Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Taste of Wine Finds: August/September 2016

by Frank Mangio

Here and there during California’s Wine Month
The past month or so have been a merry-go-round, with the emphasis on merry. Both pre-events celebrating Wine Month in California in September, and merry-making in September  and its final days have been stuffed with tributes to this great state and its elegant wine industry, twenty one events to be exact. I wrote a column on the unique history of California wines presented by Coasterra Restaurant on San Diego ’s Harbor Island with the knowledgeable experience of Maurice DiMarino at work.

September took me to San Luis Obispo with its heritage of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with many of the wineries just a few  miles from the brisk fog of the Central Coast , something that Pinot lovers know is the living breathing life- giving nutrition for this quirky grape. I will get into the details of these two events in a later column.

Two standouts for the wine celebration were the Pala Casino Food & Wine Festival and the Palomar College Starlit Gala featuring Lorimar wines. Just goes to again prove that there is a market for wine events in just about any venue.

Pala is a short run from San Diego County and they have recently worked very hard to establish their wine program as a leading one for resorts and casino in the district. Their CAVE underground wine bar and restaurant has caused and increase in interest for wine.  Their first annual Food & Wine Festival drew 50 big names, mostly in California to nearly dovetail with the California wine month theme. They staged it along with a feast of food sampling from their many restaurants, at a time frame of 4 to 8pm on a Sunday, next to their big-time concert Starlight theatre. Wines included: Banfi and Santa Margherita from Italy, Oyster Bay from New Zealand , Daou, Justin and Wild Horse from Paso Robles, Dry Creek, J Vneyards and Ferrari Carano from Sonoma and many Napa Valley brands like Beaulieu, Beringer, Robert Mondavi and Trinitas.  An creative idea I applauded was the spacious tables and comfy chairs placed so that all of the large guests attandees could sit and spread out their food and wine to their comfort.  Bravo! Check out more at

Palomar College Starlit Gala chooses Lorimar Wines
Palomar College in my days when I struggled with 2 jobs and a night education, provided me with a 2 year college degree that I took to San Diego State University to acquire a 4 year Journalism and Advertising degree with honors.  So it was with great pleasure that  accepted an invitation to their 25th annual Gala With the added pleasure of wines from Lorimar Vineyards and winery in Temecula.

The full-house guest list included Congressman Darrel Issa from the 49th District that includes Palomar College . His wife Kathy Issa was honored with the Comet Award for her philanthropic
Work with education. Lorimar gifted the school several cases of their 2015 Viognier and the 2012 Cabernet Franc. I was high bidder on several of their Lorimar Medley 2012 Meritage blends.

At Lorimar, they craft wines that are approachable with a fruit forward style that showcases the Temecula Valley . This one is 60% Cabernet, 20% Merlot, along with Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Learn  more at

Perfect Score: Indelible Inflection for a Modern Winery in Napa Valley
Finally, a book about a modern winery of this century, authored by the individuals that lived it, is published for all to read.  The book, a Perfect Score, The Art, Soul and Business of a 21st-Century Winery, is written in an honest and straight-forward way by Craig and Kathryn Hall.

The Halls open their minds and hearts to the powerful passion for what can be described as true millenial wineries, Hall and Walt, constructed and operated after the year 2000, in Rutherford and St. Helena, Napa Valley . They open the book with a real, pixy-like symbol of the Halls success, “Bunny Foo Foo,” a 35 foot long stainless steel sculpture seemingly jumping over the Hall vineyards in St. Helena . “Bunny Foo Foo really represents our wine experience at the intersection of of art, nature, globalization and technology,” exclaimed Kathryn Hall.  “Our personalities and passions have dictated our decisions and shaped everything, from the design of our wineries to the taste of the wine.”

Proof of that winning taste is evident in the book title A Perfect Score.  That came on October 31, 2013 when, in a personal letter to the Halls, Robert Parker, the wine world’s most renowned wine critic, awarded their 2010 HALL Exzelenz Cabernet Sauvingon a perfect 100 points. How the Halls got to that point in their wine careers, is full of flash points and they aren’t all rainbows.

There was the year in the late 90’s when they didn’t yet have their own winery but had wine made for them by the famed Rombauer winery. Late one night, the Rombauer warehouse burned down and took with it, 2,200 cases of Hall wine leaving the Halls with no wine to sell for 2 years and no insurance on the disaster.  It took a hero’s resolve to get going again.

The style of this book had me wanting more with each of the 22 chapters. Like “Bunny Foo Foo,” it bounces through a number of fascinating topics on the winding road to success. Most chapters have both Kathryn and Craig pausing in their story to be interviewed 20/20 style, commenting on the
poignant moments in their lives that relate to each chapter’s subject.

