The Coast News Group
The Almalfi Coast is a scenic wonder with thousands of backyard vineyards and restaurants. It seems everyone is a chef and winemaker here. Photo by Frank Mangio
Community Taste of Wine

Taste of Wine: Here and there in the wine world

This is one of my favorite themes. Every so often, my in-box gets over-run with  “short subjects.” They’re not enough to go for a whole column, but worth a few words for your interest and wisdom.  So let’s get to it.

AAA says that its food and wine focused travel is easily the most in demand, and Italy is where they want to be.

AAA and the Auto Club of SoCal report that some 22 million Americans expect to take a drinking and dining vacation. Castles, restaurants, wineries, chefs and winemakers are all in demand. In Italy, it’s Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast below Naples, the countryside’s of Rome and Florence, and the lake country near Milan, are all in demand as vino and foodie destinations.

Encinitas Wine Merchants, the little wine bar in Encinitas that could, with a “Cheers” feeling to it, apparently can’t no more. With their lease up at the end of May, the team of Mark, Ellena and Katie will close their doors.

They had some magic going in the years where they were offering a cozy, intimate setting with some beautiful wines to offer. Mark had a lot of connections for wines that had great ratings and Ellena, the orchestra leader behind the bar, brought customers together to form lasting friendships.

The team is offering 30 percent off on six bottles or more, 35 percent off on 12 bottles or more and 50 percent off on selected cellar wines from the first bottle.  Their hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 1 to 6 p.m.  Call (760) 407-4265 for directions.

We go now from David to Goliath in the wine business. COSTCO, the giant wine goliath just keeps on ringing up sales records with its generic Kirkland brand. It’s been reported that in the previous fiscal year, COSTCO sold $3.8 billion of alcoholic Kirkland brand products, with wine accounting for almost half the total, a growth of 46 percent in the past five years for their 508 locations.

The perception is that it’s a well-known name with lots of value and a good deal. They will name the district that the wine grapes come from, but never the exact vineyard. This is to protect the vineyard’s local name.

Analysts calculate that the Kirkland wine margins are from 10 percent to 14 percent.  That would be a minimum 25 percent lower than the markup at liquor stores with similar wines.

Wine is turning out to be the brightest spot in the COSTCO inventory, in an otherwise difficult environment for retail.

Why is it that wine lovers almost always give me a blank stare when I ask them to comment on Syrah wines?

I don’t know who is stocking up on this easy to grow, forgiving grape, but in California it’s growth is 10 times what it was in the 1990s and in Washington, which is even more unusual, it’s the third largest produced grape behind Chardonnay and Cabernet. What happens to an easy-to-grow grape is typical in this quirky industry. A glut developed and went way beyond demand and prices quickly fell.

I think Syrah is not a very good wine under $20 and a recent column in the Wall Street Journal supported that conclusion. Then there is the confusion over Syrah and Shiraz (same grape) and Petite Syrah, (different grape) a tannic, smaller grape more concentrated and darker.

All right, like the old song says, “Que Sera, Sera…whatever will be, will be,” and let’s move on.

COHO Wines are the creation of Gary Lipp, a winemaker who has worked the dirt in Napa Valley for some 35 years, acquiring skills to bottle his passion. COHO is really the name of a type of salmon with a legend behind it that embodies wisdom and a knowledge of the environment in order to do your best work.

A gathering of COHO wine lovers included: Bill Tobin, co-owner of North County Wine Company, Gary Lipp of COHO Wines, JimTobin co-owner of NCWC and Frank Mangio wine columnist. Photo courtesy Frank Mangio
A gathering of COHO wine lovers included: Bill Tobin, co-owner of North County Wine Company, Gary Lipp of COHO Wines, JimTobin co-owner of NCWC and Frank Mangio wine columnist. Photo courtesy Frank Mangio

Gary’s body of work covers a lot of Napa Valley’s greatest wines over the years — names like Robert Mondavi, Heitz Cellars, Paul Hobbs, Chalone and Chappellet.

His COHO Winery has been producing top rated reds since 2002, Pinot Noir in the Carneros District ($26.97) to a Cabernet Sauvignon from Diamond Mountain, Yountville and Coombsville($51.97).

Call North County Wine Company for inventory at (760) 653-9032.


Wine Bytes

Cesar, the tapas restaurant in Rancho Santa Fe, has a May schedule of delicious events planned, including May 5, for a special Mexican menu to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. On May 8, an Osaka Soul Food dinner, and a Southern Black Top Pig Roast May 20.  Call for details at (858) 771-1313.

The San Diego Brewers Guild has a Rhythm & Brews Music and Craft Beer Festival at Vista Village May 6 from 1 to 6 p.m. Sample IPAs, barrel aged sour ales and more. Tickets are $35 for general admission and $40 for VIP with early admission. Details and tickets at

Carruth Cellars Urban Winery in Solana Beach has its Bordeaux Bash May 6 from noon to 7 p.m. Big discounts on bottles, live music and a food truck; $20. Tickets include 10 tastings.  Details and tickets at (858) 846-9463.

Father Joe’s Village Gala is at the U.S. Grant Hotel downtown San Diego May 13.  Reception at 5 p.m. followed by a dinner and auction. Dance to Atomic Groove.  This benefits the Father Joe therapeutic childcare program.  Details at (619) 446-2100 or


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].