Border wines evolve with San Diegan's help

You might assume that holding the title of beverage director for an organization as large and powerful as Cohn Restaurant Group would give a person a demeanor of entitlement and ego. But Maurice DiMarino approaches with a warm smile and relaxed manner that instantly puts people at ease.

His linen shirt and gray jeans, a welcome divergence from the pressed suit and uptight manner of many high-end restaurant sommeliers, is at once sophisticated and laid-back.

A San Diego native, DiMarino worked in the wine business for 10 years in San Francisco before moving back and joining CRG's Island Prime as wine director at the time of its 2005 opening. As CRG expanded, he saw the need for more direction, and he became beverage director for the group's full portfolio of restaurants. 

Currently, he holds the titles of certified sommelier and certified cicerone and works with the Consejo Regulador del Tequila, or Tequila Regulatory Council. He blends his own wine for the CRG restaurants, which has just been released in select locations. 

DiscoverSD recently sat down with DiMarino in the gorgeous Coasterra (880 Harbor Island Drive, Harbor Island. (619) 814-1300, cohnrestaurants.com/coasterra) restaurant overlooking the sailboats and San Diego skyline to find out more and, of course, taste his new wine:

Q: How did Costa Tierra Red Blend come about?

A: I've always been into history and where things started, and for California wine, it started in Baja. Also being Mexican, I wanted to see my roots. After going down, visiting and tasting, I realized there was potential for our restaurants.

Q: Did you know what you wanted to create from the beginning, or did it evolve?

A: I wanted to find a wine to pair with tacos. A lot of times with Mexican food, you think margaritas, but I wanted to find one. After many trials and errors, finally I landed on something that was perfect. 

Q: What's in Costa Tierra?

A: There are three grapes, syrah, barbera and tempranillo. It's unique: You can't do a blend like that anywhere else, but you can in Baja. Varietals there don't taste like you expect them to taste so that uniqueness allows you to blend them like this wine. The Costa Tierra has fruit, juiciness, tannins and acidity. 

Q: Where was it made?

A: At Santo Tomas, Baja's first winery from the early 1840s, and now its third largest. It's about 30 minutes south of Ensenada. 

Q: What are your favorite pairings for this wine? 

A: The carne asada and quesadilla, with adobo skirt steak, roasted poblano and Oaxaca cheese, pasilla chile adobo and avocado salad. I can also put this with chocolate, where a lot of wines become bitter -- there is enough fruitiness here. 

(Laurie's take: A fruity, approachable, easy drinking wine, perfect for San Diego weather. Lovely notes of red raspberry and violet with a mild peppery aroma. My vegetarian pairing: Enchiladas de la huerta, with roasted corn, chimichurri, red onion, zucchini, roasted red bells, black beans, potatoes, criminis pasilla chile adobo and pintos.)

Q: Do you see the wine scene here improving and people knowing more about Mexican wines? 

A: That's really my goal, to increase people's awareness of both Baja and San Diego wines. It's a young region, and there is so much potential. We have granite soils, and we have ability to grow. Like with Baja, we are learning as we go. We need winemakers to come here.

Look for Costa Tierra Red Blend at Coasterra, Island Prime, Sea180 Coastal Tavern and Vintana, with expansion to other Cohn restaurants by mid-October. 

With 18 years in the restaurant and beverage industry and more than 850 reviews under her belt, Laurie Delk is a one-stop guide to all things craft beer, wine and spirits. You can follow Delk on Twitter @100beers30days or Instagram @sandiegobeer. Send ideas for featured drinks to lauriedelk101@gmail.com.

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