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North County Wine Company aka ‘Wine Hangout’

As a kid, we all had that one special hangout — a magical place where no matter what was going on, you could meet your friends and all was good.

I grew up in the 80s in Ohio and my special hangout was a video arcade with games like “Asteroids,” “Tempest,” and my favorite, “Dig Dug.” The arcade was right next to an Italian deli with killer meatball sandwiches. For me and the other newspaper boys, this was the special hangout that we enjoyed summer afternoons after the daily papers were delivered.

Perhaps an idea for an adult hangout with that magical vibe is North County Wine Company in San Marcos.  Frank and I enjoyed a top-flight tasting a few weeks back with proprietor Jim Tobin. This tasting kindled fond memories of my 80s newspaper boy, video arcade, and meatball sandwich days.

Tobin has created a special wine hangout that is fun and energetic with customers and banter reminiscent of the hit comedy “Cheers,” another 80s favorite memory.

Each customer is warmly greeted by Jim or another barkeep. Those wanting to hang out for a glass of wine or flight can cozy up to the bar or quaint tables and are quickly engaging with others, whether longtime friends or new acquaintances.

Tobin had an all-star lineup with a white and two reds. The tasting kicked off with 2018 Davis Estate Hungry Blonde Chardonnay. This was a “classic California” oaky, buttery chardonnay resembling powerhouses like Rombauer and Frank Family. It had aroma and flavors of butterscotch, apricot, and a hint of toast, like a crème brulee. The full flavor and long finish will have you coming back for more.

Jim Tobin, owner of North County Wine Company in San Marcos, with an all-star lineup of Davis Chardonnay, Turley Old Vine Zinfandel and Runquist Petite Sirah
Jim Tobin, owner of North County Wine Company in San Marcos, with an all-star lineup of Davis Chardonnay, Turley Old Vine Zinfandel and Runquist Petite Sirah. Photo by Rico Cassoni

Next up was a 2019 Turley Old Vine Zinfandel. A fun fact on the Turley is that it was sourced from 26 different sites.

“This zin offers inviting notes of black cherry, plum, and blueberry fruit accented with hints of spice, licorice, and dried flowers. On the palate, it is silky, soft, fresh, and approachable,” Jim mentioned in the tasting handout.

I always love Tobin’s down-to-earth descriptions and tasting notes. Also, the zinfandel was a 93pt Wine Advocate awardee. The tasting concluded with one of my favorite and affordable petite sirahs, the 2019 Runquist “R.” On the nose, the Runquist had cassis, berry, chocolate, and hints of mocha.

On the palate, there were blackberry, blueberry and nuances of vanilla. Runquist did a great job of softening the edgy tannins associated with the petite sirah fruit creating a creamy mouthfeel finish.

Besides a great wine hangout, NCWC has a wide selection of wine representing all parts of the world with a killer California and Pacific Northwest selection.  NCWC has fair and reasonable prices, competing with big box stores, many times with specials coming in less than market prices.  As always, Frank and I enjoyed hanging out at NCWC.  Details at

Esteban Ramirez – A Poet and Pianist

Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of going to a piano/cello concert hosted by one of my wife’s colleagues. I heard there was going to be great charcuterie and live music, but I did not expect to see an entire table covered with delicacies planned and prepared by budding “Chef” Kathryn Klement. I was also captivated by the music of uber passionate pianist and poet, Esteban Ramirez.

Ramirez was born and raised in El Paso and was the youngest of nine children. As a hyperactive child, his mother started him on piano lessons when he was 10-years-old to redirect some of his energy. He became hooked on piano and at age 11 became his church’s pianist.

Fast forward to today, he has released three albums under his own label, Descanso Music. Ramirez’s style is best described as neo-classical. He cites composers Chopin, Mozart, and Barry Manilow as strong influencers. For those who enjoy piano instrumental music, I encourage you to check out Esteban Ramirez. He has a magical way of making connections through his works.

Ramirez is currently working on his fourth album, “Running with the Sun,” a lifelong dream to perform with an orchestra that he is hoping to do in Prague. Find his music on iTunes, Spotify, etc. Details at

Wine Bytes

— Del Mar’s West End Bar & Kitchen will be hosting five-course Chalk Hill Wine Dinners at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 24, and Friday, Feb. 25. Since 1972, Chalk Hill Winery has been committed to creating terroir-driven wines of character, richness and elegance from the diverse terrain of Sonoma County’s rolling hills. This dinner will be hosted by Alan Crawford, vice president of Luxury Brands at Foley Family Wines. The main course features lamb osso bucco paired with Estate Red Blend. The cost is $75 per person + tax/gratuity. RSVP at 858-259-5878.

Vittorio’s Italian Trattoria is hosting a five-course Alexander Valley Vineyards Wine Dinner at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 24. Veteran Winemaker Kevin Hall is constantly adapting to the rhythms of nature, the readiness of the vineyards and the evolution of the individual wines. The main course features grilled petit filet mignon with 2018 “Organic” cabernet sauvignon. The cost is $75 per person + tax/gratuity. RSVP at 858-538-5884.

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