Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Wine Stewards and Growlers – only at LJ Crafted Wines

by Frank Mangio
I have been writing  frequently about the surge in Urban Wineries, smartly located in large communities  with high traffic volume and offering  high quality branded wines by the glass or bottle.

TASTE OF WINE has found another remarkable play on the Urban Winery format in the Birdrock area of La Jolla , LJ Crafted Wines.  What’s different here? Plenty!  Guests at the indoor or outdoor tables and bar in the tasting room are served wine direct from the barrel that made the wine, thanks to a revolutionary device called the Wine Steward, a pouring device that allows the wine to be served from the barrel while it is aging, while maintaining the integrity of the remaining wine.

Scott and Nancine Hagner from the Grapeheads Association with
Lowell Jooste of LJ Crafted Wines and columnist Frank Mangio.

The barrels are displayed in bold, easy to read labels that show the vintage, varietal, vineyard and appellation.  On the day we were given a walk-through by the owner, Lowell Jooste, himself a 4th generation, 20 year winemaker from South Africa, the barrels represented some of the finest to be made from Napa and Sonoma vineyards.  Favorites were a 2014 Pinot Noir Rose’($8./glass, $24./bottle) from the Sonoma Coast with a lilting light raspberry, strawberry twist to it.  Drop in a hint of honey and you have a spritzy refreshing wine.

LJ Crafted Wines also offers a tropical flavored 2015 Viognier with a slightly lemon-drop hint, with the bedrock tropical fruit that makes it special ( $11/glass and $32./bottle).  On the red side, my heart belonged to the 2014 Petit Verdot Napa Valley ($14. /glass, $40./bottle) with a big elegant nose of violets, molasses and vanilla. Lots of plum on the palate.

I mention bottle, but many of these juicy wines  are offered only in a re-fillable “Growler,” a liter sized vessel with a flip top cap, previously only used in breweries.  This gives the customer an extra 6 ounce pour.  When joining the wine club, a complimentary wine growler and tote are received. Growlers are filled with your favorite wine selection straight from the barrel with the wine steward.

When you’re  finished, you return it for more or something different from the many barrels available. Seasonal gourmet small bite plates are also offered.  LJ Crafted Wines is open 7 days a week.  See more at

Beautiful Beaujolais , the Seasonal Wine
 Beaujolais wine is meant to be consumed young, in some cases the same year as it’s harvested.  The French play it up as an every-day party wine. They have about 120 celebrations in November in the Beaujolais region north of the Rhone Valley. It was fitting that La Gran Terraza Restaurant on the USD Campus has the best San Diego celebration. Manager Emma Van Dusen  (photo) welcomed a full house, along with John Yelenosky (photo), the Beaujolais specialist from American Wine & Spirits. Yelenosky talked about the seasonality of Beaujolais and its timely distribution during the Thanksgiving holiday.

 Its genetics are sourced to old world vines from the Gamay grape. Occasionally you will be able to find an aged Beaujolais like what was poured to pair  an entrée at La Gran Terraza with their Beef Tenderloin. This was a 2013 Chateau Des Labourons Fleurie, a “cru Beaujolais ” from a single village, made by Henry Fessy ($16.).  That was the most expensive bottle of Beaujolais that evening, an amazing value.  See other wine dinners and info about the restaurant at

Wine Bytes
Wiens Family Cellars in Temecula has its popular Wine Blending Experience, Sat. Jan. 21at 6pm.  Find your inner winemaker in you.  Guided by a winemaker, you will taste, evaluate and blend selected varietals and create your own bottle of wine. Includes appetizers, and you get to keep your own creation.  Priced from $80. Call 888-98WIENS.

Pechanga Casino in Temecula presents its 9th annual Wine Festival and Chocolate Decadence Fri. and Sat. Jan. 10 and 11.  Check out the details at or call 877-711-2WIN.

Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas continues their top shelf wine events on Fridays at 6pm.  On the 27th  it has The Noble Six wine tasting. Cost is $30. Details at 760-479-2500.

The Winner – Best Wine Dinners - Vittorio’s

Victor Magalhaes is the first to greet his customers at his family style Italian restaurant, Vittorio’s, in the burgeoning Carmel Valley community just below Del Mar, in the San Diego region.

Diners come from all over the county to enjoy the Italian food, much of it made from scratch.  A unique feature of each entrée is the option of an individual size, or a large size, that will serve two or more diners at a discount. An extensive pasta menu includes:  Tortelloni, Linguini, Ravioli, Rigatoni, Gnocchi, Lasagna,… well I could go on and on.  The pizzas are too extensive to list.  I’d rather list the amazing number of top shelf wineries that Magalhaes has brought in the last year.

Victor Magalhaes, owner of Vittorio’s Restaurant, presents  Miner Family Winery
of Napa Valley, 
with the collaboration of Mindy Hewitson,
Sales Manager of the Estates Group of San Diego.

Month in, month out, with the help of professional wine expert and Vice President of the Estates Group of San Diego , Mindy Hewitson, event diners have been treated to a 4 course custom dinner with accompanying premium wines.

“I offer these dinners as a kind of thank you to my customers,” he confided.  “I also hope that new diners will see the value and introduce themselves to our restaurant family through our wine dinners.”  And a value they are! Most dinners are $49.95 to $55.95 for a fixed custom 4 course stylish dinner, with 4 to 5 wines generously poured.  At times, the winemaker will make an appearance and lead the audience of diners through the vintage and harvest of the wines that are presented.

Hewitson herself knows about as much as the winery owners and can speak from the experience of walking the walk through the vines. On a recent Miner Family Wines event,  Hewitson spoke about the owner, Dave Miner and his beginnings in Napa Valley in 1993.  A former Oracle tech exec, he quit to manage a winery, then started up Miner in 1996 .  In 2007 , his wines were served in a White House Presidential dinner.  She then walked us through Viognier, Chardonnay, Sangiovese and a beautiful red blend, Emily’s Cuvee ($38.).

Magalhaes also owns a sister restaurant in Rancho Bernardo, Capri Blu, which also produces excellent wine dinners. The first wine dinner this year for Vittorio’s will be a panorama of Italian wines Thursday January 26th at 6pm.  Diners will be treated to a 4 course dinner highlighted by a Duck confit and fava bean risotto, with shaved Grana Padano cheese.  It will be paired with an Italian Barolo from Piemonte, 2011.  Cost is $55.95 per person. Be sure to call in a reservation soon at 858-538-5884.  Visit

Temecula Barrel Tasting 2017
Temecula Wine Country is starting the year out by rolling out the barrels and giving guests a chance to test taste before the vintages get to market. Current releases will also be poured at their annual barrel tasting, Saturday January 28 and Sunday January 29 from 11am to 4pm.  It’s a self-guided tour and tasting.

Up to 18 different wineries per day will pair their best with gourmet food sampling. Single day “passports” are $78. per day, entitling the holder to up to 18 wineries per day.  Two days gets you a discount with tastings from up to 36 wineries.  Go to  Tickets will be sold the day of the event, but the cost will be higher. You can learn how to participate in a shuttle service and other packages at the same web site.

Wine Bytes
Firenze Trattoria in Encinitas is planning an Evening in Tuscany wine dinner with personality Marco Barat, Thurs. Jan. 19th at 6pm.  The wine pairing dinner will choose an exceptional lineup of Tuscan and Sicilian wines with a custom pairing dinner.  Cost is $75. each.  RSVP at 760-944-9000.

The 6th annual Winter Wine Classic is at the Fess Parker Resort in Santa Barbara , Sat. Jan. 21 from 4 to 7:30pm.  Various prices start at $90. Taste over 200 wine samples plus gourmet food. Visit

Exploring Wine is the next wine course at San Diego State University starting Mon. Jan. 23 from 6 to 9pm.  It’s a foundation course for further education, part of a Professional Certificate in the Business of Wine.  Cost is $339. or $369. after Jan. 13.  Call 619-265-7378 for details.

