by Alexa Evans and Kirby Brooks

Alexa Evans and Kirby Brooks braved the mild San Diego climate, navigated through heavy crowds of happy festival attendees, swirled, swished and sampled for hours on end to bring you a list of some of the very best restaurants and wineries featured at the San Diego Bay Food and Wine Festival. Embrace your inner wine snob, have the lamb, and the ragu and two cupcakes…maybe three…and put gift certificates for these restaurants and wineries at the top of your Christmas wish list.

Callaway Winery
I tend to get varying looks of both surprise and disapproval when I say that I am not particularly a fan of Chardonnay. The white varietal has morphed itself into the darling of California wine enthusiasts. I am usually a hard sell when it comes to Chardonnay, but I was forced to re-evaluate my anti-Chard stance a couple of times during the festival. I was admittedly quite warm when I held my glass forth at Callaway. I could have opted for their red, but instead asked for a pour of the Chardonnay and before I could retract the statement, I was swirling the golden-colored, sweet smelling liquid and inhaling scents of apples and caramel. And honestly, what’s not to like about caramel apples? The finish was subtle, smooth and crisp and in a matter of only a few minutes I was ready for another glass. -AE

Cupcake Love
Although it was just shy of noon when I stumbled upon Cupcake Love’s booth at the San Diego Food and Wine Festival, the two towering cake stands loaded with miniature cupcakes lured me in—and I couldn’t resist taking just of the tiny treats! Cupcake Love definitely earns its name, as anyone that tries the made-from-scratch, beautifully decorated confections from this Solana Beach bakery will fall in love with their cupcakes. There were many mouth-watering choices to choose from, such as German Chocolate Love Story (Devil’s food cake layered with chocolate ganache and iced with German Chocolate icing). But I went with Peanut Butter Ecstasy (chocolate cake layered with peanut butter icing) and Fancy Pants Red Velvet (red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting). Too bad Cupcake Love wasn’t pouring a dessert wine! – KB

Trinitas Cellars
The search for the perfect smooth and buttery Chardonnay is over! Trinitas Cellars’ 2008 Carneros Chardonnay is rich and creamy with a lovely lingering finish. With crisp notes of apples and pears, this wine would be perfectly paired with a fresh summer salad or a tasty plate of salmon or sea bass…or a Red Velvet Cupcake. The Chard (although admittedly my favorite), was just one of the wines poured by Trinitas Cellars at the San Diego Food and Wine Festival. Other varietals poured at the event were the 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir, 2006 Lodi Petite Sirah and 2007 Napa Valley Meritage. Founded by husband and wife team Tim and Steph Bush, Michigan transplants residing in Orange County, Trinitas Cellars wine can be found at wine retailers throughout California, such as the San Diego Wine Company, Carlsbad Wine Merchants and 3rd Corner Wine Shop and Bistro. – KB

Chile Co
The line at the Chile Co booth was one of the longest at the San Diego Food and Wine Festival, but the Lollipop Lamb chops being served were well worth the wait! The winner of San Diego Magazine and 10 News A-List “Best Caterer,” Chile Co lived up to its reputation, serving up one of the tastiest dishes of the day. Chef Scotty Wagner presented Kona coffee-crusted lamb chops drizzled with a Zinfandel reduction sauce and plated with savory cheese cakes made with lavender-infused Chevre, with a Bing cherry confit and a pistachio crust. Already organic, sustainable and dedicated to featuring local produce, Chile Co also recently made the transition into offering gluten-free fare. – KB

Stone Brewery
San Diego is one of the top craft beer cities in the nation, and Stone Brewery is among the favorite microbreweries in the city. Stone was pouring its flagship beer, Stone Pale Ale, as well as Arrogant Bastard which packs a little bit bigger of a punch! I went with the classic Stone Pale Ale and grabbed some stickers sporting the microbrewery’s mascot, a gargoyle holding a frothy mug undoubtedly filled with Stone Brewery Beer (although I am fairly certain he didn’t shy away from Arrogant Bastard!). Stone brews seven year-round beers and five “Stone Special Releases” per year and is the largest restaurant purchaser of local, small-farm organic produce, so come hungry when you visit Stone Brewing World Bistro & Garden in Escondido. – KB

The steaming bowl of Duck Ragout tingled my nostrils and instantly transported me to the old, winding cobblestone streets of Lucca, Barolo, Asti…or was it to Little Italy in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego? Anthology is one of those extraordinary establishments that combines the art of fine dining with an intimate musical experience, quite unlike any of its neighboring venues. I stood, balancing my half glass of Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale and delicately dipped my fork into the piping hot bowl of Ragout. The flavors of slow braised duck and herbed gnocchi complimented each other perfectly and offered a warm, satisfying dish. This could be an excellent addition to any menu to savor on a cool autumn evening. It turns out I was not the only one who thought so. Chef Eric Bauer of Anthology was the fifth place finalist for the “Chef of the Fest” honor. – AE

The only thing missing, I thought, as I swirled my glass of Mercury Rising from Cinnabar Winery, was the landscape. Situated just above the small town of Saratoga, the rugged Santa Cruz Mountains rise above acres of Cabernet and Pinot Noir vines, and in autumn the scenery resembles a watercolor painting of deep reds, auburns and yellows. I couldn’t complain, however, as a warm fall day on the San Diego Harbor with a glistening glass of Cinnabar vino in hand is certainly nothing to sniff at… well perhaps the wine is. Mercury Rising is one of Cinnabar’s signature varietals. It is a blend of several red grapes, the most prominent being Cabernet and Merlot. As I sipped this full-bodied red, I noticed hints of hazelnuts, vanilla and blackberries. Although I surmised that this wine could be paired wonderfully with that Duck Ragout or the tender lamb chop, Mercury Rising stands well enough on its own. – AE

House of Blues
It is not easy to prepare a dish that resembles modern art and that also features big, bold flavors, but apparently chef Andrew Knudtson was up to the challenge. The House of Blues culinary artist presented a masterpiece with his deep seared, hand harvested diver scallop that was both beautiful and delectable. The texture was silky smooth and the taste was simply refreshing. Paired with a gleaming glass of Callaway or Trinitas Chardonnay, the seared scallop turned out to be a tasty treat to end on. – AE

Contact Information:

Callaway Winery: 32720 Rancho California Road, Temecula, CA 92591 (951) 676-4001.

Cupcake Love: 437 S. Highway 101, Suite 106/107, Solana Beach, CA 92075. (858) 755-5973.

Trinitas Cellars: 875 Bordeaux Way Napa, CA 94558 (707) 251-1956

Chile Co: 866-66-CATER

Stone Brewery 1999 Citracado Parkway Escondido, CA 92029 (760) 471-4999
Stone Brewing World Bistro & Garden (760) 294-7866

Anthology: 1337 India Street, San Diego, California 92101. 619-595-0300

Cinnabar: 14612 Big Basin Way, Saratoga CA 95070. 408) 741-5858.

House of Blues: 1055 5th Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101. 619) 299-2583.

Alexa Evans is a full time web marketing editor, and as often as possible, freelance travel writer. She enjoys aimlessly strolling the streets of foreign cities, sipping wines from here and there, eating freshly prepared Italian dishes and going on long walks to nowhere in particular.

Kirby Brooks is a full time web content writer and editor who enjoys freelance writing on a variety of topics, ranging from food to fashion. In her free time, she enjoys taking advantage of the southern California weather by spending time outside and likes to explore both the familiar and unfamiliar through travel.