Maddalena Restaurant delights at San Antonio Winery

At Maddalena Restaurant, guests can enjoy the best eggplant parmigiana in Los Angeles and the excellent output of the San Antonio Winery, the oldest producing winery in L.A. and home to Maddalena.

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For National Malbec Day (April 17), I joined Melissa Gonzalo, the winery’s public relations director, for a taste of the eats and drinks at San Antonio Winery, which was named “American Winery of the Year” for 2018 by Wine Enthusiast. Part of the annual Wine Star Awards, the prestigious title represents the highest standard of excellence for an American winery and is based on a winery’s commitment to quality, innovation, sustainability and heritage.

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In the 1880s, the temperate Mediterranean climate made Los Angeles the premier city for growing grapes and winemaking in California, Gonzalo said. In 1917, Santo Cambianica from Lombardy, Italy, immigrated to L.A. and started this winery, which he named after his patron saint, St. Anthony.

However, over its 102-year history, San Antonio Winery has faced challenges. In 1919, the U.S. Congress passed the Volstead Act, which enacted prohibition in America. Cambianica partnered with the Catholic Church to make altar wines for communion, keeping the winery running when the Great Depression hit. Nearly all of the wineries in Los Angeles closed their doors, except for San Antonio Winery.

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After prohibition and with the help of his family – including Italian nephew Stefano Riboli and Riboli’s wife, Maddalena Satragni – the business bloomed. San Antonio Winery purchased vineyard properties in Monterey County in the 1970s and in the prestigious Rutherford appellation of Napa Valley in the 1980s. The family also planted vineyards in the Paso Robles region, where it opened a modern winery facility and tasting room.

The geographic diversity is on display in the spacious wine tasting room in Los Angeles, where a variety of wines are available, including many that bear family names: Riboli Family Wine Estates, Stella Rosa, Maddalena, Bodega San Antonio Sangria, San Antonio California Champagne and many more.

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Winemaking tours are also available, and visitors may receive complimentary wine sips or pay for a $15 artisan flight for premium tastes, including whites, bold reds, sparkling wines, or a sweet and semi-sweet selection. The tours are available on the hour on weekdays from noon to 4 p.m., and weekend tours are available on the hour from noon to 5 p.m.

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There’s plenty to offer for diners, too, and as we walked into Maddalena’s Restaurant, we admired many of the fresh pastas, grilled meats, gourmet salads, sandwiches and large desserts on display. Gonzalo told me the chefs make the best lasagna and eggplant parmigiana dishes anywhere in Los Angeles. We ordered both, as well as grilled salmon and a vegetarian burger with crispy fries.

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We enjoyed our Italian fare with a glass of Opaque Malbec made at their winery in Paso Robles. This family proprietary blend, made with Zinfandel, Syrah, cabernet sauvignon, grenache, petit verdot and petite sirah grapes, offers ripe raspberry and blackberry flavors, as well as notes of vanilla and spice. It paired perfectly with the lasagna and eggplant parmigiana.

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We finished with a tiramisu and cannoli filled with a sweet creamy ricotta. Gonzalo told me the pastry chefs make one of the best cheesecakes ever, but I’ll have to save that experience for my next visit to the trattoria-style winery and restaurant.

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Maddalena is a good spot for lunch, when you’ll find all types of Angelenos enjoying a meal, including Maddalena herself or other Riboli family members, as they’re very hands-on in running the restaurant and winery.

Many of the servers and staff have worked here for years. They know the regulars on a first-name basis, including ladies lunch groups, downtown L.A. lawyers, bankers and a handsome police helicopter pilot who sat near us and told us he eats here once a week.

Next time you are in downtown L.A., enjoy a fun culinary outing at San Antonio Winery for memorable Italian and American dishes with award-winning wines.

The restaurant is open every day for brunch, serving breakfast and lunch favorites starting at 9:30 a.m. The winery is open Sunday-Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Parking is free in a lot at the winery. $$ 737 Lamar St., (323)223-1401.

This review is featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News

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