The WineSellar and Brasserie in Sorrento Valley , San Diego , brings in Dragonette Cellars, with founder John Dragonette, Sat. Jan. 28 for a 6pm reception and 6:30pm dinner.  Dragonette is one of the best wineries in the California Central Coast .  $99. per person.  Call 858-450-9557 to make reservations.

The Wine Educator to Learn from is ‘M’

bt Frank Mangio
As we cross the threshold into 2017, let me thank you all for continuing to enjoy my column as I promise to outreach to every corner of the wine world to present to you, wine news that you can use, to add to your joy of wine.

Let’s start the year off with the pure pleasure of the most comprehensive  educator of wine that I have experienced in some time, Michele Graber, known to all who know her as ‘M.’

The setting for her 2 hour seminars, with  9 or so premium wine tastings enhanced by regional small bites that match up with the wines, is Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas, in their executive tasting room. Graber’s preparation is unmatched.

An ‘M’ wine class on ”The Killer B’s of Wine” drew a full house of eager tasters 
at Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas.   

The evening I sat in on her most recent class, “The Killer B’s of Wine – Barolo, Barberesco, Brunello and Burgundy ,” I was struck by her first-hand information, having walked the walk in most of those wine venues: Piedmont and Tuscany in Italy , and Burgundy in France . She called these wines, “among the most collectible wines of not just Italy and France but of the world.”  Her presentation was a basketful of education and tasting, backed up by the background, credentials, ratings, maps for all,  and tasting notes for each.

A fascinating bonus for those in attendance was the cheese plate with four unique kinds:  the French Le Rustique Camembert; Epoisses by Germain described as a “good stinky, runny French cheese; Taleggio, a soft, creamy Italian style; and Pecorino Toscsano, a 100% sheeps milk cheese.  This one was easily my favorite, a hard cheese, distinctly Italian that demands a rich Brunello as its table-mate.

On Saturday January 21,  ‘M’ will direct “An Intro to Wine Intensive,” at Meritage Wine Market, from 12 Noon to 4pm.  Cost is $140. to taste 17 premium reds and 17 luscious whites plus a surprise wine. “I will focus on the noble varieties and their growing regions, readily available on the shelves, ‘M’ declared.  Our guests will come to understand how each is made, how to taste, evaluate and correctly serve.” Light appetizers will be served along with informative handouts.  Class size is limited to 17.  Contact for your RSVP is 858-442-2749.  For more on ‘M’ see

Frank Family Featured at Parc Bistro-Brasserie
 Recently, Parc  Bistro-Brasserie and wine sommelier Dino Buzunis arranged to bring Frank Family Vineyards and winemaker Todd Graff to town for a wine pairing dinner.  The most asked question I get is what are your favorite wineries in Napa Valley.  Frank Family is always in the mix.

 Napa Valley’s Frank Family Vineyards winemaker Todd Graff and Sommelier
Dino Buzunis share notes on the latest Frank releases, at the wine dinner
hosted by Parc Bistro-Brasserie in San Diego.

Graff has been with owner Rich Frank, a former Disney Senior Executive, for some 14 years.  Frank owns 250 acres in 4 vineyards in and around Calistoga.  “We make our wines to accommodate the public’s desire to drink their wines when they purchase them,” he revealed.  “ Our wines drink well, anytime. Tonight we brought a 2012 Brut Rose, a 2014 Chardonnay, a 2014 Pinot Noir, a 2012 Petite Sirah and a 2013 Reserve Cabernet.” ($95…an absolutely great selection)

A sad note:  long-time tasting room manager for Frank Family, Dennis Zablosky passed away early in December.  He was the first employee for Frank, 23 years ago, and was a affectionately known as the “concierge of Napa Valley .”  For more on Frank Family, visit

