Monday, December 26, 2011


Weve enjoyed some wonderful wines this year, from right in our own San Diego County backyard. This list makes us smile.

Belle Marie Chateau Dragoo 2003 Barolo
   $32 (wine club: $28.80)

Bernardo 2006 Estate Syrah

Cactus Star Scaredy Cat Ranch 2009 Estate Tempranillo

Cordiano 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
   All gone, but the 2005 is $30 (wine club: $24)

Eagles Nest 2007 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Edwards 2004 Ramona Valley Syrah

Hawk Watch 2006 Estate Reserve Syrah
   All gone. But they have lots of other good stuff.

JJJ Cellars (Pamo Valley Vineyards) 2006 Ramona Valley Merlot

Kohill 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

La Finquita 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

La Serenissima 2006 San Diego County Cabernet Sauvignon
   Around $28 in retail stores, available by the case at the winery

Milagro 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
   $22.50 (wine club: $18)

Orrin 2007 Estate Syrah

Rock Canyon 2007 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon

Salerno 2007 Lagrein
   $50 (wine club: $32)

San Pasqual 2001 “Ranchero” (Cab./Nebbiolo blend)
   $25 (wine club: $20)

Shadow Mountain 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
   $28 (wine club: $22.40)

Woof’n Rose 2008 Estate Cabernet Franc

Monday, December 19, 2011


Wine tasting with a kid in tow? Keep it short, and choose places with food, pets, and a casual atmosphere. Salerno certainly fits the bill with wood-fired pizzas, plenty of open space, and family-friendly people. Winery dog Pinot Noir has a big bark, but he loves to be petted.
At the Pamo tasting room, kids can feed treats to pooches Teacup and Roxy (who, on a recent visit, looked very cute in their red sweaters). There are always little treats for the humans too.
Cordiano Winery hosts a lot of boisterous family gatherings around tables laden with pizza and salad. On a weekend, your child will not be the only one here. There’s plenty of room to move about in, and quite a cast of playful canine characters.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

UNCORKED Wine Bar - Orange County

22342 El Paseo
Rancho Santa Margarita

Bar Hours: Tuesday-Wednesday 4:30-9, Thursday 4:30-10, Friday-Saturday 4:30-11, Sunday noon-6. Happy Hour Tuesday-Friday 4:30-6:30.

We decided to branch out a bit and explore some wine venues in the OC (Orange County).  UnCorked is a
wine shop and bar with an excellent selection of global wines, offering good value for price, regardless of whether you intend to spend $18 or $200 on a bottle. In the back there's a very friendly wine bar with a thoughtfully crafted list by the glass or in flights, plus a bit of food. We enjoyed tastes of Tobin James Chardonnay (Monterrey, CA), Mud House Pinot Noir (Central Otago, New Zealand), and Jim Barry Lodge Hill Shiraz (Clare Valley, Australia). According to owner George Riviere, “If I don’t like it, I don’t buy it.” This straightforward philosophy seems to be working quite well.

Monday, December 12, 2011

AMAZING GRAPES Wine Bar - Orange County

Amazing Grapes
29911 Aventura Suites D, E and F
Rancho Santa Margarita

Bar Hours: Monday-Tuesday 5-7, Wednesday-Saturday 5-10
Amazing Grapes is an expansive wine store with something for everybody, including a “wines under $10” section. There’s a tasting area with a bar and tables; the food menu accommodates guests who want to dine as well as those who just want a nibble with their wine. About fifteen wines are offered by the taste (2 oz.); selections change every two weeks. Or, choose a bottle from the store and enjoy it at the bar with no corkage fee. There are $10 flights on Wednesdays and winery tastings on Thursdays.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


We’d been anticipating the opening of Milagro’s tasting room without really knowing what to expect. Well, the place is a gem – and even better, it’s just down the road from Edwards, another favorite Ramona winery. At present, twenty of the property's 110 acres are planted with vines. The first planting was in 2001 with additions in 2003 and again in late 2007 to compensate for fire damage.

The wines currently available at Milagro are well developed despite their youth, thanks to the taste and expertise of winemaker Jim Hart. All of them are estate grown with the exception of the 2009 Merlot. We liked everything, a lot! But the standouts are 2010 Karen’s Reserve Chardonnay – oaked but not too much, with depth and spice; and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. Manager Ben Wier treated us to a taste of the 2007 Cab, which exudes cherries without being sweet.

