The Cal-Ital Summer Wine Fest returns to Golden Nugget Atlantic City this weekend, and it will be even better than last year … a hard feat to accomplish considering how great the inaugural event was last year.

Focusing on California and Italian wines, the Summer Wine Fest will once again feature a Wine Reception Under the Stars ($39) 8 p.m. Friday, June 21, the Grand Tasting and Silent Charity Auction ($75) 7 p.m. Saturday, June 22; and a Sparkling Brunch and Fashion Show ($39) 11 a.m. Sunday, June 23. But this year will also feature three new events: the Italian Afternoon Sparkling Wine Reception ($29) noon Saturday, June 22; The Founding Families of California ($35) 2:30 p.m. Saturday, June 22; and a Ruffino wine dinner at Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse on Friday.

Scott Tarwater, Corporate Director of Wine and Special Events for Landry's Inc., organized the events and says Cal-Ital Summer Wine Fest will be even more impressive this year as he works with the Golden Nugget team to grow the weekend into an annual event wine lovers can look forward to.

"The reason we call it Cal-Ital is that Italian immigrants really founded the wine industry in the United States," he says. "The Sebastianis, the Mondavis … all of those first families of wine when it comes to Napa, Sonoma and all of California brought what they knew how to do best and found a region extraordinarily conducive to grape-growing. They knew multiagricultural ideas and planted olive trees, grapes and a multitude of crops just like they did in Tuscany and Piedmont and even Sicily. So that's how California wine growing started, and this is my way of showcasing their importance."

The sipping starts with the reception under the stars Friday that will be held on the beautiful event lawn space near the H2O pool. More than 60 wines from California and Italy will be offered, and 19 different winery representatives will be there to mingle with guests. Music by the three-piece jazz and contemporary band Mood Swings will also be offered, and California- and Italian-influenced hors d'oeuvres will be served - hot and cold - by staff as well as upscale buffet style.

"We had it at the H2O pool bar last year, and because we want to grow this event, we moved it to the lawn, which takes a little more to decorate, but it will be made to feel like an Italian street-side cafe with live music," Tarwater says. "Every single winery that I put out there will have a representative of the winery, whether it's the owner, winemaker or an ambassador. But they won't be stuck behind the table. They will have name tags and will be mixing and mingling with guests."

There will also be a wine dinner 6:30 p.m. Friday at Vic & Anthony's featuring Ruffino wines and hosted by U.S. brand manager Daniel Burgio. Created by executive Chef Norman Realo and his team, the six-course, $125 meal includes a menu that includes caviar Piccolo, endive salad, linguini with Tuscan ham and peas, rabbit confit with braised fennel and gremolata, prime New York strip with fava beans and black pepper bacon, and frozen lemon mousse, all accompanied by a different wine.

The two new wine seminars sound like a blast. The Italian sparkling wine event will feature winery owners and winemakers from Italy with seven wines and will be designed to model a wine/cocktail reception with passed hors d'oeuvres as well as displays it Italian breads, cheeses and antipasti. It will be held in the Ronnie Wood Art Gallery on the fourth floor, which features artwork by the Rolling Stones guitarist.

"It will showcase the various styles of bubbles coming out of Italy," Tarwater adds. "Prosecco is so hot right now in the U.S., but moscato is also making a huge comeback here both as a still and sparkling wine. The art will provide a great backdrop."

The Founding Families of California will be the most formal, sit-down seminar as Glenn Workman, vice president president and general manager of Robert Mondavi Winery, and Susan Lueker, director of winemaking for Simi Winery, serve as the two keynote speakers and will be joined by other winery ambassadors from wineries that also include Gallo, Foppiano Vineyards and more.

The Grand Tasting in the ballroom will be expanded from last year, where 40 wineries poured three different wines. This year, 48 wineries will pour three different wines, accompanied by gourmet food mostly focused on Italian cuisine.