Wine Bytes
The Barrel Room in Rancho Bernardo turns 10 this month.  On Thurs. Jan. 12  they are bringing in 10 food and wine pairing stations under the supervision of Executive Chef Trevor Chappell. Wines include the legendary  Silver Oak and Duckhorn. Several choices of price levels.  Call  858-673-7512

Paso Robles Wine Country is the place to be Sat. Jan. 14 from 1 to 6:30pm for the Blendfest Grand Tasting at the Cambria Pines Lodge in Cambria .  90 unique blended wines are offered including a blending seminar.  Afternoon tasting is 1-3pm for $45….evening tasting 4:30 to 6:30pm $65.  See

 San Diego Restaurant Week returns in 2017, from Jan. 15 to 22.  180 restaurants will participate. 3 course dinner and 2 course lunches at big discounts.  Visit

The Top Ten Tasting Wines of 2016

by Frank Mangio
This past year was a fascinating one for the wine industry which has never been one to rest on past successes.  Great chefs have flocked to San Diego and brought with them menu formats that included great wines.  The urban winery format has multiplied in our large communities where one brand is served, made from grapes brought in from the best vineyards in the state. The wines of Baja Mexico are finally showing what they are made of ( I have one in my Top 10).  The list also includes 2 from Italy , 1 from Washington and 6 from California . An amazing 6 blends make up the majority of flavors, with 2 Pinot Noirs, 1 Chardonnay and 1 Sangiovese.  Prices can vary, but the ones shown are the best I could find after sourcing.  Wines are shown by alphabetical order.  All are ranked Excellent by my guidelines of flavor, body and value. (5 are under $25.)

Arcanum Il Fauno Blend , Tuscany Italy , 2012.  $20.  Here’s what’s called a “Super Tuscan” in the old country, but at a price that can’t be beat!  It’s a polished, flavorful red in a spicy, earthy style .  Made #19 in Wine Spectator’s year end top 100.

Columbia Crest H3 Les Chevaux Red Blend, WA., 2012.  $12. A  lively blend named for the horses that roamed Horse Heaven Hills in Eastern Washington . Dark, fruity, cherry flavors, with smooth tannins. Another low priced triumph for Columbia Crest.

North County Wine Company’s Bill and Jim Tobin poured samples of their Top Ten recently and it included the Arcanum Il Fauno 2012 from Tuscany, a TASTE OF WINE choice.

Enlace Pinot Noir, Monterey CA , 2014.  $16.  The values keep coming.  This one fills a few bins at COSTCO.  Deep, inky red.  Fruit forward boysenberry sourced from several Santa Lucia Highlands vineyards. Long elegant finish.

Fattoria del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tuscany IT, 2012.  $21.  A rich handcrafted wine of Sangiovese clones.  Flavors peak with beef and sharp cheeses.

Frei Brothers Chardonnay, Sonoma CA , 2015.  $12. Russian River Chardonnay with quality way above its price.  Cool climate brings out the flavor of green apple and zesty orange with nutty notes.

Ferrari-Carano Tresor Blend, Sonoma CA , 2012.  $38. Bordeaux style wine from the vineyard’s finest lots of Cabernet, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec & Merlot. Dramatic sunset painting alone worth the price.

Lewis Cellars Alec’s Blend, Napa Valley CA , 2014. $62. A big powerful red with candied black fruit flavors.  Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet team up for this muscle wine.  Lewis’s all-Cabernet was awarded the top wine in the world by Wine Spectator.

 The lovely wine and bottle design of Ferrari Carano’s 2012 Tresor

 Rafael Adobe Guadalupe  Blend, Baja CA , 2012.  $98. A south of the border red blend from 55% Cabernet and 45% Nebbiolo (yes, the legendary Italian grape from Piedmont , Italy ).  Small production and strong, luscious flavor reminds me of Italy ’s Barolo.