This book is really a love story on many levels, and it’s an American story of great passions and personalities.  Whether you are thinking about owning a vineyard and winery, or just enjoy an award-winning glass of wine, there I something rich and lively in A Perfect Score to inspire readers to follow their dreams.

Today, the Halls operate 500 acres of estate vineyards. They will be traveling across the country and signing books, and plan to stop at La Gran Terraza on the Campus of the University of San Diego on Tuesday November 15th.  The book is available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Books-A-Million. See their website at

Hall Winery’s latest 2013 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon will be served along with other lovely wines at a Hall and Walt Wine Diiner at SEASALT DEL MAR Seafood Bistro, Thursday September 29th starting at 6pm.  These  wines will be paired with the magnificent five course dinner planned by Seasalt owner Sal Ercolano.  The cost is only $54.95 per person. Call 858-755-7100 to reserve your place and an opportunity to savor Hall and Walt wines.

Carcofi with Full Bodied Reds are Sure to Please
Looking for a patio party pleaser with a distinctly Italian flavor to it? Look no further than Carcofi Ripieni for a desirable headliner, paired with a bevy of monster red wines with an Italian/California pedigree.

Artichokes are a fascinating bowl-like green vegetable with lots of nutritional value.  They are a very delicious treat when each leaf or bract of the Carcofi is stuffed with Italian delights such as grated
aged Pecorino cheese, Italian breadcrumbs with seasonings and sweet basil and crushed garlic, all drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and white wine.

You have to have time and patience to consume artichokes of any kind but especially stuffed Italian style.  The edible portion is the leaf pulp (also called flower buds) before the flowers come into bloom.  The base or heart of the plant is also edible and is the most delicious of this eat-by-hand meal.

Artichokes are healthy choices.  They contain the highest antioxidant ingredient reported for a vegetable and were first cultivated for eating by the Sicilians and popularized as a delicacy by the Greeks, Spanish, Italians and French.  In America , California produces 42,000 tons, with nearly 100% of the U.S. crop in the City of Castroville, proclaiming itself the “Artichoke Center of the World.”  But this is still far behind Italy with over 500 thousand tons produced.

Briefly, stuffed Carciofi is made after cutting off the top thorns of the leaves, and trimming the stem at the bottom.  Open the leaves and stuff with mixed breadcrumbs, grated cheese, ground garlic and sweet basil. Drizzle over the top of the leaves with olive oil and white wine. Place the artichokes in a baking dish with a small amount of water in the dish.  Cover the artichokes with foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 1 ½ hours.  The stuffed leaves should pull out easily when they are done. To eat, grab each leaf by the top and scrape out the pulp with the delicious stuffing, with your teeth.

Noted New York chef brings original dining to Carmel Valley
Chef Pascual Lorange is a culinary household name in New York City and some of the multi-starred dining houses of Europe. He was once the private chef for international singer Julio Iglesias.  Well, New York now has that sinking feeling and San Diego suddenly is looked up to as very attractive for must-dine restaurants, including Lorange’s new CRUDO.

I had the pleasure of interviewing this charming man who has raised the cooking bar for other restaurants in the city. He’s brought with him a creative bond for the menu which is somewhere between Mediterranean and Japanese-inspired infusions. He is convinced it’s the perfect fit for the SoCal coastal lifestyle and so do I. “I wanted to bring something new to San Diego but at the some tine, it had to be a sophisticated dining experience, yet affordable,” he enthused.  “CRUDO is a method of cooking fish and other seafood, although we have many selections on the menu like steak, chicken and lamb.”

Before I get into the inflection point of this amazing menu, I was joined by Jason Mosley, the General Manager and Wine Director, who opened four distinctly different wines, two whites and two reds, all of which can be ordered by the glass or bottle, and which pair perfectly with menu specialties that were  shaped for these wines.  “The whites cozy up to the many seafood delicacies and have great elegance to match the food,” he asserted.  “Chateau Ducasse is a Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc from 2012, fleshy with earth tones and minerality, and the Trefethen Napa Valley Chardonnay 2014 is natural with no butter or malolactic  to alter the original flavor.”  Over on the red side, Mosley presented a Louis Jadot Pinot Noir 2013 from Burgundy and a Terrior Cabernet 2014 from Napa Valley , a blend of some magnitude.  Mosely observed that “although all were young, it is now what the public wants, rather than wait for a presumed aging advantage.”

