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Community Taste of Wine

Taste of Wine: Wine Dream Teams: Calif. vs. Wash. at PAON

Gino Campbell is the Advanced Sommelier at PAON Restaurant & Wine Bar in the Carlsbad Village in North San Diego County. He took over this project more than a year ago, applying his decades of skills in mastering wine excellence as a graduate of the University of Bordeaux in France.

He has raised the level of wine appreciation exponentially along the North Coast to the point where PAON is now recognized with an Award of Excellence from the world-renowned publication, Wine Spectator.

About an hour after Campbell announced his “dream team” lineup, it was a sell-out. Seating was banquet style and at the bar. He keeps it comfortable and at a size where guests can maximize the benefit of these memorable wine events. Six of the most magnificent wines in America were lined up and poured blind so guests could debate what they tasted before being revealed.

As with most regal wines of this caliber, delicious appetizers were paired with each. What we tasted was Cabernet, the ultimate West Coast varietal and the brilliantly structured red from Bordeaux, France. Campbell would pour, then paint a picture of each choice, elevating the history and credits of each.

Gino Campbell, of PAON Restaurant & Wine Bar in the Carlsbad Village, produces the “Dream Team,” wine competition tasting between California and Washington. Photo courtesy Frank Mangio
Gino Campbell, of PAON Restaurant & Wine Bar in the Carlsbad Village, produces the “Dream Team,” wine competition tasting between California and Washington. Photo courtesy Frank Mangio

What a lineup it was! On the California side, my top pick was the 1997 Joseph Phelps “Insignia” blend from Napa Valley. This vintage was the No. 1 choice of “Wine of the Year” at Wine Spectator. This flagship wine brand for Phelps is still riding high with its new 2013. You feel the effects of 88 percent Cabernet from the Stags Leap District, Rutherford, St Helena and Oak Knoll.

The wine is aged 24 months in oak, with a fabulous concentration. Critic Robert Parker gave it a 98-point rating. Best cost is $209.95 if you can find it. On the Washington side, Quilceda Creek is breaking all records for quality in the Columbia Valley. In 2016, it was the No. 2 wine in the world at Wine Spectator, which said about the wine: “It set the benchmark for Washington Cabernet in 2012, an ideal vintage that produced wines of power and elegance.”

It gave the wine 96 points. The bulk of the 4,100 cases came from Horse Heaven Hills ($140). PAON features over 700 wines by the bottle and 40+ by the glass. See more of this exceptional restaurant and wine bar at PAONCARLSBAD.COM.


Palm Desert Food & Wine Sizzles

The Gardens at El Paseo in Palm Desert took on a symphony of wineries, breweries and an array of restaurants with executive chefs. Then there was Gail Simmons, Bravo’s Top Chef Chief Judge, a standout with her pretty looks and pretty good book “Talking With My Mouth Full.”

Sixty wineries and 40 restaurants created an atmosphere worthy of royalty.

It was three days of sniff, swirl and swallow with leading wineries like Fess Parker, Hartford, Kendall-Jackson, Prisoner Wine, Rombauer, San Antonio, Trinitas, Wiens from Temecula, ZD and the perpetual winemaker of energy in a bottle, Mike Grgich. Grgich, who is 94, winters in nearby La Quinta, and summers at his home and winery in Napa Valley.  His rep in the area, Jaquee Renee was pouring the Grgich 40th Anniversary Chardonnay.

It’s the festival to be a part of so don’t miss next year’s. You can check into their site, which may have next year’s date. See


Wine Bytes

Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas is planning a Sonoma wine tasting, April 14 from 6 to 8 p.m.  Enjoy this laid-back wine country’s wines, up to six tastes for $30 per person; $20 for club members. RSVP to

Vigiliucci’s Gourmet Market in Carlsbad Village has an “Assagio Vini” event, April 22 at 5 p.m.  Cost is $35 for appetizers, wine and imported meats and cheeses.  Call (760) 720-0188 for your RSVP.

Hartford Court is the wine of choice at the A.R.Valentein Restaurant Artisan Table dinner, April 27 at 7 p.m.  Jeff Stewart the winemaker is the special guest.  Cost is $175. Call (858) 453-4420 for details.

Follow the DePortola Trail April 30 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the big reds in the Temecula Wine Country.  Nine owner-loved wineries will serve three of their best red wines each, along with gourmet food sampling expertly prepared by artisan chefs, and a free logo glass at no extra charge.  Cost for this annual wine fest is $69.99. Details and ticket information at

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  And reach him at

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