Category Archive: Wines Around The World

Celebrating 100 Years with Centennial Wine

Posted on March 19, 2015

Centennial red

In 2013 I got together with Bailey Winery in Temecula to make a wine that would commemorate the centennial anniversary of Balboa Park.  Balboa Park is the pride and joy of San Diego.  The park was built in 1915 for the Panama-California Exposition.  Prior to its creation, Balboa Park was known as City Park.  Kate Sessions was instrumental in the planting its many gardens and trees.  When the city decided to host the Panama-California Exposition, they chose a Spanish-colonial design to honor of Vascos Nunez de Balboa, the Spanish explore who first spotted the Pacific Ocean on his way to Panama.  The park now houses the world-famous San Diego Zoo, the Museum of Man, The Natural History Museum, the Reuben H. Fleet Center, the Old Globe Theater and a slew of other fantastic museums and shops.  The main restaurant is the Prado which is part of the House of Hospitality.  The House of Hospitality is well-known for putting on some of the most beautiful weddings in San Diego.

When it came time to bottle another wine to commemorate the 100 year anniversary I decided to reach out to a San Diego vintner.  Bailey is fantastic and has a rich history in Temecula, but it is technically in Riverside county. This time I wanted to keep it local.  San Diego has a long and unfortunately, forgotten history of wine production.  I thought it would only make sense that we honor the prestige of Balboa PArk with a wine from one of the San Diego wineries who produces some of the highest quality wines, Fallbrook Winery.

Many San Diego vintners buy grapes from other parts of California to make their wines.  Many years ago, when Fallbrook Winery’s vines were maturing, they made wine from Sonoma and other regions.  Today they are focusing on estate fruit.  Ira Gourvitz, owner of Fallbrook Winery has been a leader in promoting San Diego wines.  He runs one of the more successful wineries in San Diego.  You can find his wines on restaurant wine lists and in specialty wine shops.  Being that the San Diego wine market is very finicky, this is a true testament to the quality of his wine.

Prado team

When deciding what to do for the Centennial wine round two, I looked for help from the management team at the Prado Restaurant.  I headed up to the winery to meet Ira and winemaker, Vernon Kindred and brought the Prado managers Cynthia Peterson, Mark Robertson, Tyler Chupp, Patty Urtado, Kaylla McAdams and Amanda Boies to make a wine that would be worthy of Centennial stature.  After hours of  tasting barrel samples from the 2012 vintage, we came upon the perfect blend.  We decided to make a Bordeaux style blend made of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  The wine turned out great!

Juicy wine with aromas and flavors of blackberry, Cassis and plum.  There are notes of chocolate and toasted oak which give it richness. Like many wines in San Diego, there is mouth-watering acidity that gives if a lift in the finish.

The wine is now available at the Prado.  It is on the wine list for $40/bottle and $10/glass.  If you would like to take it home, they sell it at retail for $20.15.  Stop in and try a bit of history.


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Wines with Soul: The Future of Baja Wines

Posted on March 1, 2015

Baja Wines

The first wine grape growing region in the America’s was Mexico.  The first vines planted were in the Parras Valley around the 1500’s for brandy production.  Grapes arrived in Baja California sometime in the 1600’s. They made their eventual move into Alta California in 1769 by way of the missionaries.  This means that Mexico has had a long history of making wine.  Then why is it that their wines are not well-known?  Why do we not see them in our restaurants and bottle shops?  Could it be that they are on Mexican time?

In the 1980’s Chilean wines made a big hit in the USA.  In the late 90’s Argentinian wines started to make their way to the US and today are on every wine list.  Uruguay is barely entering the market, but so far has made more head way than Mexico.  Brazil? Well, not yet. About 4-5 years ago, there was a company called Baja Wines which started to bring Baja wines into the US.  They had a very strange business model.  Instead of importing wines and setting up a partnership with a distributor, they decided to go direct to consumer through internet sales.  If one was selling knitted sweaters or other crafts that might be the way to go.  However, it does not work like this in the wine business.

Wine needs to be sampled, tasted and shared with the buyer.  The buyer sets the price for wine.  They will not buy wines that do not fit within the price of their quality.  When Baja Wines came into the market they had everything priced at retail prices starting at over $25 a bottle.  Many wines were in the $50 range. I don’t know about you, but I won’t pay $50 for a bottle of wine if I am not familiar, never tasted or never heard of it.  Obviously, putting photos on a website and charging $50 a bottle was not a viable business plan.

