Sunday, November 22, 2015

Orange County Wine Scene Continues to Pour it On

by Frank Mangio
Let me be clear right away, we don’t mean orange juice.  Wine events are lining up with the major wine players, many of them from Napa Valley and Sonoma , being treated to marquee performances by their hosts. There is no better example of wine mania in OC than the Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival, a three day romp through the wines of the world, with healthy doses of beer and spirits, to match up with some excellent food samples.

We’ll be reviewing one of these restaurants in the 2nd half of this issue. The festival, sponsored by American & Southern Wine & Spirits, celebrated its second year the first week in October and sold out all three days. The names on the honor roll of wineries and celebrity guests read like a who’s who. The tasting provided and chance to savor the likes of  Argyle, Francis Ford Coppola, Ferrari Carano, Franciscan, Jackson Family, Joseph Phelps and a close-to-the-top favorite of mine, Laetitia Winery, makers of big-time Pinot Noir.  Here’s the take on this remarkable winery.  It is located in southern San Luis Obispo County overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Originally known for sparkling wines and still producing seven different styles, it is now known for its handcrafted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Their fruit comes from the Arroyo Grande AVA.

French founders started planting at Laetitia in 1982.  They found the land to be very similar to their homeland.  The winemaker for these 600+ acres of vineyard land is Eric Dickey along with his brother Dave.  Buy the Laetitia Whole Cluster Pinot Noir.($42.)  Whole cluster is the process of fermentation when the bunch or cluster of grapes, including the stem, is used in alcoholic fermentation. It is old world, French Burgundy style Pinot Noir, at its best. At the festival, Bravo TV’s Top Chefs were out in full force, led by Rick Bayless, in his 11th year on Public Television. He has written 8 cookbooks.

For information on next year’s Newport Beach event, call Lindsey Henn at 626-893-4228.

Canaletto Restorante of Newport Beach
I first reviewed Canaletto in Las Vegas at the Venetian Hotel.  I was transplanted to Italy by the design, food, wine and premium service.

But, you don’t have to go to Vegas. The Orange County Canaletto in Fashion Island has perfected the same art of Italian cuisine, with General Manager Antonio Bevacqua and Executive Chef Moises Mendoza.  On this night, Canaletto collaborated with Heitz Wines of Napa Valley.

Antonio Bevacqua is the GM, and Moises Mondoza is the 
Executive Chef at Canaletto in Orange County.

Their latest release is the 2010 Napa Cabernet single vineyard Trailside Vineyard. It’s a dense and powerful wine with aromas and taste of fresh-picked blackberry and a touch of rich cocoa ($80.)

At Canaletto, the wines come first, with  chef Moises building lusciously paired dishes to compliment. With the Heitz Cabernet, it was a Ravioli di Melanzane (roasted eggplant ravioli with burrata cheese, basil and garlic sauce.  Learn more about Canaletto and RSVP for dinner at 949-640-0900.

Wine Bytes
The next great wine dinner in Orange County is at 21 Oceanfront in Newport Beach. It’s Tues. Dec. 8th at 6:30pm with Grgich Hills Estate. Enjoy wines from Chardonnay to Cabernet with a 4 course fine dinner. Cost is $110. ea.  Call for an RSVP at 949-673-2100.

Beach House Winery in Fallbrook has its annual Christmas Bazaar Sat. Nov. 28th from 11 to 4pm.  No charge for this event featuring local artists and businesses.  Enjoy your holiday shopping with a glass of their wine and live music.  For more call 760-732-3236.

Capri Blu in Rancho Bernardo is presenting a Frescobaldi Wine dinner Wed. Dec. 2nd at 6pm. This is a 4 course super dinner featuring grilled Filet Mignon Medallions, paired with a 2009 Frescobaldi Brunello.  $55. pp. RSVP at 858-673-5100.

Here and There in San Diego ’s Urban Wine Scene

by Frank Mangio
This is one of my favorite formats for TASTE OF WINE.  I love to explore and check out what’s new and wonderful in the wine and food space. This column is especially a discovery of what’s new around the playgrounds of San Diego. This time its Del Mar, the downtown Gaslamp and San Marcos .
 Wine shops and restaurants consistently ask me, “what is it that I have to do to get a strong turnout for my wine events?” The first thing I tell them is to get me the facts about your event and I in turn will report it to my readers and viewers up and down the SoCal coast.  I also let them know that the best thing they can do is collaborate and partner up with a well known, quality winery with a great reputation.