Milagro (“miracle”) is owned by Kit and Karen Sickels of LaJolla. Their careful management of the property has left most of it untouched, with vines planted along the land's natural contours. The estate is lush with native oaks and stately boulders; it's even home to a flock of wild turkeys. The classy, high-ceilinged tasting room affords views of the grounds and the working winery. Next time we'll ask permission to picnic; there are no tables yet, but plenty of nice spots to put down a blanket. Guests are encouraged to walk around and take in the scenery.

Milagro’s wine club offers three bottles quarterly at 20% off retail, free tasting for members and two friends per visit, a 20% discount on additional wine, invitations to events, private winery tours by appointment, and discounted rates to use the facility for private events. 

The tasting room is open Friday-Sunday 11:00-5:00. 760.787.0738.


There’s always something new to try at Menghini’s tasting room, which – along with the adjoining picnic area – was bustling with activity on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. All the wines here (except apple wine) are 100% varietals. We liked the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc – off-dry but with a tart finish (Temecula grapes), and the 2010 Syrah – nicely spicy (Pamo Valley and Ramona grapes).

The Menghini tasting room is open Monday-Friday 10:00-4:00 and weekends 10:00 – 5:00. 760.765.2072


Map: Ramona Valley Winery Association

Here's a handy map of winery tasting rooms that are current members of the Ramona Valley Winery Association.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Located on tranquil Post Alley within the always bustling historic Pike Place Market, The Tasting Room is a gem. Stop in to seriously taste, drink and snack with friends, or just for a break. If you're a tourist interested in bringing some Washington wine home with you, this is your one-stop shop. 

Currently The Tasting Room features eight Washington wineries. Guests can enjoy pre-selected flights or concoct their own; all wines are available by the ounce, half glass, glass, carafe, or bottle. We zeroed in on Wilridge Cellars, a Seattle winery that works with biodynamically produced grapes from a vineyard near Yakima. And as usual, we liked the offerings from Wineglass Cellars in Zillah - especially the 2007 Syrah-Marcoux.

The Tasting Room is open Sunday - Thursday 12:00-8:00 and Friday-Saturday "noon-late." 206.770.9463


We visit Seattle on a fairly regular basis, but until recently the explosion of wineries, tasting rooms, and distilleries in Woodinville - about a half-hour's drive northeast - escaped our notice. With over eighty wineries in close proximity the idea of going tasting was a bit daunting, but on a rainy Friday afternoon we decided to at least get a sense of the place. A friend recommended DeLille Cellars so we planned to start there, but had a hard time finding it. Our first stop, Goose Ridge, was a somewhat random choice among a strip mall full of tasting rooms. The vineyard and winery are on 1600 acres in Richland (south-central Washington). Given our focus on boutique wineries, it was quite out of the ordinary to be in the tasting room of one big enough to be its own AVA! And... we loved the wine. The 2010 Chardonnay is lemony and spicy, aged six months in French oak but definitely not over-oaked. Our absolute favorite was the 2007 Reserve Malbec for its double layers of flavors and hints of tobacco and raisins.

DeLille is right across the street. The tasting room is inviting in an unpretentious way; guests can stand at the bar or congregate around tables, either way getting plenty of attention from a very knowledgeable staff person. The estate's grapes are in the Red Mountain AVA, a bit north of Walla Walla. Currently they have twenty acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, planted in 2000 and cut down after three years to jump-start the vines' maturation. The winery sources other fruit from the Red Mountain and Yakima Valley AVAs. These wines are definitely French style: dry, smooth...even silky, with lots of nuances. We loved the 2010 Roussanne, 2008 Syrah, and 2006 Grand Cru Estate Cab.

Here are some more Woodinville recommendations we collected there and back in Seattle:

Alexandria Nicole
Dusted Valley
J. Bookwalter
Mark Ryan
Sparkman Cellars
The Library at Apex

And here's a link to help you out:

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Tammy in her Tasting Room
It's always fun to stop by the Hacienda de las Rosas tasting room in Old Town. On a busy Saturday owner Tammy Rimes's warm, welcoming style seemed to make everyone feel at home - from hesitant first-time wine tasters to a group of serious conisseurs. Our favorite wines here use grapes from the Rimes's own vineyard in Ramona. 2008 "Sombra" Petit Syrah is smooth with a dry finish -  easy drinking but not boring; 2008 "Vistoso" Tempranillo is pleasantly peppery.