The Prisoner Blend, Napa Valley CA , 2013.  $36.  Launched in 2003, this was the first of the new breed red blends, with mainly Zinfandel to go with  Cabernet, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Charbono. Pure cherry and chocolate flavor.  Delicious!

Tolosa “1772” Pinot Noir, Edna Valley San Luis Obispo CA , 2014.  $60. A favorite appellation with its rolling fog into the vines.  Best grape blocks used to produce a wine of exceptional character. Aged in French oak.  Rich mouthfeel.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Wine Sipping and Food Tasting in San Diego's Woods of Torrey Pines

by Frank Mangio
In the era of urban this and urban that, I am here to comfort you that it doesn’t  have to be that way for excellent wine and food hospitality in the San Diego region. We all should know that the iconic Torrey Pines Golf Course is internationally known, located on a pristine miles-long bluff between Del Mar and San Diego .  The nearby Torrey Pines State Reserve captures this region for public hiking and gazing at these magnificent trees and the inspiring Pacific Ocean.

Nestled in this bucolic environment is the five diamond hotel, the Lodge at Torrey Pines, with its latest excitingdevelopment, The Grill.  A.R. Valentien is their signature restaurant, but The Grill has an indoor-outdoor romance and an exclusive view of the golf course in the intimate  woods of Torrey Pines.

The Grill is an inviting stop for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily and is under the direction of Executive Chef Jeff Jackson, who is credited with creating the movement in San Diego called “farm to table” in the early 2000’s.  His Sous Chef de Cuisine is Kyle Wiegand, who has been with Jackson for 14 years.  “We increased space some 30% inside and outside with the focal point being a large outside rotisserie where the entrees are grilled before being served,” he explained.  “Local sustainable farm to table, with a California Coast and Baja style woodfire menu, is what our customers can expect at The Grill.  Our Executive Chef Jeff Jackson lets the ingredients speak for themselves through their unbeatable flavor.”

Indeed!  With the trees, rocks and foliage surrounding some tables centered around oversized fireplaces and firepits, the enticing menu takes over.  My recommendations include:  Poached Pear Salad with Arugula, Endive, Candied Pecans and Roquefort  Cheese, washed down with a Raymond Napa Valley 2013 Chardonnay.  The best example of the Santa Maria style rotisserie is the lead entrée: a Wood-Grilled Tri-Tip Steak with Pinquito Beans Cassoulet, Salsa and Homemade Steak Sauce.  Try this with the Napa Valley Jamieson Ranch 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Soux Chef’s recommendation is the Wood Smoked Pork Chop with market greens, sweet potato, roasted apples and cider jus. For more information, call 858-453-4420 or visit

The Lodge at Torrey Pines-Celebrate The Craft
A few weeks before The Grill familiarization, I covered the premier food festival, the 14th annual Celebrate The Craft, on the grounds of the Lodge at Torrey Pines. SoCal’s finest chefs led by Executive Chef Jeff Jackson, food artisans, produce, wine and craft beers, all contributed.  The golf course and Pacific Ocean formed the backdrop.

The Lodge’s sommelier Paul Krikorian hand picked the mostly Napa Valley wines to taste, including:  Robert Craig, ZD, Grgich Hills and Nickel and Nickel.  An impressive up-and- coming Robert Biale Vineyards  caught my eye with his “Black Chicken” 2014 Zinfandel ($49.95), and the “Royal Punisher” 2014 Petite Sirah Rutherford.($49.95)

Robert Biale is located just north of Napa city in the Oak Knoll District. Zin and Petite Sirah are rare choices in Napa Valley .  This Zin is stunningly fleshy and chewy with a powerful delivery.  The Petite Sirah has exploding aromas of plum and fig, with rich, black fruit flavors. See more at

Wine Bytes
PAON in downtown Carlsbad has a holiday wine tasting Wed. Dec. 28 at 6pm featuring French Cru choices from the Cellar Master formerly at the University of Bordeaux , Gino Campbell.  Some of the 1st growth Crus reportedly go for $1,000. a bottle.  The event price had not been determined at publishing time so call 760-729-7377 if interested.

