Thursday, August 20, 2015

Paso Robles Deeply Rooted in Fine Wines

They came for a re-visit to San Diego, some 35+ wineries from Paso Robles led by veteran cheerleader and Communications Director Chris Taranto, who has guided the message for Paso
wine country for as long as I can remember. Appropriately called the Grand Tasting Tour, it had some wineries that were seasoned and comfortable like Hope Family,

JUSTIN, Niner, Opolo, Tablas Creek and San Antonio . A short look around and some things were new like Alta Colina, Barr, Burbank Ranch, Venteux and the sensation of the show, Pianetta with its reboot of the fabled Jug Wine. But more about that later. If you’re new to the wine tasting regions in California, Paso Robles is located about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles along the



Key Paso players Michael Geise of Hope Family Wines, and Chris Taranto
for the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.

Central Coast.  It’s the 3rd largest wine region with about 200 wineries on 32,000 vineyard acres. Here, wineries have proven that with the unique climate, topography and soil, over 40 worldwide grape varietals can be grown and bottled.

Some wines to try:  Hope Family Wines Treana Red.  Their Viognier is a personal favorite, and this 2012 Red Blend of Cabernet and Syrah doesn’t disappoint either. ($45.).  Taste plum, cherry and spice.  Visit hopefamily wines.com. Now on to Pianetta Winery and their re-boot of the wine in a jug.  It’s Jug Wine 2013, with mostly Zinfandel, and some Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah and Petite Sirah. ($24.)


The Jug wine format returns, as displayed by Caitlin Pianetta of Pianetta Winery in Paso Robles.

“We wanted to create a fun, traditional style of wine and decided the best way would be in a JUG,” explained Caitlin Pianetta, President and owner. 2013 is the 7th vintage, and it sells in the tasting room and select stores.  See more at pianettawinery.com.

New Dates for San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival
The largest wine and food festival in Southern California  returns for the 12th time.  The new dates are:  November 15th thru the 22nd. For those few who have not seen this extravaganza, it’s a star-studded classic that takes place at various locations in San Diego. The festival’s Grand Tasting at the Embarcadero Sat. the 21st will feature over 200 wineries, breweries and spirits from around the world, 70 local restaurants and the “Chef of the Fest Competition.” Ticket information is now available by visiting sandiegowineclassic.com, or by calling 619-312-1212.

Wine Bytes
North County Wine Company in San Marcos presents a flight of new release California wines Fri. and Sat. Aug. 28 and 29. Half glass pours on three prime brands for only $15. Call 760-653-9032 for times.

Bernardo Winery in Rancho Bernardo has its 5th annual Tastings Festival and Classic Car Show, Sat.
Aug. 29th from 1pm to 4pm.  You get lovely wines, cool beer, delicious food and live music for a $30. advance admission.  Phone 858-775-5788 for details.

Wiens Family Cellars in Temecula wants you to join them for a Primitivo Vertical Wine Tasting Dinner Sat. Aug. 29th starting at 6pm.  4 vintages poured with a 4 course dinner. $85. pp, $65. for club members.  Get the full story at 951-694-9892.

Capri Blu in Rancho Bernardo has a Taste of Veneto Italian Wine dinner, Wed. Sept. 2 starting at 6pm. From Pinot Noir to Amarone, these wines will pair perfectly with  a 4 course dinner led by Ossobuco Pork Shank.  Cost is $55. ea. RSVP at 858-673-5100.

The Palomar College Foundation and President’s Associates invite you to the 24th Annual Gala fundraiser benefitting Palomar College students and programs, Sat. Sept. 12th.  The event is at the
Omni La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad starting with a  5:30pm hosted reception and silent auction.  Highlights include: a 7pm dinner presented by Executive Chef de Cuisine Marc Therrien, to include the Comet Award and Inspiration for the Future; 8:30pm live auction and opportunity drawing; 9pm music and dancing.  Black tie and complimentary valet.  Pricing, reservations and more information about the event including sponsorship opportunities are available at Palomar.edu/foundation, or by calling 760-744-1150 ext 2735.

