Some 40 years ago, farsighted winemakers in the heart of Tuscany, in and around the hallowed heights of the city of Montalcino, were granted Italy’s highest status, DOCG, for their Brunello di Montalcino. It was the first wine in Italy to receive this honor.
Brunello’s grape is the best expression of Sangiovese, which is mostly found in Chianti Classico, also from Tuscany.
With the physical and chemical composition of Montalcino’s soil, the warm Mediterranean microclimate and winemaker discipline in prepping the wine in barrel and bottle for five years before release, it should not surprise the wine lover that well-made Brunello stands tallest as the sentinel for fine wine in Tuscany, and dare I say it, all of Italy.
There’s a lot to celebrate with the 2015 vintage of Brunellos. The only other recent great year was 2010. Wine Spectator, the world’s leading magazine for and about wine, had this to say: “The 2015’s are powerful Sangioveses, matching ripe fruit with lively acidity, elegance and harmony.
117 Brunellos were blind tasted in our New York offices. 23 earned classic scores of 95 or higher, while 88 had high ratings of 90 to 94.”
Today there over 300 producers of Brunello clustered in the district of choice, Montalcino, with its calcareous soil and abundant rock subsoil.
The architect of Brunello for the American market has been Castello Banfi, founded in 1977 by Italian American importers, the Mariani family. About 50,000 cases of Banfi Brunello ($80) are made. Most of them arrive in America for distribution in the finest restaurants, markets and wine shops.
They have an intense ruby red color with garnet reflections and aromas of violet, vanilla and hints of licorice. Tart red cherry flavors abound with traces of spice. Superb concentration with lingering acidity make for a long, persistent finish.
About 100 total Brunellos were awarded 93 and higher on the Spectator 100 scale, with two making it to 97. They are: Le Ragnaie Brunello Casanovina 2015 ($180) and San Filippo Brunello Le Lucere 2015 ($90). To learn more, visit consorziobrunellodimontalcino.it/en.
Spotlight on exec chef Luke Morganstern of Orfila Oceanside Tasting Room
When Frank and I were thinking of a local North County chef to spotlight, we were torn. There are many great chefs out there, but we finally decided to feature Orfila Oceanside Tasting Room Executive Chef Luke Morganstern. Like all great chefs we meet, Luke fits the textbook description — passion for great fresh food and someone you want to chat with for hours.
A large part of his passion was due to growing up in a culinary environment. When he was 6 years old, his parents opened a family restaurant in New York, the Rosendale Café, where his mom was the chef, his father booked music and Luke helped everywhere else he could.
Since he was 14, Luke has been involved in some aspect of the restaurant industry, ranging from dishwashing to serving to bartending for a brief time. Luke said that he prefers to drink beer more than serving it.
His first position as a cook came when he was 25. He moved back upstate from NYC to help with the booming café. Luke admitted that he was a little intimidated, but he needed a job and his family needed help.
As he got more into cooking, Luke was inspired by cooking shows, other local cooks and reading books, including “Kitchen Confidential” by the late Anthony Bourdain.
Luke came to the San Diego area six years ago. After a few line cook positions, he put his culinary school goal in motion at the San Diego Culinary Institute. After finishing culinary school, Luke became the sous chef at Amicis.
A few years later, he was introduced to Orfila Vineyards and Winery in Escondido where he met Winemaker and GM Justin Mund. Luke said, “I was blown away with the quality of the wine, the beautiful vineyard, and by Justin’s passion and complete unpretentiousness with his winemaking. He was just a really great, funny, and knowledgeable guy.”
During lunch, Justin told Luke that Orfila was opening a tasting room in Oceanside with a full kitchen and was looking for a chef. As soon as Luke heard this, he was immediately interested; he has lived in Oceanside since he moved here from New York.
Luke stated, “I love Oceanside, for a multitude of reasons, but ultimately it’s my favorite beach town and community in all San Diego, and I really wanted to work here.”
Of course, I was not about to let Luke off the hook without sharing one of his favorite recipes, a Peruvian style Baja Halibut ceviche with crispy Japanese sweet potatoes. “I love this dish because it’s so fresh, uses locally caught fish, is healthy, and is a little different from most of the other ceviche’s around here,” he said.
2 pounds Baja halibut, cut into small dice pieces
4 tablespoons aji amarillo
1 cup lemon, lime, and orange juice
1 bunch cilantro chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 sliced red onion
2 stalks roasted corn kernels
1 boiled sweet potato cut into bite-sized pieces
3 Japanese sweet potatoes boiled till soft then fried crispy
Season fish, then add all ingredients except Japanese sweet potatoes. Let marinate for 30 minutes, then serve with crispy sweet potatoes.
Since COVID-19 started, Luke and Dave Robinson, the new tasting room manager, have been running a limited menu. However, the Oceanside Tasting Room has reopened. The new menu is a littler smaller and includes a seared halibut dish featured on the “Visit Oceanside” cooking show.
For Italian food lovers, there is a Thursday night family lasagna meal that includes: a half hotel pan of spinach and garlic lasagna, a whole baguette of garlic bread and a family-sized Caesar salad. The deal will feed a family of four. Don’t forget to add on one of their O’mazing wines. Also, enjoy Saturday BBQs on the patio! Luke will be creating a different dish every Saturday, the first one was Santa Maria Tri-Tip.
Visit orfila.com for details and hours open.
— Tech Director/Writer Rico Cassoni
Reach Frank Mangio at [email protected]