Wine Vault & Bistro on India Street San Diego has a 10 course tasting menu paired with their “Top 5 Reds of 2016,” Thurs. Dec. 29 from 5 to 10pm.  Cost is $57.50.  Call 619-295-3939 for an RSVP.
A New Years Eve dinner is being planned at the Meritage restaurant at Callaway Vineyard and Winery in Temecula on Dec. 31 from 5 to 8pm.  Cost is $75. per person.  4 course meal with live music.  RSVP at 951-587-8889.

Pala Casino Spa & Resort  has several New Years Eve dinners on Dec. 31. The Oak Room  has a price fixed menu for $109 ea., $140 with wine pairings.  CAVE has a New Years Eve menu with a fixed price of $69, or $89 with wine pairings.  And Pala Café has dinner for $36.95 per person.  Call for an RSVP with your choice, at 877-946-7252.

The Wine & Food of San Luis Obispo

by Frank Mangio
Like no other appellation in this country, the bond with wine and ocean is seamless and collaborative in the San Luis Obispo Wine Country. In my last column I underlined the morning and afternoon fog that sweeps in from many of the pristine beaches that define the central coast.  Wineries in the know have chosen Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as their signature varietals. The weather conditions
romance these two “Play Misty For Me” grapes.  All the wineries in this intimate wine country are no more than 5 miles from this marine cooling, some are less than one mile.

Dave Hickey, winemaker at Laetitia Vineyard and Winery, and Franco Lastreto, Tasting Room Supervisor, display two of their latest Pinot Noir releases.

 If you are coming up from Southern California to visit, go by Amtrak.  It hugs the coast and you will see breathtaking coastal sights that only a train can show you. It drops you off in the middle of San Luis Obispo . Request an Enterprise rental car in advance, since they will pick you up at the station and drop you off when you’re ready to leave. You will need a car to get around to the wineries, restaurants and a resort style hotel overlooking one of the beaches.

The Inn at the Cove is a gem overlooking Pismo Beach with  private beach access and 180 degree views of the ocean.  At least one of the nights in your stay will have to be at the Suite Edna, a converted 1908 farmhouse in the middle of historic Old Edna, an adventurous townsite.  You’ll also find a gypsy wagon, a sippin’ cellar, bluebelly barn, a bordello and 3 lovely goats.  Pattea Torrence if the “mayor” of Old Edna and will be happy to tell you more, by calling 805-710-3701 or visit

Be sure to stop by the on-site Sextant Winery next to Old Edna.  Established in 2004, it has a wide variety of old world wines. These are all-estate wines like Zinfandel, Petite Syrah, Tannat from Spain and of course, my favorite, the lovely Pinot Noir.  This release was a 2014 at $25. per bottle and well worth it.

Dave Hickey knows every square foot of Laetitia Vineyard and Winery in nearby Arroyo Grande, about 10 miles south of San Luis Obispo.  He and his son, Eric Hickey, who is President of Laetitia, make the wines that have a decided Rhone, Burgundy and Bordeaux French fruit approach.  “ 440 of our 625 acres are devoted to Pinot Noir and are highland vineyards,” said Hickey.  “We release Pinots with more age than most other wineries, so they have a drink-now quality.” TASTE OF WINE featured the Laetitia Reserve du Domaine 2013 ($42.) in its Top Ten Tastings  a few months ago.  Check out our end-of-the-year report coming up the end of this month.  More on Laetitia wines at

