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Taste of Wine: Markham Merlot sails on at Seasalt

Sal Ercolano is the owner at Seasalt and now West End in the next block on Carmel Valley Rd. in Del Mar.

The Napa Valley Markham 2016 Merlot ($25) spotlighted the most recent wine dinner at Seasalt.  

I have always enjoyed Markham’s style on this misunderstood wine. Like all Merlots, sales plunged right after “Sideways” the movie skewered the varietal back in 2008.

Well I’m here to tell you that Merlot is back and on the lips of more and more wine lovers. Markham Winemaker Kimberlee Nicholls was the presenter of the six Markham wines that embellished Chef Hilario’s memorable six-course dinner.

“Merlot is our best seller at Markham,” she proclaimed. “We are the fourth-largest producer in Napa Valley and are looking to boost it in the future. It has a delicious flavor of raspberry, red current and cherry, providing classic Merlot fruit to add to distinctive minerals, rose petals, vanilla and baking spice aromas throughout this wine.” When pressed, she revealed that in her Merlot, she adds small amounts of Cab Franc and Petite Verdot for a unique edge. Nicholls is one of the increasing number of female winemakers, making it in Napa Valley. She’s been doing it for more than 20 years at Markham, but she says, “I’m a better cook than a winemaker.” Food memories at a dinner party she puts together for friends, is her biggest joy, and brings her wines to life.  I asked her what her most important part of winemaking was and the answer was simple and to the point, “my goal is to produce a balanced wine, aged well.” Other wines presented included: Sauvignon Blanc, Cellar 1879 Blend, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2013 Estate Grown Napa Valley Cabernet. Visit

I just got off the phone with Sal Ercolano and his West End Bar and Kitchen just sold out of the next Prisoner Wine Dinner. He was very excited to tell me that a third night has been scheduled for this fabulous wine and it’s at 6 p.m. Saturday March 23. Same great menu, same great price, $70 per person for this world renowned wine and others from the Prisoner Wine Company, plus a five-course gourmet dinner. Call (858) 259-5878 for your place ASAP!

Solare in San Diego introduces its new chef

Solare Ristorante Italiano Bar & Lounge in Liberty Station San Diego, owned by Randy Smerik, has earned all the accolades and awards of last year. He has a passion and commitment to all things Italian.  “I’ve been very privileged to have been to Italy some 150 plus times,” he said. “When I began going back in the ‘80s, Italy was just a spot on the map, but I saw a passion for the good life like nowhere else. Food and wine are their first love. With the sauces and pastas, they have their own spin on fun and flavorful food. We had over six years with our award winning chef Occursio Lota who we bid farewell to recently. We now have our new Executive Chef Filippo Piccini, who I met two years ago as a chef in La Jolla. He has great skills with Italian food. What sold me on him was his leadership in the kitchen, training and teaching his style of cooking.” Piccini was happy the “opportunity” came up in December. “You enter Solare and you feel like you’re in an Italian village with very comfortable surroundings. Tuscany was my home in Italy. I will be making some refinements to the menu that was developed so nicely by Chef Occursio.” For the full menu, extensive Italian wine list and cooking classes schedule, go to or call the restaurant at (619) 270-9670.

Wine Bytes

  • North County Wine Company in San Marcos will present a tasting lineup called Winemaker Comparison, tasting wines made by top winemakers then and now, March 15 and March 16. For times and cost, call (760) 653-9032.
  • Vigilucci’s Gourmet Market in Carlsbad Village will be offering food sampling on Wednesdays from 3 to 5 p.m., during the weekly Farmer’s Market on State Street in front of their market. For details, call (760) 720-0188.
  • Bernardo Winery in Rancho Bernardo has its Summer Nights starting from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. March 15 and March 16, and every weekend through the season. No admission fee. Wine and shareable plates available for purchase. Live music. Kitchen open for Sicilian style menus and brick oven pizzas.
  • Check out more at
  • PAON Restaurant and Wine Bar in Carlsbad will present a Silver Oak and Twomey Wine Dinner March 20. Reception begins at 5:45 p.m. Julie Bart, regional sales manager, will introduce each great wine from this renowned Napa and Sonoma winery. These iconic wines will be paired with the creative culinary team at PAON. From reception to dessert, all courses will be carefully paired.  
  • Cost is $225 per person. PAON club members pay $175. For more information, go to and search for PAON.