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Flora owner Sal Ercolano and John Parker, a wine sales representative, enjoy a meal with guests at a recent Penfolds wine dinner at Flora. Photo by Rico Cassoni
Flora owner Sal Ercolano and John Parker, a wine sales representative, enjoy a meal with guests at a recent Penfolds wine dinner at Flora. Photo by Rico Cassoni
ColumnsFood & WineTaste of Wine

Penfolds displays best of Australia, Napa Valley at Flora wine dinner

Flora Bar and Kitchen owner and restaurant maestro Sal Ercolano and John Parker, a Republic National wine sales representative, recently orchestrated an exquisite five-course Penfolds wine dinner.

“The success of Penfolds has been driven by the generations of visionaries and innovators. From the beginning in 1844 to today, the merging of science, art and innovation has driven Penfolds to become one of Australia’s most famed and respected winemakers,” and one of the world’s most iconic wineries.

Dr. Christopher Penfold and his wife Mary planted their first vintage in Australia in 1844. As Dr. Penfold’s medical career blossomed, the brunt of winery operations fell to Mary. In 1870 after the passing of Dr. Penfold, Mary assumed total responsibility of the winery.

Mary retired in 1884 shifting operations over to daughter Georgina who was making one-third of South Australia’s total wine production by 1884 and by 1907 became Australia’s largest winemaker.

Georgina is famous for experimenting with new methods of wine production that carries on through today. Penfolds brought on its first Chief Winemaker Max Schulbert in 1948 who created the award-winning, flagship Grange as well as “bin wines.”

Three bin wines were part of the dinner.

“Twenty years ago, Penfolds purchased land and planted cuttings in Napa Valley. In 2018, it produced its first Napa Valley vintages,” Parker said. “Until the wine was perfected, Penfolds was not comfortable with putting their label on the bottle.”

Dinner started with Chef Hilario bites that included Ahi Tuna Poke on cucumber, Chorizo stuffed mushrooms and Beef Carpaccio on crostini.  This was served with Penfolds Max’s Chardonnay with crisp citrus flavors-pineapple and grapefruit with a floral nose, a 93pt Wine Enthusiast awardee.

The first course was a pan seared Crab Cake with baby greens topped with a lemon pepper aioli alongside 2019 Bin 311 Chardonnay. This also had a floral nose. The eight-month oak aging with 35% new French oak made this a 92-point (and greater) wine by James Suckling, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Robert Parker. I second the top reviewers — it was a great wine that melded well with the crab.

In the second course, the dinner shifted to reds with the 2020 Penfolds Bin 28 Shiraz, a 94-point Wine Spectator awardee, 94-point Robert Parker and 93-point James Suckling. The shiraz with cherry, plum, and a dash of blueberry on the palate was coupled with tubular Paccheri pasta and a rich Wagyu Bolognese sauce.

“This Shiraz benefits from the winemaking team sifting through 300 to 400 lots to match profiles,” Parker said.

The main course featured ostrich tenderloin paired with the 2019 Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon.

For the 407, Penfolds sources from multiple regions using blind tastings to create the perfect blend. The hint of gaminess in the ostrich was a great companion to the complexity and structure of the 407 with 12 months of aging in a combination of French (27% new) and American (8% new) oak. The dinner concluded with a Ghirardelli Chocolate Brownie with caramel sea salt gelato and Penfolds Club Tawny Port.

As you can tell, Ercolano and Parker were incredibly generous with the wine and food pairings. Thanks for spoiling the guests.  A shout out to servers Spencer and David and Chef Hilario for this memorable dinner.  See more at

Ercolano’s next wine dinner showcases another iconic winery, Napa Valley’s Wagner Family of Wine, featuring Caymus at his Del Mar West End Bar & Kitchen venue starting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 17, and Friday, Nov. 18. The main course features Braised Angus Short Ribs paired with Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon.  The cost is $85 per person plus tax/tip. RSVP at 858-259-5878.

Additionally, Ercolano will conclude his 2022 Wine Dinner series at Flora with five-course Prisoner Wine Company dinners at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 14, and Thursday, Dec. 15. The cost is $85 per person + tax/tip. RSVP at 858-461-0622.

— Story by Rico Cassoni.

We Want to Hear Your Wine Selections!

Frank and I discussed how we enjoy sharing great wines with our readers. Then we thought, what if YOU, our readers, share YOUR wine selections with us? Each month we will select at least one reader input to share. We always look for great value wines under $20, for $40 to $80 sweet spot wines, and indulgent $100+ special occasion bottles.

Please get in touch with us at [email protected] with the wine’s vintage, winery, varietal, source, tasting notes, and why you liked it. We look forward to hearing from our readers and sharing their favorite wines.

Wine Bytes

— Victor Magalhaes, the proprietor of Vittorio’s Italian Trattoria in San Diego’s Highland Valley, is hosting the Ultimate “A Night in Italy” Wine Dinner at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 11. Guests will enjoy four courses of Italian wine and food pairings representing Sardinia, Campania, Puglia, and Tuscany for the main course featuring Roast Prime Rib paired with Verbena Brunello di Montalcino Sangiovese. The cost is $75 per person + tax/gratuity. RSVP at 858-538-5884.

— Congratulations to Hope Family Wines, named “American Winery of the Year” by Wine Enthusiast magazine’s annual Wine Star Awards, the industry’s premier global awards celebration.  This is a huge win for Austin Hope, the Hope Family Wine team, and the collective Paso Robles wine country. Learn more at

— Recently reviewed 2051 Cucina Italiana and The Crosby Baker have teamed up to serve some of Kary Favish’s delectable delicacies – Basque Burnt Cheesecake, Ultimate Ghirardelli Chocolate Truffle Brownie, and Mille Feuille (Napoleon) at 2051. This is heaven on earth with amazing Italian dishes and divine desserts. Additional details at and

Rico Cassoni is the executive producer of Taste of Wine & Food. Cassoni and founder/advisor Frank Mangio, a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator, are two of the leading reviewers on the web. Visit Reach them at [email protected].