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A monthly column for East County wine and beer enthusiasts

By Richard Noel

Orfila employee Dolores Castaneda pours a generous taste
for Shari Zollo (right) of Vista, who enjoyed the festivities with Barbara
Deuel and Drea Zollo Bush (both of Oceanside).

“Oh yes, it’s Eighties night!”

For all those who still wear their sunglasses at night, you could have worn
them to Orfila Vineyards’ tasting room as the crew kept the doors open
late on October 23rd for a special evening of uncorked fun.  With a 1980s
music theme, wine club members and other visitors enjoyed listening to blasts
from the past while sipping the Escondido winery’s latest hits.  Tasting
room manager Benjamin Wier put together what may be the first of many more
late-night events to come, and pulled it off with the flair of a high school

Wier’s iPod playlist cranked out hits through the stereo system all
night, including the likes of Bananarama, Men Without Hats, Prince, Howard
Jones, A Flock of Seagulls, Depeche Mode, and even the one-hit wonder that
could very well be the anthem of Vowel Awareness Week, "AEIOU Sometimes
Y" from Ebn Ozn (you remember that one, right?)

The tasting menu included a wide range of both white and red wines, with an
emphasis on varietals from France’s Rhône Valley and other regions
that are still slowly making their name in California’s wine industry.  Orfila
produces much of its wine from estate-grown grapes that can be seen growing
in the vineyards along San Pasqual Road, but the winery also bring in grapes
that require cooler climates from appellations located in Santa Barbara, San
Luis Obispo, and Monterey Counties.  Our
favorite among the white wines was definitely the Estate Viognier “Lotus” Lot
67, a new bottling which went over very well with just about everybody in the
tasting room.  Orfila also offers two different styles of Chardonnay (of
which the 2006 Ambassador’s Reserve recently won a Gold award at the
2008 Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition), plus a White
Riesling and Gewürztraminer. 

Future wine releases aging in French oak barrels, and
all we can do is wait.

We were given a short tour through the perpetually cool barrel room which
surrounds the tasting area.  With Wall Of Voodoo playing in the background,
we could see future vintages aging in French Oak all around, including winemaker
Leon Santoro’s latest plantings, as he is eager to experiment with different
grapes.  In a few years, with any luck, we will get to taste new bottlings
of Petite Sirah (a red Rhône grape, often with a spicy finish) and Montepulciano
d’Abruzzo (an Italian red made popular in the region where Santoro hails

Our tastings of Orfila’s red wine offerings kicked off with a rich Pinot
Noir from grapes grown in the Edna Valley near San Luis Obispo.  They
offer a Merlot “Red Cap” which is a cuvee of coastal-grown grapes,
and another estate-grown Ambassador’s Reserve Merlot.  Both were
quite good, with notes of cherries and raspberries, and it was interesting
to see what they were able to do using the same type of grape grown in two
different climates and two different approaches in the winemaking process.  I
especially enjoyed the Cabernet Sauvignon “Lot #34” which blended
grapes grown from Orfila’s own estate vineyards with others from nearby
Pauma Valley and Temecula regions which contained bold flavors of blackberry
and pepper but a very smooth finish, and took home  a silver at the aforementioned
L.A. wine competition. 

If you’re a big Syrah fan like me, look out for the Orfila label when
you visit your local wine shops, since these are not to be missed.  Both
of the Syrahs we tried were 2005 vintages and all estate-grown, of which the “Val
De La Mer” was smoother with a more fruit-forward taste that suggested
plums and berries. The “Heritage” Syrah is a limited bottling specially
selected from only the best vines, showing off a real taste of the terroir.  It
had a fuller body and a more mature, balanced flavor in the Old World style
of red wines from the northern Rhône.  Orfila also produces a rosé of
Syrah, which was delicately sweet and refreshing,  Additionally, the winery
offers a Port and a Muscat Canelli if you are looking for some dessert wines
to enjoy. 

I came away largely impressed with the great quality and value of the wines
at Orfila, and with the forward-looking approach to trying different varietals.  With
so many world-renowned wine regions in California, Orfila is helping to put
San Diego County on the map.  The ‘80s Night event was a big success,
and special prices on almost all of the wines kept the cash registers ringing
as we left for home with a few more bottles for our collection.  The only
thing missing was UB40’s “Red Red Wine”….or did I
miss that one?

Orfila Vineyard & Winery  is located at 13455 San Pasqual
Road, Escondido, CA 92025
(from I-15, exit east on Via Rancho Parkway)
Tasting room hours 10-6 daily, guided tours at 2 pm.
(760) 738-6500
There is an additional tasting room in Julian:  4470 Highway 78, Julian,
CA 92036