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Jim Tobin, owner of North County Wine Company in San Marcos, points to the Carol Shelton tasting lineup. Photo by Rico Cassoni
Jim Tobin, owner of North County Wine Company in San Marcos, points to the Carol Shelton tasting lineup. Photo by Rico Cassoni
ColumnsFood & WineTaste of Wine

North County Wine Company’s ‘wild’ Shelton tasting

Jim Tobin’s North County Wine Company in San Marcos is a treasure trove for oenophiles offering a robust collection of wines from all over the world at very fair prices. In fact, Jim takes pride in competing with big box stores. 

Tobin creates a relaxed atmosphere at North County Wine. Regulars quickly strike up conversations with new guests creating a cozy environment for weekly top-flight tastings that are also reasonably priced.

While Frank and I are tempted to go weekly, we could not resist the recent Carol Shelton wine tasting. 

Shelton has been the “Zen of Zin” since 1978 and is a guru of single vineyard zinfandel.

Shelton and Mitch Mackenzie, her husband and business partner, have sought out exceptional vineyards throughout California, including Dry Creek Valley, Rockpile, Russian River Valley, Mendocino and the Cucamonga Valley AVA showcasing old zinfandel vines.

Many of her vineyard sources are organically grown and decades old. Shelton develops close partnerships with each grower to ensure her wines maintain and express the vineyard’s unique terroir. 

As a certified Sommelier, Tobin has a fantastic palate and provides outstanding tasting notes that I will use throughout to recap the tasting. We started with a 2020 coquille (pronounced co-kay) blanc.

“Subtle aromas of peach, yellow flower, buttered toast and sea salt show on the nose of this grenache blanc, roussanne, marsanne and viognier blend with a salty streak shooting through ripe peach, apricot and buttered brioche flavors,” Tobin notes. 

This 91-point Wine Enthusiast was a great start. Next was the 92-point Wine Enthusiast Wild Thing that Shelton is famous for in the “Zin World.”

“This fruity and concentrated wine made from organic grapes offers pure

berry and cherry flavors, a full body, and sleek texture making it irresistible,” Tobin said.

The third wine was the 2019 Monga Zin, my favorite of the tasting.

“Sourced from vines planted in 1918, the bottling begins with strong yet pleasant notes of black licorice, loamy soil and baked plum,” Tobin said.

I would also note the nominal, 100 degree Rancho Cucamonga temps helped with the intensity and ripeness of the palate with black cherry, caramel, cocoa, and spice.

This is also a 91-point  Wine Enthusiast awardee.

Next, Tobin splurged and had a fourth bonus wine, the 2019 Black Magic Late Harvest zinfandel. “This dessert wine is sourced from multiple vineyards and is blended with 15% late-harvest petite sirah creating dense flavors of cherry, vanilla and mocha with hints of baking spice and oak,” Tobin notes. This is also a Wine Enthusiast 90-point winner. 

Jim — Keep on keeping on! Visit

Cakebread returns to Flora Bar & Kitchen

Frank and I are always excited to hear what Flora owner Sal Ercolano comes up with for each year’s wine series.

Ercolano does a terrific job blending well-known wineries such as Cakebread with new ones such as Spain’s Torres Family.

So, I was glad to see Cakebread Cellars returning for the 2022 schedule with distribution rep John Parker narrating the dinner.

Manicotti shell stuffed with ricotta  cheese mixture in a lamb ragu bechamel  sauce paired with 2019 Cakebread merlot. Photo by Rico Cassoni
Manicotti shell stuffed with ricotta cheese mixture in a lamb ragu bechamel sauce paired with 2019 Cakebread merlot. Photo by Rico Cassoni

As a reminder, Jack Cakebread was a photographer. When taking a photo in 1972 for Nathan Chroman’s “Treasury of American Wines,” Jack and Dolores Cakebread fell in love with Sturdivant Ranch in Rutherford.

The Cakebreads casually offered to buy the 22-acre ranch. By the time they got home to Oakland after the photo shoot, the phone had rung, and the Sturdivants took them up on the offer.

After 50 years of ownership, the Cakebreads have a lineup of signature chardonnay to classic Napa Valley cabernet sauvignons to please customers. 

In traditional style, Ercolano and Chef Hilario dazzled guests with a five-course dinner, including chef’s mini bites served with sauvignon blanc and Flora’s signature bread pudding for dessert.

The first course was Wagyu Beef Carpaccio garnished with chives, scallions and shaved Parmesan cheese with extra virgin olive oil.

The ripeness of the ’20 pinot noir with full sun exposure and gravelly soil was a great complement to the wafer-thin carpaccio. I could have eaten this combo all night long.

The second course was a fresh-made manicotti shell stuffed with a ricotta cheese mixture in a lamb ragu bechamel sauce topped with melted mozzarella.

This was served with ’19 merlot fruit sourced from various sites, including Napa Valley, Rutherford and Calistoga.

The Napa Suscol Springs Ranch is notorious for stressing merlot resulting in smaller, concentrated berries adding richness and enhanced flavors to this multi-sourced merlot.

The 17-month aging in 48% new French oak created a palate with blackberry, black plum, spice on the finish, crisp minerality, and smooth tannins. This was also another great combo!

The main course was ribeye drizzled with a freshly made chimichurri sauce alongside fingerling potatoes and French beans.

The dish was paired with flagship 2019 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon sourced from Rutherford, Oakville and warmer Calistoga and cooler Suscol vineyards to create layers of depth and complexity.

The 2019 season started with ample rainfall and cooler temps at harvest resulting in an extended season creating distinctive floral aromas and concentrated flavors. Splashes of merlot, petit verdot, syrah, cabernet franc and petite sirah added further depth to the 87% cabernet sauvignon. More at

Great evening Sal Ercolano, Chef Hilario, John Parker, and Flora team!

During opening remarks, Ercolano was excited to announce weekday breakfast  and lunch at West End located in Del Mar.

Breakfast is now served from 9 to 10:30 a.m. and lunch from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner is served from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.  Sundays-Thursdays and 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.