Since then Baja Wines has gone out of business, but there have been other companies importing Baja wines into the US.  I have tasted the wines from four different distribution companies.  Before I start to give you my opinion, I want to give you a quick look at what is happening there.

The wine regions of Ensenada are divided into different valleys such as Ojos Negros, San Vicente, Santo Tomas, San Antonio de las Minas and the Guadalupe Valley.  Artisan wineries, creameries, farms and restaurants line the valley.  It is a true farm to table region where some restaurants have their own garden and livestock.  The valley has seen some dramatic growth in the last several years.

 Guadalupe Valley

The person most responsible for this incredible growth is enologist, Hugo D’Acosta winemaker for Casa Piedras.  Hugo studied winemaking in Montpellier, France.  He worked his first vintage in 1982 in St. Emillon.  He returned to Mexico with his eyes on Baja California.  There he was inspired by the wines of Monte Xanic.  He worked with Santo Tomas and eventually started his own project, Casa Piedras.  But what makes Hugo the Robert Mondavi of Baja was his school.  He started “la Escuelita” a winemaking school where he passes his knowledge onto other winemakers in the region.  In recent years, we have seen much more influence from outside winemakers.  This influence will eventually lead to rising the quality of wines in this prosperous region.

My Two Sense

I believe that Baja Wines will eventually make a huge presence in the US wine market.  The big obstacle is figuring out a competitive price for the wines.  Many winemakers are selling their wines at retail to the distributor and wholesale markets.  Since their production is small, it is difficult to come up with competitive prices that rival the wines of other regions of the same or better quality.  They need to put the money into marketing, which eventually will pay back later.  This is an investment many winemakers are not able to make.  They are trying to make a living from their current production, but to enter a new market they need to make the sacrifices.

Another obstacle they face is that their terroir is so unique.  Many might be wondering why that is an obstacle. Let me explain.  The region is hot and sandy.  Many believe that this is the reason the wines tend to taste salty.  Although this may attribute to the salinity, the believe is that poor winemaking and not understanding the terroir is the reason.  I have spoken to winemakers and tasted wines from the region that are not salty.  The salinity can be toned down through proper wine growing and  winemaking techniques.

Some winemakers are also hell-bent on producing single varieties.  They see the California model and want to mimic it.  I have tasted 100% Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo.  I believe this sort of approach is harmful to their growth.  The reason being, if a consumer wants to buy Chenin Blanc, they have a history of Chenin Blancs that has typicity.  Chenin Blanc usually shows flavors of honey, orange oil, wet wool with razor acidity.  The Chenin Blanc from Baja is nothing like that.  It might have some of those aromas but the structure is big and opulent.  The wines are not bad, in fact for fat wines they are actaully pretty good, but as a Chenin Blanc, they taste nothing of the sort.  It would be better if they labeled the wine “Baja Blanc”  and not Chenin Blanc.  This way they would not have to meet the expectations people have come to expect for Chenin Blanc.  This is also true of many other single varieties in Baja.

vena cava

Enough of my constructive criticism.  The wines I have tasted recently have been very good.  These wines have been blends.  And I believe that blends are the future for Baja wines.  They are creating blends that cannot be mimicked elsewhere.  For example, they blend Nebbiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Tempranillo.  The French could not do this, they don’t produce Nebbiolo.  The Italians would not attempt this because their prized king of grapes Nebbiolo would never be blended with Cab.  Plus, the Nebbiolo in Baja is dark, inky, tannic and much fruitier than that of Piedmont. In the USA we might see this attempt, but our Cab tastes completely different from Baja’s.  Since their wines do not meet the standard typicity, they can make ridiculous blends that are absolutely delicious.  We once thought California was the wild west of wine, but Baja is the new wild frontier.

I look forward to see what new styles of wine Baja will begin to produce.  Their wines taste very different from the traditional old world and different from their neighbors in California.  People are always looking for something unique, and Baja has it.

If you would like to learn more about Baja wines, I will be hosting a Baja and Napa wine symposium and tasting at Sea 180 on March 14th.  There will be 8 winemakers from Baja California and 12 Mexican winemakers from Napa Valley discussing the wines of the two regions.  This will be the first time these winemakers meet and taste each other’s wines.  I am attempting to unify Mexican winemakers from both sides of the border so that they can share their ideas which eventually will benefit us, the consumers with better wines.  The wines of these winemakers have soul.  They are worlds apart from the over produced homogenized wines that fill our stores and restaurants.

On Sunday March 15th, Indigo Grill will host a brunch featuring 3 winemakers from Baja and 3 winemakers form Napa. You can make reservations by calling Indigo Grill at 619-234-6802.

