A toast to the Italians and their big wines

I’ve always wanted to go to “Vinitaly,” the annual gathering of the world’s Italian winemakers, and for the past 45 years, a vast tradeshow in Verona, Italy in April. Friends and associates who’ve attended have proclaimed it the largest and most influential wine event on the planet.
So it was with a large dose of excitement that I was on the guest list at TOAST, the popular Italian “Enoteca and Cucina” wine bar and restaurant next to PETCO Park in downtown San Diego.  TOAST recently honored Vinitaly, and selected some of the best-of-show wines to pour for a select group of wine lovers. 
The wines had scored the highest rating available from Gambero Rosso’s yearly guide to Italian wine, equivalent to Wine Spectator’s 97+point wines.
Owner and Chef of TOAST, Martin Gonzalez was serving his most requested Italian menu dishes, including pizzas, tortellini and rigatoni. Gonzalez is well known for his award-winning Acqua Al 2 Italian Ristorante in the Gaslamp District.
Gonzalez works diligently, with the certainty of his culinary and wine experience in Florence, Italy, to present wines like no other in the metro area — over 400 wines by the glass served from state-of-the-art Enomatic Servers.  These are automated machines with electronic displays, giving price, name and description of the wine. Each pour by the machine dispenses a portion-controlled serving. The server has 16 bottles that customers can access and purchase through pre-paid debit cards. TOAST can change the wine menu at any time. 
When I visited, TOAST was offering some extraordinary Italian picks, which included a 2006 Chianti Classico, Fattoria Le Fonti from Panzano, Toscana; a blend with an unusual oak and fruity character, different from many of the region’s wines. 
Another Toscana favorite was the Brunello from Montalcino — the 2005 Tenute Silvio Nardi has Italy’s highest rating.  All Brunellos spend a minimum of four years in barrel and one year in bottle before release — and are still considered generally young at 10 years.
Then, I stopped at the Antinori table where the classic Tenuta Tignanello 2007 was being served and there I stayed.  Piero Antinori, the great patriarch of the family, tutored me through the wine from an Internet video.
His Tignanello is considered the original “Super Tuscan.” It is a blend of 85 percent Sangiovese, 10 percent Cabernet and 5 percent Cab Franc.  Truly exquisite Italian winemaking!
For more information, visit toastenoteca.com, or call (619) 269-4207.  Weekday happy hours are from 3 to 6 p.m., with Sunday happy hours lasting all day.
Private parties are a specialty in the wine lounge or on the outdoor patio.
J Cellars names new winemaker
Melissa Stackhouse has been named vice president of winemaking at the J Vineyards and Winery located in Healdsburg, Sonoma.
Stackhouse is a graduate of UC Davis and was winemaker at La Crema from 2003 to 2010, and was most recently at Jackson Family Wines where she was master winemaker of all Pinot Noir.
J has a long been known as a top sparkling wine house with fine estate-driven varietals like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Find out more about Stackhouse and J Wines by visiting jwines.com.
Wine Bytes
— Canapes Restaurant and Wine Bar in San Marcos is now open every day from 4 to 10 p.m., with weekly outdoor movies Wednesday nights starting at 7:30 p.m. For more, call (760) 510-2088.
— Bacchus Wine Market in downtown San Diego is planning a Cabernet Franc tasting June 10 from 4 to 8:30 p.m.  Wine from California and France will be compared.  Cost is $20.  Phone is (619) 236-0005.
— The new Mahogany Mountain Winery Tasting room in Ramona has Port-style wines, chocolates and other food delights, plus Zumba classes June 11 from 4:15 to 6:15 p.m.  Cost is $20 pre-pay, $25 at the door.  Call (858) 248-1612 for more information.
— PAON Restaurant and Wine Bar in Carlsbad is presenting an Orfila Wine Tasting June 12 from 2 to 5 p.m.  Cost is $25 per person.  For more information, call (760) 729-7377.
— The 28th annual Wine & Roses Charity Event is June 12 from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Westgate Hotel in downtown San Diego. Expect lots of food, wine and entertainment.  Other festivities include a silent auction and drawings with 40 wineries participating. Cost for the event is $65 pre-pay, $75 at the door.  Call (619) 583-9463.
— Firefly Grill and Wine Bar in Encinitas brings in Cakebread Cellars with a great wine dinner June 14 at 6:30 p.m. Call (760) 635-1066 for an RSVP.


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