Every corner of CRUDO has a light, appealing color and design element to match the menu.  “It’s who I am as a chef,” declared Lorange. At CRUDO you must try the Papillote specialties. They are what are uniquely delicious about this inflection point restaurant.  The food is steamed into parchment paper, then slowly baked to perfection.  They include choices like:  Chicken, Lamb, Crudo Lobster and my personal favorite, the Chilean Sea Bass with marble potato confit, asparagus, leek, heirloom carrot, herbs tapenade and green olives.  Unforgettable. Visit at, or call for a reservation at 1-858-847-2797.

Avensole is the newest winery in Temecula
Avensole Winery, a beautiful 20 acre vineyard, winery and restaurant that sits on a petite lake off Rancho California road, is the 40th winery in Temcula.  Varietals include:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Muscat Canelli, old and new vine Zinfandel and Gewurztraminer. Bought by the Lytton Family in 2014, Avensole combined means one-of-a-kind adventure in Italian.  Grapes have been grown on this property for over 4 decades.  You might remember two of my nicest friends, Buddy and Cheri Linn, who operated the winery when it was La Cereza, a premium Spanish winery.  I’m certain they are pleased with the results of Avensole.  The winery has free live music on Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 8pm.  See or call 1-951-252-2003 x312.

Now on to the wines, a selection of six, with each guest encouraged to “taste them all and note the changes in taste with the Carciofi.” The wines chosen for this party were:

·        Gerard Bertrand Cote des Rose,’ France .  2015.  $12.
·        Cantina Zaccagnini Montepuciano , Italy . 2013  $12.
·        The Prisoner blend, Napa Valley , Ca.  2014. $35.
·        Ferrari Carano UNA blend, Sonoma Ca.  2014. $39.
·        Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley Ca. $75.

These wines range from light and airy with the Rose’ for those that love a wine that was simpatico with the artichoke flavor, to heavy bodied and tannic with the Cabernet for the guests that wanted a pairing with the strong garlic and cheesy element in the stuffing. One Carciofi is easily enough for a meal.  I suggest that all the food you need is in that one fat, plump artichoke.  More details on the recipe can be found at

September is California Wine Month.
Any day of the week, any month of the year is the time to celebrate the greatness of California wines.  But the table is set and the glass is full for California to shine in September so let’s toast the world’s most coveted wine country producing 120 grape varietals, more than  any country in the world.  Napa Valley, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, Temecula and yes, San Diego County, all produce more than 90% of all the wine in the U.S.  Some 3,500 wine producers dot the state.

Spanish missionaries began planting in the 1700’s.  The first commercial wineries started in Los Angeles in the 1830’s, then later in the century in Napa Valley and Sonoma .

Ponsaty’s – a Return to Elegance
Fifth generation Master French Chef Patrick Ponsaty has applied his masters touch to a new, elegant restaurant in Rancho Santa Fe, Ponsaty’s. It replaces Delicias at a key corner in the village. He was corporate chef at the Grand Restaurant Group which has partnered in the new operation.  As you enter

Ponsaty’s, the elegance is evident in the soft browns, greys and gold- toned massive Murano glass chandelier in the main dining room. Chef Patrick has created a menu that “features my family’s recipes and my visions from top to bottom,” he said.  He grew up in the south of France and started his career in cooking at age 15.  Next was Monaco, Spain, New York, and finally San Diego where he was chef  at the Rancho Bernardo Inn and his own Bernardo Restaurant. Recommended entrees include:  the Lightly Seared Cortez Corvina with Lobster-Saffron Risotto and the Lacquered Scottish Salmon with long-stem artichokes.  The winning wine was the 2009 Bonnacorsi Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara .  RSVP at 858-771-1871.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Dave Phinney – Mastermind of The Prisoner

by Frank Mangio
This is a story about “new world” wine in the Napa Valley and the meteoric rise of Dave Phinney, who had an idea about blending wine out of the box. You might say he released “the Prisoner” and freed him to hit a creative home run in the wine world.  But we digress.  The story started in 1995 when Phinney, confused about what he wanted out of life, took a friend’s advice and studied wine for a semester in Florence Italy .

Once graduated from university life, he set out to find work in a Napa Valley vineyard and found one at Robert Mondavi Winery in 1997. A year later he started his own winery, Orin Swift Cellars with 2 tons of Zinfandel, and not much else.

Master winemaker Dave Phinney is living the Napa Valley dream, when  in 2003 he created the now-famous blend The Prisoner at his Orin Swift Cellars winery, which has reportedly sold recently for 100 mlllion dollars to E. and J. Gallo wines.

He spent the next few years making wine for others as well as himself, experimenting with the way the wines tasted and looked, with mixing and expressive labeling.  It hit him in 2003, when he added together “mixed blacks,” like the old Italian immigrants who came to Napa Valley used to do.  He made Zinfandel the major varietal and added it to the standard traditional “black” blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Charbono.  He called it The Prisoner from the label he chose, an etching of a prisoner drawn by the famous artist Goya.

