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Joining me at the Balboa Bay Resort's Newport Beach Wine Festival at the Grand Tasting was my wine aficionado friend Mona Nesseth

Joining me at the Balboa Bay Resort’s Newport Beach Wine Festival at the Grand Tasting was my wine aficionado friend Mona Nesseth

It was time for the Balboa Bay Resort’s 11th Annual Newport Beach Wine Festival, and I was ready! I always attend the festival’s Grand Tasting on Saturday evening out of the three-day non-stop wine extravaganza. Mind you, it’s not all about sipping wines. You had a choice of a “Beer at Breakfast” offering, a “Cigars ‘On the Rocks'” evening, and a cooking class with wine pairings besides the master sommelier wine dinner, several wine tasting seminars and an All-American Seafood Festival.

The resort’s Executive Chef Vincent Lesage and Chef de Cuisine Rachel Haggstrom and their crew pulled out all the stops for the Grand Tasting to present a wonderful assortment of foods to complement wines from the 90 wineries assembled for the occasion. The imported cheeses, house made charcuterie (the pepper pate was exceptional!), prosciutto, salami and homemade pickles were delicious, and I always love the assorted sushi and sashimi. Guests lined up at the slider station for both the beef bourgignon and lamb sliders, and the carving station with its New York Prime and leg of lamb was no less popular. The pasta station offered such faves as truffle mac and cheese, seafood ravioli and agnolotti Florentine, and the ahi tuna station was another favorite of many guests. The desserts were spectacular and were presented in a beautiful fashion. I must mention the David Platt Trio, who provided wonderful “sipping” music throughout the soiree.

As to the wine tasting, I took with me my friend Mona Nesseth, a wine aficionado of the highest order, to sip, sip, and sip some more. We loved the artsy labels that Jayson Woodbridge, the winemaker behind Hundred Acre and Layer Cake wines, created for his If You See Kay cabernet sauvignon (see photo) and Cherry Pie pinot noir. Both wines were excellent. We tasted a wonderful ’10 Lancaster cabernet as well as a very nice ’11 Roth pinot noir. Up Santa Barbara way, Summerland Winery poured an excellent ’13 Grenache Rose and ’11 Proprietor’s Reserve pinot noir, while Rodney Strong Vineyards, long a favorite of mine, featured its ’10 Reserve Cabernet and ’11 Symmetry meritage. The vineyard’s representative told me the story of Strong, a former ballet dancer who trained with American Ballet and spent four years dancing in Paris, where he developed a taste for wine. After retiring in 1959 (he said he couldn’t be an old ballet dancer but he could be an old vintner), he purchased Windsor Vineyards, which he renamed Sonoma Vineyards and later Rodney Strong Vineyards in 1980. Sold to Guinness, it became a family-owned winery once again when Tom Klein bought it in 1989. The esteemed winery was named 2013 American Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast. That is a very nice story, isn’t it?

Mona and I particularly enjoyed the ’10 Chateau de la Cour Saint-Emilion Grand Cru and the ’11 Chateauneuf-du-Pape offered by Hi-Time Cellars in Costa Mesa. They were delish! Other reds that stood out were Penfold’s ’12 Cab, “Bin 9,” Etude’s ’12 Lyric pinot noir and Stags Leap’s ’09 petite sirah. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a tasting without champagne. I remembered the Beau Joie champagnes from last year. The bottles are wrapped in copper with lovely cut-out designs. If I sound like I only drink reds, that is not true. I do love a good white wine, but, my dear friend Mona is such a red wine lover that I guess I tasted only reds for the night. Next year, I’ll get some white wines mentioned, I promise!

There was a nice selection of high-end wines in the silent wine auction, with funds raised allocated to the Balboa Bay Club’s Scholarship Fund for local graduating high school seniors. I spotted the Balboa Bay Resort’s General Manager Sam El-Rabaa and is wife enjoying the evening, as well as JC Converse, the resort’s Waterline restaurant GM. Many guests ended up sipping on the terrace and lounging in comfortable sofas and chairs as the tasting wound down. I think I even caught a whiff of cigar. It was that kind of night.