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Louis Trenta, left, Duckhorn SoCal District Manager, and Sal Ercolano, proprietor of Flora, West End and The Butcher Shop. Photo by Rico Cassoni
ColumnsTaste of Wine

Duckhorn delights at Flora

Maestro restaurateur Sal Ercolano, proprietor of Flora, West End and now The Butcher Shop in San Diego’s Kearny Mesa district hosted two Duckhorn Wine Dinners last month at Flora bar&kitchen.

With his all-star team of Executive Chef Hilario and friendly, well-trained servers, Ercolano delighted guests with great food paired with delicious Duckhorn wines. Louis Trenta, Duckhorn’s SoCal District Manager, narrated the dinner and walked guests through Duckhorn’s story and wines.

Dan and Margaret Duckhorn, lovers of French Right Bank wines, co-founded Duckhorn Vineyards in 1976 with a focus on merlot as a standalone vs. blending wine. Dan felt the Merlot varietal was underappreciated in North America.

“I liked the softness, the seductiveness, the color,” he said, “the fact that it went with a lot of different foods; it wasn’t so bold, didn’t need to age so long, and it had this velvety texture to it. It seemed to me to be a wonderful wine to just enjoy. I became enchanted with merlot.”

Their first vintage was in 1978 under founding winemaker Tom Rinaldi, who produced 800 cases each of merlot and cab sauv.

At the time, Duckhorn was one of the original 40 wineries in Napa Valley (N.V.). Over the past 40-plus years, Duckhorn has established itself as one of North America’s premier producers of N.V. wines while growing to eight estate vineyards in N.V. and the slopes of Howell Mountain, guaranteeing a consistent source of high-quality fruit.

Today the portfolio includes major brands: Paraduxx, Golden Eye, Migration, Decoy, Canvasback, Calera, Kosta Browne, Greenwing and Postmark.

Renee Ary, the current head winemaker, joined Duckhorn in 2003. After 10 years of learning Duckhorn wines with duties from lab manager to enologist to assistant wine winemaker then to associate winemaker under winemaker Mark Beringer, she now oversees the entire portfolio with winemakers at each brand.

Accolades under her leadership include Wine Spectator’s 2017 No. 1 Wine of the Year (2014 Three Palms Vineyard Merlot), Wine and Spirits naming Duckhorn a Top 100 Winery in the world four times with Ary at the helm and 10 times in total, and 2018 Duckhorn Napa Valley Cab Sauv, a 93-point Wine Spectator awardee.

Dinner started with Chef Hilario Mini Bites that included a potsticker, ahi poke on a cucumber wedge and bruschetta. This was paired with 2018 Golden Eye Brut Rosé bubbles, a pinot noir and chardonnay blend, with hints of blood orange accenting the poke.

The first course was Duck Breast Carpaccio with shaved parmesan and radish garnished with truffle oil and served with 2020 Duckhorn N.V. Chardonnay. I could have made this my main course. The chardonnay and carpaccio were sympatico with both embracing the other.

Unfortunately, only 25% of Duckhorn’s 2020 chardonnay was able to be picked. The remaining was damaged by smoke taint and heat spikes. Overall, only 30% of the total 2020 Duckhorn estate fruit: sauv blanc, chardonnay, cab sauv and merlot were salvageable.

Trenta said, “It is going to go quick, and prices will go up. If there is a 2020 Duckhorn wine you like, grab a couple of bottles.”

Next up was Risotto Al Funghi Porcini (porcini mushroom risotto) alongside 2019 Golden Eye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from Duckhorn’s Confluence Vineyard near the coast.

The Golden Eye pinots are the most served pinot in the world for great reason. I loved the black tea and cherry on the front palate with cola on the back palate. The 2019 was a great complement to the risotto.

The main course was perfectly cooked (medium rare) oven-roasted venison with a black cherry red wine reduction, scalloped potatoes, and asparagus paired with 2019 Paraduxx Proprietary N.V. Red Wine (53% cab sauv, 12% petite sirah, 12% zin, 11% petit verdot, 7% syrah, 5% malbec). The blend was a deep, dark red with black fruit and spice on the nose, juicy black fruit on the palate with vanilla hints.

The black fruit profile matched up nicely with the venison’s black cherry wine reduction sauce.

Dinner concluded with Formaggi Misti, an array of cheeses, acacia honey and toasted almonds. This was served with 2019 Duckhorn N.V. Cabernet Sauvignon. The richness of the wine balanced the subtleness of the misti.

More details about Duckhorn portfolio wines at

Wine Bytes

— Next up for Ercolano’s wine series is Napa Valley’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar at Del Mar’s West End Bar & Kitchen on Thursday-Friday, June 23-24, both nights starting at 6 p.m. This history-making winery won the Judgement of Paris with its cabernet sauvignon in 1976.

Guests will be served three courses, an appetizer and dessert. The main course is rack of lamb with a demi-glace reduction and garlic mashed potatoes paired with 2018 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon. Cost is $85 per person, plus tax/gratuity. RSVP at 858-259-5878.

— A bit off the beaten path for us, but we could not resist getting the word out for BRO-AM. The Switchfoot BRO-AM Foundation is dedicated to giving back to the San Diego community by heightening the profile of and providing grants to nonprofit organizations that provide services to homeless, at-risk and disadvantaged youth, with a special focus on programs related to music, art and surfing.

Beach Fest is Saturday, June 18, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Join 17,000-plus attendees for a free, all ages, family-friendly community giving movement event to enjoy a whole day of surf contests, live concerts on the beach with Grammy award-winning rock band Switchfoot, special guests, brand activations, vendor booths, green initiatives and more. $10 donations are encouraged.

Upfront VIP tix are $150. Additionally, there is a benefit party (500-plus attendees) on Friday, June 24, 6 to 10 p.m. with tickets starting at $250 for general admission. Details and ticket sales at

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. Frank and Rico are two of the leading commentators on the web. Reach them at [email protected].