At first, the Prisoner produced just 385 cases in its first vintage.  It caught on quickly as the new world’s newest and tastiest blend, and eventually went to 85,000 cases in 10 years.  The last vintage of The Prisoner made by Phinney before he sold the name is the 2013 vintage.( $45.)  It has 44% Zinfandel with 20% Cabernet and 16% Petite Sirah, and the rest Grenache and Charbono.  Alcohol content is a hefty 15.2%.  It is a deep ruby red hue with aromas of black cherry and plum and roasted coffee beans, with a long finish.

It had me going back for more.  I was captivated. Without The Prisoner, Orin Swift and Dave Phinney went international with old vine Grenache made on 200 acres in the French Langedoc region as well as Napa Valley Cabernet brands like Mercury Head, Papillion and Palermo. Mannequin is a Chardonnay based brand and Abstract is a red blend mainly with Grenache.

Locations is a value brand lineup from places around the world. Look for a single large letter on the label. Most recently, this story  shot skyward when E. and J. Gallo, the legendary  decades-long  jug wine bottle company from Modesto, announced that it had acquired Phinney’s company, Orin Swift Cellars,  for a reported 100 million dollars. Phinney will remain in charge.  Learn more at

Antinori Wines at La Gran Terraza USD
Antinori, as most of us know, is one of the iconic Tuscan wines to know.  His family has been making wne since 1385. I learned about Italian wines from Piero Antinori and Wine Spectator when I first began TASTE OF WINE in 2005.  At a recent wine dinner at the University of San Diego ’s posh La Gran Terraza, the next chapter of Antinori was revealed by its Business Manager in Southern California , Alessia Botturi.

Alessia Botturi of Antinori Winery of Tuscany with La Gran Terraza manager
Luis Rosas as they display the Tormaresca wines.

It is the Antinori Tormaresca brand from the Puglia district of Italy.  Tormaresco means watchtower in Italian and they were built to keep away feudal empires from conquering Puglia , now more known for its Primitivo, a grape that closely resembles Zinfandel in California. The Tomraresca Toricicoda 2013 ($20.97) is closest to what we call Zinfandel.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Antinori’s legendary Tignanello, one of the first and best “Super Tuscans,” pioneer wines that were the first in Italy to blend the Sangiovese grape with other varietals. ($95.)  They now command very high prices, and are not made unless the vintage is among the best.  Details about La Gran Terraza and other wine dinners can be found at

Wine Bytes
Vittorio’s in Carmel Valley off the 56 will be presenting a Cakebread Cellars wine dinner, Thurs. Aug. 25th at 6pm.  This well respected Napa Valley winery will be paired with Vittroio’s splendid dinner menus featuring Beef Wellington and Cakebread’s Cabernet. Cost is $59.50 pp. RSVP at  858-538-5884.

Decoy Dockside in Lake San Marcos has its Sneak Preview special event for the new restaurant, Sat. Aug. 27th from 6 to 10pm.  Cost is $100. ea.  Enjoy complimentary welcome cocktail, appetizers, chef demos, live music and a fireworks spectacular.  RSVP at 619-236-8397.

Live at Lake Henshaw at Santa Ysabel, a food, wine and music festival across from the Roundup Grill.  Date is Sun. Aug. 28th from 11 to 5pm.  Cost is $30 to benefit Shelter to Soldier.  Music by Steelhorse Country. Wine from Ramona Ranch Winery.  Tickets by calling 760-782-2729.

California State University San Marcos is offering its next course in the Certificate for Wine, Beer and Spirits, starting Sept. 8th and emphasizing craft beer.  Fee is $269.  More info at

Friday, August 5, 2016


by Don Nunn

To any world traveler (as diametrically opposed to tourist), experiencing the indigenous customs of the host country is welcomed as an interesting and educational opportunity to learn about another culture.  The French greet virtually every stranger on the sidewalk going in the opposite direction with “Bonjour” (contrary to their reputation among American tourists as being somewhat stuffy), and the Scots accompany every (always hearty) breakfast with the world’s best bacon.   Sparkling wine available to mix with the ever present orange juice (if so inclined), and warm milk for the coffee are ubiquitous Portuguese breakfast offerings.

After leaving Porto, our Portugal journey continued northward, with the next stop being the Pousada de Guimarães Santa Marinha, a completely restored monastery (Mosteiro).  Proof that true craftsmen still exist (at least in Europe) is everywhere evident in the restored historical edifices throughout the continent, and Portugal proved to be no exception.

