Sipping around Carlsbad makes for a fine wine time

Carlsbad is a lovely beach and barbecue town and a city that I have called home for many years. It never occurred to me until recently that in casting around for a story on a North County coastal San Diego community that seemed to be dominating the social wine scene, Carlsbad gets the nod.
Active, events-driven wine shops like Carlsbad Wine Merchants, Wine Loft and La Costa Wine Company compete with restaurants and resorts. New wine and dine places are going up in both the downtown district and village style shopping centers in new communities like Bressi Ranch.
Wine shoppers keep coming back to well-run specialty centers like The Forum and Carlsbad Premium Outlets. The city even has its own winery by the sea with Witch Creek Winery, releasing 24 handcrafted wines from its location on Highway 101. A few blocks away on Carlsbad Village Drive, the classy, richly appointed PAON Restaurant and Wine Bar is attracting a big following with its steady stream of stylish wine events, including the legendary Frenchman Stephan Asseo of Paso Robles’ L’Aventure. 
The winery was a perfect fit for the restaurant’s California-French cuisine and European style service.
PAON was recently named the Best Restaurant in the San Diego area for 2010 by San Diego Magazine. The wine list has an abundance of Cabernet and Bordeaux style blends.  L’Aventure has been a Paso signature winery for some 13 years and tonight was spotlighting its new release 2008 Estate Cuvee ($85), a blend of 50 percent Syrah, 36 percent Cabernet and 14 percent Petit Verdot, served with an Angus Veal entrée.
Asseo’s pledge is to make “balanced wines for your pleasure.” 
“Paso Robles is one of the few wine countries that French Bordeaux style wines co-exist with French Rhone style wines,” he said. “This is why I left France. I could not do a wine like the Estate Cuvee there due to restrictions on blends. I don’t have a formula when I make this wine. I do have the freedom to create what the harvest, the earth and the weather have given me. I try all the grapes in my vineyard, come up with five or six blend combinations before choosing the best that I have tasted. 2008 was not the best for the cabernet, so I made this blend mostly Syrah. You can see and taste the strength in the 15.9 percent alcohol and the purple/black tones and flavors, with the long, spicy finish. This is an enormously balanced wine which will get even better with aging.” 
It was an adventure (which is English for L’Aventure) to engage with this firebrand of fine wine. We hope to see more of Stephan Asseo and his passionate love of French style wines.
I was also fascinated by PAON’s well-cared-for retail wine shop, presently at 170 carefully selected bottles of fine wine, soon to be up to 400 bottles. It’s managed by Jen Graves, who has been crafting her abilities for a number of years in San Diego.
Not a day later, PAON hosted an important Italian wine tasting in cooperation with Maddelana Brands of Southern California, representing may fine Italian vineyards and wineries. As many of my readers know, Italian wines are more earthy, acidic and made to compliment food, than their California brethren. Names to know from this tasting included: La Montecchia from Veneto, Marotti Campi from Marche and Fornacina from Montalcino in Tuscany. 
Other interesting Carlsbad locations for great wine and food are the new Tommy V’s in Bressi Ranch, Vigilucci’s two locations, West and Bistro West and the Mediterranean Café. All will reward you with a Carlsbad-style wine and food experience.
Merlot’s comeback
I have to admit I am one of these closet Merlot fans that maybe roots for an underdog and hopes that this comeback kid rises from the ashes.
Merlot was blindsided with a sucker punch when the enormously successful “Sideways” movie and its main character, Miles, slammed Merlot and put Pinot Noir on a pedestal. Merlot growers like Beringer and Provenance in the Napa Valley and a number of Washington growers are fighting back. In my top 10 tasting, I placed the Grgich Hills 2006 Napa Valley ($42) as a leading edge Merlot. At its best, Merlots like Grgich have that velvety, black cherry at the front palate. Many have said the ’07 is equally concentrated in lovely flavor that builds to rich, cherry/oak finishes. You will have to spend more for peak Merlot, but the rewards will be there.
Wine Bytes
— Bacchus Wine Market downtown San Diego has a 4th of July BIG Zin and BBQ event from 4 to 9 p.m. July 2. Cost is $15 per person. For more information, call (619) 236-0005.
— Falkner Winery in Temecula Wine Country is celebrating its 10th anniversary July 3 and July 4. The event includes free jazz music from noon to 3 p.m., barbecue, tours, hourly raffles and big discounts on their award winning wine. For more information, call (951) 676-8231, ext. 1.
— San Diego State is offering its “Exploring Wine” course Tuesdays, from 6 to 9 p.m. July 6 to Aug. 3. It’s part of SDSU’s certification program. For more information, call (619) 594-6924.
— The Temecula Valley International Jazz Festival is on for July 9 to July 11. Prices start at $35. Acts include Herb Jefferies and Fred Payne, Pancho Sanchez and Trini Lopez. For more information, call (951) 678-2517.

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