 A happy partnership:  Mike Hurst, Regional Manager of Ferrari Carano Wines in Sonoma 
and Sal Ercolano owner of Seasalt Seasfood Bistro of Del Mar.

 This was played to perfection by Seasalt Seafood Bistro and Ferrari Carano.  You couldn’t ask for a better pedigree than this Dry Creek Sonoma great.  Ferrari Carano owns 24 vineyards in California and makes 27 grape varietals.  They are certified sustainable which means they are caretakers of the land putting back what they take out. Five wines were poured with a royal menu.  My favorite was really two wines:  the Siena Sangiovese Blend 2013 ($21.), and the Tresor Bordeaux Blend ($42.)
The delicious menu peaked in the 4th course with a beef tenderloin in dry fig wine sauce. See more on this new and beautiful restaurant at

Next stop, the thriving heartbeat of San Diego: the Gaslamp and Morton’s The Steakhouse.

Tim Reed is the congenial host and serves as General Manager of this traditional steak house. Morton’s has nearly 30 years in business and over 70 locations with its start in Chicago.Morton’s guests have come to expect excellent service in a prime setting, with lots of elbow room to make everyone comfortable.

 Tim Reed the General Manager of Morton’s shows off the Coprorate Room,
where it’s not unusual to see a few 3 liter wines being passed around.

On this night, Reed opened a 2013 Napa Valley Hess Cabernet a nicely paired wine for a lovely main course of a bone-in Filet Mignon, a Morton’s main event.  Darrick Silva is the executive chef and is catching on to what San Diegans love best, since coming to Morton’s  in July. Visit their site at morton’

Up in San Marcos there was a coming out party for a new wine from a long-time wine maker. Duncan Williams, who has earned his stripes at Fallbrook Winery and Falkner Winery in Temecula, has taken on a new wine project while still doing the wine for Falkner.  The setting was the North County Wine Company, a fun and casual wine bar that’s getting more popular by the day. The Tobin brothers, Jim and Bill, welcomed Williams and his new Williams and Heim.  Nice lineup right out of the shoots with a Chardonnay, Cab Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and a blend that he calls Triple Entendre ($51.97).  All grapes come from the finest appellations:  Sonoma , Napa Valley and the Santa Lucia Highlands.

Notable: Las Vegas is where it’s always new and exciting. You can now read TASTE OF WINE in the leading Italian-American  publication CIAO TUTTI, found in  the best restaurants and resorts in Vegas. A thank you to Tony Ricevuto for his help in placing TASTE OF WINE in this great magazine. See

Wine Bytes

JAX Vineyard of San Diego is having a 5 course wine pairing dinner at Shorehouse Kitchen in La Jolla Wed. Dec. 2nd from 6 to 8pm.  Call 858-459-3300.  Cost is $65. pp.

La Costa Wine Company in Carlsbad is having a Plumpjack wine tasting Fri. Dec. 4th from 6 to 9pm. Feature wine is the Plumpjack Cabernet 2012.  Cost is $29. ea.  Call for details at 760-431-8455. San Diego Wine Company is presenting a Champagne and Sparkling Wine Tasting Sat. Nov. 28th Reservation with pre payment of $20. by calling 858-586-WINE.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Tasting the History of BV. Part 3 of the Napa Valley Wine Journey

by Frank Mangio
It’s been a long, prosperous journey for this now world famous wine growing region, since Charles Krug established Napa Valley ’s first  commercial winery in 1861.  His success opened the door to a wave of growth, and by 1889, there were some 140 wineries cranking out bottles including well known names that we are familiar with , like Beringer, Inglenook and Schramsbrerg.

Beaulieu Vineyards (better known as BV) was founded in 1900 by George de Latour, one of the early pioneers who recognized the Napa Valley ’s potential to make great wine, especially in and around Rutherford.

Jeffrey Stambor is now the  winemaker for BV wines located in Rutherford, in  the Napa Valley .

