Inside San Diego's Wine Scene

The San Diego SommCon is back November 13-15! We’ll be down there too and would love to meet you! In preparation for the festivities last year, our LA based columnist, Ellen Clifford, caught up with five of San Diego’s top sommeliers for insider tips on the city's food and wine scene. Click here to register for SommCon San Diego. ************************************************************************************************ What inspired you to move to San Diego to be a somm—or if you grew up there why did you stay? Dane Kuta - Wine Appreciation Instructor at MiraCosta College , Certified Sommelier, Italian Wine Professional: When most people think of San Diego, they think of the micro-brew scene, but San Diego has really become a hotbed for sommeliers. We have several local candidates attempting CMS Master level certification, along with a slew of Level 3 and Level 2 somms spread around the greater San Diego area. When the CMS tour hits San Diego, the seats quickly sell out as the locals jockey for one of the coveted exam spots. There are constantly new high-end restaurants opening up downtown, in La Jolla, Del Mar and North County, which provide ample opportunities for somms looking to work the floor. In addition, San Diego has a lot of educational institutions that offer wine programs, so somms that like to teach have that opportunity. Along with MiraCosta, SDSU Extended Studies and CSUSM Extended Learning offer wine classes, while UCSD Extension offers a beer-brewing program. James Mobbley - Captain, Addison Restaurant : My entry into the wine world started while I was on active duty in the Air Force. My first Air Force assignment was Italy. Tough, I know. My last two years I was in Italy, my friends and I went around the country and drank a lot of wine. Once I left active duty for the Reserves in order to finish college, I elected to attend San Diego State University. When I graduated in December 2014, I had just started working at my first restaurant. I applied for a dishwasher position at Eddie V's in La Jolla, since I didn't have any previous experience, and worked my way up to server in eight months. I then applied for Addison after another 8 months and was there for a year before I was promoted to my current position. It was my great sommelier team at Addison that helped me pass my certified exam once I refocused on the wine aspect of my job. I have chosen to stay in San Diego so far because I am honored to be working for such a great Chef and management team at one of the nation's best restaurants and have learned so much under their tutelage. Joseph Schlegel - District Manager, Terlato Wines : I actually moved to San Diego out of college because it is beautiful here. Bartending in La Jolla in a great wine program is where I learned about wine and began my journey in earnest. Jamison Law-Valdez - Freelance Sommelier in San Diego: Moving here to San Diego, is a unique story itself. My husband is originally from Tijuana. He eventually moved to the capital of Kansas, Topeka, where we met. His aunt and her wife, owned properties in both Tijuana and San Diego. Ramon, as child was always told that he would have a house of his own some day. We never knew what that meant until we visited San Diego / Tijuana in April 2018 for a mini vacation staying with his aunt and her wife in Tijuana. Both of us tremendously loved our visit of both cities and as we sat in the San Diego airport, we looked at each other and said; dammit let's do this, let's move here. The weather is always beautiful, the people are wonderful and we're not getting any younger! I am 33 and Ramon is 35. Then we came back to San Diego in August for Ramon and his aunt's birthday where we were informed that Ramon's aunt was diagnosed with terminal cancer. So, the property that they owned here in San Diego, the tenants moved to Flagstaff, Arizona without any friction, and they moved into the house that we currently own, so they could have better access to American hospitals and not have to deal with border crossing times in case anything major were to happen. Ramon's aunt was a Mexican citizen and her wife is an American citizen. Hence is why they owned multiple properties in both countries. Ramon and I discussed what we should do and we made the choice that he stay and help is aunt in San Diego while I stay in Topeka and work in Kansas City. Six months later, I organized a moving a company to pack our belongings and move to the house that we currently live in here in San Diego, all thanks to Ramon's aunt. Victorian O’Bryan - Lead Sommelier, Addison Restaurant : I moved to San Diego for a boy (now my husband) so wine wasn't an aspect of my life until I landed my first job in town, which was at a wine bar. To be the best at my job, I decided to learn all that I could about wine. Obviously, that was just the beginning of an enormous rabbit hole that I will likely never see the bottom of. Luckily, the San Diego wine community is small and supportive, making it a great city for education and career advancement. ************************************************************************************************ Have you noticed any trends in what the San Diego drinker is into lately? Particular varieties, restaurant experiences or styles? DK: I think Riesling may be on an upward trend in San Diego. I was pouring at a private party recently, and people were going crazy for the Rudi Wiest Riesling I was offering. Rudi Wiest is an importer based in Carlsbad. Although the business has been around since the late 1970’s, it seems like there are always people just discovering that fantastic German Riesling is being imported directly to Carlsbad. JM: In San Diego I've noticed that guests like to allow our sommelier team to either select the wines for them for pairing purposes, or going for the rare or uncommon wines by the glass. One of our current white wines that we offer by the glass that our guests enjoy trying is a 1991 Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas. Guests have also have been interested in an older Burgundy, a 1967 Remoissenet Pere & Fils 1er Crus Clos des Chenes. Another trend that I have noticed lately is the milestone wine. I remember a couple recently who mentioned they hadn't thought of trying a wine from 1978, their