Most of the wines are named after the Rimes's horses.
The Hacienda de las Rosas tasting room is open daily 11:30-9:00. 619.840.5579

Link to newest Hacienda de las Rosas post...
Link to first Hacienda de las Rosas post...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Our weekend wine touring often begins with a visit to the farmers market. Here’s just a sampling of the delicious picnic-ready goodies on offer from local businesses at the Little Italy and Hillcrest markets.

Peruse the salads, spreads, and olives at Baba Foods and Lisko Imports; choosing between so many good things is the hardest part.

Taste is a one-stop shop for artisan cheeses. Just tell Mary or one of her saavy helpers what you’re up to and they’ll offer plenty of options. Depending on your selections, they might advise some Jackie’s Jam (a few stalls away – try the tomato) or fruit for pairing. For bread there's Bread & Cie, Charlie’s, and other artisan bakers with unique offerings.

The markets always have seasonal fruit galore; right now the berries from Pudwill Farm look irresistible.

Baked goods abound for dessert - from dainty multicolored macarons to big cookies and rich bars. Our pick would be something from Eclipse Chocolat; try the caramels or a dark chocolate bar infused with sea salt, Merlot, pepper...

Duly provisioned, you're ready to head for the wine country. Don't forget your water bottles.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Triple B Ranches, family owned and operated producers of San Diego County estate-grown wines, has made a debut at the Little Italy Mercato. Sorry - no tasting allowed.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


South Park, 30th between Juniper and Ivy
Closed Mondays

The Rose is named after its location in the historic Rose Grocery Store building. To construct its tasteful, functional interior the owners almost exclusively used reclaimed materials. Featuring small-producer/Terroir-focused wineries from around the world, this place is a newly minted neighborhood gem. The food menu features well composed salads (a rarity at wine bars) and crispy flatbreads with tasty toppings.

On a recent visit we especially enjoyed the 2009 Falesco Merlot from Umbria, recommended by bartender/wine enthusiast Jason.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Gaslamp, G Street between 6th and 7th
Open daily

Proprietors Jeff and Karin have beautifully remodeled this basement wine bar and retail store. It’s a stone’s throw from the madness of the Gaslamp, but atmospherically miles away. The music is quiet; the mood is warm and inviting.  Karin is a certified wine educator; Jeff’s an expert on California wines. They insist on tasting before they buy, only stock wines that are not available in chain stores, and usually procure only a case or two of any given vintage. In the course of a year, the store offers 1200-1500 different wines!  Visitors to the wine bar can choose from at least 14 wines by the glass. Corkage is only $5 for bottles under $20 and free for more expensive bottles. There’s also an impressive list of craft beers by the bottle and a short menu of wine-friendly snacks.

On Fridays and Saturdays Bacchus offers themed tastings, e.g., seven Spanish and Portuguese wines, Pinot Noirs, wines rated 90 or above by Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate… on a walk-in basis. Jeff and Karin partner with Venissimo Cheese to put on pairing workshops and are happy to host private tasting/pairing/wine education events.


Mission Hills
807 W. Washington Street
Open Daily

On a recent visit we were very impressed with Café Bleu’s eclectic international wine list and enjoyed talking with bartender Robin. There were 27 wines available by the half-glass, glass, or bottle. The setting is welcoming and invites conversation with bar or table seating options and good acoustics. In the mood for reds, we tried (and liked!) a 2009 Fedriani Laffite from Valencia, Spain, 2004 Mankas Cabernet Sauvignon from the Suisun Valley in NoCal, and 2009 Marques Reinosa Gardenos Rioja. The happy hour menu (3:00 – 6:00 p.m. daily) features ten wines at $5/glass and a nice selection of food – from cheeses and small bites to a burger or croque monsieur. Bottles of wine are half price on Mondays; Tuesday – Thursday there are specials on beer and wine flights. Café Bleu has a full kitchen serving weekday lunch, weekend brunch, and dinner nightly.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Ocean Beach, 2265 Bacon (from Sunset Cliffs, turn right on Voltaire and just follow the road)
Closed Mondays

This place meets our wine bar criteria even though the wine-by-the-glass menu, though adequate and very affordable, is not something we’d detour for. The tiny (full) bar is a mellow local hang, but serious wine drinkers should browse the well curated collection of over 1000 bottles. Give a few clues about what you like and someone will help you navigate. Stay for appetizers or a meal; the food is good and corkage is only $5. Or just shop. A recent foray in search of Santa Barbara whites yielded an impressive array of choices.


