The Italians pour some of the finest wines in San Diego

Italian wines are on a roll, having had several years of wonderful harvests and increasingly kind words in the wine press. This has emboldened the vineyards to band together and present their wines in cities across America.
Such a fine Italian wine tasting occurred recently in San Diego featuring “Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri” winners, put together by distribution heavyweights Southern Wine & Spirits and Palm Bay International.
Restaurants countywide that offer fine wines flocked to this special occasion with 13 of the very best wineries Italy has to offer.
The wines represent a vast and varied map of grape growing, with a tapestry of tastes well-suited to the wine aficionado who enjoys the nuances of earthy, mineral forward wines.
Unlike California, labels give no hint of the grape source, but concentrate on location, with obscure villages and districts like Barolo Chianti Classico, Montepulciano and Aglianico given star treatment. In Italy, we are looking at some 900,000 vineyards in an area similar to California in size and shape. To be sampling these 13 is indeed a pleasure worth savoring. The names to know and worth noting include Anselmi, Bertani, Mazzei, Cavit, Conte Brandolini, Ferrari, San Gregorio, Planeta, Poliziano, San Patrignano, Sella and Mosca, Travaglina and Marchesi di Barolo.
Castellina is a picture-book village in the pristine Italian district of Tuscany, midway on the fabled “Chiantigiana” road from Florence to Siena. It is a town that Francesco Mazzei knows well since his ancestors have been making wine there since 1435. Castello di Fonterutoli, a historic property, has been in the Mazzei family since that time and stands as his signature vineyard. Only cutting-edge quality is the standard for this acclaimed Chianti Classico with its Sangiovese grape varietal. Altitude has a significant effect on all vineyard production and the Mazzei family plants at up to 1,640 feet above sea level, with rocky limestone/sandstone soil structure. Low yield ensures high quality production of complex, elegant Sangiovese wines.
I tasted the 2005 Fonterutoli Chianti Classico and the 2005 Fonterutoli Siepi and found the Siepi a more delicious, grape forward wine, with a slightly herb accent. It is a blend of 50 percent Sangiovese and 50 percent Merlot. A year and a half in small oak barrels cultivates the result. It was clearly the best of show. Learn more from the Mazzei Web site at www.mazzei.it.
Pioneer winemaker Grgich celebrates 85th birthday
When I first met Mike Grgich, the hero of Napa Valley wines, it was three years ago and the book “Judgement of Paris” had just come out. It is an accounting of the shocking victory of Napa Valley wines over their established French counterparts in 1976, the first time American wines had gone head to head internationally in a highly publicized blind tasting. Mike, who was the winemaker for Chateau Montelana in Napa at the time, made the Chardonnay that elevated the area to star quality.
He gave me a copy of the book with a warm personal message, appropriate for this wonderful man who is still making beautiful Chardonnay at his Grgich Hills Estate, with his daughter Violet. The current vintage is a 2006, the first one certified organic and biodynamic. Mike was inducted into the vintners Hall of Fame last year. For more, access www.grgich.com.
Wine Bytes
— Cakebread Cellars of Napa Valley is the feature wine at the May 2 event at The Wine Encounter on University in San Diego. Cost is $30 per person with a 6:30 p.m. start. A classic tasting. Call (619) 543-9463 for details.
— La Cereza in Temecula Wine Country celebrates Cinco De Mayo with a Fiesta from noon to 6 p.m. May 2, with food, music, art, wine and beer service. Make your own tacos. Admission is free. Call (951) 699-6952 for details.
— Firefly Grill and Wine Bar in Encinitas has two wine dinners going on upcoming Wednesdays — one on May 6 and one on May 13. Both start at 6:30 p.m. with the first spotlighting Peju Winery and the next one Stephen Ross Wine Cellars. Call (760) 635-1066 for pricing and details.
— Luxus 101 Bistro and Grill in Encinitas is celebrating its first anniversary with a Coleman Family Vineyards Wine Dinner from 7 to 10 p.m. May 9. The cost is $70 each. Oregon Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir will be poured. RSVP is required by calling (760) 943-7180.
— San Diego’s Museum of Photographic Arts at Balboa Park has two events in May — a 100 Point Wine Tasting at a Rancho Santa Fe home at 4 p.m. May 9 and their Grand Tasting and Wine Auction starting at 6 p.m. May 30 at the museum. High-quality distinctive wines will be paired with featured San Diego restaurant cuisine. Tiered pricing includes $95 each for nonmembers. A live auction at 7:30 p.m. includes rare and fine wines. Call (619) 238-7559 for details.
— San Diego State has a new wine class: Bottle to Glass, from Winery to Consumer, which begins May 11 and goes to June 1. Enroll now through May 4 and get the discounted cost of $295. Call (619) 594-6924 for details.

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