The Coast News Group
Taste of Wine

What’s in your glass? Marina Kitchen’s Blind Tasting

There is no more knowledgeable or harder-working advanced sommelier in San Diego than Josh Orr at Marina Kitchen at the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina, who in a short time in the wine presenting business has distinguished himself as the acclaimed winner of the prestigious national Top/Somm competition.

He has recently wowed wine tasters with a unique series of “Wine Wednesdays,” an opportunity to learn from and taste alongside Orr.

The sessions begin each Wednesday at 6 p.m. and go until 7 p.m., although guest interest usually takes the get-togethers well beyond that time.

On the night I covered the event, the charge was $40 per person for six generous glasses of wine plus three to four paired dishes from Executive Chef Aron Schwartz.

But the real treat is an hour or so with this phenomenal sommelier that is a world encyclopedia of wine knowledge.

Blind Tastings are at once humbling and exciting. With no visual telltale label, tasters are asked to reveal their sense of sight, smell, swirl and sip on the palate.

It is the ultimate test in wine.  One such session was on the schedule of Wine Wednesdays at Marina Kitchen and Josh Orr was at his best.  “There is no label to influence tasting, no tasting room, you are sitting around discussing and giving an opinion about what is in your glass. Is the juice delivering or not,” he pointed out.

“You can put your nose into the glass and process the aroma and identify what you are smelling.  Is it a strong berry scent like California wines, or a strong herb and mineral scent like an Italian or French wine?  Each grape has its own signature and personality.”

I came to a red wine that I sensed was from an old world country like France or Italy, but it smelled initially like garbage.

A small bite of bread and cheese and the scent and taste blossomed into a work of art.  Suddenly I had a special wine, which turned out to be a Rhone Valley French Syrah from Hermitage.

“That one has lots of flavor that people don’t normally associate with wine,” said Orr. “Especially if it isn’t from the west coast of America, and comes from the old world with its earthy notes, like olives, black pepper, oregano, smoky meat.

These wines need a chance to grow on the palate.  I have fallen in love with Syrah, a complex wine, amazing with food pairing,” he concluded.

His December Wine Wednesdays are Dec. 3 Australian Wines, Dec. 10 Holiday Food and Wine Pairing, and Dec. 17 Bubbles for the Holidays. Call (619) 234-1500 for reservations.

Portugal Hits the Jackpot in Wine           Spectator’s Top 10

It was a surprise to some, shocking to others, when Wine Spectator revealed its Top 10, with Dow’s 2011 Port coming in No. 1. First time ever for a port, plus two other Portuguese wines turned up in the Top Ten, and six Portuguese wines turned up in the top 100.  Remarkable!

Port is Portugal’s most famous and popular export, intoxicating, and the pride of the Douro Valley. Although Port has been produced here for centuries, it was only after the British discovered a taste for it, at the end of the 17th century, that word of the quality spread across the continents.

What gives authentic “Porto” its unique quality, flavor and aroma is the ideal rocky acidic soil, a warm, sunny climate and sweet grapes found in the upper Douro Valley about 60 miles east of the city of Porto.

With fermentation, grape brandy is added to the wine.  This stops fermentation and allows the winemakers to make adjustments for taste and sweetness.

Some of the most popular styles of port include:  Tawny Port, which is lighter and not as sweet as ruby or vintage ports.  Aged Tawny, blended from a range of different aged wines and Vintage Port, intense in color, left in a cask two to three years and aged in bottles for many years.

Wine Bytes

Wine pairing with live music at the Beach House Winery in Oceanside Nov. 29 from 1 to 4 p.m. for $20. Features Grenache and Cabernet.  Details at (760) 732-3236.

Ramona Ranch Winery offers food, wine and music Nov. 29 from 2 to 5 p.m., $10 per tasting. Contact number is (760) 789-1622.

The Barrel Room in Rancho Bernardo presents a Blind Chardonnay Tasting Nov. 30 at 2 p.m.  Wine tastings and appetizers for $35.  Taste highly oaked chards, unoaked, and everything in between. Check it out at (858) 673-7512.

Park Hyatt Aviara in Carlsbad has a Holiday Champagne Dinner Dec. 4 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Vivace Restaurant. Enjoy Moet and Hennessy plus a four-course Vivace dinner.  Cost is $155.  RSVP at (760) 448-1234 ext. 6011.

A Blind Wine Tasting Tour happens at Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas, Dec. 4 from 6 to 8 p.m.  Ten wines will be enjoyed with a variety of light appetizers.  Price is $55.  Details at (858) 442-2749.


Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator.  He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web.  View and link up with his columns at  Reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Facebook.