wedding year, but due to a suggestion of several choices of wines, decided to go with a 1978 Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon. They were very grateful and even mentioned it was one of the best wines they've ever had! JS: I find that buyers are definitely pushing small producers. San Diego is still largely a big Napa Cab and Butter bomb chard kind of town, but with all the availability of smaller producers and interesting wines that are being introduced, consumers are slowly expanding their horizons. JL-V: As a Sommelier, I have noticed that San Diego's microbrewery scene has exploded in the last 10-15 years. So, moving here besides the ocean and the wonderful weather, I was excited to be in the epicenter of the microbrewery capital of the US. As far as trends go, I have noticed that the Gaslamp quarter has gained quite the popularity for craft cocktails and upper scale Mexican/American fusion cuisine. I have seen a rise in old world white wine, Italy, for example I have seen on wine lists, Vermentino from Liguria, and Soave from the Veneto. I have also really enjoyed seeing more wines by the glass from northern Galicia, Spanish white wines from Rias Baixas, such as Albarino and Godello. VO: San Diego drinkers seem thirsty for the next step in wine, either through more thoughtful engagement with wine or more well-rounded programs. While San Diego will (hopefully) always be a rosé-all-year-round kind of city, people seem more open than ever to expanding our collective palette. ************************************************************************************************ What is the best thing you’ve had to eat or drink lately? DK: The best wine I’ve had recently is the 2013 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino. Although relatively young for a really good Brunello, the tannins were super-smooth, the fruit came across as really lush on the palate, and the herbal components really rounded out and balanced the wine. I teach an Italian wine class, and if I can fit it into the budget, we’ll be having a Brunello from Il Poggione for sure! On a trip to Napa a couple of months ago, I had a 2014 Hess The Lion Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was truly amazing. What really got me was the length; it stayed on the palate for what seemed like minutes. It had the perfect combination of everything you would want in a big bold Cab. JM: In San Diego, one of my most memorable food and beverage experiences would have to be from Born and Raised, one of several restaurants under chef Jason Mcleod and CH-Projects. A few months ago I dined there and had Japanese Wagyu paired with the Yamazaki Mizunara 18 year whisky, the 2017. It was an amazing experience, and I definitely recommend it. If we are talking about strictly wine, the best experience I have had was just a couple of months ago while I was on shift at Addison. We had guests in our chef's table that started with a couple of bottles of 1988 Krug, 1973/1997 Leroy Meursault 1er Cru Les Perrieres, then a 1964 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva, 1982 Latour, 1982 Margaux, and finished the evening off with a 1975 Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes. Of course I wish I wasn't working during that dinner but the hosts were kind enough to insist on me tasting all of the wines they were drinking. It is very unlikely a wine night like that will happen again so it is definitely a highlight in my short career so far as a sommelier. JS: I am fortunate to represent a great portfolio and was working with some Gaja wines this week. JL-V: Best thing to eat or drink lately, that would be Oysters from Baja, Mexico! Paired with a nice demi-sec Vouvray from the Chenin Blanc grape, you can also pair with a traditional Muscadet, can't go wrong! VO: Locally, hand rolls from j/wata on Convoy Street and rabbit agnolotti from Tortoise, a local pop-up restaurant. Beyond San Diego, Protégé in Palo Alto was a fantastic all-around experience. ************************************************************************************************ What is your favorite place to find wine in San Diego? It can be a store, restaurant or bar! DK: The best place I like to find new wines is at Seaside Market in Cardiff by the Sea. The market recently renovated and they upped their wine game, mostly by expanding the store and offering a larger footprint for wine sales. Since the market is located right across the street from the beach, they get a lot of foot traffic and therefore move an incredible amount of wine very quickly. It seems like each week the best stuff sells out, but then it is restocked with something new. It’s great to have a selection that is constantly changing. You just have to buy it fast—it won’t be there next week! JM: I have a few different places that I go to for wine in San Diego, depending on what I am looking for. If I am looking for newer vintage items for blind tasting purposes or just for "daily drinkers", I have found great wines at great prices at a Pavilions store in an affluent neighborhood near the restaurant. As funny as it sounds, I have found some great wines there, including 2015 Penfold's 389 for under $30, Numanthia Termes and 2015 Coudoulet de Beaucastel for under $20. If I am looking for older vintages in San Diego, I have been going to Vintage Wine near Miramar. One of the gems that I found recently that I am very excited about trying is a 1997 Arnaldo Caprai Sagrantino di Montefalco. Vintage Wine also has the very first "90-point" wine that I ever tried back when I was living in Italy and just starting to drink wine, a 2005 Frescobaldi Nipozzano Riserva Chianti Rufina. JS: The Cucina group is a great place to find unique offerings at great prices. Both Third Corner locations have fun offerings, too. JLV: Favorite place in San Diego to find wine would be San Diego Wine and Beer Co. They have a massive selection of not only wine but craft beer as well. All styles, Belgian Trappists, Lambics; Guezes, and Krieks. Great Pilsners from the Czech Republic and Japanese beers, sake and fuki plum wine. VO: I love stopping by Village Vino and Bine & Vine to see what's on the shelves (both in the Normal Heights/Kensington area). For a true splurge, I'll let myself get carried away at Vino Carta in Little Italy.

