Chardonnay Alexander Valley Sonoma,  2012. $12.  This is the Sonoma coast at its best and at that  price, back up the truck and tuck them away for years  of tasting.

Whitehall Lane Tre Leoni Napa Valley, 2012. $25.  A true-to-form blend with big and bold mouthfeel.  Rich, round and delicious.

ZD Reserve Chardonnay Napa Valley , 2013. $46.  From the world class ZD Carneros Estate. 15 months aging for a finer wine.

Wine Bytes
Twenty/20  Restaurant  in the Sheraton Carlsbad has its BBQ Summer Series Wednesday nights to August 3rd from 6:30 to 7:30 with star chef Julian  Quinones and special guests.  His secret tips are revealed, with tastes for all. $40. per class.  Call  for an RSVP at 760-827-2500.

Falkner Winery in Temecula is planning an exciting Anniversary and holiday series of parties July 2nd, 3rd and 4th, celebrating 16 years of superior wines.  Includes a free concert on Sat. from Noon to 3pm with 60’s and 70’s music.  Special menu items from the acclaimed Pinnacle Restaurant. The full story at, or call 951-676-8231 x4.

Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyards in Temecula presents “Wild Child” an amazing concert recreation of the Doors, one of the greatest of the 60’s bands, Fri. July 8th 7 to 10pm.  Admission $35. RSVP and tickets at

Sunday, May 22, 2016


by Don Nunn

In out last article on wine travel adventures in Portugal, we concluded as we sat in comfortable arm chairs in a private area of the Graham’s tasting room in Vila Nova de Gaia, gazing out a floor to ceiling picture window looking at the Douro River and the City of Porto.  In front of us were three bottles and our tasting glasses of four year old Ruby Port and Ten and Twenty year old Tawny Port.

The names Ruby and Tawny are simply descriptive names based on the color of the wine, which in turn is a factor of the age of the Port. Ruby is always a younger wine, retaining more of its natural color (a ruby red), and sweet fruity characteristics from the grapes.  Tawny Port has always aged longer in the barrels, and the color fades to a brownish, “tawny” color as the wine matures.  As it ages, it develops more complexity and becomes less sweet.

In wine tasting one generally proceeds from white to red, with sweet dessert wines at the end.  In Port tasting, one proceeds from youngest to oldest.  While the four year old Ruby was tasty, enhanced no doubt by the surroundings and the fact of being on vacation, the benefits of aging became immediately apparent as the first sip of ten year old tawny rolled around my mouth.  Just as one smells the bouquet of the wine in a standard tasting, one can smell the age (as well as bouquet) when tasting port.

Graham's 40 Year Old Tawny Port

     The difference between the four year old Ruby and the ten year old Tawny was enormous, and a similar leap in structure and complexity was readily apparent when moving from the ten to twenty year old Tawny.  The unpracticed nose might not be able to accurately determine whether one is tasting a ten or twenty year old bottling, but it is certainly possible distinguish that one is older than another, just by the aroma, and without looking at the color.

Ruby Port is aged in immense wooden vats (Balseiros) holding thousands of litres.  Balseiros are utilized for aging wines when the producer wants to minimize the effects of the wood and micro-oxygenation by having less wine in contact with the wood or exposed to the effects of the air through the wood of oak aging casks.  Tawny Port is aged in familiar size wooden barrels.  Graham’s Port for sale included a 1980 Vintage Port for 196€, and a 1952 Colheita for 330€.  Colheita simply means harvest, in this case a harvest from 65 years ago.  A Colheita is a dated tawny of a single vintage and is the rarest of all ports based on quantity produced.

After leisurely evaluating and consuming our three samples in the main tasting room, we moved just down the hall to Graham’s Vintage Room for additional tasting and education.  The Vintage Room was decorated with dark wood paneling, leather armchairs, old prints, books and paintings, and a tasting bar.   Reminiscent of a Victorian sitting room or library, the Vintage Room possessed character and atmosphere, and was immediately comfortable.  Here, Vasco, the Vintage Room host proceeded to pour me a tasting of a 1983 Vintage Port and to further my Port education from A to Z.

Don Nunn, Tasting 1983 Vintage Port

New to my (Port)folio of Port education, Vasco explained the important difference between blended Port (Ruby and Tawny are both blended from wine of different ages) and Vintage Port, which is from a single year.  A vintage is declared only approximately three times per decade.  Only if a vintage is determined worthy, does the chief winemaker declare a vintage after two years in the barrel, and the determination is subject to the approval of the Port Wine Institute in Porto.  At that point, the vintage wine is bottled unfiltered, and ages thereafter in the bottle.  Thus, after bottling, it is no longer affected by oxidation and the flavor of the barrel’s wood.  The aging is by reduction, and the wine becomes more fruity over time.  A vintage wine should age at least ten years in the bottle before drinking is recommended.

Vintage Port must be decanted (as it will contain natural sediments) and drunk in two to three days (a week at the most), or it will turn to vinegar.  As I drifted dreamily into the past with my 1983 Vintage, listening to Vasco’s informative discussion, I joked that the required drinking in two to three days was not a difficult proposition to swallow (attempt at dry humor here!).

While all port is fortified with the addition of aguardente, a distilled grape spirit, thus  arresting further fermentation and preserving the wine’s natural sugars and sweetness, non-vintage Ruby and Tawny follow an entirely different aging process from vintage port, and are filtered when bottled.

