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.