Romantic gondola wine parties dock at Loews Coronado

In Venice, the gondola has been the most romantic symbol in all of Italy. Handsome men in striped shirts and pie hats take couples along the maze of canals in long, black, sleek boats. They steer the gondolas and croon Italian love songs, breaking out a bottle of chianti with cheese and bread.
The magic and tradition of the gondola is as near as Coronado Island San Diego, on the docks of Loews Resort and Hotel. It may not have the centuries-old villas and cathedrals, but it does have San Diego’s lovely weather and clear skies, virtually assuring a relaxing journey and romantic adventure.
A closer look at the Gondola Company’s version of gondola rides shows that it can be an even more attractive feature than the originals in Venice.
Wine sommelier Kirt Kirschenman leads a Party Gondola Wine Tasting Cruise, with several scheduled tastings through the summer that weaves its way around the many canals of Coronado Cays. He presents six favorite wines with complimentary chocolate covered strawberries that enhance the flavor of the offerings. Sean Jamieson, the captain of this whimsical evening, navigates a double size gondola that can seat up to 14, while Kirschenman opens six lovely wines. They were Mediterranean varietals on the evening I covered the event. Standouts were: 2008 Benvolio Pinot Grigio white from Fruili ( 8.99 ), 2005 San Alejandro Las Rocas red from Spain (8.99) and 10-year-old Quinta do Noval Tawny Port from Portugal ($28.99). The port was laced with nutty, coffee-like notes, snuggled up to a roasted cherry-like nose with raisins and spice.
Definitely a nautical favorite that night.
A gondola cruise can be tailored to the occasion, from the signature Passaporto ($85 for two) to the Fleet Cruise for large groups on as many as six gondolas ($25 per person). For reservations and information, contact the office at (619) 429-6317 or visit www.gondolacompany.com.
Wines of the Danube
One of the exhilarating benefits of tasting wines in lesser-known parts of the world is the hunt and discovery of distinguished wine countries, like Austria. This part of the world has rewarded me in the past with its fantastic scenery, music and centuries-old architecture. I am just now learning about the warmth and purity of its white wines.
The Wachau region on the banks of the Danube River and west of Vienna makes wines that are layered with cool minerality and are nicely acidic. The grapes are Gruner Vetliner and Riesling and are picked from steep vineyards, grown on terraces high above the Danube, never more than a half mile from its banks. The wines are not cheap: range is from $25 to $70. You get a combination of power, elegance and a cool character with pure fruit. Austrian wines are world-class. Try the 2006 Franz Hirtzberger Riesling, or the 2006 Emmerich Knoll Gruner Veltliner.
Wine Bytes
— The next Venetian Party Boat Wine Tasting in Coronado (see story above) will be from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. June 26. The cost is $45 per person. Sommelier Kirt Kirschenman has six bottles of his favorites he will taste with you. Call (619) 429-6317 for details.
— The second annual Wine & A Bite Art Walk series is from 5 to 7 p.m. June 20 in downtown Fallbrook. Food from six popular Fallbrook restaurants will be offered. The cost is $20 per person in advance, $25 the day of the event. For ticket info, call (877) 451-3282.
— Eli’s Food and Wine in Del Mar presents the newest wines from the Napa Valley’s legendary ZD Winery, from 3 to 5 p.m. June 20. The cost is just $10. Call (858) 481-2323 for details.
— North County Wine Company in San Marcos has a couple of powerhouse wine events coming this month: June 19 for Big Juicy Reds and June 26 for Summer Whites. Both events are from 5 to 8 p.m. and cost $10 per person. Call (760) 744-2119 for details.
— Island Prime Restaurant on Harbor Island San Diego presents a Tasting and Seminar of Pinot Noirs from Around the World from noon to 2 p.m. June 20. Learn about the Pinot grape with a hands-on workshop to include hosted hors d’oeuvres. Cost is $30. RSVP by e-mailing Maurice@islandprime.com.
— San Diego Wine Company on Miramar Boulevard in San Diego has an all-Italian tasting from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. June 20. The cost is just $10. On June 27, they have an all-German tasting for the same price.
— South Coast Winery Resort and Spa jazzes up the winery with Rhythm on the Vine June 27 starring singing great Jeffrey Osborne, Kirk Whalum and Gerald Albright. The event benefits Shriners Hospitals for Children. Gates open at 5 p.m. Admission starts at $55. Visit www.wineresort.com for details.

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