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Orfila’s chef is Luke Morganstern, who has shown a fresh creativity for Oceanside diners with his expertise in Mediterranean dishes. Photo by Rico Cassoni
Columns Taste of Wine

Taste of Wine: Ocean flavor at Orfila wine dinner in Oceanside

The big stylish O logo on all that is Orfila winery was very much in evidence for a recent Winemaker Dinner, and appropriate in that it was held at its new Tasting Room in Oceanside. Winemaker and General Manager Justin Mund presided over the narrative on the wines and menu.

The stuffed Branzino, a Mediterranean version of sea bass, was the main course at a recent Orfila Tasting Room ocean-influenced menu with estate Orfila wines, including a 2017 Petite Sirah. Photo by Rico Cassoni

All the wines served had to be able to enhance a variety of seafood, a unique deep dive into the lore of ocean flavor that he and his talented chef, Luke Morganstern, had created.

In scanning the menu, I realized we were in for a very special evening, one that would change my concept of what ocean cuisine can achieve.

Luke Morganstern is a matter-of-fact, easy to understand builder of thematic menus. The former chef of Amici in San Diego, Morganstern has delighted the daily diners at Orfila’s Tasting Room, a few blocks from the pier in Oceanside, with a universal menu of Mediterranean influenced plates with suggested paired Orfila wines.

Openers include Charcuterie and Artisanal cheese boards, moving up to a wide range of light foods that could include Avocado toast with Montepulciano or Sangiovese wines, Kobe sliders paired with Merlot, Cabernet or Syrah, or a Caprese salad with Pinot Noir, Lotus or Chardonnay.

In commenting on his winemaker dinner featured in the fourth course, the Branzino, he had this to say: “Branzino is related to the sea bass found off the shores of Naples Italy.  Here you have in place, old-world-style stuffed ingredients, lightly salted and pureed to release the fish’s ocean bouquet, surrounded by garden fresh zucchini and summer squash, grilled peaches and pickled fennel. Inside the Branzino I infused the Italian old world tastes of celery, onions, bread crumbs and sweet sausage. I keep the tail and head in place for an authentic old world display.”

I was thrilled when the wine chosen for this magnificent signature menu selection was the 2017 Estate Petite Sirah, one of my Top Ten Picks for the first half of 2019. Learn more at


An ‘artificial cork’ wine opener that works

The worst words in the wine industry that I have found are “artificial cork.” They ought to ban them forever. Artificial, or “agglomerated” cork, made up from ground cork and bonded into a solid form (read cemented), are a cheap way to cover a wine bottle.

The Brookstone Connoisseur’s Wine Opener works with even the worst cork challenges, and with quality corks it resonates with the “pop” that wine lovers live for. Courtesy photo

Wineries that should know better, in an effort to save a few cents a bottle, are using this cheap cork to put your kitchen-quality opener at risk.

At a 25,000 cork production rate, they’re only 11 cents each. The only wine opener I know that can challenge and win over bogus wine corks is the Brookstone “Connoisseur’s Compact Wine Opener.”  The forged steel “worm” also makes a true quality cork a pleasure to extract from a bottle, and hear that resonant “pop.”

Cork trees are cultivated in Tuscany, Portugal, Algeria and France and live about 200 years. The first 25 is for growth and cannot be used for cork harvest. After the bark of a natural oak tree is hand-stripped and shaped for bottle corks, 12 years have to pass before another harvest. Harvesting is done completely by hand, so you can assume that natural corks are getting more expensive to produce. That Brookstone opener will be more in need as time goes by in the wine bottle opener business.


Wine Bytes
  • Orfila Vineyards & Winery in Escondido has its 26th annual Grape Stomp and dinner feast from 4 to 8 p.m. Aug. 24. Open to 21 and older only. Includes wine tasting, gourmet dinner, grape stomping, vineyard rides, lawn games, live music and raffles. Cost is $95 for the public, $85 for wine club members. Details at (760) 738-6500 x322 or (800) 868-9463.
  • Sal Ercolano’s Seasalt Seafood Bistro in Del Mar is pleased to present two nights of wine dinners with Valle de Guadalupe starting at 6 p.m. Aug 22 and Aug. 23. You’ll enjoy two fine wineries, Cava Maciel and Villa Montefiori, with wines that have a French and Italian flavor. Menu is authentic Mexican cuisine. Price is $65 per person. Reserve your seat today at (858) 755-7100.
  • The sixth annual Carlsbad Brewfest is Sept. 7 presented by the Carlsbad Hi-Noon Rotary Club at Holiday Park in Carlsbad. Entry noon to 4:30 p.m. for VIP for $75 and 1 to 4:30 p.m. for General Admission for $55. Details at
  • The seventh annual Latin Food Fest is Aug. 16 and Aug. 17 at the Embarcadero Marina Park North. Experience California’s top Hispanic culinary celebration. Cost is from $25 up to $149. Visit for details at

Top: Orfila’s chef is Luke Morganstern, who has shown a fresh creativity for Oceanside diners with his expertise in Mediterranean dishes. Photo by Rico Cassoni