Flora Springs

All Hallows' Eve Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 2016

Shay A

Halloween tradition in our house to enjoy some of Flora Springs’ special Halloween bottles, so this is the 2016 art work.

Being a cab franc just makes us purchase more as we love cab franc. In all honesty, this wine is more about the art work as opposed to the wine itself. That being said, it’s an enjoyable red that has spice box notes, underripe red and black fruit, with a touch of sweetness. Short finish. Not jammy or peppery, just easy drinking.

Happy Halloween! 🎃👻🍷
— 6 years ago

Arden, Hugh and 46 others liked this
David T

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Nice. Happy Halloween ! 🎃 👻🕷💀
Sharon B

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What a fun bottle!! 👻🎃💀
Jason and Jennie

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Great label

Tenuta Il Poggione

Riserva Brunello di Montalcino Sangiovese 2006

Drinking beautifully. Super high tannin and acid. Dried fruits, old world finesse. If it weren't for the color would have guessed Nebbiolo. Great wine. — 10 years ago

Anthony, Beau and 5 others liked this

Famille Perrin

Coudoulet de Beaucastel Cotes-du-Rhone Red Rhone Blend 2015

The king of CdR. Better than a lot of CdPs. — 6 years ago

with Jayce
Dick, jesus and 4 others liked this

Château Margaux

Premier Grand Cru Classé Margaux Red Bordeaux Blend 1982

A true legend. Everything you could ever want in a Bordeaux and had the finish been a little more pronounced it would be a prefect wine. — 6 years ago

Ira, Shay and 36 others liked this


Estate Grown Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Dark, fountain pen ink inky - aromas of grandma’s blueberry cobbler, menthol & that unique Pritchard Hill mountain sage linger just under the rim – added flavors of graphite and a hint of spice roll along the tastebuds.

Solid mouthfeel and a lingering finish that lasted 60 seconds – like a curtain call with your favorite band - an hour in it opened up nicely – tannins tight prior to that, but continued to smooth out with a hint of tangy raspberry on the palette. – the influence of Melka is noted in this fine example of higher elevation Napa Valley cab.

Paired with some Georgia Florida college football (Georgia won) – just received my allocation and had to try this one – it did not disappoint, made me smile and I’m glad I have more to bust out.

100% cabernet sauvigion, estate grown – 15.5% alc. - 400 cases - $265
— 6 years ago

Shay, Mike and 6 others liked this
Mike R

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Congrats on the win


The Yamazaki 18 Year Old Single Malt Whisky

Deep copper in color with thick legs. Pronounced, seductive aromas of cream sherry, red fruits, spice, malt, toasted oak, almonds, and mince. Palate coating, luxurious mouthfeel with very balanced alcohol. Additional flavors and aromas of honeycomb, nutmeg, vanilla bean, dry grasses, leather and even a bit of cigar box or cedar. Finish continues for well over a minute. Absolutely exceptional expression of exactly why everyone is going nuts for Japanese whisky! — 8 years ago

P and Severn liked this