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)

Friday, August 19, 2011



We've been using these for years, but wanted to know how well they really work. Our experiment involved two identical bottles of 2009 Old Vines Carignan ($6.99 each at Whole Foods) and a Vacuvin Wine Saver. After drinking exactly half of each bottle we sealed Bottle One with the Vacuvin and simply recorked Bottle Two, leaving both at room temperature.

After two days both wines still tasted good, though Bottle Two's flavors had developed more nuances. But after four days Bottle Two was clearly beginning to go off, whereas the wine in Bottle One still tasted fresh. After eight days, Bottle One was drinkable; Bottle Two was not.

Vacuum-sealed or not, we don't recommend keeping open wine around for eight days. But we're convinced that the Vacuvin does make a difference.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


The Pamo Tasting Room (photo: Ramona Patch)
There are new wines since we visited a month ago. Winemaker Jennifer and "Wine Cellar Rat" Mike poured a 2010 "JJJ Chardonnay" made with grapes from South Coast Vineyard in Temecula - delightful citrus, no oak. This wine is great now, but could also keep for a few years. We also liked the 2009 Tuscan-style Sangiovese - nice and dry, and the 2008 Cabernet - a stellar food wine. We sampled two pre-releases and are especially looking forward to the 2006 Merlot. As usual, Jennifer's blends really stand out. A bottle of 2008 "Indian Princess" (55% Syrah, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Syrah) came home with us.
The cozy Pamo Tasting room, conveniently located in central Ramona, is open to the public Friday afternoons-Mondays and available for private gatherings at other times. 760.271.3090


Mahogany Mountain Vineyard and Winery is situated on 43 acres on a Ramona hillside. Currently 5 acres are under cultivation with Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Mourvedre, Petit Verdot, Syrah, and Zinfandel. Back In the day, owners Michael and Kim traveled in France and learned what real wine tastes like. They started saving money to buy grape cuttings for their land and joined the San Diego Amateur Winemaker Society. In the course of learning to make hand-crafted wines they interned at Belle Marie. Today all of their wines are pure varietals (100%), made from their own grapes. So far they’ve managed with family labor only; both Michael and Kim have large families! Their son, who majored in biology, is also part of the enterprise. Mahogany Mountain wines have won medals in Finger Lakes and Sonoma competitions, among others. We especially liked the 2008 Zinfandel – nice tannins, and the 2008 Morvedre.

Mahogany Mountain's wine club offers three 2-bottle shipments of premium, limited-edition wine at a cost not to exceed $65. Club members receive discounts on additional purchases.

The Mahogany Mountain tasting room is open on weekends, 1:00-4:00. Heading south on Mussey Grade Road, watch for the Salvation Army camp.  About ¼ mile after that, turn left on Mahogany Ranch Road.  760.788.7048 

Winning Wines at Mahogany Mountain


Some Belle Marie Wines for our Collection
Belle Marie has released a wonderful 2008 Grenache! We also like the 2009 Santa Maria Chardonnay. Volunteer winemaker and tasting room pourer Alan made us want to do a lot more wine touring in Europe.

Belle Marie's tasting room is open daily 11:00-5:00. 760.796.7557

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Today marked the first annual San Diego Wine Country Festival, hosted by Bernardo Winery and the San Diego County Vintners’ Association. The event drew a substantial but comfortable crowd, from wine enthusiasts to novices out to enjoy a pleasant afternoon of sipping in Bernardo’s parklike garden. For $20 guests received a tasting glass and a punchcard good for ten tastes, with additional cards available for $10. Three well-established wineries served as anchors of sorts: Orfila was pouring very generous tastes of Chardonnay, Petit Syrah, and Reserve Merlot; Bernardo opened the best wines on their tasting room list (including 2006 Estate Syrah); Retired Witch Creek winemaker Dave featured a 2007 Paso Robles Cabernet and a 2008 Sonoma Coast Syrah.  The other eleven participants were comparatively small, new, and/or off the beaten wine-tasting paths, making the festival a great opportunity to get acquainted with people and wines we hadn't encountered yet. Each winery could pour three wines and offer bottles of the same for sale in a “store” erected for the occasion, allowing potential buyers to taste a wide variety of offerings – pressure-free – before deciding what to bring home.

Tasting in Bernardo Winery's Garden


Orrin Vineyards and Winery is a 20-acre estate in Warner Springs specializing in old-world style Vognier, Syrah, and Zinfandel – all exclusively from their own grapes. We love the reds – full and dry with well-developed tannins. Owner Bud Wiederrich planted the vineyards; his son Von Orrin studied at UC Davis and is, for now, the winemaker. In Bud’s words, it takes “a combination of money and passion” to produce these wines. The Orrin tasting room is still a work in progress so visitors should call to arrange a tasting. What a wonderful addition to an afternoon in Warner Springs! 858.487.1083


Dubé Vineyards in Deerhorn Valley is about a half-hour drive eastward from downtown San Diego. In 1999 Carol and Doug planted rootstock from Sonoma vines on their 2-acre plot. They’ve weathered unseasonable snow and a devastating fire since, but setbacks have not stopped them from energetically pursuing their dream. Their 2008 Cabernet Franc was one of eight boutique San Diego County wines Bernardo Winery chose to offer for sale in their busy tasting room. The 2009 is quite nice as well, and a bargain at $14.95. Dubé's own tasting room will open within the next few weeks and Doug suggests a simple touring loop: San Pasqual in La Mesa, Dubé, and Rock Canyon Vineyards in Alpine.

Dubé's tasting room is open by appointment. 619.468.0030


Rock Canyon Vineyards in Alpine started as a breeding ranch for Spanish Andalusian horses. In 2000 the owners planted some Zinfandel vines and started experimenting with winemaking. Since then they’ve branched into other varietals and started offering their wines – all made from San Diego fruit – to the public. Cabernet Sauvignons are notable here. Visitors are most welcome by appointment. 619.445.4763


At Old Coach Vineyards in Poway winemaker Sandy Mubarak grows several varietals, most notably Petit Syrah and Syrah. Her Wine Country Festival features were an interesting Syrah/Viognier blend called “Showdown” and a big 2008 Petit Syrah. Sandy likes to create unique blends and would be happy to share more of them with folks who visit by appointment.

Old Coach's wine club offers members two bottles quarterly for $40, 20% off regular prices, and invitations to private events.

Old Coach's tasting room is open by appointment. 760.432.6840


We hadn't visited Johnny Schwaesdall, proprietor of the oldest tasting room in Ramona, for quite some time, but we've heard his name quite a lot in our recent ramblings. He’s helped many an aspiring winemaker get started and played a pivotal role in establishing the Ramona AVA. Johnny bottles wines under the Schwaesdall and Ramona Winery labels, the latter of which is available in local stores. His ports deserve special mention, especially the Orange Muscat. And – strange as this sounds coming from us – the White Zinfandel tasted quite refreshing on a hot summer day.

Johnny's Truck

Schwaesdall Winery is open weekends 10:00-6:00. 760.789.7542