Countywide offerings make it hard to pick favorites

The rustic charm of Bernardo Winery, the oldest operating vineyard and winery in San Diego, was an idyllic setting for this year’s San Diego County Vintner’s Association Wine and Food Festival. Though a fancy-sounding name, I was happy to find a welcoming environment more about educating wine lovers than snobbery or high-pressure sales.

More than 20 wineries poured tastes of two of their wines, with offerings ranging from sweet samples to hearty reds and everything in between.

While I didn’t have a chance to try everything, I did sample many, finding highlights along the way. I managed to escape with only two bottle purchases, but more on that later.

First, my runners-up, so to speak:

Shadow Mountain Vineyards and Winery from Warner Springs served up one of the only Viogniers—its 2012 was crisp and light with hints of apricot, the first to please my palate.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Altipiano Vineyards and Winery from Highland Valley, with its 2012 Estate Brunello Sangiovese, which got rave reviews all day. The woody and rich wine did not disappoint.

From the up-and-coming Vinavanti Urban Winery (soon to relocate from Sorrento Valley to Hillcrest), the 2011 GSM was an unexpected gem with notes of smoke and brown sugar.

Another approachable red came from Bernardo itself, in the form of a 2013 Petite Sirah, which had an intoxicating essence of black pepper on the nose, and blended with raspberry on the tongue.

Following this trend of reds led me to a favorite: the 2011 Blue Cuvee by Blue-Merle Winery; a unique blend of Zinfandel, Carignan and Nebbiolo that balanced bold, lasting flavors and rich fruits.

Coming full circle, I found my other favorite of the day back in a white from Domaine Artefact Vineyard and Winery, also located in the Highland Valley area of Escondido. I enjoyed both of this winery’s offerings—its Grenache Rose holding some light minerality. But the bottle I took home was their 2012 Les Beaux Blancs. This blend of Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul managed to possess a light creaminess that didn’t compete with its splashes of lemon and spice.

The SDCVA’s event left me with a long list of wineries to revisit someday soon.