Il Fornaio Senior Soux Chef Carlos Ruiz displays his favorite Umbrian dish, Risotto Umbro. Photos by Frank Mangio
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Taste of Wine: Italy made simple (and delicious) at Il Fornaio

Il Fornaio, in Del Mar and Coronado is Italian fine dining, its 23 locations mostly in California.  The brand started out as a bakery in the Lombardia district of Italy and the logo proclaims it as an authentic Italian Restaurant and Bakery. It’s still evident in their freshly baked bread with every meal and the enchanting desserts offered.

The freshness doesn’t stop at the bread and rolls. The pastas are made in-house daily and all sauces, soups and dressings are made from scratch. Most locations have wood-fired grilles and rotisseries. 

Ensalata di Finocchi e Pecorino Pepato started the Umbrian meal at Il Fornaio, washed with a white Argillae Umbrian wine.

I really love Il Fornaio’s long-standing “Festa Regionale,” a brilliantly conceived monthly culinary and wine tour through one of the 20 districts of Italy. The district changes monthly and the restaurant unveils the most sought after dishes and wines in the chosen areas. There is a rewards program known as Passport to Italy, with the entire year’s menu locations printed on it. Diners who choose the Festa Rigionale menu, will receive a stamp of attendance and a culinary gift as a reward. March will be Lazio month, a district that boasts Rome as its capitol. The Passport gift will be a Spice Mix for Penne Pasta, the all’Arrabbiata. Be sure to ask the wait help for details on this bonus at Il Fornaio. You may win a trip for two to Italy.

On the evening of my visit, the district of Umbria was the star menu of the month of February.

Umbria is the only landlocked district in Italy. Black truffles are a delicacy. It can be featured in many food recipes, even mixed into a salmon, but is best in pasta and risotto.  Carlos Ruiz is the Senior Sous Chef at Del Mar’s Il Fornaio.

He loves his specialty, Risotto Umbro. 

Umbria wine will always be in the shadow of neighbor district Tuscany with its worldwide reputation, but if you talk to Umbrians about their wine, they will tell you that the landscape is virtually the same and that their Orvieto Argillae is a racy white wine with lovely acidity, served with salads such as the Insalata di Finocchi e Pecorino Pepato, a flavorful fennel with endive, watercress, celery, carrots and imported pecorino pepato cheese from Parma.

I also discovered an Italian Tellus 2013 Merlot from Umbria that had aromas of blackberry and plum with soft silky tannins that paired well with the risotto.

However, Umbria’s top of the line red wine is Sagrantino di Montefalco. This is an inky blackish-purple wine, big, bold and muscular, made from the Sagrantino grape. The brand here is Colpetrone, a 2013 ( $66 a bottle at Il Fornaio).

As I mentioned, this month Il Fornaio features the district of Lasio, March 5 through 18, featuring traditional Bucatini all’ Amatriciana, a spaghetti with pork guanciale, a spiced tomato sauce with basil, onion, Calabrian peperoncino and pecorino cheese. Lazio is important to Italy, as it is the seat of Roman culture, artistry and power.

Their wines include: Felesco white wine EST, EST, EST with aromas of cit rus, apple and white flowers, Amarasco Cesanese with cranberry and sour cherry and Cesanese del Piglio.

For more on this culinary tour of Italy, visit

Wine Bytes

• A class on Super Tuscans and other Italian regional wines will be held at Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas from 6 to 8 p.m.. March 13. Eight wines will be enjoyed with Italian cheeses and other small bites. RSVPs at (760) 479-2500. The cost is $79 each. 

• Parc Brasserie on 5th Ave. in San Diego brings in Rombauer Winery from the Napa Valley, for a special wine dinner at 6:30 p.m. March 14, at 6:30pm. This five-course dinner will be paired with wines such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Call (619) 795-1501. Cost is $99 per person.

• WineSellar and Brasserie in Sorrento Valley San Diego presents wines from Southern France in a Walk Around Tasting from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. March 24.  Taste 15-plus wines, with special discounts this one day only. Cost is $35 each, wine club members $30. Call (858) 450-9557

• Join Roll Out the Barrels in downtown San Luis Obispo Thursday June 21 to Saturday June 23. Thursday from 4:30 to 7:30pm it’s Barrels in the Plaza with 50 wineries and local chefs for $60 each. Friday and Saturday buy a passport to Wine Country and taste your way through the many wineries. Cost is $75 Friday and $50 Saturday. See for details and tickets.

Reach Frank Mangio at

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