The Coast News Group
Taste of Wine

Il Fornaio – Now that’s Italian!

Pinot Grigio, Gavi, Prosecco, Spumanti, Barbera, Dolcetto, Sangiovese, Chianti Classico, Nero D’Avola, Barolo, Barbaresco, Valpolicella… the Italian wine list reads like a journey to Italy, at Il Fornaio in the Del Mar Plaza.  And the nicest thing about this list is that you can taste by the glass or, for not much more, enjoy a bottle.

Mathew Galli is the General Manager and his philosophy of dining is perfect for an Italian restaurant:  my kitchen is your kitchen.  The first course could be a meal in itself and is worth sharing.  The choice was the Antipasto Della Casa, a showcase of all that is wonderful about Italian cuisine.  Exciting flavors like Prosciutto di Parma, Italian salami, Caprese, Bruschetta al Pomodoro, grilled artichoke, zucchini and eggplant, roasted bell pepper, Grana Padano cheeses, with green and black olives.  The breads are house-made and include Ciabatta and multi-grain varieties.

The pizzas are thin-crusted with house-made dough, made every morning.  The generous topping of Mozzarella amount of cheeses on all pizzas is imported from Italy.

I would recommend the Margherita Pizza with Mozzarella, tomato sauce, oregano and fresh basil.  It was the original, created in Naples, Italy.

“We have some creative ways to make the flavor of our pizzas unique,” said Galli.  “Our mozzarella is from the old country and is made from cow’s milk.  Our sweet basil is torn by hand to bring out the flavor on every edge.  The oregano and olive oil are the best. The pizza bakes to a precise time in our ovens, which are set for just over 400 degrees. Only then will all the flavors be ready to serve to our diners.” The pizzas can serve two to three diners with the Margherita pizza priced at $14.99.

The pasta also is an artisan style direct from Italy, and made in some 12 different classic styles.

Surprise specials can come at any time at Il Fornaio.  The time that my group was there, a Branzino alla Puttanesca was offered.  This is Italy’s version of wild sea bass and had a tomato filet and white wine reduction served with roasted potatoes and sautéed spinach, a favorite dish of Chef Di Cucina, Roberto Carboni.  The restaurant also has occasional Festa Regionales, from one of Italy’s 20 unique regions.  Next up is Piemonte wines and cuisine, Nov. 3 to Nov.16.

Visit on the web at and call for a reservation at (858) 755-8876.

Wine Divas Making a Name for their Wineries

In the world of wine, women are proving themselves to be every bit the equal of a previously male-dominated winemaking profession.

The national wine media, like Wine Spectator and more recently Food & Wine, have spotlighted women of distinction, many of whom have crafted their wines in the famous Napa Valley/Sonoma districts of California.

Melissa Stackhouse creates award winning Sparkling Wines for J Vineyards in Sonoma. The fruit is sourced from the Russian River Valley.  Try the Cuvee Brut with a lively lemon lime zest ($28) or the Brut Rose’ with flavors of tangerine and rose petal ($38.)

Helen Keplinger makes wine in Carneros, some 22 styles since 2006, but travels thousands of miles constantly in search of flavorful grapes especially Granache, the French Rhone Valley prince, elusive to all but a few winemakers who can solve its unique style.  Her experience was nurtured in Priorat, Spain, where she was invited to learn and make Garnacha, the Spanish twin to Grenache.  Despite being the second most widely planted grape in the world, Grenache is little known in California, but in France and Spain, it is a famous, sought-after wine varietal.

Helen Turley should be a name some of you should already know since she has been aNapa Valley winemaker since 1987.  She is one of the first to rely on low vineyard yields, barrel fermentation with native yeast and avoiding filtration.  She worked for some of the best vineyards, and now has her own, the Marcassin winery.

Other notable names include:  Gina Gallo of Gallo Signature Series, July Chan of Grace Vineyard, Barbara Banke of Jackson Family Wines, Margo Van Staaveren of Chateau St. Jean and Sarah Quider and Rebecka Deike of Ferrari-Carano winery.

This TASTE OF WINE column is number 500, over a nine year stretch.  Thank you to all who read it and enjoy it, and yes I do love what I do.

Wine Bytes

BK Wine Cellars and Urban Winery in Escondido will present a fine wine and fine art photography show, Nov. 8 from 5 to 9 p.m. The show called Inspiration is free to the public.  Ten exhibitors will show their creations.  Details, call (760) 741-0051.

A Viva Espana Wine Dinner will be held at The Patio restaurant in Pacific Beach, Nov. 11 from 5:30 to 8 p.m.  Spanish wines to complement.  $70.  Call (619) 501-5090 for an RSVP.

Firefly Grill & Wine Bar in Encinitas has a Whitehall Lane Napa Valley wine dinner, Nov. 11 at 6:30 p.m.  Details and an RSVP at (760) 635-1066.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator.  He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web.  View and link up with his columns at  Reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Facebook.