In 1938 Latour  traveled to France to find a  winemaker who could bring the expertise of European style winemaking to the Napa Valley .   He found Andre Tchelistchef, an aristocratic Russian, who would revolutionize winemaking in the valley with techniques that are still used today.

Jeffrey Stambor, the 3rd and current winemaker for BV, recalled his time with Tchelistchef , who had created the Georges Latour Private Reserve Caberrnet Sauvignon, one of the most revered Cabernets in Napa Valley .  I sat with Stambor at a private  Reserve  Retropective Tasting of 6 vintages of these wines starting with the most collected of the Lartours, the 2002.

“The greatest benefit of aging wines is the development of complexity,” he said.  “The style of the wine by the winemaker is passed on with time and vintage improvement.” See

Shari and Garen Staglin of Staglin Family Vineyard, founders
of the Music Festival for Brain Health.

 Of the 700 or so wineries in Napa Valley, 95% are family owned.  None reach out more to the greater world than the Staglin Family. On day 5 of my journey to the valley of the greatest grapes, I found myself in the middle of a miracle:  the 21st Music Festival for Brain Health. Experiencing its 21st year, it’s an event that has raised 221 million dollars for the research and treatment of brain illness.  Most wineries raise a glass of their wine and see a lovely liquid that they could grow with.

The Staglins saw it as a means to grow a national movement to improve life for people with brain disorders, making a difference in making the road to recovery a possibility. The Staglin Family, Shari and Garen, with son Brandon and daughter Shannon, presented to guests: a  Brain Symposium, a Wine Reception of only the very best of Napa Valley in their Caves, a Concert Performance by Melissa Etheridge and a VIP Dinner. This year they would raise 4.1 million dollars from this event. See

Another remarkable winery to place on your must see list next time you visit Napa Valley is HALL Wines, a high end producer of premium wines. It has a sister winery, WALT Wines in Sonoma with some of the best Pinot Noir I have ever tasted, that come from the Willamette Valley in Oregon and the Anderson Valley, Sonoma Coast, Napa Valley and the Central Coast of California. My recommendation would be the 2013  WALT “Gap’s Crown” from the Sonoma Coast ( $75.); fruit forward, bountiful berry flavor with along finish.  HALL Wines in Napa Valley is an art lover’s delight with modern art and architecture. The wine to enjoy and fall in love with is the 2012 Kathryn HALL  Cabernet sauvignon, named after the owner. ($150.)  It is rewarded with a stunning 97 points… perfect balance and elegance.

Castello di Amarosa is a city within a winery.  Built as an Italian renaissance castle, it has 8 stories of stone, including a great hall and grand barrel room, most of it underground.  On the night I visited, it had a Grape Stomp Competition with dozens of six member teams squashing those poor little grapes, to be the first ones to fill a bottle with juice.  It was hilarious. See

Some readers have asked that a list of favorite Napa Valley wines be presented at a future column. We will do that soon . You can learn lots more about the 2015 harvest by visiting

Wine Bytes
Tuscany Restaurant La Costa has the Peter Marin Jazz Quartet Sat. Nov. 7th at 7:30pm.  Tickets $25. advance, $30. day of show.  Call 760-929-8111.

Firenze Trattoria in Encinitas welcomes Grgich Hills Estate
Wines for a wine dinner Tues. Nov. 10th at 6pm.  Master winemaker Kevin Vecchirelli joins with a presentation.  $95.  pp.  RSVP at 760-944-9000.

Chandler’s along the coast in Carlsbad, presents its Executive Chef and a Truffles 5 course dinner experience Nov. 5th, 6th and 7th.  Italian chef Fabrizio Facchini presides.  Call 760-683-5500 for an RSVP.

Encinitas Wine Merchants, in the Kohl’s Center in Encinitas, has a 20% off on all wines in the bar, on a six bottles mix or match program.  Get the details at 760-407-4265.

Napa: Into the Valley of the Greatest Grapes-Part 2

by Frank Mangio
It’s day two of my journey to the center of the wine universe, Napa Valley .

This 30 mile long by five mile wide wine country is one of the smallest with just 4% of California ’s wine grape production.  Yet, it generates $13 billion dollars annually for the local economy and accounts for 1/3 of the wine sold in the U.S. It’s been well documented that the leading varietals in Napa Valley are Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Both were brought over from France and both Napa brands have beaten the French versions in high profile competitions.