Temecula Valley – Polished up for the Future

by Frank Mangio
2015 may be the inflection point for the wineries of Temecula Valley .  There is a new spirit in this embattled valley, currently home to some 36 hard working names that are determined to get state, national and international respect.

In fact there is so much that’s attractive for visitors to the valley, let’s call this issue one of two columns. That’s necessary to cover new developments in this wine country that five counties in SoCal visit, about 20 million potential wine visitors, for a day trip to Temecula!

The Temecula Valley AVA, as we know it today, became effective in 2004 with 33,000 acres.  1,300 acres are planted in commercial vineyards.  5,000 acres are located and protected in a “Citrus/Vineyard” zone in and around Rancho California Road with strict guidelines set by Riverside County .  Through grit and determination, several projects and improvements are making 2015 a banner year.

A beautiful and spacious 10,000 square foot Cave is just about complete at
Oak Mountain Winery in the fast-forward Temecula Valley wine country.

Top of the mind is the amazing Oak Mountain Caves , a hillside winery on the De Portola Trail, which is a cluster of wineries on DePortola Road .  Primarily for a 1,000 barrel storage 104 feet underground, this 10,000 square foot facility with a steady 66 degree temperature, does much more than store. Valerie Andrews, who founded Oak Mountain with her husband Steve, who is the winemaker, walked me through this mixed use, magical subterranean dig.  “We’ll have tasting rooms down here, and the Cave Café kitchen will be ready to go the end of August.,” she predicted.  “Our private Cave Club members will enter an exclusive all-glass door private area with complimentary wine tasting 7 days a week.

Oak Mountain is up to 30 hand crafted wines to be served in the bar areas, which along with the banquet area, is still under construction. Customers can discover little known varietals like Cinsault, Mourvedre, Pinotage and Counoise.

Above ground, Oak Mountain has weekly entertainment programs.  On Sat. Aug. 22nd, an Elvis Tribute Band plays starting at Noon with no admission charge, in a climate controlled pavilion.  For tours and other information, contact the winery at 951-699-9102 or visit oakmountainwinery.com.

Lorimar Vineyards and Winery was realized by two brothers in-law, Lawrie Lipton and Mark Manfield, a restaurateur from Kansas City , back in the year 2000. The first planting on 22 acres was Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by Syrah, Grenache, Muscat , Viognier and Sangiovese; distinctly Rhone Valley France and Tuscany Italy.  In 2012, a perfect replica of an Italian villa was constructed with magnificent views of Palomar Mountain. Inside is an elegant tasting room with stone fireplace and an art gallery. What’s most exciting to me is that Lorimar and one of the valley’s most respected farmer-winemakers, Marshall Stuart, have partnered together to give rise to the Wine, Art and Music theme, evident in all that Lorimar presents.  “When I owned my own winery, I worked with Lorimar in the earlier years before this beautiful winery was built.” Stuart recalled.  In keeping with the musical theme for the wines, reds include:  Nocturne, Crescendo, Medley, Solo and a lot more.”


 One of the Temecula Valley ’s foremost farmer-winemakers is now hands-on making
superb wines at Lorimar Vineyards and Winery in the Temecula Valley.

The 2012 Medley Meritage was a personal favorite. ($44. For club members, $33.) It reminded me of a Stuart favorite in his days as a wine owner, when he made Long Valley Red, a valley legend.  I asked him what was a big seller these days.  “Malbec has become very popular, especially our 2012 Siancio ($46. For club members, $34.50.).  We just planted 4 1/2 acres of it.  It’s a working man’s Cabernet.”  For more Lorimar news access lorimarwinery.com, and for more on Temecula Valley , come back to my column for next week.

Wine Bytes
Marina Kitchen in the Marriott Marquis Hotel in San Diego is presenting its next Wine Wednesday programs, with “Native Northern Italy” on Wed. Aug. 26 and Coastal California Wed. Sept. 2nd from 6pm to 7pm.  Cost is $20. per person, tasting included.  To reserve, call 619-234-1500.