Guimaraes from Pousada

The monastery at Guimarães has been restored architecturally as needed, but the new and refurbished masonry work is indistinguishable from the original, of which a large part remains.  Plumbing and electrical is installed in historical buildings constructed centuries ago, but is done in such a way that the wires and pipes are unnoticeable.  The magnificent end result is a four star hotel in an historical building furnished with all of the modern conveniences, including a fine dining restaurant.  Yet the guest walks the same cloisters, and muses contemplatively in the same terraces and courtyards, as the Augustinian Monks who built and occupied it starting eight centuries ago.

Most of the antiques that now fill the Pousada are hotel furnishing additions that enhance the atmospheric surroundings, but were not present when the monks walked the halls.  No doubt, however, the stark and uncomfortable looking benches that line the long and spacious corridors of the present Pousada were familiar to the spartan lives of those long ago monks.   Sternly self-disciplined by their religious vows, living rigorously simple lives, perhaps those monks would not approve of the comfort that permeates their hotel monastery today, but I certainly did.

Terrace at Pousada de Guimaraes

The Pousada sits, as did its predecessor monastery, high on a hill with a commanding view over the valley below, in which reposes the substantial town of Guimarães.  My favorite place in the Pousada was a very large terraço (terrace) at the end of a long hallway of guest rooms on the top story of the former religious edifice.  I found it early in my customary exploration just after checking into our room.  The terrace was centered with a 15 foot high fountain, covered on its one enclosed side wall with giant azulejo (tile) panels depicting historical themes (everything here was overly spacious or of large stature) , and overlooked Guimarães far below.

Open on three sides and supported by immense (of course) stone columns, the terrace was mostly shaded from the afternoon sun and provided the perfect place to relax, enjoy the view, and reflect upon the satisfaction of finding such an atmospheric lodging in which to spend the night.  The terraço was intended for the common use of all hotel guests, but we happily found ourselves entirely alone to soak up the ambience.

Pousada de Guimaraes

Guimarães was Portugal’s first capital and also the birthplace of Afonso Henriques, the first King.  Its history dates back to the 10th Century, and the medieval town center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

One custom that I could do without is the meal cover charge, 4€ each at this location.  Nevertheless it is a small price to pay for the enjoyment of a relaxing dinner amongst the stone columns and buried memories of the dining area in this historical monastery.   The restaurant area was filled on all sides by many more azulejo panels.  As these panels are done in cobalt blue, are mostly antiques themselves (fifty or more to hundreds of years old), and depict primarily historical themes, I knew before embarking on the trip that I would be a fan.  Of all the things I like about Portugal, the Azulejo Panels are certainly my favorite (yes, even more than Port).

 Dining Room Pousada de Guimaraes

Dinner tonight consisted of a cured duck salad with pine nuts & raspberry vinaigrette starter, intermezzo of carpaccio with melon ice cream, fig jam, and herbed crème cheese, and main course of filet mignon, with a side dish of mushrooms and rice served in a cast iron pot.

The wine this night was a red from the Dão region.  The name comes from the Dão River.  The Dão is a mountainous region of north central Portugal, a little east of Guimarães, and is favored with a moderate climate.  The Dão has its own DOC, and for the Dão DOC to be on the label, it must be produced with at least 20% Touriga Nacional grapes.  The wine I had was blended with a mouthful of other Portuguese varietals.  The cost of the wine was consumer friendly.

This was the best meal of the trip thus far.  On my own personal 5 point scale for food quality,  I rated it 4+, a score that was only equaled or exceeded twice in three weeks, and both of those other times were in surprising locations.

In our next installment, we continue still farther north, to the Peneda-Gerês National Park, which demarcates a portion of Portugal’s border with northwest Spain.  The National Park is a mountainous area of forests, lakes, and remarkable beauty. 

Cool Down with Viognier and other White Wines

by Frank Mangio 
The first time I put my lips to a Viognier wine it was love at first taste. This white wine, so thirst-quenching and delicious, deserves better. Its roots are deeply laid in the northern Rhone Valley of France and is the only permitted grape for the French wine Condrieu in the Rhone. Viognier is hard to pronounce and is lagging way behind the leader of the white wine pack, Chardonnay.

First let’s get the pronunciation right. It’s (Vee-on-Yay) and like Chardonnay, Viognier has the potential to produce full-bodied complex white wine, with a pretty, golden hue to it to tempt the palate. Unlike most simpler whites, both Chardonnay and Viognier age well, so it’s not unusual to see a year or two of vintage on the label.  Another interesting thing about this wine is that it blends well  with other whites. Our friends at Robert Renzoni in Temecula Valley make a Cantata blend with 60% Pinot Grigio and 40% Viognier.  Lots of apple and pear on the nose, with a hint of pineapple on the finish.

