Our Incredible First Experience with San Diego's Wine Xplorer

Image courtesy of  Wine Xplorer.

Image courtesy of Wine Xplorer.

It was hard to believe we were in Escondido.

Sally and I dined at a winery, in a beautiful room with 30 guests seated at a long table. An award-winning chef prepared a delicious six course meal. Each course was expertly paired with a different wine, and the winemaker talked about her wines as they were served. An opera singer entertained us throughout the evening.

You'd expect an experience like this in Napa Valley or perhaps Sonoma. Maybe in one of the famous wine regions in Italy, France, or Spain. But Escondido?!

This town just north of San Diego isn't exactly known for wine. Yet we were very surprised after an incredible evening organized by Roberto Avila, owner of the San Diego wine tour company, Wine Xplorer.

The Winery

The winemaker's dinner was held at Altipiano Vineyard and Winery in Escondido, California. It's a small production winery that makes about 1,400 cases of wine per year.

Winemaker Denise Clarke shared a little history with the group. She and her husband, Peter, had grown avocados on the property until their grove was destroyed by wildfires in 2007. Clearing the land gave them an opportunity to start anew, and they planted grapevines in the spring of 2008. Clarke's first vintage was 2012.

Frankly, we had low expectations for the wine coming in. We've tried a lot of local wineries and most that we sampled just can't compete with wines from more established regions. But Clarke was passionate about her craft, and it showed in the quality of her winemaking. (Favorite quote, “I know my own dirt.”)

These wines were good.

We always try to learn from winemakers, and Clarke graciously answered our questions throughout the evening. For example, you often hear about wine aged in French, American, and sometimes Hungarian oak. But what does that really mean? Each type of oak tends to impart different flavors, and Clarke explained that Hungarian oak gives off flavors like “Mom’s apple pie.”

The Pairing Menu

Chef Francesco Basile collaborated with Clarke to create a special menu for the evening.

Chef Basile is the chef and owner at Antica Trattoria, our favorite restaurant in San Diego. While Antica's menu is delicious, we know Chef always takes things to the next level for special events.

First Course: Altipiano Pinot Gris, 2014. Paired with crispy brie and mango mint salsa

Amuse-bouche of crispy brie with mango mint salsa.

Second Course: Altipiano Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013. Paired with duck liver pate and cabernet poached pears.

Duck liver pate with cabernet poached pears.

Third Course: Altipiano Sangiovese Estate Reserve, 2016. Paired with sangiovese risotto with roasted oyster mushrooms, crispy prosciutto, and robiola cheese.

Sangiovese risotto with roasted oyster mushrooms, crispy prosciutto, and robiola cheese.

Fourth Course: Altipiano Syrah, 2016. Paired with ricotta cavatelli with wild boar ragu.

Ricotta cavatelli with wild boar ragu

Fifth Course: Altipiano Petite Sirah, 2016. Paired with espresso-dusted veal loin with petite sirah reduction and prunes.

Espresso-dusted veal loin with petite sirah reduction and prunes

Six Course: Altipiano Primitivo, 2013. Paired with... chef's surprise. Sadly, we missed this one as we had to leave a bit early so we could get home and let our puppy out.

The Entertainment

Tenor Rosario Monetti and his accompanying musician really sent the evening over the top. Monetti sang classic Italian love songs while we dined and engaged the audience throughout. 

Book Your Tour

Avila organized a top notch event, and made sure everything ran smoothly throughout the evening. He was there to greet everyone as they arrived, and spent time with each of his guests to create a more personalized experience. His eye for detail was fantastic.

Avila’s company, Wine Xplorer, offers tours of San Diego-area wine regions such as Ramona and Temecula and also ventures down to Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe. After our wonderful evening, we highly recommend you book a tour!

Posted on January 27, 2019 and filed under Tasting Experiences.