Il Fornaio in Del Mar presents a Beni di Batasiolo Wine Tasting Thurs. Aug. 20th from 5 to 8pm.  $25. per guest.  Wine expert Stefano Poggi presides.  Select appetizers served.  Reservations at 858-755-8876.

Cork & Draft Classic is an event at Embarcadero North Park San Diego Sat. Aug. 29th from 3 to 6pm.  ( 2pm for VIP tix.)  Wines brews and more.  Prices start at $54. but vary according to date of purchase.  Event to benefit military members in need.  Check it out at corkanddraft.com.
WineSellar & Brasserie has a “They make wine Where? Tasting Wed. Aug. 19th in Sorrento Valley .  Cost is $15.  Call 858-450-9557.

Rancho Valencia  in Rancho Santa Fe is the perfect setting for the great wines of Napa Valley in a Vintners Series, Fri. Sept. 4th from 7 to 9pm.  Theme is “Valley Floor vs Hillside .” Cost is $75. Also live music and gourmet style food stations compliment the wines, including:  Tierra Roja, Round Pond Estate, Spring Mountain , and St. Supery Estate among others.  Located on the beautiful Croquet Lawn.  RSVP at 858-759-6246.

Arterra Gets Back to Greatness with a Wine-Paired Menu

by Frank Mangio
To be a premier chef in an ever-changing signature restaurant located in a marquee hotel like a Marriott, takes some doing.

In baseball, they would call you a Centerfielder, able to handle any culinary challenge.  With Arterra, Executive Chef Evan Cruz has seen it all with his learning expeditions around the world, picking up savory tips from such places as Korea , other Asian capitals and every European center of food excellence.  He’s San Diego born and raised and has worked with Roy Yamaguchi at Roy’s and Bernard Guilles at La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club.  At Arterra, he has great support from Chef Andrew Hoh with his signature Sushi, with eclectic flavors and new Sushi inventions in an indoor-outdoor setting.

The new, greater food and wine menu at Arterra in Del Mar’s Marriott is in the capable hands of Executive Chef Evan Cruz and Sushi Chef Andrew Hoh.

Chef Cruz is inventive with his menus and wine pairings.  “As soon as I get a menu out, I want to change it.  It’s the freedom of ideas that abound in the culinary global world,” he asserted.  “And now that fresh and local are so important, new and different flavors are what diners want.” He pointed to his Duck Steam Buns and Short Rib Bulgogi as overwhelming “Sample” favorites, not seen on other menus, helping to bring back Arterra to greatness.

Pam Schwartz is Restaurant Manager and covets her responsibility with the wine list.  She waited until she understood exactly what was being brought to the table before selecting a wine match, in this case the Duck Steam Buns.  Out came a white Riesling from Kung Fu Girl in Washington state.

The entrée, a specially  prepared Delmonico Steak( a Ribeye without the bone) with wild mushrooms, had equally special wine with it:  a 2005 Gevrey Chambertin Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux France .

To make a reservation and see more, visit arterrarestaurant.com

Vittorio’s and Benziger-Wine Dinner Partners
 Benziger Family Winery of Sonoma has been seen in frequent appearances in the San Diego area lately.  Benziger most recently partnered up with Vittorio’s in Carmel Valley for a Mediterranean 4 course dinner to match up with such Benziger favorites as the 2013 Chardonnay, the 2012 Pinot Noir, the 2013 Merlot and a “Tribute” 2012 Estate Bordeaux Blend.  Not to be outdone, Vittorio’s had a flavorful grilled flat iron steak with red wine sauce. Vittorio’s continues to be the low price wine dinner leader with the 4 courses plus dessert and 5 wines for $49.50.  They do them monthly.  RSVP at 858-538-5884.


Mark Burningham of Benziger Wines with Nicole Gilbert
of Kobrand Distributors  seen popping the corks at Vittorio’s.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Wine Guru Discovered at Whole Foods

Michael Langdon is a person who knows and loves wine.  For Whole Foods Market in downtown Encinitas, he’s the go-to guy for wine sales.  The aisles are as entertaining as I have ever seen, a crazy-quilt of signs, directions, buy-me statements on barrels, 24 hour specials, and he even has one on the story of a wine he helped make, Zinful Daze.