Buy Tickets

Sea180 Mexi wine

Indigo Baj Brunch

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Making People Drink Local, The San Diego Harvest, Barrel to Bottle Festival!

Posted on November 25, 2014

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Is it that difficult to drink local wines? There are so many wines around the world.  So many, that you will never be able to try all the wines from every region in the world.  That being said, no matter what part of the world people live in, they drink their local wines.  People in Croatia, drink Croatian wine.  Brazilians drink Brazilian wine.  Virginians drink wines from their state, Virginia.  But why isn’t this the case with the wines from San Diego?  People in San Diego do not drink local wines.

It seems so strange that the first grapes planted in California were in San Diego.  Prior to prohibition San Diego had a booming wine culture.  Wineries were sending their juice to England and consumption on a local level was huge.  Then the gold rush happened, everyone’s attention turned north and San Diego was left in the dust.  Shame on San Diegans who talk about farm to table and local craft beer, but do not drink local wines.  Worse, is shame on the retailers and restaurants (myself included) for not featuring San Diego wines.

Temecula has received a lot more attention than San Diego.  Heck, Baja California is receiving more attention than San Diego.  This kind of hurts us because many of the wines that come from those regions are faulty.  Temecula is hot, Baja is hot!  San Diego is 10 degrees cooler, which allows the grapes to keep up acidity; the most important structural element in wine.  Many of the vineyards in San Diego are of high elevation allowing for UV light to push ripeness, breezy days which help with pest control and cool nights to support acids.  Many of these vineyards are old vineyards planted more than 20 years ago, some from the 1800’s.  All this being the case, why do we not drink wines from San Diego?

One reason is that production is low and wines are not available to export outside of the county.  Another reason might be that there still are some mediocre producers (home winemakers), which give San Diego wines a bad name.  But I think the most important reason, is that nobody knows about them.  About a year ago, the Wall Street Journal and San Francisco Chronicle spoke about Chris Broomell and Alysha Stehly from Vesper Vineyards.  This press brought the attention of sommeliers in New York, San Francisco and LA.  Today, Vesper sells more wine in New York than in San Diego.  That does not make sense!  San Diegans should be drinking San Diego wine.  I could understand if the wines were bad, who wants to drink bad wine.  But today we have a strong base of wineries producing high quality wines that can rival any other region.

This past weekend, I decided to hold a Harvest, Barrel to Bottle Festival with 11 San Diego County wineries at Escondido’s Vintana Restaurant.  I held the festival on the same day as the San Diego Food and Wine Festival which is held every year on the harbor.  I did it intentionally because I believe the SDF&W Festival does not showcase San Diego wineries.  It brings in wineries from around California, and mostly from the large wine conglomerates.  How could it be a San Diego Food & Wine Festival if the best San Diego wineries are in North County at my Harvest, Barrel to Bottle Festival?  The event went extremely well!

Each winery showed samples from the 2014 harvest, barrel samples from 2013 and their latest releases.  The idea was to allow guests to taste wines at different stages of development.  The wines featured were:

Milagro Farm showing a bright Barbera from Ramona

Vinavanti, an urban winery from Miramar showing their 2014 Viognier, 2104 Sparkling Viognier and a Viognier port

Vesper’s mouth-watering Rose of Carignan/Grenache

Stehloen’s Sauvignon Blanc, ripe, fresh with razor acidity

Coyote Oaks showed the Mongrel Blend mostly made of Cabernet Sauvignon & Sangiovese along with 4 other grapes

Screaming Chief specializes in Cab Franc and Malbec and they showed their third vintage, the 3rd Alarm Cuvee

Spektrum’s minty Cabernet Sauvignon made by Mick Dragoo of Belle Marie Vineyards

Orfila, the largest winery in San Diego showed their deep dark fruit forward Petit Sirah

Roadrunner Ridge from rainbow showed an earthy and dusty Petit Sirah

Triple B Ranches featured a Merlot which based on sales was the crowd’s favorite

Fallbrook showed their BDX Bordeaux blend which will be bottled in December to celebrate the Centennial Anniversary for Balboa Park,

The festival brought wineries and the people of San Diego together.  I hope that we inspired San Diego oenophiles to drink local wines.  The door is now open and it is up to us to reach inside and make the wines of San Diego a natural choice for our next dinner. This Thanksgiving everyone in San Diego should have a bottle of San Diego wine on the table!  The wines featured at the Harvest Festival are available at Vintana Wine & Dine, stop in and take a look at the retail space and pick up a local wine for Thursday’s feast.