Napa Valley has a dry Mediterranean climate, found only on 2% of the Earth’s surface which helps make it a consistently sought-after location for premium wines. There are nearly 500 wineries and I would venture to say that nearly all make Chardonnay and Cabernet, the top selling varietals in California.

In measuring the 2015 season, you have to go back to the winter of 2014 when a dry, warm winter resulted in small clusters of grapes on the vines with highly concentrated flavors.  According to the Napa Valley Vintners, this resulted in early bud break and a long flowering period.  In the Summer, everything got accelerated when a surge of hot temperatures  made for a quick conclusion to the season.  The first grapes for sparkling wine were picked on July 22nd and by October 10th, it was all over for the most part, about a month less than normal.  Napa Valley, like most other wine countries in California produced significantly less fruit this year, but what was collected is producing a high concentration of flavor.  Stacy Vogel, winemaker for Miner Winery said “we had one of the earliest harvests on record, with very low yields, half of what we produced in the great 2112 harvest.  The smaller cluster led to concentrated berries that gave us deep flavor and color.  We’ll wait about two years to bottle so they can fully develop.”

Ryan Hill of Hill Family Estate had a similar assessment when he reported that “we had a lot of heat in winter. January felt like May.  The spike in temperatures affected production to something like 2 to 4 tons of grapes per acre, about 60% less than normal.  In some cases with newer vineyards, costs will exceed sales.”

A Visit with the “Godfather” of Napa Valley
 Mike Grgich can “read” a grape better than anyone I know. Since 1958, when Miljenko “Mike” Grgich arrived in Napa Valley from Croatia to make wine, first for some of the leading winemakers of that era, then for his own winery, he has had a keen knack for knowing  when to hold them and when to pick them.

Hall of Fame winemaker Mike Grgich, at his Calistoga home in Napa Valley
with wine columnist Frank Mangio.
His legacy is well known worldwide, starting with his 1973 Chardonnay creation for Chateau Montelena that competed with similar wines at the famous Paris Tasting of 1976.  The Grgich-made Chardonnay defeated the French entries, a shock heard round the world of wine that put Napa Valley  firmly in a position of respect and fame.  It was only a year after this event that Grgich founded his own winery, Grgich Hills Estate.

He would later win the Great Chicago Chardonnay Showdown  of 1980, beating 221 other Chardonnays from around the world, including France for a second time, with a 1977 Chardonnay.  It was the first wine produced at his new winery, and today still tastes outstanding.

Grgich has now given the responsibility for winemaking and production to his Croatian nephew Ivo Jeramaz, and operations to his daughter Violet Grgich.  His 10 year Communications and Marketing Manager is Ken Morris, considered the most knowledgeable in the Napa Valley .

Never one to rest on his accomplishments, the 92 year old Grgich is thinking bigger these days. “I am now writing a book on my life as I know it, and I am helping to write a movie  on the real story of the Paris Tasting, from the book “Judgment of Paris.”  Shooting has already started on the movie with the star of the shoot, Mike Grgich.  The Napa Valley “Godfather” of Wine is reaching for new heights of fame. Read more at

Read more about the TASTE OF WINE Napa Valley Harvest Tour  Part 3, in next week’s column.

Wine Bytes
Seasalt Seafood Bistro presents a Luca Wine Dinner, Wed. Nov. 4th at 6pm.  Luca is an Argentina wine with many awards.  5 course dinner will pair with the wines.  $55. pp.  Call 858-765-7100 for an RSVP.

Twenty/20, in the Sheraton Hotel Carlsbad is planning a Whiskey Tasting event, Thurs. Nov. 5th at 6pm.  Delicious small plate pairings.  $55. ea.  Call 760-827-2500 for a place.

PAON Restaurant & Wine Bar Carlsbad has a Tolosa Wine event Wed. Nov. 4th from 6 to 8pm.  $20. charge.  More by calling 760-729-7377.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Best Wine & Food Tour Ever: The Beginning

by Frank Mangio
Three months before, the idea of a journey to the ultimate wine country, some Sonoma and mostly Napa Valley, came into the planning stage.

It was gong to be harvest time, a difficult time at best to get the attention of wine makers and managers of wineries, but critical to what I wanted:  access to the truth about this year’s harvest and what we could expect from 2015. The millions of bottles from the over 500 wineries, will start coming  to  market  next year.