A collaboration of Langdon and local San Diego vintner Tim Bacino of Gen 7 wines, this wine is only sold at Whole Foods Market. Zinful Daze is as Langdon puts it, “a reminder of how wonderful it is to live in Southern California .  I made a lively blend of Zinfandel (85%) and a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon (15%).  It’s exploding with plum flavors, black cherry and currents with a rich mouthfeel and a subtle hint of spice.($17.99)”



Michael Langdon is the wine buyer for Whole Foods Market in downtown Encinitas.

Langdon has been a wine buyer for Whole Foods in Encinitas since it opened some 4 years ago.
Since then, a steady stream of new customers have come walking through the doors, leaning on the sage advise of this wine guru for what’s new, and for special pricing that Langdon has been able to get to pass on to customers. He constantly seeks local and regional wineries such as Temecula and San Diego County , something you just don’t see elsewhere.  Even a few brands from the Guadalupe Valley in Baja show up.

Customers can be slow to try these wines, but Langdon tells them they are amazingly good.  And he’s right!  Southern California has the same climate as Tuscany Italy, Spain and other countries in the Mediterranean corridor.  “I see some real interest lately in the Italian and southern French styles like Sangiovese, Barbera, Primitivo and Viognier.  Of course we have lots of Cabs and Chardonnays. They are still the most popular sellers.  It’s summer so Sauvignon Blanc is a wine in demand, especially California style. Oh, and don’t forget Sangria, both red and white.”

Langdon has over 700 wines on the shelves.  He believes in every one of them.  “I stock consumer friendly wines, what counts and what sells.  My customers will buy better wines.  The average bottle price is now $20., the top rows in price and quality.” As for the Guru label, his customers gave him that name.  “It’s like a badge of honor,” he says.  And he wears it well.  The local Whole Foods number is 760-274-1580.


Westerly is a Name to Know in Santa Barbara
The wines made from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo are catching my eye and my palate, and Westerly Wines are right up there with the best.  That coastal mountain range that runs North and South takes a fascinating turn in an area called Happy Canyon , in the Santa Ynez Valley North of Santa Barbara.  This funnels wind and fog resulting in a beneficial diurnal effect of heating and cooling that grapes love.

Westerly wines has an enviable range of wines made by winemaker Adam Henkel who came to Westerly from the famous Harlan Estate in Napa Valley, and is applying the relentless approach to quality that he participated in at Harlan.  The wines read like a who’s who of greatness: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and an array of red and white blends.  One such white blend was my sentimental favorite, brimming with Rhone Valley flavors, the 2013 Westerly Fletcher’s White.  Deep gold in color, it has 37% Sauvignon Blanc, 24% Semillon, 22% Roussanne and 17% Viognier. ($30.). There is limited production in all varietals. See westerlywines.com.

Wine Bytes

The Wine Vault in San Diego will be presenting a Margerum 5 course wine dinner Mon. Aug. 3rd at 6:30pm.  Cost is $59.50. Owner Doug Margerum will be there.  Wine is from the Santa Barbara area.  RSVP at 619-295-3939.

Capri Blu in Rancho Bernardo is hosting a wine dinner featuring our feature wine, Westerly from Santa Barbara , Wed. Aug. 5th at 6pm. Five delicious courses with 5 great Westerly wines. Price is $55. pp.  Call for places at 858-673-5100.

A Jazz and Wine Festival will be staged at Grand Tradition in Fallbrook Sat. Aug. 22nd  starting at 4pm.  It will headline David Benoit and Jane Monheit, with other bands.  Food sampling, with beer and wine garden. Advance general admission is $35. and higher with VIP selections.  Bring blankets and low lawn chairs with General admission.  Look at grandtradition.com/jazz-wine-festival.

The Fairmont Grand Del Mar and its Clubhouse Grill is planning a Ballast Point Brewing Dinner Thurs. Aug. 6 from 6:30 to 8:30pm.  Savour 4 courses of delicious cuisine, paired with a unique craft brew.  $50.. ea.  RSVP at 858-314-2700.

