The Coast News Group
Taste of Wine

Italian wines flourish at Belle Marie Winery

When Italian wines are featured at special event dinners, the host winery or restaurant is suddenly transformed into extended family celebration. The talk is loud and happy, the food takes on the flavor of a wedding or anniversary and the wines embody the very essence of the Italian lifestyle.
I started being served sips of Italian wine when I was all of 4 years old in Boston, where my grandfather had a press and a barrel in his cellar. My uncles used to play a simple game throwing fingers, for a double pour of this homemade red. Back then the wines were poured into large double-strength glasses that beer is normally served in nowadays. They knew nothing of the thin-stemmed tulip shaped glasses that are popular now.
This atmosphere was captured at a recent Italian wine dinner at Belle Marie Winery in Escondido, when Mick and Mary Dragoo hosted a feast for some 120 guests in their barrel room.
Six different grape varietals were served, paired with a luscious five-course gourmet dinner created by Master Chef Guiseppe di Giovanni of Ciao Restaurant in nearby Vista. Mick told stories of each of the wines that were selected to pair perfectly with each course. All wines were Belle Marie or the limited edition Chateau Dragoo.
The Italian wines presented were cellar creations to be released at a later date: the 2007 Dolcetto, 2006 Montepulciano, 2005 Aglianico, 2007 Late Harvest Primitivo, 2005 Chateaneuf du Pape ( from the south of France) and my favorite of the group, the 2005 Super Tuscan which is available on the Chateau Dragoo label. “We were really fortunate on this Super Tuscan which has major portions of Brunello in it,” Mick said. “We got first cuttings from the Guadalupe Valley where all of our Italian grapes come from, before the Italians copyrighted the Brunello name. Ours contains 6 percent Cabernet Sauvignon to solidify the taste. The cost is well below what the Italian brands would charge.” (Cost is $28. Case price is $22.40 per bottle.)
Mick made wine in the Napa Valley for 12 years before realizing he could do better in San Diego County with Mediterranean-style grapes. A pioneer winemaker in Temecula, Joe Hart, introduced him to Italian style grapes from the Guadalupe Valley and master grower from Italy, Camillo Magoni.
“He grows perfect grapes,” Mick exclaimed. “It’s the classic climate for all that is wonderful about Italian wines.”
The next major wine event for Belle Marie and Chateau Dragoo is the Vintage Club Pre-Release Party from 2 to 4 p.m. July 18, free of charge for club members and their friends. The newest wines will be tasted before they are released to the public. Visit the winery online for more information about the Vintage Club at or call (760) 796-7557.
What makes Australian wines worth drinking
Take a close look at a map of Australia and you notice right away it’s about the same size of the United States. It’s also the only continent to be occupied by one country. The 30 to 50 degree latitude location makes it potentially a sweet-spot growing area. You might call it the southern hemisphere version of the fine wine regions of Europe and the U.S. The cooler valleys of the southern coastal regions do best. Look for appellations like the Clare Valley, Barossa Valley and McLaren Valley in and around Adelaide. Near Sydney, the best come from the Hunter Valley, Yarra Valley and Coonawara. The southernmost island of Tasmania is surprising wine lovers, especially with their Pinot Noir.
The varietal that Australia is known for is Shiraz. It’s really the Syrah grape, but Aussies like to be different, so there it’s Shiraz. The best comes out of the Barossa and Mclaren Valleys. Seductive aromas and fine texture signal excellence in Shiraz. Try high-end, high-quality D’arenberg or Penfolds.
Wine Bytes
— Eli’s Wine and Food in Del Mar is helping present the Rady’s Children’s Hospital Wine and Food Tasting “Heard it Through the Grapevine,” from 5 to 8 p.m. June 7 at Del Mar Plaza. Admission is $50 and can purchased at Eli’s or by calling (619) 871-9700.
— The next San Diego State class on Exploring Wine is June 8 to July 6 from 6 to 9 p.m. on campus. The course includes an extensive overview of the world of wine, taught by expert Lisa Redwine. The cost is $325. Call (619) 594-6924 for details.
— A wine class on the Piedmont district wines of Italy is being held at Bacchus Wine Market from 6 to 8 p.m. June 11 for $45. Taste your way through the grapes of the region, like Barbera, Dolcetto, Barolo and Barbaresco. Light appetizers and eight to 10 wines will be served. Call (619) 236-0005 for details.
— “Wines for Summertime” is the theme for the next event at the Grand Del Mar’s Culinary and Wine series from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. June 10. Light, elegant wines are on the list, like German Riesling, Austrian Gruner Veltliner and domestic Pinot Noir. The cost is $95 per person. For an RSVP, call (858) 314-2000.
— 333 Pacific Restaurant at the Oceanside Pier opens its posh great wine room for a Suhr Luchtel Napa Valley wine and dine event June 17 with a 6:30 p.m. start. Winemaker Gary Luchtel will educate and entertain, choosing five wines to match with the lovely courses presented that evening. The main entrée will be grilled Australian lamb sirloin, matched up with the ’05 Sur Luchtel Cabernet “Stagecoach Vineyard.” The cost is $75 each. To reserve space, call (760) 433-3333.