North County Wine Company aka “Wine Hangout”

As kids, we all had this special hangout – a magical place where no matter what, you could meet your friends and it was all right.

I grew up in the 80’s in Ohio and my favorite hangout was an arcade with games like “Asteroids”, “Tempest”, and my personal favorite, “Dig Dug”. The arcade was right next to an Italian deli with meatball sandwiches. For me and the other newspaper guys it was the special meeting place we enjoy on summer afternoons after the daily newspapers are delivered.

Maybe an idea for an adult hangout with that magical vibe is North County Wine Company in Saint Mark. Frank and I enjoyed a top flight tasting a few weeks ago with owner Jim Tobin. This tasting brought back fond memories of my days as an 80s newspaper boy, video arcade, and meatball sandwich.

Tobin has created a special wine hangout that’s fun and energetic with patrons and banter reminiscent of the hit comedy “Cheers,” another favorite 80s memory.

Each customer is warmly welcomed by Jim or another bartender. Those who want to go out for a glass of wine or a flight can get cozy at the bar or at quaint tables and quickly engage with others, whether they be old friends or new acquaintances. .

Tobin had a star formation with one white and two red. The tasting kicked off with the 2018 Davis Estate Hungry Blonde Chardonnay. It was an oaky, buttery “classic California” Chardonnay resembling powerhouses like Rombauer and Frank Family. It had an aroma and flavors of butterscotch, apricot and a hint of toast, like creme brulee. The full flavor and long finish will have you coming back for more.

Wine Company in San Marcos, with an all-star lineup of Davis Chardonnay, Turley Old Vine Zinfandel and Runquist Petite Sirah” width=”900″ height=”1200″ srcset=” 900w,×300.jpg 225w,×600.jpg 450w,×1024.jpg 768w,×400.jpg 300w,×780.jpg 585w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px”/>
Jim Tobin, owner of North County Wine Company in San Marcos, with an all-star lineup of Davis Chardonnay, Turley Old Vine Zinfandel and Runquist Petite Sirah. Photo by Rico Cassoni

Next up was a 2019 Turley Old Vine Zinfandel. A fun fact about the Turley is that it comes from 26 different locations.

“This zin offers inviting notes of black cherry, plum and blueberry enhanced with hints of spice, licorice and dried flowers. On the palate it is silky, smooth, fresh and approachable,” Jim mentioned in the tasting document.

I always love Tobin’s down-to-earth descriptions and tasting notes. Additionally, the zinfandel has been awarded 93pt Wine Advocate. The tasting ended with one of my favorite and affordable little sirahs, the Runquist “R.” 2019. On the nose, the Runquist had cassis, berries, chocolate and hints of mocha.

On the palate, we find blackberry, blueberry and hints of vanilla. Runquist did a great job of softening the edgy tannins associated with the sirah berry, creating a creamy mouthfeel finish.

In addition to a great wine meeting place, NCWC offers a wide selection of wines representing all regions of the world with a killer selection from California and the Pacific Northwest. NCWC has fair and reasonable prices, competing with big box stores, often with special offers at below market prices. As always, Frank and I enjoyed spending time at NCWC. Details at

Esteban Ramirez – Poet and Pianist

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of going to a piano/cello concert hosted by a colleague of my wife. I heard there would be great charcuterie and live music, but I didn’t expect to see an entire table covered in delicacies planned and prepared by budding “chef” Kathryn Klement. I was also captivated by the music of the ultra-passionate pianist and poet, Esteban Ramirez.

Ramirez was born and raised in El Paso and was the youngest of nine children. A hyperactive child, his mother introduced him to piano lessons at the age of 10 to redirect some of his energy. He became addicted to the piano and at age 11 became his church pianist.

Fast forward to today, he has released three albums under his own label, Descanso Music. Ramirez’s style is best described as neoclassical. He cites composers Chopin, Mozart and Barry Manilow as powerful influencers. For those who love instrumental piano music, I encourage you to check out Esteban Ramirez. He has a magical way of bonding through his works.

Ramirez is currently working on his fourth album, “Running with the Sun”, a lifelong dream of performing with an orchestra which he hopes to do in Prague. Find his music on iTunes, Spotify, etc. Details about

wine bytes

—Del Mar’s West End bar and kitchen will host five-course Chalk Hill Wine dinners at 6 p.m. on Thursday, February 24 and Friday, February 25. Since 1972, Chalk Hill Winery has been committed to creating terroir wines of character, richness and elegance from the varied terrain of the hills of Sonoma County. This dinner will be hosted by Alan Crawford, Vice President of Luxury Brands at Foley Family Wines. The main course includes lamb osso bucco with Estate Red Blend. The cost is $75 per person + tax/tip. RSVP to 858-259-5878.

Vittorio’s Italian trattoria is hosting an Alexander Valley Vineyards Wine five-course dinner at 6 p.m. on Thursday, February 24. Veteran winemaker Kevin Hall constantly adapts to the rhythms of nature, the readiness of vineyards and the evolution of individual wines. The main course includes a small grilled filet mignon with 2018 “Bio” Cabernet Sauvignon. The cost is $75 per person + tax/tip. RSVP to 858-538-5884.

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