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The featured dish in a six-course "Mercy of the Chef" tasting adventure at NINE-TEN in La Jolla was the Smoked Maple Leaf Duck Breast, shown with the selected wine in the background, a 2009 Saxon Brown Syrah. Photo by Frank Mangio
ColumnsTaste of Wine

Tough to top NINE-TEN

On a scale of 10, NINE-TEN Restaurant and Bar in downtown La Jolla is at the top of their craft in bringing fine food and wine to those looking for a luxury dinner experience at prices that will delight you.

NINE-TEN is positioned in an indoor-outdoor setting in the Grande Colonial hotel, which has been welcoming guests since 1913, over the pristine beaches and bluffs of SoCal’s most attractive coastal village. The Grande Colonial is a breath of fresh air in more ways than one, with complimentary wi-fi, sports club pass and no resort fee. But on a balmy summer night I came for the wines and ever-evolving California cuisine, so let’s get to it. The wines are top drawer. Matter of fact, this year’s Wine Spectator restaurant list of their Award of Excellence has NINE-TEN in this select group.

Jason Knibb is the executive chef at NINE-TEN, house restaurant at the elegant Grande Colonial boutique hotel in La Jolla. Photo by Frank Mangio

Their wines by the glass sparkle with Prosecco, Rose’ and Champagne. Full-bodied whites are led by Chardonnay, and the reds are where the treasure lies. At last, I found a restaurant that offers a Saxon Brown Syrah, and a 2009 as a bonus! Priced at $15 a glass for this legendary wine, it’s a steal.

The winemaker is Jeff Gaffner, as passionate a grape grower as he is about making the wine. He wanted to focus on single-vineyard wine with structure and age-worthy releases, and he has it in this gem.

It brought to life a beautifully tailored dish by Chef Jason. It was the Smoked Maple Leaf Duck Breast with corn and Yukon gold potato hash, balsamic glazed figs, arugula, anise hyssop and fig gastrique. 

This was the finale of what the chef called “my six course ‘Mercy of the Chef’ Tasting Menu.” This is a wonderful, custom parade of flavors, from appetizer to dessert. In between, Lamb Tartare, Thai Lobster Salad, Baja Striped Bass and the aforementioned duck breast. 

The menu is created daily to feature fresh products discovered during excursions into local farms like Chino’s in Rancho Santa Fe. Al fresco dining is offered on the outdoor terrace. Inside, the ambiance is enhanced by rich mahogany wood accents throughout, with a casual, easy on the ears bar.

Last year NINE-TEN was completely renovated to its elegant place in fine La Jolla dining with an award-winning wine list. See what I mean when I say it’s a 10, on a scale of NINE-TEN.  Visit at


Beer on tap has been around since I could legally buy a drink of the suds, and that’s been a long time. But wine on tap is moving ahead still in its infancy.

What is coming across your favorite bar is wine delivered by keg rather than a bottle.  Jordan Kivelstadt, co-founder of Free Flow wines in Napa Valley says “five years ago there were about 200 wine-on-tap locations. Now I’d say there are 4,000, ranging from your neighborhood restaurant and bar, to the San Francisco 49ers stadium with 102 taps.” Pouring wines like draft beer has its merits. Many travel in five-gallon stainless steel kegs which keeps the wines fresh, compared to bottled wine which has issues with a cork (some now have aluminum twist caps) and should be consumed about 48 hours after opening.

No cork equals no problems. It’s environmentally a good thing since with a keg you have no corks, labels, glass or cardboard boxes. All kegs should be reused.

“This is all about quality and delivering a better, fresher glass of wine,” said Kivelstadt.  There’s also the tavern atmosphere created by wine on tap that feels good from that first sip of red.


• The Barrel Room Carmel Valley presents a Caymus-Wagner Family wine dinner at 6 p.m. Aug. 28. This includes a five-course dinner and five well-known wines including the famous Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon. Cost is $90 per guest and includes all food and wine pairings. Reserve your spot at

• The Ramona Grape Stomp returns from noon to 5 p.m. Sept. 8 at the Ramona Pavilion, Aqua Lane Ramona. This family event will have grape stomp competition for all family members. Adults can sample craft beer and wine and participate in a silent auction.  Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children. Admission at the gate, or in advance at

• The WineSellarBrasserie wine dinner at 6 p.m. Sept. 8 will be Merry Edwards Winery from Russian River in Sonoma. Sip Sauvignon Blanc, two Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay, along with a full dinner menu highlighted by Pheasant. Cost is $99 per person, $89 for club members. Call (858) 450-9557 for details.

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