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Chef John Heamsberger displays his smoked local Opah fish tapas at the go-to Tapas restaurant Cesar in Rancho Santa Fe. Photo by Frank Mangio
CommunityTaste of Wine

Taste of Wine: For tapas & old world wines, it’s Cesar in the Ranch

It took me a while to figure out tapas, the Spanish small plate Euro-style cuisine that artfully places fresh fish, meat and poultry in with creative herbs, olives and other Mediterranean delicacies.

Recently I had an epiphany at Cesar in Rancho Santa Fe. Now I understand the beauty, simplicity, tastiness and authenticity of tapas.

At Cesar, you have the combination of tapas and the amazing produce of Chino Farms, a nearby source of world-famous produce that coalesces naturally with chef John Heamsberger’s creations.

Richard and Terumi Mazzera are the proud owners of this classic Spanish Tapas restaurant. They opened the original Cesar in the bay area in 1998 where it is still a great success.

Their deepest thrill is opening so close to Chino’s, a farm they have known and purchased from in their many years up north.

I hope I have dispelled the notion that tapas are mere appetizers, as I had mistakenly thought. They are thoughtfully crafted and creatively displayed culinary delights, either à la carte or as a larger entrée.

Mazzera’s Italian roots date back to his ancestors in the Bank of Italy in San Francisco in the early 1900s. It later became Bank of America. He didn’t like corporate lawyering, so his search for career inspiration took him to the restaurant business in Hollywood and he did time with Spago and Wolfgang Puck. After mixing it up with 1970’s pop music stars like Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne and doing some Napa Valley “A” list restaurants as manager, he set out for Spain before anybody knew about tapas dining. He was doing the research in Spain to later open the first Cesar in the bay area.

The Cesar bar is one of the most well stocked in San Diego County, from exotic cocktails to traditional Spanish and other European wines. Mazzera is also the wine buyer. He looks for less production and more handcrafted wines.

He’s big on Spanish Sherry and has a comprehensive list of the Spanish red wine Tempranillo

Richard and Terumi Mazzera are passionate, happy owners doing their all to convey the spirit of Cesar.  They’re the owners, they’re at the door to meet and greet.  Welcome to the party!  See more at

It’s Time to Vin Diego!

The fastest growing Southern California wine and food festival is Vin Diego, now in its fifth year and coming to Liberty Station in San Diego April 8.  Produced by David Fraschetti, 75 award winning wineries, mostly California, and a few from Oregon and Washington, will be popping their corks with world-class wines and only wines. Top chefs will be serving delicious food samples from over 24 restaurants, a real plus for wine pairing. A VIP wine auction takes place during Vin Diego with proceeds to benefit the San Diego Italian Film Festival, and “It’s all about the Kids.”

The 5th annual Vin Diego Wine & Food Festival rocks the wine world Saturday April 8 at Liberty Station in San Diego. Photo courtesy Vin Diego
The 5th annual Vin Diego Wine & Food Festival rocks the wine world Saturday April 8 at Liberty Station in San Diego. Photo courtesy Vin Diego

“This is the largest number of wines and restaurants we have ever had,” beamed Fraschetti.  “Our wineries love it. They keep coming back. We don’t want to get bigger, we just get better.”

Fraschetti is offering TASTE OF WINE readers a 20 percent discount off the General Admission price of  $115 from 4 to 7 p.m., or the VIP early entry admission price of $150 from 3 to 7 p.m.  Just visit, choose your price, and type in the promo code TASTEOFWINE (all one word) to receive $25 off the regular price.


Wine Bytes

Apollonia Bistro in the UTC Shopping Center San Diego will have a Pine Ridge five-course wine dinner April 4 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Cost is $65 per person. These are classic Napa Valley wines, paired with a chef-inspired entrée.  Call (619) 823-3541 for your RSVP.

A Simi Wine dinner is coming to CUSP Restaurant in La Jolla April 5 from 6 to 8 p.m. Chef Ingrid Funes has a four-course dinner to match the wines from Sonoma. Tickets are $65. Reservations at (858) 551-3620.

On April 6, Capri Blu in Rancho Bernardo’s 4S Ranch has a Toscana Wine Dinner at 6 p.m. Five delicious courses prepared by the head chef with top rated Italian wines including Brunello. Call (858) 673-5100 for an RSVP and pricing.

La Costa Wine Company presents a Zaca Mesa five-course wine dinner April 8 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Cost is $75.  A winery spokesman will be on site to tell the Zaca Mesa story. Chef Erin Sealy presides over the entrees.  RSVP at (619) 823-3541.

Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas presents the next educational seminar,

A Diverse Pinot Noir Food & Wine Experience April 18 from 6 to 8 p.m., with “M.”  Cost is $79.  Seven distinct Pinots will be introduced, plus specialty cheeses and fine foods. Call (858) 442-2749 for your place at the event.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator.  He is one of the leading commentators on the web.  View his columns at  And reach him at [email protected].