Enter Pala’s CAVE for Wine, Food & Luciano

by Frank Mangio
One of the most attractive caves I’ve had the opportunity to visit is the new underground CAVE at Pala Casino, Spa and Resort , east of Interstate 15 on Highway 76, in North San Diego County .
You can enjoy dinner on the casino level, then descend into 2,400 square feet of cellar space which is an underground wine cave, plush with oversize leather tables and chairs, a stage for music and a bar that has access to 480 of the greatest wines in the world.




                     Executive Chef Luciano Cibelli welcomes all to Pala Casino’s new
underground wine CAVE for lounge dining, fine wine and entertainment.
 
The cuisine in the dining room is distinctly Mediterranean with an Italian flair, prepared by international chef Luciano Cibelli. This man has a personality that, once you meet him, you will
not forget his style, talent in the kitchen and his focused pairings of wine and food.  “I speak five languages and know the best cuisine of each country,” Luciano revealed.  “I have been at Pala for 14 years now. We opened Mama’s Restaurant in 2002 just before the hotel opened with 507 rooms.  Now we have the best Mediterranean food with CAVE and a small and large bites menu.” I asked him for his favorite on the menu and he had a quick answer. “Very hard to say.  That’s like asking a Mamma which is her favorite son!”

It wasn’t hard for me to choose some delicious entrees, starting with a lovely presentation  of Burrata, a soft cheese specialty surrounded by slow-roasted Italian tomato with herbs. For my pasta, I chose a Tomato Risotto.



A perfectly prepared Burrata is the appetizer of choice at CAVE
in the Pala Casino in north San Diego County.

The Risotto choices change daily and affords the Risotto lover a collection of flavors which give new meaning to “come back for more.”  The large bite entrée was one for the books.  Chef Luciano presented a double cut Colorado lamb chop with plenty of rosemary and garlic, in a Cabernet wine sauce.  Truly a gift from culinary heaven.

I chose two red wines to wash this dinner combination down:  the 2011 Trione Pinot Noir from Sonoma and a 2008 Banfi Brunello Di Montalcino from Tuscany Italy that enhanced the flavor of the lamb as a perfect pairing should.  The new CAVE has entertainment every Friday and Saturday night.  The larger venue outdoor Starlight Theater presents marquee stars.  Huey Lewis and the News are playing Thursday July 30th at 8pm, with tickets still available.  Call the Pala box office at 1- 877-946-7252, or go to startickets.com.

Wine Spectator Releases Honor Roll of Top Wine Restaurants
Wine Spectator, with the largest subscription of any wine magazine, has named  restaurants with the highest quality wine lists in three rated categories, including a Grand Award for the Addison in the Fairmont Grand Del Mar.  Other San Diego high-award winners include:  Amaya at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar; Marina Kitchen; Mille Fleurs; Mister A’s; Veladora at Rancho Valencia and Winesellar & Brasserie.

Wine Bytes

Solare Ristorante at Liberty Station San Diego presents a Fortaleza Tequila Tasting Dinner, Sat. July 25th from 6:30 to 9:30pm. This is a four course dinner by Chef Acursio. $54. for the dinner and $19. for the Fortaleza .  Call 619-270-9670 for an RSVP.

PAON Restaurant and Wine Bar has a Wines of Piemonte Italy event featuring Genevieve Edwards, Italian wine specialist, Wed. July 29th from 6 to 8pm.  Cost is $20.  Call for details at 760-729-7377.

Vittorio’s in Carmel Valley has an all-Spain wine dinner Thurs. July 30th at 6pm.  4 different wineries will be highlighted.  $49.50 pp.  Call for an RSVP at 858-538-5884.

