Odd place for a wine renaissance, but on closer examination, the Palm Desert, Palm Springs, La Quinta resort areas are blooming attractions for the wine crowd.  An enormous amount of restaurants serve a growing population and increased visitor count, and guess what, the Palm Desert COSTCO has the 2nd largest wine department in the chain, right behind Carlsbad in San Diego County.
Palm Desert is one of my favorite get-a-ways and when I go, I have an eye open for the latest developments at the JW Marriott’s Desert Springs Resort.  The latest trip was a real eye-opener as they are celebrating their 25th year with an upscale building program for their restaurants and wine bar.
Paul Bologna conducts the best wine tastings south of Napa Valley and he produces the wine programs at Desert Springs.  Actually he spent the first part of his wine career working in NapaValley so he closely follows those wines.
The day I participated, Bologna was profiling Full Bodied Reds From Napa Valley.  A $50. charge got you five luscious reds and a delicious artisan cheese tasting.  The wines were all “mountain wines:”  merlots, cabernets and blends from Mt. Veeder, Pride Mt., Diamond Mt. and Pine Mt. I was struck by the power and finesse of the J. Davies Cabernet from Diamond Mt., a 2008 that retails for $80.  “We love Napa Valleysmall producers,” exclaimed Bologna.  Most are 100 case producers or less, and both our wine and food suppliers are all from California.” 
Ciprian Orian is the enthusiastic restaurant manager of the new Rockwood Grill and the posh Blue Star Lounge. The Rockwood Grill opens up the dining experience with extra virgin olive oil served with grilled bread.  The salads are home grown in the Coachella Valley.  Mine had greens, shaved apple, fennel, radish, candied pecans, tangerine and pomegranate.  Nicely done.  The San Diego Brandt Farms provided the Filet and it was excellent with sides of grilled asparagus and polenta.
“We are working on a new expansive patio dining concept, adding 80 seats in September,” Orian revealed.  “It will extend into the existing lake and give diners an island sensation.  The Blue Star Lounge will also expand around the dining area, for a total of 468 seats.  Small bites will be big in the lounge area.”   Lots to know about at www.desertspringsresort.com.
San Diego’s Little Italy & Enoteca Style Taste Great
It was Open House along India Street in San Diego’s Little Italy recently as hundreds of visitors, hungry for old world food and drink, descended on nearly 30 restaurants. The new format restaurants are exciting to see and to dine in.  They include: DAVANTI, a small bites bar with a large inside and outside dining area; ISOLA, a pizza bar with huge blowups of Italian actress Sophia Loren and a red wood-burning pizza oven direct from Naples; BENCOTTO, an urban dining room featuring take-out and two $12,000. Prosciutto curing and cutting “red wheel” slicers.
Be sure to check out Enoteca Style, owned by chef Scott Thomas, who also owns Salad Style in the Gaslamp District.
The wine list is one of the largest in Little Italy, from sparkling Prosecco to a regal, velvety  Nebbiolo d’Alba, both popular Italian wines.  The food is California fusion with the Italian tradition.  And they do deliver, whether it be fresh, creative paninis, international style salads or full plate entrees such as Tuna Tartare and Roasted Garlic Chicken Meatballs.
Every Wednesday, it’s half price wine night. Have a look at www.enotecastyle.com.
Wine Bytes 
•The 2nd annual San Diego Wine Country Festival returns to Bernardo Winery in Rancho Bernardo Sat. Aug. 11 from 1 to 5pm.  Over 20 wineries will be pouring. Tickets on line for $25. or day of event for $30.  Full details by calling 858-487-1866 or www.bernardowinery.com.
•The 17th annual Mamas Kitchen benefit Wine & Food Tasting is Thurs. Aug. 16 from 6 to 9pm in San Diego.  The organization delivers food daily to the AIDS stricken.  $60. advance, $70. day of event.  Call 619-233-6262.
Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator.  He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web.  View and link up with his columns at www.tasteofwinetv.com.  Reach him at mangiompc@aol.com.

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