 Viognier grapes are bursting with notes of fruit like Peach, Pear and Mango,
and it does well in Temecula Wine Country.

 Viognier seems to have found a home in Southern California. A number of wineries in Temecula have embraced its heat-loving properties and distinguished palatable accents. Besides Robert Renzoni, several other wineries feature Viognier in their white wine lineup.  Falkner Winery has always done well and Ray Falkner was an early believer in the varietal.  His new release Viognier is a gold medal winner, grown on the estate.  White peach, pineapple, key lime and honeysuckle are clear plate-pleasing fruits, evident in Falkner Viognier. South Coast does well with their entry.  Aromas of peach and nectarine dominate, along with a velvety finish, evident in all Viogniers.

Maurice Car’rie Winery is an all-white varietal winery and its Viognier is accented with apricot , Asian pear notes and citrus blossom.  Most Viogniers will be in the $20. price point. Viognier was out of favor and in the 60’s, with  just a few acres in the northern Rhone Valley of France. The popularity and price of the grape has risen since then.  It’s a difficult grape to grow and prone to mildew and up and down yields. A just-right Viognier will have a high level of sugar with high alcohol and perfume, compared to other whites. Source

Pinnacle at the Top for Lunch in Temecula Wine Country
 Pinnacle Restaurant, high atop a lookout with a sweeping view of Temecula Wine Country is Falkner Winery’s premium lunch restaurant. Executive Chef Gianni Ciciliot has fashioned a food lover’s menu that pairs well with the many marquee varietals, headlined by the Falkner 2012 Amante Super Tuscan red blend, my wine of the month for August. August is Lobster Fest month at Pinnacle.

Each week Chef Gianni presents this elite seafood in a unique way.  This weekend dine on Maine Lobster charbroiled with garlic butter, whipped Boursin cheese mashed potatoes, asparagus and a triple onion cream sauce. Lunch is served daily from 11:30 to 3:30pm.  RSVP by calling 951-676-8231 x4.

Wine Bytes
Gianni Buonomo Vintners, San Diego ’s first beach winery in Ocean Beach has a new wine release gala, Fri. Aug. 12th at 7pm, paired with several favorite restaurants. The 2013’s  include Rhone style blends, Bordeaux inspired blends and a Super Tuscan style Sangiovese. The winery will introduce their new label, Gianni California .  Ticket info at

It’s Summer in Pink at Cucina Enoteca Del Mar, Sat. Aug. 13th from 2 to 4pm.  5 Rose’ samples will be offered along with an impressive anti pasti spread by chef Joe Mangnanelli.  Cost is $40.  Call 858-704-4500 for an RSVP.

Il Fornaio with locations in Coronado and Del Mar presents its Sicilia Fest Regionale dishes, now til Aug. 21st.  Specially crafted menu delights from the island of Sicily .

La Costa Wine on El Camino Real in Carlsbad has a beer and cheese tasting with the “Booze Bothers,”  Sun. Aug. 14th from 2 to 4pm.  It’s an all craft beer offering, for $25. ea.  RSVP at 760-431-8455.

New Skater Girl Wine is on Board with San Diego Restaurants and Wine Shops

by Frank Mangio
From the wine entrepreneurs who gave us Coomber Family Wines, a fast rising premium brand of vintners collection varietals from the Central Coast and Napa Valley , now brings us Skater Girl, with a 7 year old English Bulldog named Maggie, with “a lot more than just a pretty face.”

Skip and Maureen Coomber, seeing success with their original brands of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet in the higher end market, with a link to contributing a portion of sales to various animal rescue shelters, looked to their love of animals for inspiration to the next level of winemaking.  For 7 years, they laughed and had fun with their skate boarding  Maggie.  ” We wanted to create a fun, everyday brand of wines that were easy to drink, had great value and honor our talented Maggie” Coomber explained. ($15. each, estimated retail.)  

Skater Girl starring the Carlsbad English Bulldog Maggie, is the latest wine creation of the Coomber Family, now available in many wine shops and restaurants in San Diego .

 I asked about how he was able to teach Maggie to ride a skateboard. “Bulldogs have a thing about the sound of wheels.  She would run around the board after one of our family had pushed it, then want to jump on, then push on it, eventually learning how to ride it.  She loves to have an audience. Well, she has one now.  We submitted a video of Maggie to You-Tube and it went viral.  It was played on the big screen at last year’s KAABOO Festival in Del Mar and the audience went crazy.”

