The Coast News Group
Pala Casino was host recently to its second annual Wine & Food Festival including Robert Talbot wines from Monterey. From left, Debra and Eric Loft from Talbot, Rick Alles from Wine Warehouse and Taste of Wine columnist Frank Mangio. Photos by Frank Mangio
ColumnsTaste of Wine

Taste of Wine: Grgich, Justin, Talbot and ZD shine at Pala Festival

One look at the long lines waiting to get in and the layout on the lawn, and we knew that the second annual Starlight Food & Wine Festival at Pala Casino Spa & Resort was going to be way better than their initial effort the year before. The wines and the food were upgraded to top shelf and several of my suggestions about food and seating locations were incorporated into this latest version. Bravo!

There were 50 fine wine booths and 11 chef’s special-select food offerings, all from Pala’s kitchens. My vote for best food went to Chef Ray Fukawa of the Oak Room, who along with his crew, produced an awesome “Jim Beam” Short Ribs plate with Horseradish Potatoes and Garlic Chips. Close to this one was a Lobster

George Katakalidis, center, operates a casual neighborhood Greek inspired restaurant, Taverna Blu, that loves to serve Robert Hall wines to its customers in Del Mar Heights.

Ravioli Lobster Nage presented by Manny Hernandez of Banquets. Then there were the chocolate creations with a banquet room all to itself. Seemed like miles of the sweet goo and I loved everything I consumed!

On to the wines led by Robert Talbot of Monterey with its luscious Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands. If there was one wine that paired with virtually everything served that night, it was this Pinot. My good friends at Grgich were there with their legendary Chardonnay and a muscular Merlot. Justin Winery out of Paso Robles and their rep Sini’a Shaw presented the latest Cabernet and in the Cave Room at Pala, ZD from Napa Valley was a crowd pleaser with its Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet. Nick Palm had ZD’s three deep at the popular spot at the Cave bar and all were Gold Medal winners the last three years.  Finally, when you go next year, I hope you get to enjoy the band Harmony of Rock, like we did this year. Great choice to pay tribute to the pop-rock music of the ‘70s.

For more on Pala Casino, Spa & Resort, visit

Meet George Katakalidis of Taverna Blu

Oopah! Let the fun begin when Taverna Blu in Del Mar Heights has a wine dinner, this time with well-known Robert Hall wines of Paso Robles.

Greek cuisine is the theme and owner George Katakalidis offers many variations of the classic Mediterranean dishes. After an opener which included hummus, spicy feta, eggplant and tomato, on came the Shrimp Diablo with Crostini. The Robert Hall wine was the 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, a double gold winner. The entrée was a lamb and gyros combo plate with Salmon Lemonato. This was served with a Robert Hall 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon.

You may have known George as a scrappy indoor soccer star a number of years ago when he played professionally with the San Diego Soccers indoor team here in San Diego. He left the game due to injuries but loves the food service business.

Come see and enjoy some great changes in the restaurant as the Del Mar Heights Center undergoes lots of upgrades. George loves pleasing his customers so you can be sure he has a total hospitality experience for Taverna Blu in the near future. See for more.


Wine Bytes

  • The Barrel Room in Rancho Bernardo has its biggest wine dinner of the year with the Napa Valley universal favorite Silver Oak and its sister winery, Twomey, at 6 p.m. Oct. 16. Reserve your spot now for this memorable wine event. Cost is $100 per guest and includes five courses of gourmet cuisine and five wines including the magnificent Silver Oak Napa Valley 2012 Cabernet and winery commentator Julie Bart. Go to or call (858) 673-7512.
  • An Art, Rhythm and Wine Festival is being held at the Forum Center in Carlsbad, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 15. A free juried art show is planned in many formats from oil to photography. Enjoy the wine garden with live music. A ticketed charity event comes after from 6 to 9 p.m. See
  • An elevated tasting of Italy’s Barolo and Brunello wines will be presented at Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 17. Cost is $79 per person. Nine wines will be analyzed and enjoyed with regional cheeses and meats.  Limited class size. Call (858) 442-2749.
  • Salvatore Ercolano’s Seasalt in Del Mar and his creative chef Hilario, are presenting a beautifully crafted wine dinner at 6 p.m. Oct. 19. You’ll be thrilled with Charles Smith wines from Washington, to be enjoyed now. The Sauvignon Blancs, Syrahs, Cabernets and Petit Verdots are as much fun as they are delicious, with names like Kung Fu, Boom Boom and Velvet Devil. Reserve your seat now for just $56 each. Call (858) 755-7100.


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 Go to menu then column. Reach him at [email protected].