Monday, October 11, 2010


San Antonio Winery

The winemaker dinner I attended at San Antonio Winery in downtown Los Angeles  on October 9, 2010 was eye-opening in more ways than one.

Not only was it my first visit to the oldest working winery in Los Angeles, I’m ashamed to say,  but it was also the first visit for many at my table - including someone who lives next door to one of the principal figures in the winery!  I was also corrected on my uninformed opinion that San Antonio Winery was a lonely, neglected building hidden among a bunch of warehouses.

True, the landscape in this part of downtown L.A. is a bit industrial.  True, Lamar Street, on which the winery is located, has a fairly large population of big trucks - even on Saturday afternoon.  But forget the notion that San Antonio Winery is a forgotten building.  Denise and I sat in the car for a few minutes before going inside.  The foot traffic we observed going in and out of the front door was amazing.  It seemed to never stop - or even slow down.  Paso Robles or Santa Barbara wineries would kill for that kind of business.

Once inside, looking to the left - where the tasting bar is - there was no way to muscle my way in.  It was was simply too crowded.  I was told by one of my table mates that the crowd on this early October Saturday was nothing.  “Just wait until the holidays,”  she said.  “They really start getting the crowds then!”


For the uninitiated, San Antonio Winery has been a historical landmark in Los Angeles for about 45 years.  The winery was founded in 1917 by Santo Cambianica , at a time when the California wine industry was changing from sweet and fortified wines to dry red wines.  The winery is still family-owned and operated.

For this once-a-year event, Michael and Anthony Riboli presided over the festivities, sharing time talking about the various wines and pouring them, too.

The dinner was staged in the barrel room in the rear portion of the winery.  There were about a dozen or so large round tables seating up to eight diners each.  At our table, we joined Adrianna, Virginia, Diane and Jim.  I think I was the one person at our table most interested in the wine - it’s usually that way for me.  Jim admitted he was “not much of a wine person,” but even he was really getting into the fun of tasting and pairing.

Tasting the wines was somewhat eye-opening for me, too.  I was actually familiar with only one of the wines served at this dinner, so I had the chance to sample a variety of the San Antonio Winery’s product.  I was impressed by all of them.


The Riboli family takes their tradition very seriously.  The word “heritage” kept popping up throughout the evening as Michael and Anthony spoke of the winery and wines that are their own heritage.  The word even appears on a series of wines designed to celebrate the history of the winery and the family.

Grapes for the Riboli’s wines are estate-grown, not sourced from other growers.  They own vineyard land in several areas of California you may have heard of - Paso Robles, Monterey County, Napa Valley.

“The vineyard is the most important part of winemaking,” Anthony explained.  “If the grapes aren’t good, the wine won’t be good.”  Echoing a wine industry axiom, he said, “The best wines are made in the vineyard.”

Michael got philosophical when ruminating on his family’s history as winemakers.  “Making wine is our business,” he said, “but it’s great to have a business where making people feel good is the end result.”

Anthony selected the wine pairings for the evening’s meal, and the pairings were very smart.  Having good wine is a great first step, but knowing how to pair it with foods that will accentuate the wine’s highlights is a special ability.  Anthony showed he knows how to pair wine as well as make it.

The wines awaitMaddalena Sauvignon Blanc, Paso Robles 2009 - served with glazed, marinated albacore salad with an avocado and ginger paste.

The 100% varietal wine sees mostly steel - just two months in neutral oak.  It shows a slightly grassy nose with abundant minerals.  On the palate, it’s rich and round with a citrus tartness and lemon zest.  I wish for the finish to last longer, but I’m left with the bracing sensation of wet rocks afterward. 

This was the pairing of the night for me, as the wine and the food combined to create an entirely new taste.  The wine, mixed with the avocado and ginger paste, spawned a mustard-like flavor which surprised and delighted me.

Heritage Blanc, Central Coast 2009- served with seared sea scallops with white frisee, Dijon vinaigrette and tarragon puree.

An “oddball blend” of Viognier, dry Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc.  The different wines are blended and stirred during the two months the wine spends in neutral oak barrels.  The nose is aromatic and floral, with honeysuckle predominant.  The taste is of tart apples with a layer of minerality and citrus.  This is a zesty wine, too, with great acidity. 

It scores in combination with the scallops.  It’s one of three wines now offered with a distinct “retro” label which images the winery’s own heritage.

Windstream Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands 2008 - served with grilled, five spice marinated quail, with bacon fried rice and an orange hoisin sauce.

I had tasted this wine at a Pinot show in Pasadena earlier in the year, and it was my favorite at that show.  Still showing a huge nose of cherries and plums, this wine seems very dark for a Pinot Noir, both in color and taste.  The effect of the French oak is tastefully apparent..  The palate is huge and intense, with cherries and raspberries on a dark earthiness.

It paired quite nicely with the intense flavors of the five spice and hoisin, and brought an extra dimension to the slightly gamey bird.  I would love to have this wine with a steak, too.

San Simeon Syrah, Monterey 2007 and Heritage Red Rhone Blend, Paso Robles 2006 - both served with pappardelle pasta with white chanterelle mushrooms.

The Syrah has a nose of blackberry and black pepper with an intense palate showing jammy, spicy fruit.  The wine is in French and American oak for two years, and it shows the effect of both.  There are nice vanilla notes from the American oak and spiciness from the French.

The Red Rhone Blend contains Syrah, Petite Sirah, Mourvèdre and Grenache.  This wine shows earth on the nose and tastes of fruit and beef.

To choose one of these wines as the pairing winner, I’d go with the Rhone blend because of its earthiness, matching so well with the mushrooms.

Riboli Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford 2007 (Library Selection) and Riboli Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford 2008 - both served with herb-roasted beef tenderloin with sautéed Porcini mushrooms.

The ‘07 has an earthier nose with plummy fruit, while the ‘08 has a fruitier taste and a graphite edge.  Both are drinking very well and have a nice, full mouthfeel with very smooth tannins.

Both of these wines paired well with the beef.  I couldn’t name a favorite between the two Cabs.

La Quinta Crema Marsala, California NV - served with chocolate terrine with spiced dried fruit compote and a cinnamon cream.

The Marsala’s nose of raisins, spice and honey could serve as dessert on its own, but you really wouldn’t want to miss tasting it.  A sherry-like flavor of candied fruit pairs well with both the fruit and chocolate. 

This brown-colored, fortified wine is 18% abv and would be right at home after a big Thanksgiving meal or Christmas dinner.

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