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Daou Vineyards' Daniel Brunner and Eryn Schnitzler a wine dinner at the West End in Del Mar. Photo by Rico Cassoni
Daou Vineyards' Daniel Brunner and Eryn Schnitzler a wine dinner at the West End in Del Mar. Photo by Rico Cassoni
ColumnsFood & WineTaste of Wine

Daou Vineyard’s flagship wine dinner at Del Mar’s West End

When guests walked into Sal Ercolano’s West End with sweeping panoramic views of Del Mar’s wetlands and coast, they also had another view. This second view was a formation of Daou wines to be paired with Chef Noe’s mouthwatering menu.

In the formation was Daou’s flagship wine, Soul of a Lion, dedicated to Joseph Daou, master winemaker and father to Daou proprietors and brothers Georges and Daniel.

Joseph instilled in his children the virtues of hard work, perseverance, and pursuing their dreams. Despite skepticism, Georges and Daniel defied convention by purchasing property in Paso Robles to craft exceptional Bordeaux wines.

Joseph encouraged them, saying, “Forge ahead without hesitation. Give it everything you’ve got.” Thus, Daou Vineyards was born with his blessing. The brothers dedicated their crown jewel, “Soul of a Lion,” to Joseph’s memory, celebrating his legacy and urging them to embrace life with the soul of a lion.

Leading the evening’s narration was Daniel Brunner, Daou Vineyard’s division manager for California and Hawaii. Brunner was assisted by his Daou colleague Eryn Schnitzler, SoCal business development manager, and Republic National Distributing Company’s senior sales manager, John Parker.

Brunner expressed gratitude for his friendship with Ercolano and acknowledged, “Seven years ago, Ercolano took a leap of faith by featuring Daou wines at his restaurants and hosting Daou wine dinners.” Today, Daou has become one of Paso Robles’ most renowned wineries.

(Left to right) Sal Ercolano, Proprietor, West End and Daniel Brunner, Daou Vineyrds, Division Manager, California and Hawaii conducting a raffle for Daou prizes. Photo by Rico Casson
(Left to right) Sal Ercolano, owner of the West End, and Daniel Brunner, of Daou Vineyards, held a raffle for Daou prizes during a recent wine dinner. Photo by Rico Cassoni

Brunner also revealed that the Daou brothers recently acquired a 200-acre vineyard in Tuscany, with similar characteristics to their Paso Robles terroir. Located at an elevation of 1,800 feet and boasting calcareous soils, the Tuscan vineyard will be initially planted with Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon, and Merlot. I am eagerly waiting to savor Daou’s Super Tuscans.

The dinner commenced with Chef Noe’s delectable mini bites, featuring duck carpaccio on crostini, caprese sticks, and flatbread pinwheels. These were paired with the vibrant 2022 Sauvignon Blanc enticed with fragrant notes of grapefruit and pineapple while offering a refreshing palate showcasing flavors of lime, green apple, white nectarine, and pineapple.

Next on the menu was the tantalizing Shrimp Dijon, sautéed shrimp and a whole grain mustard brandy sauce. This dish was complemented by the 2021 Bodyguard Chardonnay, a heartfelt dedication to the brothers’ mother, Marie, who had always been their protector. Sourced from Santa Barbara, this chardonnay shared some similarities with the Sauvignon Blanc in terms of its aromatic profile and flavors.

However, it distinguished itself with a creamier texture and a lingering finish, owing to its aging process of 10 months in a blend of 30% new French and American oak, along with 40% neutral French oak, which imparted delicate hints of coconut and spice, particularly from the American oak influence.

The third course featured homemade short rib ravioli in a creamy porcini mushroom sauce paired with Daou’s 2020 Sequentis Reserve Merlot. This new-age merlot exhibited vibrancy, flavor, and liveliness, setting it apart from other merlots and making it an ideal match for the mushroom sauce.

On the palate, Sequentis showcased notes of blueberry and blackberry, with hints of black currant, cassis, fig, and black olive. The 18-month-aged merlot, with 50% new French oak, was awarded 94 points by Wine Enthusiast.

Next up was the 2019 Soul of a Lion Bordeaux and crispy duck legs glazed with a blood orange reduction served with garlic mashed potatoes. Soul of a Lion is handpicked, optically sorted, free-run juice aged for 22 months in 100% new French oak, competing with Napa Valley blue chip labels such as Opus One.

The brothers spare no expense in honor of their father and how much Soul of a Lion means to them. Next year’s 2020 vintage will mark the 10-year anniversary of the first Soul of a Lion release. The wine’s purple, black opaque color with off-the-chart phenolics 280+ part per million (ppm), fragrant floral nose, deep black cherry with hints of licorice on the palate, and ultra-smooth, structured finish was perfect with the duck and a Robert Parker Wine Advocate 97-point winner.

Crispy duck legs glazed with a blood orange reduction served with garlic mashed potatoes paired with 2019 Soul of a Lion Bordeaux. Photo by Rico Cassoni
Crispy duck legs glazed with a blood orange reduction served with garlic mashed potatoes paired with 2019 Soul of a Lion Bordeaux. Photo by Rico Cassoni

The Daou/RNDC teams also poured tastes of Patrimony, Daou’s top-tier premium wine dedicated to the brother’s legacy marked by the Latin moniker “Legatum Nostrum,” meaning “This is our legacy.” With 30 months aging in Bois Rose French oak, creating phenolics beyond 320ppm, Patrimony even exceeds Soul of a Lion quality with Jeb Dunnuck 97-100 point scores. Having a pouring of Soul of a Lion and Patrimony tasting was beyond memorable. More at

Dinner concluded with old-fashioned chocolate pudding served with Daou Pessimist, a petite sirah (76%) dominant blend with zinfandel (12%), syrah (10%), and lagrein(2%). Hats off to Ercolano for the generous pricing, Chef Noe, Brunner, Schnitzler, Parker, and the West End team for a spectacular evening!

Note: West End is now open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday to Friday.

— Story by Rico Cassoni

Wine Bytes

At 6 p.m. on June 22, The Butcher Shop will host a Brandlin Estate Wine Dinner. Brandlin, situated on Napa Valley’s Mount Veeder, will showcase their 2019 THS Cabernet Sauvignon and 2019 Malbec, paired with grilled NY Steak and Braised Short Ribs. The cost is $120 per person, inclusive of tax and gratuity. RSVP at

Rico Cassoni is the executive producer for Taste of Wine and Food. Founder/Advisor Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. Frank and Rico are two of the leading reviewers on the web. View their columns at Reach them at [email protected].