Hillcrest, 5th & Pennsylvania, west side
Closed Sundays

Voyou is a comfortably trendy cocktail and wine lounge with service that makes us feel like guests in owner Renaud’s home. The wine-by-the-glass list (dry to a fault) is international and well priced. In a city with limited late-night dining options, it’s noteworthy that Voyou’s kitchen stays open as late as the bar. Get the tuna tartare.


Hillcrest, 5th between University and Washington
Open daily

This is probably the oldest wine bar in town. Visitors can choose flights, half-glasses, glasses, and bottles from a well selected list of U.S. and international wines. The indoor-outdoor setting is classy and conversation-friendly. There’s a limited menu of wine-friendly snacks and sweets. On a recent visit we noticed that the prices seemed much more reasonable, suitably adjusted to the current economy. During happy hour (4:30-6:30 daily) there are even $5 glasses and $20 bottles.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Foot Path (formerly Foote Print) is a total break from the large, well-capitalized tasting rooms that are coming to define the Temecula wine country. No limos or busses here! Pulling up to the large shed nestled amid citrus trees, visitors are greeted by a friendly cat and a couple of curious horses. Inside, Deane and Christine Foote pour their red wines (there are no whites) and talk about what they do. The vineyard and citrus grove are certified organic. Right now the estate wines are made with 100% organic grapes; others use grapes from the Temecula Valley. The 2011 vintage will be organic wine, no sulfites.

These wines are spicy – redolent of cloves and cinnamon – especially on the nose. The Foote’s bottle only one barrel at a time, so it’s possible to taste distinctions between barrels. We sampled a 2007 Cabernet Franc from a barrel that previously housed port – wow.

Foot Path’s wine club offers two six-bottle shipments per year. Wine club members get first dibs on estate wines, discounted 20%, and free tastings at the winery.

The tasting area is open Monday - Friday 12:00-5:00 and weekends 10:00-5:00. 951.265.9951


Winemaker Kestutis “Gus” Vizgirda is in charge at sister wineries Maurice Car’rie and Van Roekel. Since 1994 Van Roekel, the smaller of the two, has specialized in drier wines for more sophisticated palates – though there’s some sweet stuff here too, including White Zinfandel and some fruit-flavored sparklers. Vizgirda uses about 80% estate grapes and sources the rest from Temecula Valley vineyards. The tasting room staff is knowledgeable and fun to talk with, and the prices are quite reasonable for Temecula. We bought a 2010 Merlot.


Picnic tables dot the winery’s grounds. From our spot we were vaguely aware of traffic on Rancho California Road, but we couldn’t see it. If one is in need of picnic supplies, the tasting room sells baked brie, assorted crackers, water, and even sorbet.

Van Roekel offers three wine club options: all reds, all whites, and the “Wine Maker’s Club” (mixed). The club offers three-bottle shipments every other month at a 20% discount, and free tastings at the winery.

The tasting room is open daily 10:00-5:00. 951.699.6961

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


This year’s crush is almost over at Salerno Vineyards and Winery in Ramona. April and her pal Mary started a Sunday afternoon tasting with a refreshing 2007 “Bianco Tosto” blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc from Central Coast grapes. Of the seven reds on offer, the favorites were:

2008 San Diego County Merlot – light and dry
2007 Estate Syrah – fruit forward with a dry finish
2008 Estate Pinot Noir – a worthy exemplar, rare in these parts
2007 Lagrein from Paso Robles grapes – full and dry.


Rose Salerno welcomed us at the tasting counter. There we also met Dave, whose day job involves supplying bottles and corks to almost every winery in the county. Helping out at Salerno on Sundays is his way to recharge for the week ahead.  Also behind the bar was college student Garret, double-majoring in business and geology. This guy can talk wine like a sommelier. He and his father Nathan are about to open a wine bar and retail shop in central Ramona that will feature San Diego County wines. 

Dave encouraged us to try a little port with a slice of a guest’s birthday cake. Herman Salerno is really proud of his port; he buys grapes from vintners who agree to only let the fruit stay on the vines until the sugar content is up to 24-25 brix. It’s a common practice is to make port from grapes that are way more sugary (32-34 brix). In Salerno’s port the grapes are the star of the show. It's raisin-y and full-flavored but not cloyingly sweet or boozy.

Meanwhile, Herman treated us to a song.

Salerno's tasting patio is open Wednesday - Sunday 11:00-dusk. 760.788.7160

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


The Wine Bank
5th and J, San Diego

The recently renovated Wine Bank first opened in the 1960s. Upstairs visitors encounter wine, beer, and spirits selected with the Gaslamp’s many tourists in mind.