A winery to discover is Tolosa , a large, sweeping vista vineyard just south of San Luis Obispo ’s airport in the Edna Valley .  Tolosa is named after the Franciscan Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, that grew wine grapes in the 18th century, and still stands today.  Those Pacific coastal winds make this the coldest appellation in California and reminiscent of Burgundy in France .  It is a prime environment for Pinot Noir. The Tolosa Pinot to search for is “1772,”($60.) the year the mission was built. This 2014 release is a blend of 4 different blocks, aged 11 months in French Oak barrels. It has a rich, black cherry mouthfeel, with refined tannins.  See more at

Before leaving SLO Country, I want to focus on a restaurant, lounge and wine shop, all under one roof, in the downtown district that will need no introduction once you try it. Foremost Wine Co. and its menu offerings are thoughtfully sourced from all local ingredients, and constantly changes monthly.

Foremost Wine Co. in downtown San Luis Obsipo is a restaurant, lounge and wine shop.
The Miso Glazed Black Cod is shown with squash and grilled corn.

  A novel “Burrata Bar” is a great way to start, with Gorgonzola cheese and Heirloom Tomato.  On the night of the visit, entrees included:  grilled hanger steak, pesto farro risotto, duck breast, chile shrimp and my favorite, the glazed black cod with grilled squash and corn. The chef is the celebrated Julie Simon who was raised in Paris and has traveled the world studying the emotional response of food that is deep in flavor.  She enjoys making what she calls “comfort food.”  Get more at

Wine Bytes
Now that I have included Laetitia wines and Foremost Wine Co., the two will collaborate on a very special event Thurs. Dec. 29 at 6pm in downtown San Luis Obispo .  Laetitia winemaker Eric Hickey and Chef Julie Simon combine talents for a portfolio of wines and menu items.  Cost is $85.  Contact the restaurant at 805-481-1772.

Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas has its special cellar selections spotlighted Fri. Dec. 23 from 6 to 8pm.  Lineup includes selections from California and France. RSVP at 760-479-2500.

San Luis Obispo - Natural Beauty Along the Central Coast

by Frank Mangio
I had been tasting the wines of the Central Coast for some time without much knowledge of the place where they came from and why the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays were so good from this part of California .

This part seemed  an obscure treasure and I hadn’t yet put all the pieces together with any clarity.  It turns out that San Luis Obispo County is systemically the heart of the Central Coast, situated between Monterey and Santa Barbara Counties .

 Tolosa Winery paints a beautiful portrait of the vineyard landscape just south of
the city of San Luis Obispo , along the Central Coast of California .

 Within the county, Paso Robles boasts 220 wineries, while the Edna and Arroyo Grande Valleys just south of San Luis Obispo (“SLO”) has 30 wineries, with all of them just 3 to 5 miles from the rugged, breathtaking beaches, some 80 miles long. Names like Grover, Pismo, Avila , Morro Bay , Cayucos, Cambria and San Simeon are fantastic early California coastal communities.  Many have piers and in some, you can park your car on the beach.

All contribute to the luscious quality of the wines with their cooler, coastal late afternoon and evening fog, giving structure,  plumpness and extensive ripening to the grapes, along with a longer growing season.

 Coastal fog rolling in just north of Pismo Beach in late afternoon, cools down the wineries
off the Central Coast , enhancing the quality of their grapes.

Chuck Davison may have the best travel, tourism and hospitality job in the state.  For nearly 2 years he has been the President and CEO of Visit San Luis Obispo County, after years of visiting and vacationing along the Central Coast .  “We have 18 communities, all contributing a lot of what makes this the best county to live in,” he declared.  “For the example of who we are, SLO it down and enjoy the county’s hub of San Luis Obispo.

 Its a home-style downtown, including a leadng state university, the famous Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and more wine bars and restaurants than you can count.  We’ve created a major display  that has hit the road called ‘SAVOR, a San Luis  Obispo Country Experience’ with  restaurants, wineries, breweries and activity partners at major events like the recent San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival.  We’re encouraging people to plan a trip to encounter our destination first-hand.”