In mid September I flew to the lovely little “Snoopy” airport, the Charles Schulz, just above Santa Rosa , an hour twenty flight from San Diego . A rental without wait quickly got me to the pristine village of Sonoma. After a Pinot Noir tasting at the cottage of Walt Wines in the Plaza that I’ll bring up in another issue, my destination in Sonoma was  the critically acclaimed  wine/food center of excellence, Carneros Bistro.

Executive Chef Joshua Murray, at the
Carneros Bistro 
with columnist Frank Mangio

This beautifully designed restaurant is centrally located in the Lodge at Sonoma , with hotel, restaurant, wine bar, spa and shops.  It offers many wine choices with reasonable pricing, collected by Sommelier  Joshua Betts who enjoys finding little-known but excellent wines like the Riesling from S.A.Prumm, in the Mosel area of Germany.  Equally lovely was the presentation of a bottle of Almus, a single vineyard cabernet from the Napa Valley Pritchard Hill district. It was a 2008 that had significant seasoning to soften tannins and add complexity.

Carneros Bistro is gem of a dining room.  It has a vast open kitchen and it was a delight to watch Executive Chef Joshua Murray mastermind the many meals being created with his team to present to an upbeat room.  I ordered from the menu, but Murray kept bringing us his personal specialty samplers, some of which I had not been familiar with.  After some reservation on my part, he explained the personal ingredients he had infused with such dishes as:  Wood Grilled Octopus, Sonoma Foie Gras and BBQ Pork Belly.  All were firsts for me and after sampling, I felt good making the great leap forward to exotic dining. Menu items favored were:  Farmers Market Salad with luscious figs, Wood grilled Ora King Salmon from Australia and Grilled Niman Ranch Steak with roasted fingerling potatoes, broccolini, cauliflower puree and cabernet syrup. Chef Joshua came from another favorite resort of mine, the Marriott Desert Springs in Palm Desert and insists on a farm to table style of menu.

The Renaissance Lodge at Sonoma Resort  & Spa is a member of the Marriott Group. To discover more, go to

On to Napa Valley
On day two, all I could hear about was the wildfire that toasted a town in Lake County just north of the Napa Valley line and was taking out everything in front of it. Traffic was stopped at Calistoga, Napa Valley ’s northernmost town.

Bill Miller, Director of Wine Sales at Hill Family Estate in Napa Valley ,
expresses the Hill philosophy that ” if you want to dream in color, drink wine.”

I arrived after a 45 minute drive from Sonoma, across the Carneros district and up to Yountville, arriving at Hill Family Estate where I met the expressive Bill Miller, who guided me through the family garden that services fresh ingredients to most of the restaurants in the area.  Earlier in Hill’s history the family provided similar service for many wineries in Napa Valley.  They grew grapes from over a thousand acres, and sold them to some of the most prestigious wineries. Now, only the best are reserved for Hill Family Estate.  Look them up at

On Wednesday, day three, the rains came and subdued the renegade fire; another miracle from the place of miracles, Napa Valley .

Part 2 of the Best Wine & Food Tour Ever will be seen in next week’s column.

Wine Bytes
Vittorio’s in Carmel Valley has a Tuscany Tour of wine and food Thurs. Oct. 29th starting at 6pm.  $49.50 ea.  RSVP at 858-538-5884.

Il Fornaio Coronado presents a Mondavi Wine Dinner Thurs. Oct. 29th at 6pm.  $65. per guest.  Reservations at 619-437-4911.

Justine Vineyards and Winery from Paso Robles will host a four course dinner with their wine Fri. Oct. 30th at 7:30pm in the underground wine cave at Pala Casino Spa & Resort.  $68. pp. Call 1-877-946-7252. Ask to “book the wine dinner on Oct. 30.”

Saturday, October 10, 2015

San Diego Bay Wine & Food Fest Takes Command Nov. 15th to 22nd

Tickets are on sale now for the biggest and best wine and food festival in Southern California, the San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival, 5 days of fun, sipping, tasting, learning and cheering on your favorite chef at the Saturday Grand Tasting at the Embarcadero, next to Seaport Village .

