Senior Editor Frank and I were excited to attend the recent Antica Wine Dinner at Flora Bar & Kitchen under the leadership of proprietor Sal Ercolano. As a reminder, Ercolano was Taste of Wine and Food’s 2020 Restaurateur of the Year.
When many were shuttering restaurants, Ercolano purchased Amici’s and converted it to Flora knowing its potential once the pandemic eased. Extra special was the fact that this was the first wine dinner held at Flora due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The energy at the venue was electrifying for this inaugural dinner. Guests were ready for an amazing dinner paired with beautiful wine. Chef Hilario was at the top of his game for this five-course dinner with Napa Valley Antica’s Glenn Salva, estate manager, narrating the evening with Ercolano.
While many of us are familiar with Antinori wines, some might not know that Antica is actually Napa Valley’s (Anti)nori (Ca)lifornia headed up by Marchesi Piero Antinori. Piero represents the 26th generation of Antinoris overseeing Antinori winemaking that dates back over 630 years!
I asked Salva how Antinori and Antica wineries have navigated the last year of the pandemic. He said, “Rico, it is all about Piero’s leadership and his 4 P’s — passion, patience, persistence and perseverance. Piero’s 4 P’s guided us through the tough times.”
Chef Hilario, confirmed by several guests I spoke to, hit it out of the park on the dinner. Dinner commenced with an appetizer trio with ahi poke on cucumber, fried mozzarella stick, and coconut shrimp with dipping sauces paired with 2019 Antinori Vermentino – Tenuta Guado al Tasso. The vermentino grown along the Mediterranean Sea fermented in steel without malolactic processing had great minerality and crispness. It was a great start with Hilario’s trio.
Next up was carpaccio di bresaola, thinly sliced beef filet topped with baby arugula, mustard vinaigrette, crostini and grapefruit wedges. This was served with 2019 Antinori Chardonnay Mountain Select, which had a creamy mouthfeel and oak aging that complemented the acid in the vinaigrette and grapefruit.
The third course was Flora’s Lasagna Bandiera, one of the best lasagnas in San Diego. Noodles were layered with spinach-infused ricotta, Bolognese and mozzarella cheese alongside 2018 Antinori Il Bruciato – Tenuta Guado al Tasso.
The Il Bruciato cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah blend from Guado al Tasso’s vineyards represents Bolgheri’s unique terroir, giving the wine structure and complexity perfect with the Bolognese.
The main (fourth) course featured cabernet-braised short ribs topped with microgreens served with polenta and asparagus. This was paired with 2017 Antica Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Mountain Select. The 2017 vintage benefited from early rains, but also had heat spikes in September. The high altitude of Atlas Peak protected the fruit but did require an early harvest in late September for peak ripeness with a perfect balance of concentrated red and purple fruit characteristics along with firm sweet tannins.
Dinner concluded with a cannoli served with Antica Estate Moscato from its G&G Soracco vineyard. Details at anticanapavalley.com.
Ercolano has two upcoming wine dinners. The first is at West End Bar & Kitchen in Del Mar featuring Catena Zapata wines from Mendoza, Argentina, considered to be the pioneer of malbec wine, Thursday-Friday, May 20-21, at 6 p.m. Cost is $75 per person plus tax and gratuity. RSVP at 858-259-5878 or visit WestEndDelMar.com.
Also, save the date for A Night in Valle Guadalupe Winemaker Dinner, where Ercolano has Valle Guadalupe winemakers from Vinos Lechuza, Cava Maciel, and Paoloni Vineyards sharing their wines, on Wednesday-Thursday, June 23-24, at 6 p.m. at Flora Bar & Kitchen in Carmel Valley. Cost is $70 per person plus tax and gratuity. RSVP at 858-461-0622 or visit florabarandkitchen.com.
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- Cork & Knife Urban Winery in Escondido presents its next Meet the Vintner, Steve Clifton, Wednesday, May 12, 5 to 7:30 p.m. This free wine tasting will feature Palmina rosé, pinot grigio, sangiovese and nebbiolo. Cork & Knife also sells small seasonal plates to purchase while wine tasting. Details by calling 858-703-8399.
- Explore Paso Robles during its annual Wine Festival, Thursday-Sunday, May 20-23. Enjoy four days of wine tastings, winemaker dinners and outdoor winery events. This year, it will be limited to individual activities at some 150-plus wineries throughout the weekend. Plan your weekend and book your stay at pasowine.com.
- Flora Bar & Kitchen and West End Bar & Kitchen are hosting Mother’s Day brunch and dinners. Both venues will have $7 mimosas. Flora will also have music by The Dirty Martini’s duo from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Brunch is served at both restaurants from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner from 4 to 8:30 p.m. RSVP at 858-259-5878/WestEndDelMar.com or 858-461-0622/florabarandkitchen.com.
Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. Reach him at [email protected]