The Coombers have a very successful custom crush service facility in Buellton, and purchase quality grapes from the Central Coast and Napa Valley for both Skater Girl and Coomber Family Wines. They have a personal test for all their wines. They both must personally enjoy the wines they produce. The Chardonnay must have natural flavor with superior grape style, the Pinot Noir must have a Burgundian aroma and flavor profile and the Cabernet must have a strong, powerful  body with deeply toned elegance.

Wherever presented, Skater Girl wines have received orders. Check the Del Mar Wine Company, Wine Loft Carlsbad, Rosati’s Encinitas and the Hilton Del Mar among others. Trade inquiries are encouraged at 858-354-3910.

Meet Agata Lozano – Global Wine Ambassador
I have never met a more energetic, enthusiastic wine ambassador than Agata Lozano, from Lozano Family Wine Cellars of La Mancha, Spain.  After learning the wines as a 4th generation Lozano, she set out all over Spain, China and Russia promoting her family’s annual production of more than 1.5 million bottles a year from over 2,500 acres.

Agata Lozano, now a La Jolla resident, has traveled the world promoting her family’s Lozano Family Wines from La Mancha in Spain , the country’s 10th largest wine exporter, founded in 1853.

Lozano makes a wide assortment of wines including:  Sauvignon Blanc, Tempranillo Rose and Temprnillo reds, plus many brands of sparkling wines.  On this day of discovery, we tasted the new release Oristan, a premium oak aged Tempranillo, with small amounts of Cabernet and Shiraz. Agata now declares La Jolla her permanent home, reminding her of her favorite Spanish cities of Valencia and Seville. Currently she is looking for a well-known distributor for her Lozano wines and is now interviewing.  She can be reached at 707-266-4350.

Wine Bytes
Tuscany Restaurant in La Costa now has live romantic Jazz available with dinner the first Friday of each month in the Encore Room starting at 6:30pm with the Jazztones. RSVP at 760-929-8111.

The Marine Room in La Jolla has a Cooking Class & Dinner, Wed. Aug. 10th from 6 to 8pm.  Cost is $85. Three-course dinner with wine pairings.  RSVP  at 858-459-7222.

Bernardo Winery in Rancho Bernardo has its Summer Cellar Series with the Winemaker, starting Wed. Aug. 17th from 6:30 to 9:30pm. Each of the 3 events will be a different experience with seasonal foods and wine pairings.  Go to to find out more including pricing.

Pala Casino Spa & Resort, off Highway76 in Pala has its Starlight Food & Wine Festival, Sat. Aug. 20th from 4 to 8pm on the lawn of its Starlight Theater and the Wine Cave. Over 50 premium wines from Napa Valley, Sonoma and Paso Robles, accompanied by food pairings and entertainment.   Tickets are $75. ea.  Call 1-877-946-7252 or visit

Wine Spectator’s Best Wine Lists in San Diego

by Frank Mangio
Each year at this time, the world’s most renowned wine/food magazine Wine Spectator, selects restaurants in the U.S. and around the world, that earned an award for their wine lists.  There are 3 categories.  In order of importance, they are:  Award Of Excellence, Best Of Award Of Excellence and The Grand Award, their highest award, given to very few restaurants “that showed an uncompromising passionate devotion to the quality of the wine list which features a minimum 1,000 selections, with the highest level of service.”

 PAON Restaurant and Wine Bar in Carlsbad was awarded a Best Of Award Of Excellence by Wine Spectator.  From left, owner Mayur Pavagadhi, Master Sommelier Gino Campbell,
and owner Steve Barr.
There was just one in San Diego County that was selected for the top award, Addison , at the Grand Del Mar resort. It offers some 3,000 choices. The surprise of the list in San Diego was PAON Restaurant and Wine Bar in Carlsbad , which picked up a Best Of Award Of Excellence.  Wine Spectator presents this award to those “offering 350 or more selections and are destinations for serious wine lovers.”

Pavagadhi and Barr brought Gino Campbell into the operation over a year ago.  His wine credentials were one of the most extensive in the country, as a Certified Advance Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers and a graduate of the Cellar Master’s Program from the University of Bordeaux in France, one of only 69 in the U.S. PAON has over 1,000 wines on its wine list, including some vintage, collectors wines.  All wines are available in its retail wine shop.

Wine events are produced each day of the week at PAON and presented to customers who are made comfortable in love seats, leather chairs and tables. The list includes 3 pages of Pinot Noir, 2 pages of wines from Italy and 3 pages from Bordeaux France.

Other Wine Spectator awards went to:  Amaya, Argyle, Avant, The Barrel Room, BICE, Bistro West, Crab Catcher, Eddie V’s, Firenze, Fleming’s, Il Fornaio, Kitchen 1540, Mille Fleurs, Mister A’s, Morada, Ruth’s Chris, Sbicca, Seasons 52, Truluck’s, Veladora, West Steak & Seafood and the Winesellar & Brasserie.

