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(Pictured from left to right) Sal Ercolano, owner of Flora, guest Christine Barnes who won a Daou Soul of a Lion wooden box with a bottle of Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and Roman Palumbo, Daou's San Diego manager. Photo by Rico Cassoni
(Pictured from left to right) Sal Ercolano, owner of Flora, guest Christine Barnes who won a Daou Soul of a Lion wooden box with a bottle of Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and Roman Palumbo, Daou's San Diego manager. Photo by Rico Cassoni
ColumnsFood & WineTaste of Wine

Premier Daou wine dinner at Flora Bar & Kitchen

Sal Ercolano, the owner of Flora Bar and Kitchen, hosted a premier Daou Wine Dinner earlier this month. Why “premier?” Ercolano pulled out all the stops for the pan-seared venison course paired with Daou’s flagship 2019 Estate Soul of a Lion Bordeaux Red Blend. More pairing details are later in the column.

Roman Palumbo, Daou’s San Diego manager, was on hand from the winery to narrate the dinner. Palumbo’s first Daou wine dinner that he organized and executed was at Flora two years ago. He mentioned that he had learned tons since this first dinner. He then shared that he will be moving to Los Angeles to take over the LA account, a great opportunity and promotion.

“This is a bittersweet moment for me. I will always remember Flora as my start at Daou, but I am excited to grow in my new position,” Palumbo said.

With this being his last dinner as the San Diego rep, like Ercolano, Palumbo pulled out all the stops with the raffle prizes. Guest Christine Barnes had the winning ticket for the Daou Soul of a Lion wooden box with a bottle of Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Unbound Red Blend, Reserve Rose, and Daou book inside.

During the opening comments of the dinner, Ercolano had several key remarks. First, he will be shifting most of his wine dinners to his The Butcher Shop location.

This includes a Caymus Wine Dinner starting at 6 p.m. on March 9. The main course features Braised Beef Cheeks paired with Caymus’ Cabernet Sauvignon, one of Napa’s most iconic reds. The cost is $120 per person, which includes tax + gratuity. Ercolano also invited guests to The Studio Diner in Kearny Mesa, the newest restaurant in his portfolio, and a Duckhorn Wine Dinner on March 23 at his West End location in Del Mar. More details will be forthcoming on the Duckhorn dinner.

Over dinner, Palumbo provided background on the wines and the Daou story. One of the most touching pieces of the Daou story is Georges and Daniel Daou’s beyond-brotherly bond after an errant missile blasted into their house. For several weeks, Georges was in a coma, and Daniel suffered shrapnel wounds.

When Georges came to in the hospital, Daniel was at his bedside. Following the missile hit, parents Joseph and Marie moved the family to Southern France, where the brothers appreciated wine while spending time with their father.

The family spent their entire savings to have Georges and Daniel go to school at UC San Diego to earn their Computer Science degrees, after which they created one of the first healthcare management systems, Daou Systems.

After selling the company, the two brothers spent years traveling the world to find one of the finest terroirs in the world in Paso Robles on top of what is now Daou Mountain at 2,400 feet elevation. With the soil of Bordeaux and the climate of Napa, they can produce some of the finest estate wines in the world.

Dinner started with Chef Bites of Ahi tuna on cucumber with a creamy wasabi sauce, pulled pork on a crispy tostada, and a caprese stick of tomato and mozzarella cheese served with 2021 Sauvignon Blanc blended with sémillon. The sauvignon blanc was clean and zesty with layers of citrus (grapefruit and pineapple), guava, and passion fruit.

The first course was thinly sliced duck carpaccio topped with parmesan cheese slices and extra virgin olive oil alongside 2020 Reserve Chardonnay. Like the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, the extra money spent on the Daou reserves is worth the splurge.

The chardonnay had enticing layers of green apple, citrus, pineapple, and Asian pear with hints of buttered toast, toasted oak, and almonds. The partial malolactic fermentation and 11 months of age with 50% new French oak created a creamy mouthfeel with an exceptionally long, clean, and delightful finish of vanilla bean.

Guests enjoyed freshly made osso buco ravioli with a creamy porcini mushroom sauce for the second course and a 2020 Santa Barbara Pinot Noir. The pinot had a robust flavor profile with layers of ripe cherry, cranberry, strawberry, plum and earthy elements that saw 10 months of age with 35% new French oak.

The pinot cleaned the tongue, so each bite of the ravioli and mushroom sauce was as fresh as the first. The main course of pan-seared venison with creamy polenta and root vegetables paired with the 2019 Soul of a Lion dedicated to the Daou brothers’ father, Joseph, was mind-blowing. The Estate Bordeaux Red blend (78% cab sauv, 12% cab franc, 10% petit verdot) is aged in 100% new bois rose (rare pink French oak) barrels designed for Daou.

o me, the 2019 Soul could be the best that master winemaker Daniel Daou has ever produced. The purple-black color with off-the-chart phenolics was a kaleidoscope of rich, black fruit on the nose and palate, along with secondary aromas of sweet tobacco & licorice.

The full body blend of 100% free run juice had incredible structure and an extraordinarily long supple finish earning Robert Parker and Wine Enthusiast 98 pt scores. Soul sets the bar for smooth tannins. Dinner concluded with Panna Cotta Italian custard with fresh berries and Bodyguard Red Blend (65% Petit Verdot and 35% Petite Syrah.

The unique blend with a lush palate of rich black plum dried cherry well complemented the red wine coulis topping the panna cotta. Bodyguard dedicated to the Daou brothers’ motherly protective instincts sees 18 months of aging in 35% new French oak and 35% in American oak—more details at

It was a dinner for the memory books. Taste of Wine & Food wishes Roman the best in his new position.

— Story by Rico Cassoni

Wine Bytes

— Victor Magalhaes, owner of Vittorio’s Italian Trattoria, is hosting a Frescobaldi Wine Dinner at 6 p.m. on Feb. 23 hosted by Joseph Schegel. The main course is grilled petite filet mignon served with mashed potatoes and broccolini paired with 2019 Tenuta Castiglioni. Dinner is $75 per person + tax/gratuity. RSVP at 858-538-5884.

— Carlsbad’s newest fine Mexican food and cantina, Alejandra’s, invites guests to experience a unique twist on its traditional Mexican cuisine. Using seasonal ingredients, Alejandra’s made-from-scratch Mexican tastes are curated by its commitment to offering fresh, handcrafted recipes. The restaurant is open Monday through Sunday from 4 to 10 p.m. Frank and I are working on setting up a review—more details to follow. Find the  menu at

Rico Cassoni is the Exec Producer for Taste of Wine and Food. He and Founder/Advisor Frank Mangio, a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator, are two of the leading reviewers on the web. View their columns at Go to recent columns. Reach them at [email protected].