San Diego’s wine heritage reaches back to the 18th century, when Spanish missionary Father Junipero Serra planted wine grapes shortly after founding Mission San Diego de Alcala in 1769. As recent growers have learned, the region has microclimates and terrain which are idyllic for wine grape cultivation. San Diego County is the home of roughly 120 wineries and generates about $31 million annually. According to the San Diego County Vintners Association, the total acres of wine grapes have doubled and the crop value has more than quadrupled since 2010. Wine tasting in San Diego county is definitely a must when visiting this area, and these are a few San Diego wineries we have enjoyed.
San Diego Wineries
Recently, my wife and I decided to head 30 minutes north of downtown to visit a few wineries, have some lunch, and do a little wine tasting. Our first stop was Cordiano Winery, located in the hills of the San Pasqual Valley in Escondido. This winery is family-owned and operated, where you can taste the quality because they take pride in the artistry of their craft. In addition to their wine, they have a wide selection of homemade Italian pastas and pizzas. The food is as authentic as it gets, especially the handmade pasta. The pizza isn’t as thin as you would find in Italy, but it’s very delicious.
Now for everyone’s favorite part: Wine. I tasted two whites and two reds. I tried the Pinot Grigio first. It was light bodied with a touch of honey. You could really taste the citrus hints, likely from the lemon and orange groves within close proximity to the vines. On a warm day in Southern California, this is a nice chilled wine to enjoy, perhaps with a charcuterie board and fresh fruit.
The second was the Duetto Bianco: A mix of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. It was semi-sweet and semi-dry. You could taste a small amount of apple and peach, with a light touch of oak from the aging. This wine would be great with chicken breast and farm fresh vegetables, even maybe a salad. I definitely recommend both, but I leaned more towards the Duetto Bianco if I had to pick a favorite of the two.
The first red I tried was the Cabernet Franc. This one surprised me by how dry and full-bodied it was—a good thing! You could taste a variety of herbs as well as oak. In addition, it had a cherry or fig hint as you exhale. The finish was smooth, leaving me wanting another taster! I would highly recommend decanting this wine for about 15 minutes before serving. We have this one in our collection at home. I have made a grilled flank steak on a bed of arugula, topped with Grana Padano cheese and balsamic reduction. This wine is the perfect accompaniment for a meal as such.
Second, I tried the Sangiovese. For those who drink Italian wine often, this is the same grape found in Tuscany that is used to make Brunello wines. The Sangiovese is always a favorite of mine, especially after knowing the history and tasting it in Montalcino, Tuscany. Cordiano’s version is medium-bodied with a hint of oak from the aging barrels. It has a small bit of cherry and plum taste on the smooth, silky finish. While closing my eyes, tasting this Sangiovese took me back to the colorful, flowing hills of Tuscany. This wine also needs to be opened up well before serving. This is a perfect “date night at home” wine or a wine you can take as a guest to a gathering. It will impress those who try it. This is a high-quality wine that would finely accompany any red meat dinner. I usually enjoy it with a dry or salty cheese, such as Grana Padano, Parmesan, or Gruyere. It’s pairs perfectly with your choice of cured meats as well.
It is a toss-up between these two reds because both are two of my favorite varietals. Cordiano is a great place to head out for a lunch date or day out with friends. Seating is somewhat limited, and weekends can be bustling so I recommend making a reservation in advance on their website. They do have walk in seating but there are reserved tables for those who plan ahead. There is ample parking between the vineyard and cantina. This picturesque vineyard is one of our favorites for entertaining guests and are happy to share with those reading!
Down the road roughly 5 minutes from Cordiano, my wife and I stumbled upon another small winery that really caught our attention, visually and tastefully. Altipiano vineyard was established completely by chance. Originally an avocado grove, the wildfires that swept through the San Pasqual valley in 2007 allowed for the proprietor to remove the dead trees and pursue their dream of viticulture.
We tried a few wines, but one definitely stood out: Their estate Barbera. This wine was semi-dry with hints of dark cherry and oak from aging. Of all the wines we tasted that weekend, this is the one we truly enjoyed the most. This wine can be enjoyed also with red meats and dry cheeses. It is one of their top selling, award winning wines. During our visit, several guests came into the cantina and bought this wine specifically, touting how amazing it is. They were right.
Out on the veranda, you can see nearly to the coastline, with vineyards and fruit trees surrounding the entire property. The scenery is absolutely stunning, making the wine tasting experience that much more enjoyable.
UPCOMING, TEMECULA VALLEY WINERIES: I surprised my wife with a horse drawn carriage tour of 5 wineries in the Temecula Valley. Temecula is home to over 40 wineries and I will give you a list of the wines we enjoyed the most on the tour.
Nathan Alexander is a Spokane, Washington native currently employed by the Department of Defense, working at sites across the globe. In 2006, he joined the US Navy to fulfill his desires for higher education and travel. Since that time, he has traveled to 48 countries across 4 continents as well as 31 US states. From 2012 to 2015, he was afforded the opportunity to live in Italy where his knowledge of food and wine began to flourish. In that timeframe, he was able to travel most of Europe, taking notes of different activities, food, and wine to share with others who also desire to travel. He currently resides in San Diego with his wife, Alisha. In his down time, he enjoys creative sous vide cooking, photography, and baseball.
A huge thanks to Nate for sharing about these fabulous wineries. If you missed it, check out his previous post on the Best Eats in San Diego!