Off the Menu: Italian Vino Versus OC Wines

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Gaia Gaja
Gaia Gaja

By Christopher Trela & Catherine Del Casale

Whether you enjoy local wines or vino from Italy, this is the perfect time to take a wine tour to OC wineries and enjoy a luncheon with one of Italy’s most famous winemakers.

Gaja Wine Lunch at Cucina Enoteca

The name Gaja is synonymous with great wine. Giovanni Gaja started making wine back in the mid-1800s; his great-grandson, Angelo, is now running the winery, although his daughter, Gaia, and her sister, Rossana, have stepped in to help.

Gaia has become the new face of Gaja wines, some of which retail for hundreds of dollars (yes, they’re that good, and that famous).

Locally, Cucina Enoteca in Fashion Island carries Gaja wines, but next month you can do more than just sip this incredible vino—you can enjoy a Gaja wine luncheon on Tuesday, March 3 with Gaia Gaja herself attending to talk about her family’s wines.

“This luncheon came about through our San Diego location,” explained Cucina Enoteca Wine Director Ed Manetta. “We got to talking to the Gaja wine rep, who talked to Gaia Gaja and found out she was planning a trip to the U.S., so

Cucina Enoteca patio
Cucina Enoteca patio

we decided to grab her if we could. She’s doing a dinner that night at a local resort for hundreds of dollars per person, but this luncheon is only $68. Our chef and I sat down and decided to have fun with the menu.”

The luncheon starts with a glass of prosecco and lobster fritter, followed by 2012 Vistamare Ce’Marcanda (a blend of Vermentino and Viognier) paired with sea scallop carpaccio with fennel, tangerine and avocado. Next is a wine Gaja has become renowned for: 2011 Barbaresco DOCG, paired with red wine risotto, roasted mushroom, parmesan froth and truffle.

The final course pairs a 2011 Sito Moresco Langhe (a blend of nebbiolo, merlot and cabernet sauvignon) with parsley crusted beef rib eye cap with confit potato, Thumbelina carrot and stuffed cipollini.

“The barbaresco is what put Gaja wines on the map,” said Manetta. “You rarely go to a reasonably priced luncheon and are served $250 per bottle wine.”

Manetta said diners can purchase the Gaja wines, which range from $60 to $245 per bottle, at Cucina Enoteca. Gaia will be signing bottles at the luncheon, which is limited to 50 guests.

“The luncheon will be held on the patio. It’s the first one we’ve done—the weather should be beautiful,” noted Manetta. “Gaia has a reputation of wanting to work the room, go to each table talking about wines, and the experience. This should be a lot of fun.”

To RSVP for the luncheon, visit

Laguna Canyon Winery
Laguna Canyon Winery

OC Winery Tours

Orange County is now wine country, thanks to 10 wineries that have opened in the county over the last few years.

Some, such as Newport Beach Winery, grow their own grapes near the Back Bay, while others import their grapes from Napa and other wine growing regions.

With such a burgeoning wine area, it’s no surprise that someone came up with the smart idea of offering wine tasting tours of OC wineries.

That someone is Ryan Hefferman, who three years ago launched California Wine Line but changed the name to OC Winery Tours when he decided to focus on local wineries.

Based in Newport Beach, OC Winery Tours takes groups from two to 20 or more to visit some of the county’s premier wineries.

We recently took a half day (five hour) wine tour that stopped at four wineries: Laguna Canyon Winery, Giracci Vineyards and Farms and Cowboy Canyon (both in Silverado Canyon) and Rancho Capistrano Winery in San Juan Capistrano.

“Ryan was knowledgeable on the area, the wines and the wine making process,”  said Catherine. “He enhanced the overall experience from the moment he picked us up until he returned us back home. It was great not to have to do the food planning, the wine and driving, and have everything in an expert’s hands while you sit back and enjoy.”

And enjoy we did.

The tasting at Laguna Canyon Winery was leisurely and fun. We took a tour of the winery, which included seeing how the wine was made.

“I really enjoyed their champagne, which was fruit forward with hints of vanilla, which gave it a unique flavor,” said

Cowboy Canyon wines
Cowboy Canyon wines

Catherine. “I also enjoyed their pinot grigio, which was bolder than most I’ve had. One of my favorites with the raspberry sparkling wine, which is something different than the usual flavors but was not overly sweet.”

Giracci Vineyards is on a beautiful horse ranch in Silverado Canyon, and makes surprisingly good wines (surprising in that you don’t expect to find good wines in this area). The tasting room was crowded, a sign that they’re making some good juice here. We sampled several varietals, all good, and leisurely strolled the beautiful grounds, where weddings occur nearly every weekend.

We wandered next door to Cowboy Canyon Winery, which makes a number of nice wines (we particularly liked the reds). Like Giracci, our wine server was knowledgeable and friendly, which makes the wine tasting experience that much more fun.

We ended at Rancho Capistrano Winery, which makes more than a dozen wines and also serves food, so we were able to pair our tasting with cheeses and flatbreads, making it easier to decide which wines go with what foods.

Tour prices start at $109 per person and vary depending on the type of tour and number of people.


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