A Cakebread Napa Valley wine dinner is planned for CUSP Dining and Drinks in La Jolla , atop the La Jolla Hotel, Sun. July 26th at 7pm.  Cost is $50. pp.  and includes a 4 course dinner and 4 Cakebread wines.  RSVP at 858-551-3620.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Summertime is Wine Time

by Frank Mangio
It’s as if someone blew a whistle and the 4th of July, the ultimate backyard party holiday, came and went. My neighbors like to party at home and in other neighbors homes, so we all did a “progressive” BBQ and wine soiree before the fireworks took over all the fun. There are still many nice evenings left and after a long day’s work list, nothing beats a backyard party, so let your summer lifestyle show and take you guests to somewhere else in the wine world.

Ray & Loretta Falkner have followed their marketing instincts for unusual yet stylish wines for 15 years, having founded Falkner Winery in Temecula in the year 2000. They did well with Mediterranean style wine like Syrah, Viognier, Sangiovese and Super Tuscan style wines.


Ray Falkner of Falkner Winery in Temecula with his Luscious Lips wine,
part of a “Seductive Series” four pack.


 Then they got inventive with marketing and created the ultimate party wines, first with a Luscious Lips bottle in a white or red varietal. There is even a Luscious Lips bright Rosato pink wine. The sensual strawberry and cranberry flavors pair beautifully with summer parties. Then there is the gold medal winning Risque Riesling with a semi-dry taste of pear, cinnamon and spice.  Package it all up and you have the Seductive Series of four wines.  Each bottle is not more than $19.95, with a discount for the four-wine series.  Even bigger discounts are featured in the Crush Club. See falknerwinery.com.

Over at Milagro Farm Vineyards & Winery outside of Ramona, an influx of investors, a new winemaker known as “the Mexican Mondavi,” and ambitious inside and outside renovation, have made this winery a popular summertime favorite. Their party recommendation is a “Milagro Spitzer,” with their Aleatico Port and other ingredients like Lavendar Cola Syrup. Milagrofarmvineyards.com.

The French drink more Rose’ than any other country, about 16 bottles per year, that courtesy of Wine Spectator.  This pink wine makes for a sweet fruity flavor to keep the party going.

Thanks to wineries like Pedroncelli of Sonoma, California Rose’ is abundant and getting recognized. Pedroncelli makes a Dry Rose’ of Zinfandel with a mixed berry and cream soda flavor that makes you coming back for more. They pick and produce in virtually the same year with the current vintage at 2014. ($12.) Pedroncelli.com.

“Life is full of flavor” and that really applies to summer party wines.  I want you to try a couple of fun wines from Argentina :  Decopas Sauvignon Blanc from Bodega Trivento with youthful refreshing  flavors, and Trivento Reserve Torrontes, both from Mendoza . ($11. each) See triventousa.com.

Let’s turn to Chile for a fun Chardonnay with a great story for partygoers, the Casillero del Diablo.
The “cellar of the devil” comes from Chile ’s premier winery, Concho Y Toro.  This is light yellow in color with aromas of pineapple, citrus and vanilla. ($12.) This one, like most others we have suggested, are topped with twist caps, so convenient for party people.  No corkscrews, no problem! Casillerodeldiablo.com.

Wine Bytes
Harry’s Bar & American Grill on La Jolla Village Dr. across from UTC in La Jolla has a 5 course dinner paired with 5 fine Italian wines featuring a Masi Amarone 2010, Wed. July 22nd at 6:30pm.  Cost is $85. ea.  Call 858-373-1252.

Il Fornaio in Coronado presents “Balcone Siciliano” Thurs. July 23rd with a reception at 6pm, dinner at 6:30pm.  This is fine Sicilian food with wines from Planeta in Sicily , moderated by wine expert Marco Barat.  Feature wine with this 5 course meal is the Planeta Etna Rosso 2013. $60. per person. RSVP at 619-437-4911.

North County Wine Company in San Marcos has a 5th year wine celebration, Fri. and Sat. July 24th and 25th, from 4 to 10pm.  Two tasting events on Friday, one is $10. and the other $35. It includes spectacular Napa Valley Reds like:  Caymus, Overture by Opus One, and Kathryn Hall Cabernet. Sat. enjoy $10. flutes of Roederer L’Ermitage Brut, as well as 50 cent tastes on a wide variety of wines. Raffle drawings and food both days. Details at northcountywinecompany.com.