"Food is a very heavy focus of the Grand Tasting, and it's going to be over-the-top, restaurant-quality cuisine," Tarwater says. "Every single table will have representation from all 48 wineries, who will speak eloquently and directly about their wines. Typically, meeting wine owners does not happen at events. There are some large wine events in the Atlantic City area, but they are typically done with local, Jersey and Atlantic City sales people who are definitely well-versed, but to meet the winemakers and owners is what makes our event significantly different. You are meeting people who do this worldwide … or at least nationally."

The Sunday brunch, also held in the ballroom, is a sit-down event where people will help themselves to a gourmet buffet of hot and cold breakfast and lunch items offering everything from pancakes to made-to-order action stations. Sparkling wines from Italy will be available, including Avissi Prosecco, and the wine sponsor for the event is Be. Wine, a winery out of California that Tarwater likes because they have a great flavor profile and fun vibe thanks to names such as Flirty and Tempting for their different wines.

"They also go after a younger market and their brand leans toward females and accentuates fashion to complement the fashion show," he says.

Tarwater assembled 15 high-end runway models from the New York City area that have been featured on major TV shows such as "Project Runway" and "America's Top Model." They will be wearing designs from New Jersey-based Elizabeth Delgado, a stunning native of Mexico who Tarwater has high hopes for in the near future.

"She is fabulous," Tarwater says. "I think it's great that we have a New Jersey designer for the show."

This weekend's wine festivities at the Nugget offer the premiere wine weekend in South Jersey. But the most amazing thing about the events is the value. Even the most expensive event is $75 and includes gourmet food and more than 140 wines. For a bigger bargain, you can buy a pass for the Friday wine reception, grand tasting and sparkling brunch for $139.

For more information, go to or For reservations for the Vic & Anthony's dinner, call 609-441-2000.

Celebrity sightings

The New York Post's Page 6 and reported Amanda Bynes from Nickelodeon was allegedly perturbed when she "spotted 56-year-old Bobby Cohen taking her picture with his iPhone and demanded he hand it over" at Revel. "When the Long Island resident refused, Bynes 'lunged' at him in an attempt to grab the phone while screaming, 'Sir, I need you to delete that. You can't take pictures of me.' She proceeded to 'chase him around the lobby' according to Cohen's son who was at the resort to celebrate Father's Day weekend."

Bynes was seen wearing her usual off, blonde wig and a pair of oversized bug-eyed sunglasses during the incident, and Page 6 reported that security eventually had to intervene because she would not leave the man alone. In all fairness, another person who saw Bynes at Revel tweeted that "she was beautiful, sober n sweet. saw her give $100 to an elderly woman who was down on her luck."

Air Show advice

If you are going to check out the Atlantic City Airshow (See story on Page 4) on Wednesday, June 26, you might want to consider checking it out from Fin inside the Tropicana Casino and Resort, which will open its doors 11 a.m. for a $25 buffet that will include a salads, entrees and summer goodies. It offers a beautiful balcony perfect to view the show. Plus, if you prefer to be indoors, the windows are ceiling to floor. Go to

Also during the airshow and its practice day on Tuesday, June 25, Gold Tooth Gertie's inside Bally's Atlantic City will offer $1 naked hot dogs, while the Surf Bar Patio at Showboat Casino-Hotel will feature $3 drafts, $5 Coronas, $6 Absolut and Malibu cocktails; $1 bottled water, $3 Gatorade, $8 Boardwalk sausage sandwiches, $4 hot dogs and $9 street tacos.

Daggers wins Fest

There were a lot of great gumbos at the first At The Shore Jersey Gumbo Cookoff and Music Festival last weekend in Somers Point, but it was Chef Ed Daggers of Atlantic City Country Club who won both the Critic's and People's Choice awards, walking away with trophies and a $1,000 first prize. Other winners included House of Blues Chef Dominic Cerulli, who won second place from the critics and third place from attendees; Chef Keith Dunn of the John Brooks Recovery Center, who won second place from the people; and Chef Edwin O. Brown from Vagabond , who won third place from the critics.