Wine wonderland was the largest ever in So Cal

The maestros of one of the largest wine and food extravaganzas in the U.S. have to be Michelle Metter and Ken Loyst of Fast Forward Events in San Diego.


It seemed like (on their 10th anniversary of the San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival held last month in some 25 venues over five days), that the entire wine-loving planet turned out for the featured Grand Tasting on Nov. 23, an outdoor monster event that showed 170 wineries, breweries and spirit purveyors at the Embarcadero behind Seaport Village in San Diego.

More than 700 different wines were poured for over 5,000 visitors, with 70 of the top chefs in the area offering samples of their restaurant cuisine.

And dare I say it — the day was spectacular, even by San Diego standards. Row after row and booth after booth, the wines shined, including: Ferrari Carano, Justin, Louis Latour, Robert Mondavi, Temecula Wine Growers and dozens of up and coming, tasty names.

Not to be outdone, restaurants and their celebrity chefs had specialty menu dishes for all who wanted a taste and there were long lines for such names as: Acqua Al 2, Amaya La Jolla, Avant, Bice, Harrah’s Rincon, Jake’s, Kitchen 1540, Marina Kitchen, Seasons 52 and many more. Over 40 local chefs were locked into a Chef of the Fest cooking competition for $50,000 in cash and prizes.

Chef Rich Sweeney of R-Gang Eatery was crowned with his Fat-Fried Beignets with Burnt Orange Cream. Seven members of a judging panel used a blind-tasting format.

On Nov. 22, I was in the audience when an Italian Master Class of Wine and Food was presented at Macy’s School of Cooking in Mission Valley. San Francisco’s finest Italian restaurant Acquerello’s, with owner and Executive Chef Suzette Gresham, wowed the foodies on hand to see her in action as she re-invented traditional dishes into a lighter more contemporary style.

Attendees were treated to a swordfish salad with roasted onion and tomatoes, bean soup with sage and a roasted pork loin “Arista.” Her partner for the day was the Italian wine expert Giancarlo Paterlini, who unveiled perfect Italian wines for each recipe — a bravo to the festival organizers for this Mediterranean masterpiece.

That evening, The Vault Reserve and New Wines Tasting filled the main ballroom at the Marriott Marquis & Marina Resort. Guests were treated to a wonderland of big name wineries, and none bigger than Saxon Brown of Sonoma and winemaker/owner Jeff Gaffney with 25 years of big time wines.

After a time at Chateau St Jean, Jeff launched Saxon Brown in 1997 and almost from the start he gained fame with an Old Vine Zinfandel. Lately I’ve been all over his Syrahs. With slow fermentation and lengthy barrel time, he’s got a rich, concentrated flavor of blackberry, plum and licorice in his latest release, the 2007 Parmellee-Hill ($34).

Saxon Brown also makes small production Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Chardonnay and Semillon. See more at To get the latest on the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, visit


Wine Bytes

Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas uncorks “Santa Wines” Dec. 20 from 6 to 8 p.m. Wineries include: Santa Rita, Santa Ynez and Santa Maria. $20. Compete in the ugly sweater contest — the winner gets a Magnum of wine! Details at (760) 479-2500.

A Happy New Year Sparkling Wine Tasting happens at WineSellar & Brasserie in Sorrento Valley San Diego Dec. 28 from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Many types of sparkling wines are available to help ring in the New Year. Call (858) 450-9557.

Wiens Family Cellars in Temecula celebrates the New Year with Elvis & the Golden Age of Vegas, Dec. 31 from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Appetizers, wines, dancing and music are highlighted. Cost is $65. To RSVP call (951) 252-1770.

New Year’s Eve at Morado, the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, includes a four-course tasting menu, with live entertainment from 7 to 11 p.m. $79.50. Reserve your table at (858) 381-8289.

Celebrate New Year’s at Chandler’s in the Hilton Carlsbad Dec. 31 from 5 p.m. Prix fixe menu $75. RSVP at (760) 602-0800.

Frank Mangio is a renowned San Diego wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. He is one of the leading commentators on the web. View and link up with his columns at Reach him at




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