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Chateau Montelena
Chateau Montelena created in the late 1800s with stone and brick exterior. Montelena is in Calistoga in Napa Valley. Photo courtesy of Chateau Montelena
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Taste of Wine: The iconic Chateau Montelena comes to Del Mar

Chateau Montelena is one of the legendary wineries founded in the late 1800s in one of the most iconic wine regions in the world, Napa Valley. Specifically, the winery is in Calistoga at the foot of Mount Saint Helena. Senior Editor Frank and I had the pleasure of attending a Chateau Montelena Wine Dinner at Sal Ercolano’s West End Bar & Kitchen in Del Mar narrated by Young’s Market John Parker this past week.

A bit more on history before embarking on dinner.  Chateau Montelena was established in 1882 on 200 acres by Alfred Tubbs, who had a lucrative rope business in the gold mining days. One of the most significant structures on site is the Chateau made of all stone and brick built under Tubbs. Before Prohibition, Montelena was the seventh-largest winery in Napa Valley.

In 1958, Tubbs sold the property to Yort and Jeanie Frank, as a retirement home. The Franks created a Chinese-style garden in the style of their homeland, along with creating Jade Lake. Today wine club members still enjoy both on property features.

In 1972, Jim Barrett purchased the property from the Franks with the goal of renovating the dilapidated vineyard to be a Mouton in California resembling France’s Chateau Mouton Rothschild.

Barrett’s dream came true in 1976 during the Judgment of Paris when Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay created by master winemaker Mike Grgich won first place. Several years later, Grgich went on to create his own winery and vineyard. Barrett’s son Bo took charge as the winemaker. Today Bo is the CEO of Montelena with Matt Crafton as the winemaker.

Part of the property of Chateau Montelena is their extensive wine caves providing perfect temperatures for maintaining large amounts of library wines. For example, at the dinner, library bottles of 1.5-liter Cabernet Sauvignon as old as 2003 were available for purchase. The 1.5l magnums are the perfect vessel for long-term storage due to the same size cork as a standard 750ml bottle, but twice the volume allowing perfect aging. More details at

Now onto dinner. Chef Noe prepared an outstanding five-course meal that started with chef bites paired with a 2019 Potter Valley Riesling. The off-dry nature of the Riesling was a great wine to start off the dinner. Next up was a chilled crab salad along with the 2017 Napa Valley Chardonnay. The oak and acidity of the Chardonnay kept the richness of the crab in check.

The third course was Honey Pork Tenderloin with mashed potatoes and perfectly sauteed French beans served with a Serrano Beurre blanc sauce along with a 2015 Napa Valley Zinfandel. With four years of drought going into 2015, this was a challenging year for winemakers.

However, even with the higher alcohol due to the drought, the Zin was balanced and not over-extracted. It had a nice mid-palate that stripped the richness of the spicy, rich cream sauce making it sympatico with this course.

The fourth and main course featured Veal Osso Bucco over wild mushroom risotto served with bone allowing guests to dig out the flavorful bone marrow.

The 2017 Napa Valley Cab Sauvignon was an easy choice for this course. The 79% Cab, 21% Merlot blend had cocoa and fig on the nose with plum and dried fruit on the palate. The minerality was a great surprise in this young Cab.

Dinner concluded with Chef Noe’s Chocolate Mousse and Quinta do Noval Ruby Porto that made the mousse decadent! Note, the Quinta Porto is a non-vintage Ruby Port meaning it can be stored for weeks compared to vintage ports created using an oxidated process requiring one to consume the port within a few days for best flavors.

Bravo to Ercolano, Chef Noe, and the entire West End Bar & Kitchen team for the extra efforts necessary to ensure that guests are safe following stringent COVID protocols and is one of few restaurants allowing guests to enjoy live dinners.

— Story by Tech Director/Writer Rico Cassoni

Wine Bytes

— Morton’s The Steakhouse downtown has a Wine & Divine Duo dinner for two for $99 from Sunday through Thursday for the rest of November. You get dinner for two and a bottle of wine to share.  Details at or call 619-696-3369.

— Seasalt Seafood Bistro presents a Royal Night for three nights:  Wednesday-Thursday, Dec. 16-17, and Saturday, Dec. 19, at 6 p.m. featuring Schramsberg Vineyards and Davies Vineyards. Schramsberg Vineyards focuses on producing the finest and most complex handcrafted Chardonnay sparkling wines in California. Seasalt has carefully chosen their favorite selections and uniquely paired them to complement their flavors. Call now 858-755-7100 to reserve your place.  The cost is $95 per person plus tax and gratuity.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. Reach him at [email protected]