FIFA World Cup Wine Flights

Posted on May 24, 2014

world cup wine flights

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is right around the corner.  I cannot wait!  It is the only time of the year that I wake up at 4 am in the morning to watch a soccer game.  And this year it means a lot more to me than in years past.  Reason being my wife is Brazilian.  She is from the south of Brazi, from a small town bordering Brazil and Uruguay, Santana do Livramento. Her family are die hard Gremio fans.     Her mom was born in Uruguay.  She spent many summers in Montevideo.  This being said, her allegiance belongs to two teams, Brazil and Uruguay.  Prior to meeting my wife I would root for France, Spain and of course the USA.  We’ve been married 10 years now, so I have moved away from rooting for European teams and root for Brazil and Uruguay.  Especially since Jose Mujica took the presidential office in Uruguay.  He is so damn cool!

Everyday my father in law and my wife share the news from Brazil with me.  It doesn’t look good.  The other day he sent us a video of the subway system in Sao Paolo.  People were trampling all over each other.  The subways apparently stopped running and there was mayhem.  When I was there a few years back, I could not see how Brazil would be able to get ready to host so many people by 2014.  And from the looks of it, not sure they can.

Instead of getting all worked up about the potential dangers of the FIFA World Cup, I decided to make this tournament festive for all of us watching it on the screen.  This year the Cohn Restaurant Group will be featuring World Cup Wine Flights!  So if your favorite team loses on the field, you have another chance to win.  The countries will go head to head in a wine flight.  The best wine wins.  It is a good time to get acquainted with some of the wine-producing nations we never see.  The flights are real matches.  They cost $10/flight.  There are four flights of two wines each to choose from.  How many of you have had wines from Uruguay?  Better yet, how many of you have had Brazilian wine?  Well this is your chance to see how these wines fair with other more well-known wine regions.

The FIFA World Cup Wine Flights begin at kick off, June 12th and go on through July 13th.  You can stop in at Sea180 Coatsal Tavern, Island Prime & C-Level, 100 Wines Hillcrest or Vintana in Escondido during the World Cup and enjoy a unique flight.  For more information on the wines being served, contact


world cup wine flights


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Finally, Good News From the Middle East

Posted on

Middle East

Since I was a kid, I turn the TV on and hear only bad news about the Middle East.  War, terrorism, extremists, blood for oil, puppet governments and genocide were just a few of the nightly news stories.  It seems as though nothing is improving, only getting worse.  So you can see why it was a delight when I sat with Serge Hochar and his son, Marc and tasted the wines of Chateau Musar from Lebanon.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting this father and son wine making team along with several other of my San Diego wine buddies.  I must say thank you to John Erickson from Jaynes Gastro Pub for giving me the title to this post.  John said this while sitting across from me during the tasting.   If you have never heard of Chateau Musar, then you are probably re-reading the title over and over.  “How could this be the title of a wine blog post”?  It is foolish to think that the cradle of civilization does not make wine.  We think of the Middle East as being a dry arid desert climate, so how could they produce wine there.   Have you ever been to Washington State?  Have you ever been to the Elqui Valley in Chile?  Both hot dry desert climates and both produce high quality wines.  If the human race had its beginnings in this region, and wine has been produced for over 8,000 years, then Lebanon is a region as good as any to produce wine.  The Bekaa Valley is the growing region from which the Hochars harvest their grapes.  But what is more important than where they harvest their grapes, is how they make their wine.  There are many other producers in Lebanon making wine; however, no one is making it like the Hochars.

serge Hochar

Serge Hochar

A while ago I was talking with a sommelier friend of mine, Julian Mayor from Bourbon Steak in D.C..  He told me that he had to go to Lebanon for a wedding.  Being the wine geek that he is, he paid a visit to Chateau Musar.  Julian was in Somm paradise.  However, while talking with other people in the region about Musar, they dismissed the winery as being a winery “stuck in the old ways”.  “Stuck in the old ways”?  Yeah, they are correct.  What I learned from my visit with Serge and Marc, is that they are damn proud of it and so are all the sommeliers that come across these wines.