I have had the great pleasure of meeting and greeting wineries in Paso Robles wine country and love to roam the Highway 46 West properties that lead up to Highway 1, San Simeon and the mighty Hearst Castle .

In my next column, I will take you with me on my first journey to the southern wine country in and around the city of San Luis Obispo , a visitor experience they call “the SLO Life.”
If you would like a preview of this experience, visit

Gen 7 Festa Del Vino Unveils New Wines

by Frank Mangio
No one does it better when it comes to introducing the newest vintages of his acclaimed Gen 7 wines than  Tim Bacino.  He is the 6th generation of the Vache’ and Biane wine families, who brought wine fame to Southern California with their Brookside Winery, one of the largest in the U.S. in its time, with 36 locations  featuring California wines and specialty foods.

Bacino created Gen 7 seven years ago, with his wife Susanne, in honor of the 7th generation in the family, his daughter Gabriella.  It was a re-start of the legacy of California ’s “first family” of wine.  Addressing what was in effect, his extended family, gathered at a huge picnic table at his handsome home in Rancho Santa Fe, Bacino and his family unveiled a luscious menu of Italian buffet cuisine fit for royalty.

        Tim Bacino points to his historic family of wine makers, in praise of their accomplishments 
                and help in his success with his wine , Gen 7, at a new release party, Festa Del Vino.

 Guests filled up on butternut squash cannelloni, chicken sagu, bolognese pasta al forno lasagna, assorted salads and a carving station.  Each food station had a suggested pairing of his new releases, 7seven handcrafted wines with grapes drawn from Sonoma and from over 1,000 acres of vineyards in the St. Helena area of Napa Valley. In his remarks to the gathering, Bacino asserted that “these grape sources that have made Gen 7 possible, could not have been accomplished without the relationships with my family from generations before me.  It is a family effort, blessed by my family’s legacy.” Gen 7 wines are very special selections of the best blocks from vineyards with a proven track record of prime flavor.

The one that remains a memorable taste from this release event is the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Premium  Reserve 1832.  (suggested retail $95.) You will taste dark chocolate and blackberry on the nose, with smooth velvety textures throughout.  It was made carefully from St. Helena Napa Valley grapes, from one of the greatest harvests in Napa Valley history.

Gen 7 is now making plans to enter Napa Valley in a big way, forming a partnership with established Napa wine names to create a next-level tasting room in the city of Napa .  Along with Trinitas Winery, B Cellars and others, Gen 7 will be part of a wine and food pavilion unlike anything else.  2018 is the date for the planned grand opening. To learn more about Gen 7 and its new wine releases, contact Tim Bacino at 619-540-1986 or visit

 San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival Brings Out the Winners

What a WOW week it was in San Diego last month,  as the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival came to an end Sunday November 20th after six days of wine and food events like no other.  It has taken its place as one of the largest in the nation. This year San Diego ’s thriving food scene was spotlighted with the Chef of the Fest awarded to Mark Kropcynski of Grant Grill downtown. He wowed the judges with his roasted baby root veggies with grilled lamb loin, pumpkin seed oil and fig vincotto.

My best wine of the “Fest” in San Diego was Alec’s Blend 2014 from Lewis Cellars of Napa Valley , made by Dennis Bell, left, shown with  wine columnist Frank Mangio.

I attended the Friday night Sommcon wine tasting and the Saturday Grand Tasting, easily tasting close to 200 wineries and 60 restaurants. My top wine of the “Fest” is one you have read about before in TASTE OF WINE, Lewis Cellars of Napa Valley.  Dennis Bell was pouring his Alec’s Blend 2014 at the Friday night event at the Marriott Marina.  This high award-inning wine from 60% Syrah, 34% Merlot and 6% Cabernet, was named after Dennis’s son Alec. ($65.)  See  Other wine discoveries included Dutton Goldfield of Sonoma’s cool climate elevations doing Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, Ramey Wines of Sonoma and a huge tent full of San Luis Obispo wines.