Co-founder Michelle Metter said that “food, wine and local enthusiasts can expect to see  exciting new additions throughout the week as well as a return of the classics such as the Grand Tasting and signature Taco TKO Fish Taco Competition. Each year we showcase our city’s best talent and allow over 10,000 guests from around the world to indulge in an epicurean experience of a lifetime.”

The San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival holds its Grand Tasting Sat. Nov. 21st
at the Embarcadero next to Seaport Village.

Celebrated chefs from everywhere in the country include: Rick Bayless, Gail Gand, Suzette Gresham, and hometown hero from the Marine Room, Bernard Guillas.  Last year’s Chef of the Fest winner, Duvinh Ta from Jake’s is returning for this year’s competition.

A new and exciting educational opportunity for wine industry professionals, sommeliers and enthusiasts has been unveiled for the first time called SommCon, with over 50 educational seminars, certifications, tasting events and more, created by industry experts.  The main conference is being held Thursday, November 19th and Friday November 20th that peaks with a trade tasting featuring over 100 wines, breweries and spirit purveyors.

Sommcon will open the doors to a wealth of knowledge from some of the best known wine personalities in the business. There are many levels of registration for the attendee to choose.  For more information and a list of classes go to

Discounted accommodations at SommCom headquarters at the Manchester Grand Hyatt are available by calling 877-385-9595. For all other information about the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, visit Call: 619-312-1212.

Vittorio’s Presents Starmont Wines
 It was a festive full house recently at Vittoroio’s in Carmel Valley as Starmont Napa Valley wines took the stage to compliment a 4  course dinner, capped by a lovely grilled hanger steak with a Starmont Cabernet, 2011.

 It was ladies night at a recent Vittorio’s wine dinner with Mindy Hewitson of Estates Group and Cindy Bock of Merryvale/Starmont Wines of Napa Valley .

What made it even more attractive was Vittoro’s 1/2 priced bottles of wine. Victor is one of the few restaurateurs that sells wine direct to the consumer. Starmont a certified Napa organically grown wineryand leaders in value wines like:  Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon. See more at

Wine Bytes
Firefly Grill & Wine Bar in Encinitas presents a Cakebread Cellars Wine Dinner, Wed, Oct. 21st at 6:30pm.  A 4 course dinner will be highlighted with Smoked Pork Tenderloin with a Cakebread Merlot 2012.  Cost is $125 pp.  Call 760-635-1066.

Harry’s Bar & American Grill in La Jolla , across from UTC, has a Pahlmeyer wine dinner, Wed. Oct. 21st at 6:30pm.  Final entrĂ©e will be a Beef Bourguignon paired with a 2013 Pahlmeyer Red Bordeaux Blend.  For cost and an RSVP, call 858-373-1252.

Il Forniao in Del Mar and Coronado are in the middle of their Festa  Regionale with cuisine from Italy’s Lazio district, the location for Rome. This special menu goes to Oct. 25th.

Monte De Oro Winery in Temecula has a Cabernet Sauvignon Blind Tasting of 90  point wines, Fri. Oct. 23rd.  Reception 6:30pm and tasting begins at 7pm.  12 wines from California will be offered blind.  Price is $65. Available on line at

The 2nd annual San Diego Beer and Music Festival will be at Liberty Station in Pt. Loma, Sat. Oct. 24th from 7 to 10pm, a benefit for the San Diego Music Foundation. It will showcase over 100 craft beers from more than 50 local breweries.  $35. in advance, $40. at the door.  VIP slightly more.  Visit

Monday, October 5, 2015

Here & There: in Pursuit of Fine Wines in Fine Places of San Diego County

by Frank Mangio
Restaurant Week had a good run in September. Over 100 restaurants collaborated in San Diego County , to offer some of the best discounts seen in a while for this promotion.  The event was kicked off in the friendly coastal town of Encinitas at the exciting Go Green Agriculture facility where the highest quality and healthiest produce is grown and shipped.

A number of San Diego County wines were invited to pour their best for the assembled guests on a very hot afternoon, but the mood was good for the food and wine tasting.  Fallbrook Winery showed up plus Briar Rose and Palumbo Winery from Temecula, were among the bottle-poppers. I was happy to see Cindy and Nick Palumbo and they did not disappoint when they brought their new-release Sangiovese with them.

