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Sal Ercolano, center, Taste of Wine and Food's 2023 Restaurateur of the Year, with The Butcher Shop executive chef Brian Gist and Silvio di Silvio of Ste. Michel Wine Estates. Photo by Rico Cassoni
Sal Ercolano, center, Taste of Wine and Food's 2023 Restaurateur of the Year, with The Butcher Shop executive chef Brian Gist and Silvio di Silvio of Ste. Michel Wine Estates. Photo by Rico Cassoni
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Taste of Wine and Food names Sal Ercolano ‘Restaurateur of the Year’

In the realm of influential figures, Time Magazine crowned Taylor Swift as its 2023 Person of the Year, acknowledging her impact on music, business, and culture.

Similarly, in the culinary world, after evaluating factors like wine dinners, food and wine quality, and a restaurant’s longevity and buzz, we’ve chosen Sal Ercolano, the owner of several iconic San Diego establishments, as our Taste of Wine and Food Restaurateur of the Year.

Ercolano, who has left a lasting impression on the local dining scene with West End Bar & Kitchen, The Godfather Restaurant, The Butcher Shop and Studio Diner, showcased the exceptional quality of his wine dinners with a recent Antinori Wine Dinner at his Del Mar West End location.

Ercolano’s culinary prowess was on display in the four-course meal plus dessert, which featured the classic Super Tuscan Tignanello from Antinori.

Silvio di Silvio, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, provided engaging narration for the evening. Notably, Antinori and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates established a partnership 16 years ago, and Antinori has recently acquired Napa Valley’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

Duck carpaccio plated with sliced radish and parmesan cheese that was drizzled with truffle oil served with 2020 Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva. Photo by Rico Cassoni
Duck carpaccio plated with sliced radish and parmesan cheese that was drizzled with truffle oil was served with 2020 Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva. Photo by Rico Cassoni

For over 630 years and 26 generations, Marchesi Antinori has dedicated itself to crafting exceptional wines in Italy and globally. Concentrating on prime viticultural areas, particularly in Tuscany and Umbria. Antinori continually elevates its wine quality. Honoring Italian winemaking traditions, Antinori also embraces innovation.

Piero Antinori, who leads the family legacy, is supported by his three daughters, Albiera, Allegra and Alessia. Marchesi Antinori wines, available in 200 countries worldwide, stand as Italy’s most-awarded wines.

Dinner began with scallops served on the shells, garnished with crispy prosciutto bits, along with caprese sticks paired with 2022 Villa Antinori Bianco, which had a fresh bouquet on the nose and elegant flavors that complemented the scallops.

The second course was smoked duck carpaccio, plated with sliced radish and parmesan cheese, drizzled with truffle oil and topped with arugula. The truffle oil infused richness with each bite.

This was paired with the 2020 Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva. The Chianti Riserva had cherry with floral hints on the nose. The cherry carried to the palate along with notes of tobacco and chocolate that enhanced the duck.

In the third course, guests relished Gnocchi alla Norcia, a delightful blend of homemade pasta dumplings infused with Italian sausage and porcini mushrooms, paired seamlessly with the 2021 Tenuta Guado al Tasso Il Bruciato Super Tuscan — a harmonious mix of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah from Bolgheri.

The Bruciato’s complex flavors proved a palate cleanser, enhancing the experience of every succulent bite of the sausage-infused gnocchi.

Short ribs atop polenta with root vegetables and brown au jus gravy served with exemplary 2020 Tenuta Tignanello. Photo by Rico Cassoni
Short ribs au jus atop polenta and root vegetables with exemplary 2020 Tenuta Tignanello. Photo by Rico Cassoni

The main course was slow-cooked short ribs atop polenta with root vegetables and brown au jus gravy. The pairing for this course was exemplary 2020 Tenuta Tignanello, renowned for establishing Super Tuscans’ global reputation.

Super Tuscans, initiated by Antinori’s creation of Tignanello in 1971, provided winemakers with a means to use international grape varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, cab franc, and merlot to create complex premium single-varietal or blended wines with or without indigenous varietals such as sangiovese.

Remarkably, the $160 Tignanello was poured at a wine dinner under $100.

“I am excited for guests to try fine wines that they normally would not experience,” Ercolano said.

This extraordinary pairing exemplified the dinner.

Dinner concluded with a chocolate brownie topped with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream and salted caramel sauce, paired with Antinori Vin Santo port-style wine. This was a perfect way to conclude the Night of Tuscany featuring Antinori wines hosted by our 2023 Restaurateur of the Year, Sal Ercolano. See more information on Marchesi Antinori at antinori.it/en.

Story by Rico Cassoni

Wine Bytes

Sal Ercolano, owner of The Butcher Shop, is hosting a Schramsberg Vineyards “Royal Night” at 6 p.m. on Dec. 21. Guests will experience an evening with wines from Napa Valley’s Schramsberg and Davies wineries. The main course features a coffee-rubbed, grilled Wagyu tri-tip paired with Davies 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon. The cost is $135 per person, including tax and gratuity. RSVP at butchershopsandiego.com.

Victor Magalhaes, owner of Vittorio’s Italian Trattoria, is hosting a Sparkling Wine Dinner at 6 p.m. on Dec. 28. The three-course dinner features pan-seared scallops, Yukon potato cakes, and lemon-champagne butter sauce paired with Piper-Heidsieck 1785 Champagne Brut. The cost is $75 per person, plus tax and gratuity. RSVP at 858-538-5884.

Rico Cassoni is the executive producer for Taste of Wine and Food. Founder/advisor Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. Frank and Rico are two of the leading reviewers on the web. View their columns at tasteofwineandfood.com. Reach them at [email protected].

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