Chateau Musar began in 1930 by Serge’s father Gaston Hochar.  Serge and his brother Ronald took over the winery in 1959.  Their approach has always been a hands off approach.  They believe that wine should be made in a non-interventionist way without technology to aid them.  The Chateau Musar wines are blends.  The red wines are made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinzault, Carignan, Grenache and Mourvedre.  The grapes are harvested separately and fermented in concrete tanks separately.  It is racked and put in vats for 6 months.  Then transferred to un-toasted barrels for 3-4 years.  It goes back into vats for another year.  After the second year in vat blended and returned to concrete for another year.  At the end of the 3rd year finally bottled.  The wine is never released before 7 years of aging.  Serge only releases the wine when he knows the wine will get better.  For example, the 1974 release date was 1981; however, Serge felt that the wine was not ready.  The ’74 was finally released in 2004.  The Hochars say that they release the wine when they know it will get better, grow bigger and younger.

Chateau Musar Line Up

How in the world can a wine get younger with age?  It sounds like Benjamin Button.  But it is true.  We tasted the ’05, ’04, ’00, ’01, ’98 & ’93 reds.  The 2005 and 2004 had that Brett funk, band-aid and oxidized character.  This is something that I would expect when I taste a wine with 9-10 years of age.  But as we moved to the “98 and ’93 the wines became fruitier, lusher, the Brett funk gave way to leather, prunes and cherries.  It was so strange.  It was like the ’04 & ’05 were in this awkward teenager stage and the ’93 was just starting to reach that comfortable manhood we men reach at the age of 30-40 years old.  The wines became more refined and elegant.

1969 Chateau Musar

Musar breaks all the rules and stereotypes.  White wines are not supposed to age.  I have had some amazing older Rieslings, Chenin Blancs and White Burgundies; but in general, white wines should be drunk young.  Not the Musar blancs.  We tasted the Musar Blanc ’89 and found it to still be oxidized but with life and longevity.  If I would have tasted it with a blindfold at room temperature, I would have easily confused it for a red wine.  It had tannins.  We then tasted a white 20 years older, the ’69 Musar Blanc.  The wine was earthy, oxidized, but youthful.  How in the hell can that be?  I just said youthful for a 45-year-old wine.  I guess if I put it in human terms, 45 years old is still young.  I believeSerge and Marc make their wines so taht they can be enjoyed throughout their lifetime.  Maybe even out live them.   When they do release the wines, they only release half and keep the rest in cellar to re-visit later in life.  The idea is that wine is a living organism.  The hands off approach allows the wine to grow up, learn, experience and create its own character.  If the wine is left in the right conditions, made naturally there is no limit to its life.  Like a human.  Nurture that human being from infancy on, but don’t stifle it, don’t feed it poison and see how long he lives.

Serge says, “My no touch philosophy allows my wine to live longer than it should”.

Wine is just like a human, unpredictable.  One day it tastes amazingly, the next day horrible.  Where you are, what you are doing affects the way we perceive wine.  Sometimes the wine closes up.  Leave a bad wine open a few days and go back to it and you might be surprised.  A wine produced in this hands off approach has a chance of changing everyday.  One day it is awful the next suburb.  Wines made in the wine room with all hands on deck have been so manipulated that they don’t have a breath of their own.   Their life stunted, so much so that they can no longer age.  The wine maker has added tartaric acid, purple dye, added sugar and added chemicals so that when we drink the wine it tastes a certain way.  The wine does not have a voice of its own, but groomed and trained to be one thing, enjoyed by 1 palate for a short time.  These are the George Orwell “1984” wines.  The Bob Geldof “Another Brick in the Wall” wines.  Marching off the bottling line into wooden boxes and off to the store front and sold for hundreds of dollars.  They are big, masculine, robust and arrogant wines.  We drink them young and the we say, “Wow, what power!”  Kind of like looking at the high school star quarterback.  In his senior year he is at the top of his game.  When he enters college he might continue his career.  However, he doesn’t make the pros and as life takes its toll, the glory days disappear.  Ten years later, he is 32 and working an office job , loosing his hair and has gotten himself a nice beer belly.  Those manipulated wines are the same, 10 years down the road they become awkward and underwhelming.

chateau musar tasting

Marc Hochar told us that the next time we are at a wine party and everything is winding down, go around and smell the empty glasses.  You will be surprised to see what you smell.  The wines that are made naturally will smell like wine, like the wine that was in the glass.  The wines which have been manipulated will not smell like wine, but all the junk they put into them.  Try it one day, you might stop drinking certain wines.

So the next time that you turn on the TV, don’t get discouraged by what your hear about the Middle East.  There is some good coming out from there.  Instead, go out and look for a bottle of Chateau Musar.

If interested in any of  the Chateau Musar wines and you’re in San Diego, join Prime Cru Wine Club, fill out the form and in the comment section let me know and I will be able to give you a list of what I have.  I believe I still have a few bottles of the ’93 rouge available.


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