‘Big,’ ‘bold,’ only just begin to describe taste of a Lewis wine

Big, bold and concentrated just begin to describe what’s in store when a Lewis Wine meets the palate. But what’s to expect when one of the country’s leading race drivers, Randy Bell, decides he’s had enough of the track and settles in to making great Napa Valley wines. It started in 1992, so this would be 20 years of winning wines. Dennis Bell, Randy’s son, decided to work at the winery in 1999 after a successful career in Human Relations and contributed to the challenge of making small-lot, boutique superb wines. Total annual production is just 9,000 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

I first met Dennis at the Grand Del Mar, where Jesse Rodriguez, their celebrity Wine Director, introduced us before a winemaker’s dinner at Addison Restaurant. Dennis emphasized at that time and still does that “we choose the highest quality fruit from other vineyards, from Calistoga, St. Helena, Rutherford and Oak Knoll, chosen for maximum flavor. We like big, spicy concentrated flavors.”

Dennis Bell of Lewis Cellars Napa Valley recently stopped in Carlsbad to pour some new releases of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Photo by Frank Mangio

I recently got the call that Bell was in Carlsbad at NEXTERNAL, his E-Commerce partner, and wanted me to share some pours of Lewis’s newest releases: two 2010 Chardonnays and a 2009 Reserve Cabernet.

I was there in minutes.

The Reserve Chardonnay comes from two vineyards in the Oak Knoll District and we’ve bottled 500 cases at $65 per bottle. Only the top barrels wind up bottled. The other Chardonnay comes from the Russian River Valley with 450 cases made also for $65 with 15 months of barrel aging. It’s tropical fruit, with an explosive fragrance. The Cabernet is a 2009 Reserve with 1,500 cases produced at $130 per bottle: opulent spices from a small collection of vineyards in Oak Knoll and Calistoga. A small dose of Petit Verdot for sensitive sweetness frames the flavor.

Lewis is a winery that seeks only the best grapes from all over the Napa Valley for its wines. It relies mostly on look and flavor rather than analytical data. That can only come with experience in making premium wines. Wines can be ordered at lewiscellars.com.

Vin Italy Wines Toasted

Each April, the city of Verona Italy hosts Italy’s largest wine show, Vin Italy. There is over a thousand varietals of wine, from Pinot Grigio in the North to Brunello in Tuscany, in a land of diverse wines and cultures. Toast Enoteca and Cucina, next to the ballpark downtown San Diego captures this flavor in its own annual slice of Vin Italy, featuring the best of the best. More than 40 wines were brought in and I thought I would go through my list of top tastes from this event. Most are available at Toast’s new retail wine shop on premises. Check for current pricing:

Toast Enoteca and Cucina downtown San Diego plays host to a recent gathering that enjoyed some of the most awarded wines in Italy. Photo by Frank Mangio

Ruffino Greppone Mazzi Brunello, Montalcino 2004.


Rubesco Riserva Vigna Monticchio, Umbria 2005.

Tormaresca Massieria Maime, Puglia 2004.

COEVO Toscana Cecchi, Castellina. 2007.

Allegrini Amarone Classico, Valpolicella. 2007.

The world’s premier wines have been launched at the Toast Retail Wine Shop, as well as a new concept Wine Club and monthly wine tastings and dinners June 14. RSVP to an Argentina four-course dinner and wine tasting. Each course has a different wine and the entire night is $50.

RSVP at (619) 269-4207.

Wine Bytes

Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula has an evening of Caribbean Food, Cigars and Music, June 10 from 6 to 10 p.m. Sit down dinner pairs up with 4 wines, 3 cigars and island music. Public admission $110. RSVP at (951) 699-9463.

The Wine and Roses Charity Tasting & Sale is June 10 at Liberty Station in Pt. Loma from 3 to 6:30 p.m. Food, wine and live music throughout plus a live auction and drawings. Advance tickets are $65, at the door $75. Must be 21 and over. (619) 583-9463.

Firefly Grill & Wine Bar in Encinitas brings in a top wine dinner with Cakebread Wines of Napa Valley, June 12 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Its new chef is Justin Braly, formerly of West Steak, Bistro West and Café Chloe. Make your reservations now at (760) 635-1066.

The Wine, Cheese and Chocolate Festival for the Women’s Museum in Balboa Park San Diego is June 15 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. in the Spanish Village in the park. Thirty wineries, chocolate and cheese makers will be in attendance. Boogie Woogie music by Sue Palmer. $35. For tickets, call (619) 233-7963.

The annual Taste of Little Italy in San Diego with walking food sampling in the historic district is June 20 from 5 to 9 p.m. All food is from the many trendy and traditional restaurants. Live music from the clubs and bars with special beverages offered for those 21 and over. Advance purchase $35. Day of event $40. Visit tasteoflittleitalysd.com. Call (619) 615-1092.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. His library can be viewed at www.tasteofwinetv.com. (Average Google certified 900 visits per day) He is one of the top five wine commentators on the Web. Reach him at mangiompc@aol.com.


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