Parc Bistro-Brasserie a New French Restaurant on Bankers Hill San Diego
Parc Bistro Brasserie, on 5th Avenue in the Bankers Hill District of San Diego, is a comfortable French Restaurant, created by veteran restaurateur Garo Minassian.  Minassian has been successful in previous local formats such as Bistro Bacco, Scalini’s and Harry’s Bar.

Parc Bistro-Brasserie owner Garo Minassian and new Executive Chef Donald Lockhart
display fine wines at the new Bankers Hill San Diego location.

Parc Bistro-Brasserie is the culmination of these, a restaurant that’s a French style village meeting and eating place, to meet friends and make future friends over a joyful menu created by Execuitve Chef Donald Lockhart, formerly from CUSP in La Jolla .  Lobster is the specialty, showing up in the entrée choices as well as an appetizer.  There is a raw fish bar with seafood platters including oysters, lobster and crab.  Parc Bistro-Brasserie is open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner, with brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

1,400 wine choices are equally value and premium, with a few great treasures for the wine aficionado.   My choice was Whitehall Lane , a red blend from Napa Valley .  It was the 2013 Tre Leoni ($56. at the restaurant).  It fit nicely as a pairing with the Branzino  Mediterranean, similar to a Sea Bass in flavor, that had tomato, olive and garlic confit as garnishes.  Call 619-715-5101 for a table reservation.

South Coast Winery Named CA. Winery of the Year

by Frank Mangio
For those of us who have been writing on wine in Southern California , watching, visiting and knowing that some day Temecula Wine Country would show its excellence in winemaking, I say that day has come.  I no longer buy the “party wineries”  or the “theme park” stories connected with Temecula Wine Country that have divided the  larger goals of excellent wine, proclaimed by responsible vintners in this community of over 100,000.  The city of Temecula owes a big debt of gratitude to the wineries that have brought in a big surge of wine visitors that helps all. South Coast Winery Resort and Spa is one of the best examples.

 South Coast winemaker Javier Flores, owner Jim Carter and Master winemaker Jon McPherson celebrate another California State Winery of the Year Award.
A dream of Jim Carter, who planted seeds at 8 years old, convinced himself to buy 400 acres in Temecula in 1981, who in the mid-nineties was inspired by the movie A Walk in the Clouds and found ways to nurture his land by maximizing  water, land and climate.  He brought in expert winemakers who would help him establish the winery’s excellence.  A later chapter would offer villas, a restaurant and world–class spa to visitors….and as he says it, “a complete wine country experience.”

This winery has been awarded over 2,500  medals for its wines, so it’s really no surprise that, for the 4th time in its history, it brought home the California State Winery of the Year at the California State Fair. This, after only 13 years of wine production.

Carter leaves no doubt that major credit deservedly goes to his winemaker team of Javier Flores, Master winemaker Jon McPherson and the winery’s outstanding staff of veteran professionals.  Visit at

Elegance and Style Served Up at Tasting Room  Del Mar
 In the middle of the Village of Del Mar is a new age, beautifully appointed tasting room featuring “vines, hops and harvest.”

It’s the exquisite, new Tasting Room Del Mar, with  “small bites”dining, craft beer and a premium wine experience.  Over 40 known and loved craft beers sit side by side with a carefully selected small production collection of over 100 wines. It made its debut recently with the hosts  David and Evan Taylor launching the business, with Rusti Gilbert wine Director. Executive Chef is Steven Loma and Chef de Cuisine is Jenny Goycochea.

Tasting Room Del Mar had its Grand Opening recently with delicious appetizers provided by
Service Manager Victoria Abdallah and Champagne by Wine Director Rusti Gilbert.

Gilbert came from the highly acclaimed Addison and most recently The Cork and Craft.  She’s put together a small production, boutique wine list with an eye on the seasonal menu for optimum pairing. The list focuses on France , Germany , Spain and about 40%  California with emphasis on Rhone varietals from the Central Coast , but as Gilbert says, “the list is still evolving as we discover great new challenging wines. Syrah and Grenache are big favorites.”

I spotted a couple of personal favorites from Saxon Brown and winemaker-owner Jeff Gaffner.  His home base is Sonoma but he looks high and low for the best vineyards for his wine grapes.  Check out the 2009 Chardonnay and the 2012 Pinot Noir from Durell Vineyards. Gaffner will be presenting his wines at a Tasting Room wine dinner Monday July 25th.  Contact Tasting Room Del Mar for details at 858-461-0124.

Monday, July 11, 2016

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

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

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

Chandler’s Culinary Director Teri  Mcillwain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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