Wine & Wishes, a premier wine and food tasting event that benefits Make a Wish kids in San Diego and Imperial County , will be presented Sun. July 26th from 4pm to 7pm at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa.  Napa Valley wines and other quality names, along with delectable food from top restaurants, will be offered.  The event will include silent and live auctions, luxury raffle and live entertainment.  Complimentary valet.  Tickets are $200. ea.  Visit bidpal.net/wineandwishessd.com, or call 619-279-5211.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Top Ten Tastes 1st Half of 2015

by Frank Mangio

Half the year 2015 has already gone, so how many new wines have you tasted in the last 6 months. Better yet how many would you buy again?

Well, I am happy to report that, despite more than a few personal afflictions, this first half of 2015 I managed to be in the middle of about 75 wine events ( plus a few Tequila events).  I’m happy to report that half of my top ten wines, are brands that I had not tasted before this year. White wines are on the rebound, including white blends.  I have 3 on my list.  Italian wines continue their renaissance in Southern California, thanks to restaurants like Solare and Vittorio’s in San Diego, and Thornton Winery in Temecula.
 
Napa Valley captured 4 places, Italy 3, Paso Robles 1, Washington 1, and a San Diego winemaker and owner with a beautiful Pinot Noir from grapes in Sta. Rita Hills above Santa Barbara . All 10 wines are rated equally. Alphabetical considerations cause their place in the ten.  Prices shown are listed in the wine’s web site or best values in wine stores.

Banfi Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy, 2010.  $65.  The 2009 vintage was in the top 10  last year.  This one shows more finesse, intensity and flavor.  Structured, long finish from rich fruity roots of Sangiovese.  A five year wait for this princely wine. Castellobanfi.com.

Castello di Amorosa Chardonnay, La Rocca Napa Valley , 2013.  $38.  A dry, single vineyard white wine, fermented and aged in concrete egg-shaped vessels. From the legendary Bien Nacido Vineyard in cool Santa Maria CA. Handcrafted in the ancient concrete method, that imparts richness without oak. Lively acidity. Castellodiamorosa.com.

Coomber Family Ranch Pinot Noir, San Diego/St Rita Hills Ca. 2013. $74.99  A big Pinot with Central Coast grapes.  Aged in Oak to bring out flavors of cinnamon, cherry and spices. Based in San Diego .  Coomberwines.com.

Etude Chardonnay, Carneros Napa Valley , 2012. $14.  A work of art, rich and vibrant fruit, harking back to the natural days of minimalist Chardonnay. Apple, pear and citrus. Etudewines.com.

Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley , 2012.  $65.  The thinking man’s Cab.  A touch of Merlot Petit Verdot and Cab Franc. Organically crafted in a perfect vintage that winds up more complex than the sum of its parts.   More intelligence at grgich.com.

Hill Family Merlot, Napa Valley , 2012.  $19.95.  Fourth generation farm family, they know to balance the vineyards before harvest, for depth and character.  After years of growing grapes for others, they have their family name on the best of the crop.  Hillfamilyestate.com.

Pepper Bridge Seven Hills, Walla Walla Wa. , 2012.  $60. Another great Washington wine where wines are made in the vineyard, according to winemaker Jean-Francois Pellet.  “It’s all about striking the right balance.,” said Pellet. Finesse, elegance and a long finish. Mostly Cab, with Merlot and Cab Franc.  Pepperbridge.com.

San Felice Pugnitello , Tuscany It., 2010.  $55.95.  From the ancient vineyards of San Felice, this grape contends with Sangiovese as the patron grape of Tuscany .  Intense purple-red.  Velvety with massive fruit taste.  From the 30 year winemaker Leonardo Bellacini.


  
Bruno Cumar of Madellena Distributors, Leonardo Bellacini San Felice winemaker and Solore Restaurant owner Randy Smerik before a capacity dinner turnout.
 