Nick and Cindy Palumbo with  new release Sangiovese wine,
part of the San Diego County Restaurant week kickoff.

Theirs is a premium estate wine with a small-lot handcrafted style. Their 13 acres are planted for Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Sangiovese.  A neighboring lot allows them to offer Viognier and Syrah. “I insist on only producing what I grow and keep my yields low.  I live on the property and insist on sustainable farming practices.” Palumbo said.  Learn more at

Palomar College in thriving San Marcos is the higher educational elder in this market. I studied there as most students in North San Diego County did, to get a 2 year degree, then on to a 4 year institution.  It was a feel-good experience to attend Palomar Foundation’s 24th annual fund-raising Gala for the scholarships and textbook assistance program, at the La Costa Resort.  The program was upbeat and an inspiration for the college’s future.

Featured attendees at the recent Palomar College Gala were:
Robert Wetsfall, CEO Solartube, 
Debbie King, Assistant Director Palomar College Foundation 
and Rick Cassoni, Professor Mira Costa College .

The selected wine was the well known Paso Robles favorite, Robert Hall Winery. This 1995 -founded vineyard and winery favors wine with a South of France flavor, made in a 19,000 square foot cave with Don Brady as winemaker.  Right now it has a Meritage wine special on line for $36.  Wine Club members pay $24. Check it out at

I might have saved the most interesting wine find for last, as I discovered a treasure trove of Sicilian wines at Il Fornaio in Coronado recently.

Mandy Martinez , the rep at American Wines, walked us through the new releases at Planeta, considered the largest of the many wineries that dot the Sicilian landscape.  Moscato is a well known Italian sparkling wine and this one had it all going with its Noto Bianco finish.  But the one that Sicily is rapidly becoming famous for is the Nero di Avola, a deep dusted red, finished in the Mt. Aetna region.

Aetna is the most active volcano in Europe and yields the most rich of the Sicilian soils.  It richly enhanced the Il Fornaio Analletti Forno Spaghetti al Gamberetti, a pasta with baked Italian ham, peas, Bolognese sauce and Mozzarella. See

Coming soon to TASTE OF WINE, a three-part profile on the 2015 wine grape harvest.

Wine Bytes

The La Jolla Art and Wine Festival is Sat. Oct. 10th and Sun. Oct. 11th from 10am to 6pm.  Located on Girard St. between Prospect & Torrey Pines Rd this free event has 150 juried artists, gourmet marketplace and wine and beer garden with over 40 wines including Coppola, Benziger and Baja wines.  Funds from the event go to local public schools.  For details, go to

Harry’s Bar & American Grill has a Pahlmeyer wine dinner, Wed. Oct. 21st at 6:30pm. Pahlmeyer is a Napa Valley choice winery.  Their red Bordeaux Blend 2013 is being matched with the Harry’s Beef Bourguignon.  $99. pp.  RSVP at 858-373-1252.

Solare Restorante in Pt. Loma presents a 4 course dinner with the Preston Parker wines of Paso Robles, Sun. Oct. 18th from 6 to 9pm. Cost is $79.  Wine founder Tucker Spear will present , with the wines named after his two sons, Preston and Parker. Partial profits go to the Williams Syndrome Association.  Niner wines will also have 3 wines for tasting. Call 619-270-9670 for details and an RSVP.

Celebrating Art & Wine is the festival in Ramona, Sat. Nov. 7th  at the Begent Ranch, on Highland Valley Rd. from Noon to 5pm. 16 area wines will be pouring their new releases.  28 local artists will be selling their artwork. A live auction of painted wine barrels will liven things up.  Admission information by visiting

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web.  View and link up with his columns at, and reach him at  Follow him on Facebook.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Hospitality Baked to Perfection in Oak Room at Pala Casino Spa & Resort

by Frank Mangio
Pala Casino Spa & Resort has brought the art of fine dining and wine tasting to its highest level, with the sweeping success of its Oak Room.  Sure, there are still the slot machines and card games in the common areas and lots of entertainment  in this high rise resort just east of Interstate 15, and the buffet is the best of the casino locations in San Diego .  But Pala mastered all these rules of casino management, before it could break the rules of casino fine dining, by presenting a four-diamond world class steakhouse with prime streaks and chops as well as fish, lobster and other delicious entrees at its Oak Room.

