At Seasalt Del Mar, slow-cooked short ribs and root vegetables on a bed of creamy polenta with a Nickel&Nickel duo of Sullenger and State Ranch. Photo by Rico Cassoni
Columns Taste of Wine

Taste of Wine: Make sure to stock up on 2016 wines as 2019 comes to close

The other day I was going through some of the many candidates the Taste of Wine team had gone through this past year, prepping for our Top Ten Wine Tastes for 2019, the last week of this year.

The light bulb started to get brighter and bigger as I sifted and thought through some elite big dog Cab wines. They not only represented the U.S. West, where it’s best, but spread out to other varietals in the European underbelly that in the same year, captured the fancy of our wine brethren from Italy and even France.

2016 is turning out to be a classic wine year worldwide. In Napa Valley, Lewis Cellars is one of the best examples. Photo by Rico Cassoni

Can it be that the hundreds, maybe thousands of new releases that are flooding the market as I write, with the magic number 2016 splashed around the cylinder, are destined to be the vintage that stands out as legendary after a half decade of California classy years?

Oh yes dear reader, 2016. Notch it in your cooler, make space and stock up.

With Cabernet Sauvignon as the yardstick, I would conclude that 2016 is a classic. My friends at Wine Spectator said it well when they recently declared the 2016 California Cabs collectively a classic 98 points on their 100-point scale. “It’s a year of stunning wines that will drink well in their youth and develop gracefully for decades. There are new discoveries and old favorites.”

Count Lewis Cellars with their 2016 made in Coombsville Napa Valley as an old favorite. It won the Best Wine of the Year award from Wine Spectator in 2016 … an omen for this year’s excitement.

Over in Italy, the country’s signature Tuscan blend, the current vintage 2016 Sassicaia from Tenuta San Guida, scored 97 points from Wine Spectator. Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc are the “Kingmaker” grapes here, with a rich black cherry base.

For a French wine pleasure, the 2016 L’Ermite Ermitage by M. Chapoutier from the Rhone Valley will sharpen your palate with a heavenly 98 points from Spectator.

Check out the full list of Top Ten Tastes in our Dec. 29 issue, and be sure to stock up on the 2016s, now at a wine store near you, wherever you are.

Seasalt 2019 finale spotlights Far Niente

Proprietor Sal Ercolano, also proprietor of West End Bar & Kitchen, hosted 30 dinners in total between both restaurants in 2019, featuring an epic five-course Season Finale Far Niente Wine Dinner with champagne reception.

It was nostalgic seeing Mark Pighini, Far Niente, western region sales manager. Far Niente was the first Napa Valley winery I visited when the column started 15 years ago and Mark was the first person that I met at the winery. Chef Hilario dazzled guests with tray passed small bites at the champagne reception and after sitting down we had octopus carpaccio, homemade tortellini with pancetta, slow-cooked short ribs with root vegetables over creamy polenta, and ended with a cheese platter with honeycomb, fresh fruits and nuts.

These top-notch creations were paired with EnRoute Chardonnay, Far Niente Chardonnay, EnRoute Pinot Noir, and a duel of two Nickel & Nickel Cabernet Sauvignons — “Sullenger” and State Ranch.

The Oakville Sullenger had nice balanced tannins and the Yountville State Ranch had more fruit on the palate along with black currant and cassis. Mark surprised guests with a 2017 Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon that was not on the menu.  Our wine palates were singing harmonies with this trio of great Cabs followed by the Bella Union Cabernet for dessert.

Rico and I had the pleasure of sitting next to Villa Guadalupe Montefiori’s Director and Winemaker Paolo Pauloni and wife Grace. We were having a great conversation about Paolo’s Aglianico wine, when Sal came to our table with a surprise bottle of Paulo’s Aglianico nectar. Great smoothness and balance on the tannins for this bold Italian grape, an exceptional Italian wine!

Congrats to Sal and his teams at both restaurants for an amazing year of exceptional wine dinners. Sal is excited to feature Dave Phinney influenced wine dinners in 2020 including Prisoner wine that he made famous with a shot of Zinfandel and sold along with Orin Swift wines that he created, sold to EJ Gallo, and is now the winemaker for.

Prisoner Wine Dinners are Feb. 6 and Feb. 7 at Seasalt and the Orin Swift Wine Dinners are March 5 and March 7 at West End Bar & Kitchen. Details at and

Wine Bytes

• Wine Vault & Bistro (San Diego) has a Top 5 Reds of 2019 10-Course Tasting menu on from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Dec. 29. The Top 5 were based on a whole year’s worth of sales recaps voted by customers pocketbooks. Cost is $69.50 per person.  RSVP at (619) 295-3939.

• Firenze Trattoria (Encinitas) is celebrating New Year’s Eve with a special menu starting at 6 p.m. featuring a three-course Prix Fixe menu including their specialty Lasagna Firenze. Cost is $75 per person. RSVP at (760) 944-9000.

• Marina Kitchen Restaurant & Bar (San Diego) at the Marriott San Diego Marina is hosting a DAOU five-course Wine Dinner from 7 to 10 p.m. Jan 8 featuring Braised Short Rib paired with 2016 Estate “Soul of a Lion” and Seventeen-Forty, Mystery Vintage. Only 40 seats available, cost is $165 per person and includes gratuity. RSVP at (619) 234-1500.

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