There are souvenir-worthy San Diego County wines from Salerno and Fallbrook. The downstairs area houses an impressive, international collection of wines and a large tasting room where distributors and winery representatives pour and discuss. Guests sit at tables, and – after a brief introduction – are invited to step up and sample the day’s offerings. A representative of Handley Winery in Anderson Valley (near Mendocino, CA) introduced us to the nearly 30-year-old boutique winery and its surroundings. She poured six wines, including three impressive Pinot Noirs. Our favorite was a 2006 that mingles grapes from six Anderson Valley vineyards.

This tasting was unlike anything we’ve encountered. It felt a bit awkward at first, with thirty-odd people lining up at once to claim their first taste. But as the event progressed, guests’ visits to the bar fell into a more comfortable, less crowded rhythm. We enjoyed chatting with our tablemates as we compared vintages. The Wine Bank holds tastings on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons. We strongly recommend calling ahead for details, making a reservation, and arriving at the beginning of the allotted time period.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


In the 1990s Mario Bergeron was a wine broker in San Diego. Then he and his wife Diana started a successful custom bottle etching business in Napa. Mario learned winemaking to complement what they were doing, so they could fill the bottles themselves. In time the Bergerons migrated back to San Diego County and became the proprietors of an overgrown eight-acre citrus farm in Ramona. “We were so busy we didn’t even meet our neighbors for two years!” Mario told us. They’ve maintained their etching business and slowly transformed their land into a lush and beautiful estate, planting two acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes in the process. La Finquita’s first estate-grown “Vista Ramona” wine will come next year.

Mario poured us a “Blanc du Champ” Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc/Chenin Blanc blend. Next we tried a 2005 Merlot from Napa grapes: spicy nose, dry finish. The 2006 Napa Cabernet has nice tannins; 2008 Suisun Valley Zinfandel is fruity and sweet-spicy, but with a dry finish. Also in the winery’s current collection are a 2008 Napa Syrah and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Valley Center fruit.

La Finquita’s tasting room has a beautiful patio suitable for group tastings or enjoying a bottle or two with friends. Downhill from the patio Mario’s built a serious wine cave which will soon be climate controlled for barrel aging. Right now it’s an amazing setting for serious dinner parties.

La Finquita is open by appointment. 800.411.3732

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Eagles Nest was bustling with activity on Saturday! The harvest is in high gear and tasting traffic is up. probably due to some new signage on the main road. Proprietress Julie welcomed us warmly; tasting room helper Victoria was generous and fun as always. Our favorite wine is still the 2007 Private Reserve Merlot, but we’re excited about the 2008 “Sheba” Cab Franc. It’s got lots of grassiness on the nose and flavors that develop as the wine opens. The name honors a local big cat rescue organization.

Eagles Nest is open Friday-Sunday (daily in the summer) 11:00 - dusk. 760.505.8229

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


The San Pasqual winery has been bustling lately; this weekend the owners harvested and pressed San Diego County Syrah and Sangiovese. But on a Sunday afternoon at the beginning of football season, the La Mesa outpost was serene. Tasting room manager Brenda first poured a fruity 2010 Albariño grown on former San Diego Padre Steve Finley’s land in Rancho Santa Fe. We sampled 2008 and 2009 Sauvignon Blancs, but the standout white was a 2010 Lake County Fumé Blanc cured in Hungarian oak – slightly toasty with a lemony finish. Why does the winery use the names Sauvignon Blanc and Fumé Blanc since both wines come from the same grape? The term "Fumé Blanc" was coined by Robert Mondavi because, once upon a time, California Sauvignon Blancs had a bad reputation. Since then it’s become traditional to age Fumé Blanc in oak while Sauvignon Blanc is aged in stainless steel.
A newly released 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend was light bodied and fruit forward but pleasantly dry.  Also new: a silky 2007 Merlot with grapes from Dry Creek in the Sonoma Valley.
San Pasqual's tasting room has a separate space suitable for private events or group tastings. It's open Monday-Thursday 11:00-8:00, Friday-Saturday 11:00-10:00, Sunday 11:00-5:00. 619.462.1797

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Among wines we brought home from wineries or tasting rooms over the summer, these were the standouts:

Belle Marie (Chateau Dragoo) 2003 Barolo $32
Bernardo 2008 Meritage Private Reserve $30
Bernardo 2006 Estate Syrah $42
Eagles Nest 2007 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $24 
Edwards Vineyard and Cellars 2004 Syrah $20
La Serenissima 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (around $28)
Orrin 2007 Syrah $18
San Pasqual 2001 “Ranchero” (Cab./Nebbiolo blend) $25
Shadow Mountain 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon $28