The Executive Chef is Robert Camerota, who is in charge of the 11 restaurants at the Casino, including CAVE, the new sensation at Pala. Camerota gained fame when he was chef for Steve Wynn and his many hotels in Las Vegas , Atlantic City and overseas.  In 2008 he found the perfect home for his “Chef to the Stars” reputation, at the Oak Room.

Robert Camerota, a top Executive Chef creates the culinary specialties at
Pala Casino’s 11 restaurants, including the Oak Room.

At the Oak Room, everyone’s a star.  “Fabulous, amazing and perfect” are comments that I heard from the dining guests who savored the luscious entrees, a culinary adventure found only in the finest dining capitals of the world.  The assembled professionals know how to serve.  George Myers, our table attendant, confidently detailed the special offerings, while placing a bread ensemble at our table with a variety of dipping sauces and my favorite Riesling, the Chateau St. Michele Eroica.

Some choices selected included the Prime beef, bone-in Filet Mignon steak, dry aged for 21 days and double cut.  Perfect with sides like roasted sweet corn, spinach or asparagus, steamed or grilled. The Chilean Sea Bass was also a favorite, moist and lightly seared.

I left the wine choice up to General Manager Steven Whisler, whose depth of wine knowledge left me listening to what he had to say, especially his choice:  a 2006 Feather Cabernet from Walla Walla Washington , made by Randy Dunn, a renowned maker of Cab from Howell Mountain in the Napa Valley of California. Feather is part of a group of wines, orchestrated by Long Shadows Vintners of Washington and founder Allen Shoup, twenty years with Chateau Ste. Michelle. He is considered the founding father of modern Washington wines.

Pala’s Oak Room wine choice was the 2006 Feather Cabernet,
made by the Napa 
Valley wine legend Randy Dunn.

To learn more about the Long Shadows wine collection, visit

Whisler also revealed that he stocked close to 500 wines, showcasing the best of Napa Valley with a best effort to create value in the list.

Speaking of my favorite subjects, a wine and dinner event is planned in Pala’s underground CAVE, Wednesday October 7th, when Napa Valley ’s Trefethen Family Vineyards comes to the resort, complimenting a 4 course dinner.  From Trefethen Riesling to a finely crafted “Double T” blend, all Trefethen wines are of the highest quality.  The price per person is a reasonable $68.  Reservations must be made at 1-877-946-7252.  Ask to “book the wine dinner on October 7th.” A note that the Oak Room is closed on Monday and Tuesday.

I have just returned from a historic journey to Sonoma and the Napa Valley for the harvest, covering 16 wineries and resorts.  A three part series will follow over a 2 month period, for your interest and education.

Wine Bytes
Tuscany Italian Restaurant and Lounge in La Costa is bringing back the talents of Jazz and Soul singer Rebecca Jade, Sun. Oct. 4th in the lounge from 6 to 8pm.  She will do a tribute to the international singer Sade.  $15. in advance, $20. at the door.  Tuscany will also be doing a wine tasting event Wed. Oct. 7th. For details, call 760-929-8111.

Mira Costa College in Cardiff presents a Napa Valley Wine Class Wed. Oct. 7th from 6 to 8pm.  This is the first class of a three week Wednesday VIP class tour, tasting such wines as Rombauer, Chateau Montelena, and Silver Oak.  Tuition is $60.  Materials $50.  619-980-2135.

Seasalt Restaurant  in Del Mar has a Ferrari Carano Wine Dinner Wed. Oct. 7th at 6pm.  Special 5 course dinner menu paired with award winning wines. The main course is Beef Tenderloin served with  Ferrari Carano Tresor blend.  $55. per person. 858-755-7100 to RSVP.

A Napa Valley Vintners Grand Tasting will be presented by Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas, and the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce, Sat. Oct. 10th from 6 to 9pm. Pre-purchase tickets at Meritage for $65.  Reductions for multiple tickets. 760-753-6041.

Monte De Oro Winery in Temecula  brings in a concert by The Blues Travelers, Sat. Oct. 17th .   Doors open at 6pm, concert at 7pm. Seats start at $65.  Added pricing for VIP features. 1-951-491-6551.