Thornton Winery Barbera, Temecula CA .  2013.  $44. Winner of the sweepstakes prize for Best Red Wine at the  2015 Riverside International Wine Competition.  Winemaker David Vergari handpicked these Italian grapes from across the street from Thornton .  French Oak superior treatment secures the raspberry and blueberry aromas.  This is a cellar-worthy wine.  Thorntonwine.com.

Treana White, Paso Robles, 2013.  $16.  The 3rd of our whites to hit the charts, this one is actually a white blend, rare in the wine industry.  It’s a Rhone Valley French style Marsonne and Viognier.  Bright tropical flavors of stone fruit and honey.  Crisp acidity enhances most dishes. Hopefamily.com.

The New Way to Enjoy Jazz, Brunch and your Favorite Beverage

Tuscany is an Italian Restaurant in a sweet spot in Carlsbad ’s La Costa, at a busy shopping center at El Camino Real and Alga Rd. Since its beginnings in the early 90’s, its always had fine food, and a busy bar with an occasional piano player.


A Live Jazz Brunch on Sundays at Tuscany is drawing music lovers  and diners.  The Tuscany House Band features left to right:  Rick Ross, Althea Elaine Smith and Danny Dicarlo.

 A change of ownership was made recently when a Los Angeles musician with a dream of showcasing award winning entertainment, with fine wine and food, took the musical wraps off Tuscany. Danny DiCarlo, a musician himself, has been putting the final touches on a musical program at Tuscany that’ s been long overdue in North San Diego County .  It starts at the piano bar where nightly, your favorite easy listening live music is heard seven nights week.

The lounge area has been enlarged with lots of room for small bites and your favorite glass of wine  for a short stay. But if your like a lot of friends of mine, there’s lots of reasons to make Tuscany a place to stay longer and make a night of it with  some friends.  The occasional showroom events are becoming a key reason for Tuscany ’s success.  On a given date, you might see award winning comedy, opera, a full-house Jazz band or a favorite singer.

“This is a California inspired Italian restaurant ,” DiCarlo said, when asked about how he would describe Tuscany. “With our piano lounge, live entertainment showroom and Sunday morning Jazz, we have a wide selection of food, wine, cocktails and entertainment,  in a casual sophisticated setting.”

Getting back to the “New Way to Enjoy Jazz with Brunch and Beverages,” Tuscany’s Live Jazz Brunch, served from 10:30 to 2:30pm, is shaping up to be a Sunday go-to meeting place. The Smooth Jazz is intimate with diners and has an uptown sound.  The menu is versatile and Italian in flavor.  Diners can choose from ala carte traditional favorites, with the luxury of 7 brick- oven pizza choices.  “Now that’s Italian” describes a unique choice of several luscious omelettes  like the Tuscany Traditional and the Sicilian Three Cheese. I took the advice of my favorite Italian waiter, Pino Battalico, a legend among Italian food specialists.

 His advice…“you have to choose the Danny D’Omelette, named after our owner Danny DiCarlo, and I want you to have it with a Banfi Chianti Classico Reserve from Italy , vintage 2011.”  Ingredients include:  smoked ham, Italian sausage, salami, bacon, cheddar cheese, roasted tomatoes, wild arugula, spicy Srirachi Aioli and served with roasted potatoes.  All this with Jazz music to make it perfect!  Six other omelette selections await you at Tuscany . To learn more about this lovely Italian restaurant, be sure to search their web site at tuscanylacosta.com.  Tickets to the stage shows are also available at the site.  For dining reservations, call 760-929-8111.

 Wine Bytes
Twenty/20  restaurant in the Sheraton Carlsbad has a 4th of July American BBQ Buffet, 5pm to 9pm.  Live music , exclusive terrace seating for viewing fireworks.  Cost is $50. for adults, $25. for children. Under 3 gets in free.  Book now at 760-827-2500.

Falkner Winery in Temecula is celebrating their 15th Anniversary from Fri. July 3rd to Sun. July 5th. Free concerts Sat. and Sun. from Noon to 3pm, winery tours, huge discounts on wines, outdoor BBQs, lunch specials at the Pinnacle Restaurant.  Wine raffle drawing each hour, from 11am to 5pm.  Details by calling 951-676-8231 x1.