Monday, September 5, 2011


La Serenissima Vineyard and Winery does not have a tasting room but winemaker Tony Tiso gladly hosts visitors. We made an appointment with no idea what a treat was in store: a personal tour of nearly the entire winemaking process, with tastes straight from the barrels. Tony and his father John learned winemaking in the Piedmont region of Italy, the land of their roots. They started planting in 1998; once the vines were producing Tony left his high-pressure Silicon Valley job and moved his family southward. He describes La Serenissima’s style as “100-percent old school, like Italy in the 1920s.” All of the wines come from the estate’s 20 acres of grapes. They’re vertically fermented and aged, unfiltered, in French, American, or Hungarian oak. It was amazing to taste how three different barrels impacted the taste of a 2008 Cab-Merlot blend! When the wine is ready to bottle Tony will mix the contents of all three to balance the tannins, bouquet, and aromatics. 

Tony believes that a good wine should be “the sherpa” of food, adding to its enjoyment but not overpowering it. He makes a couple of blends: a popular “entry level” Claret and the Cab-Merlot. With varietals he aims for “true representation” of the grapes, well reflected in his 2007 Cabernet Franc, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008 Merlot and a citrusy, unfiltered Arneis white – a Piedmont grape we’d never encountered. The first Tempranillo harvest is on the horizon and Tony plans to plant Albariño next year.

La Serenissima's Underground Barrel Room
Visiting La Serenissima is a distinctive learning and tasting experience. The winery does not charge for tasting or sell individual bottles; its business model is wholesale only, with many San Diego County retail and restaurant clients. Visitors may purchase mixed cases of wine at the wholesale price.

La Serenissima is open by appointment. 951.326.0205


Mike with the Press
 Mike and Lisa Schnell began planting their Warner Springs vineyard in 2001; in 2008 they opened Hawk Watch Winery to the public. We’ve always liked their wines, but were especially impressed on our visit over Labor Day weekend. Mike started us off with a crisp 2010 “Vortex” blend (90% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Semillon, 5% Viognier) from the estate’s grapes. Next we tried a 2010 dry Muscat that would perfectly complement a fruit tart; the wine’s fruit is all in the nose. Before moving on to the reds we happily tasted the 2010 “Sequoia” dry Zinfandel rosé – a perfect picnic wine named after the Schnells’ oldest cat. They donate $2 from every bottle to a local animal shelter. Now for the reds… The 2008 Cabernet Franc is redolent with cocoa and spices. There’s a 2008 Estate Syrah made in Côte Roti style with a little bit of Viognier and a delicious 2008 Signature Reserve Cabernet with grapes from Rolling Hills Vineyard in Temecula.  But the day was won by a fabulous earthy, spicy 2006 Signature Reserve Syrah. 

Alpha-Cat Zena
  The Schnells dabbled in winemaking at home before it became their vocation.  Eventually Mike quit his day job and started pouring at a winery in Temecula, where in time he became assistant winemaker and cultivated valuable connections with the best vineyards in the area, which now supply some of Hawk Watch’s grapes. Mike’s winemaking philosophy is that wines need to stand on their own, and his certainly do.

Hawk Watch’s wine club is currently closed to new members; interested parties can join a waiting list.

Hawk Watch is open Friday 12-5, weekends 10-5. 951.326.4692

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


A conference brought me - April - to Las Vegas for the very first time, and for five (yes five) days. Gary’s parting words: “Check out the wine bars!” Of course. I did a bit of online research and queried every waiter/bartender I encountered. Many upscale Vegas restaurants have first-rate wine lists but my focus was on tasting, not committing to a bottle.

Three off-the-Strip places stand out: Hostile Grapes at the M Casino, Sunset and Vines on the shores of Lake Las Vegas, and Marche Bacchus in Summerlin. The only dedicated wine bar on the Strip is Double Helix in The Shoppes at The Palazzo. Their list is excellent but without surprises other than quite respectable private-labeled Chardonnay and Merlot made by Sort This Out Cellars in Solvang, CA. The atmosphere is warm and congenial, mall location and behind-the-bar sports TVs notwithstanding.

A few inviting restaurants with notable wines by the glass:
     Mon Ami Gabi (French, easy on the wallet)
     La Cave (Eclectic, wine flights available)
     D.O.C.G. (Italian, generous pours, avoid if you’re noise-averse)