 Ruby Port is bottled young and ready for immediate enjoyment.  Tawny, as we have mentioned may age for a very long time indeed.  In order to be labeled 10, 20, or 30 year old, the average age of the wine must be of the specified age.  It is blended with wines that are both younger and older, but the average age is the determining factor for purposes of labeling.  The fortification process was initially developed primarily to preserve the quality of the wine during the time necessary to ship it to the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

Graham's Port Lodge

As non-vintage port continues to age in the barrel (at Graham’s French Oak is utilized), its maturation is affected by continued oxidation and the flavors absorbed from the wood.  All non-vintage Ports may be open for months without going bad, the older, the longer.  Late-bottled vintage, single quinta vintage and white ports represent still more styles of port that we do not have space to explore in this article.  Once again, the more one learns about a particular subject, the more there is remaining to be learned.

Wrapping up our exquisite experience at Graham’s, Vasco advised that Graham’s has a Tawny Port from 1882 that is still aging.  Finishing the visit at the Graham’s retail shop, I was understandably unable to resist purchasing a 40 year old Tawny for €119.  One certainly would not be able to touch a mid-70s Bordeaux or Burgundy for that price. To me, the anticipation of uncorking an out of the ordinary purchase for an as yet to be determined special occasion is a big part of the appreciation of that special purchase.  Until then, it rests comfortably in the company of a few other special bottles of wine.

Douro River at Sunset

Reluctantly leaving Graham’s Port Lodge, we had an uneventful return taxi trip to our Pousada Palácio do Freixo.  Dinner at the Pousada commenced enticingly with Francesinha, akin to a stuffed pizza – steak, ham, sausage, and mozzarella, with a beer and port wine sauce – one of my favorite dishes of the Portugal adventure.  I accompanied the Francesinha with a Kir Royale aperitif (Champagne and Crème de Cassis) and a toast to Porto.  I selected a main course of Tentaculo Polvo (grilled fresh octopus with plenty of tentacles), and washed it down with a chilled glass of a local white wine.

Already in the north of Portugal, in our next installment we continue an easy hour to the northeast to Guimarães, to a former convent converted into a magnificent hilltop hotel with commanding views over the town and surrounding countryside.

Dolce’s New Location is Sweet Dining

by Frank Mangio

About 5 years ago, old world Italian wines and cuisine came to Rancho Sante Fe with the romantic name( for Italian sweet bread and wine), Dolce Pane Y Vino.  Success was immediate, so fast forward to 2016 and the newest Dolce at the Highlands has come to Carmel Valley in the new Pacific Highlands Center .

Like its parent restaurant in the ranch, the new and vivacious Dolce treats its guests with an expansive dining room, and a bar that seems endless from the front door to the kitchen.  It has both community tables and tables for two or four, with views of very large and comprehensive wine racks, created by the GM for both locations, Steve Flowers. The wait help on my visit was Gwen Blome, who was quick to point out her favorite wines.  She was particularly excited by the showcase

Dolce at the Highlands is the new Italian style restaurant in Carmel Valley with delicious new Mediterranean style cuisine served up with gusto by table servers  like Gwen Blome.

Champagne chosen for the meal, the Nicolas Feuillatte Brut NV from France. The shimmering gold bubbly has an enticing fruity nose showing savory texture and refined bubbles. This is a lively dry Champagne for appetizers, or a long happy party. ($34.).

Other wine menu whites worth noting were the B Cellars White Blend 2012 and the Arneis “Barola Bianca” white from Piemonte Italy .

Chef Rhoelle Gabriel came to the table and spoke about her California influenced style of Mediterranean-American farm fresh food.   Her favorites included a “Regiatelle” pasta dish with Calabria style meat sauce, and a “Branzino” Italian style Sea Bass fish dinner entrée with potatoes and greens. This was washed down with a bottle of Napa Valley Laird Meritage “Jilian’s Blend” Red, 2013. ($44.)

The prized dish at Dolce at the Highlands is The “Branzino” Italian style Sea Bass.

Come prepared for a wine and dine experience at Dolce’s.  The atmosphere is perfect, with a wide choice of wines and menu entrees. Reservations are recommended at 858-847-2740, or visit

Quality Wine Dinners Excel at Vittorio’s
Back to back wine winners, world’s apart, have been on the marquee at Vittorio’s, also in Carmel Valley .  Last month, the popular Italian restaurant featured Chateau Montelena Napa Valley wines with  a five course dinner. Thursday May 26th at 6pm, one of the south of France ’s finest wineries, Gerard Bertrand, will open their best from the Languedoc District. The main course will live up to consistently great supporting menus Vittorio’s is known for:  Roasted Lamb Chops with Hazelnut Crust and Grilled Asparagus will be served with a 2013 Chateau de l’Hospitalet La Reserve Rouge. Cost will be just $49.50 per person.

A favorite at the Chateau Montelena dinner was the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, a luxurious vintage, rich in flavor. ($50.) RSVP Vittorio’s for the May 26th date at 858-538-5884.

Wine Bytes
Capri Blu in Rancho Bernardo has a Roth wine dinner Wed. June 1st at 6pm.  This Sonoma winery is family owned and makes only full flavored wines. Classic Bordeaux style wines are on the menu. Call for details at 858-673-5100.

Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas is planning their annual Oysterfest for this year on June 11, 2016, from 4 to 7pm. Call for more details at 760-479-2500.

South Coast Winery in Temecula is presenting a Celebrity Chef Dinner Fri. June 17th from 6 to 11pm.  Claudia Sandoval, a master chef winner, will direct a champagne cocktail hour, 7 course dining journey with South Coast and Carter Estates wines, live music and a copy of Claudia’s cookbook.  $195. per person.  Visit for more details and tickets.