It was early 2006 and I was just beginning to get the Taste of Wine column together hitting on all cylinders after my rookie year, when I first stepped into the tasting room at Orfila Winery overlooking the San Pasqual Valley.
I was so impressed by a hanging display board showcasing hundreds of wine awards from California’s most competitive shows and others halfway around the world in the capitals of Europe. It was there I met winemaker Leon Santoro with his enviable track record of mastering European-style winemaking from Italy and France. He was hired in the mid-‘90s by the then new owner Allejandro Orfila, a former winemaker and ambassador from Argentina. Santoro assured him he would stay and transform the winery into a world-class fine wine vineyard and winery.
The two of us became good friends and he mentored me on the fine wines of Italy and France. He loved the French Rhone Valley and its varietals like Syrah,
Grenache, Mourvedre and most of all, the complex white wine Viognier which I learned to love. It was one of my Top Ten Tastes in 2006 and again in 2008, and we helped make it a sensation when Santoro took it to Bordeaux then to the San Francisco wine show. In both competitions, the Orfila Viognier took gold.
Leon Santoro passed away in early 2009 but before he went, he presented me with a 3-liter rose-engraved and painted bottle of Syrah with a personal message and signature written on the bottle.
One of our “together” pastimes was to walk the fields of the Orfila 70-acre vineyard. He was experimenting with a new Italian varietal that he predicted would someday take its place with Sangiovese as the most popular varietal in Tuscany. It was called Montepulciano. It has now become a leading estate grown wine in the expanded inventory of fine wines at Orfila, thanks to the efforts and talents of current winemaker and General Manger Justin Mund.
Mund is a product of Sonoma wine country, then the Central Coast. Two of his stops before being winemaker at Orfila were Ferrari-Carano in Sonoma and Letitia in Arroyo Grande along the Central Coast. I only mention this because they are very high on my short list of excellent wineries that make California the supreme wine grape country in today’s wine world.
He began his Orfila winemaker assignment in 2010, developing his own California style to the great European varietals uncovered by Santoro. “We source our grapes from both the estate and select vineyards from Sonoma, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. It’s exciting for me to look back and see how much the Orfila team, production and the quality of wines has developed since 2010 when I arrived,” he reported on the Orfila website. The latest new releases to taste include: the 2015 estate Montepulciano ($44), the 2014 Pinot Noir Element 119 from Arroyo Grande ($40) and the 2014 Pinot Noir Sequestered from the Santa Maria Valley ($55). All scored over 90 points in a leading wine publication. Visit orfila.com.
Ridge, Hall and a luscious Ruby Port at Vittorio’s
Vittorio’s of Carmel Valley San Diego closed the year with a flourish when his wine reps Mindy Hewitson and Jordan Mungin of the Estates Group brought in one of the elite Sonoma wineries, Ridge Vineyards and their East Bench 2015 Zinfandel as well as an impressive Chardonnay and a complex red blend. But it’s the Zins that pop in popularity with their old vine qualities from Dry Creek.
This heritage varietal has some Petite Sirah and Mourvedre in it and is aged 14 months in oak. It is very concentrated and delicious to the palate.
Not to rest on this triumph, Victor, the owner came right back with his “Best of 2017” wine event. There was Pinot Noir and a Bordeaux blend that drew attention, but the ring in the new year best of breed was the Hall Cabernet Sauvignon, a 2014 from Napa Valley ($60), one of the great modern wineries that Taste of Wine has written about. And to top off this event, Vittorio’s brought out a Ruby Port from Taylor-Fladgate with its 20 percent alcohol and 10-year minimum aging in oak casks, a perfect finish to any meal, or year.
The first wine dinner for 2018 will be a Robert Hall dinner at 6 p.m. Jan. 25 for $50 a person. See details at vittoriossandiego.com.
• Oak +Elixir downtown Carlsbad has a wine tasting event with Oso Libre Winery from Paso Robles from 7 to 9 p.m. Jan. 23. Winemaker Jeff Freeland will attend. Cost is $35 and includes cheese and charcuterie boards. Go to oakandelixir.com for tickets.
• Pala Casino Spa and Resort on Highway 76 east of Interstate 15 is presenting a wine dinner by Grgich Hills Estate, at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25 with a reception at 7 p.m. in the new Bar Meets Grill, formerly in Pala Cave. This will be a five-course dinner, each one highlighting a special Grgich varietal including Fume Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the wine from the internationally famous Mike Grgich, one of my very best friends in the wine world and a Vintner’s Hall of Famer. Don’t miss it. Cost is $85 per person. Call (877) 946-7252.Ask for the January Wine Dinner.
• Firenze Trattoria in Encinitas is planning a Flowers Vineyard and Winery dinner at 6 p.m. Jan. 25. Flowers is a renowned Sonoma Coast vineyard so you will enjoy Pinot Noir that night. Cost is $95 each for this five-course dinner. RSVP at (760) 944-9000.
• Krupp Brothers of Napa Valley is the featured wine at WineSellar and Brasserie in Sorrento Valley San Diego, in a tasting from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Jan. 27. Five of their best will be at the tasting. Cost is $25 each, $15 for club members. Call (858) 450-9557.
Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. He is one of the leading commentators on the web. View his columns at thecoastnews.com. Go to menu then columns. Reach him at email@example.com.