Tuesday, April 5, 2011

TWO WINNERS IN TEMECULA


Ponte Winery

Ponte Family Estate Winery

A daytrip to the Temecula California wine country found us at Ponte Family Estate Winery.  Overseen by Claudio Ponte, the joint was jumping on a spring Saturday afternoon.  Granted, it was the World of Wine barrel tasting weekend, but I was assured by several staffers the crowd was not unusually large for a Saturday afternoon.

Ponte's tasting room is festive, the restaurant - the Smokehouse Winery Restaurant - does good business and appears to satisfy, judging from the smiles on the diners' faces.  I'm also judging from the samples offered in the barrel room over the weekend event.

The Ponte Winery motto is stated on their website: "If you like it, then it's good wine."  So heartfelt is that mission statement, they have registered the thought as a trademark.  Winemaker Mark Schabel does his part to make sure you like the wines.

The 2009 Viognier has a nose of pears and melons with some tropical flavors and a lively acidity.  Framing the fruit is an intriguing savory, nutty edge on the palate.  It retails for $24.  The '09 Sangiovese barrel sample shows very bright cherry flavors, good acidity and mellow tannins.  It's rustic and deemed "not ready yet" by the winemaking crew, but it's definitely getting there.  I was told it should be ready for release "sometime this year," by the gentleman pouring for us.

Sous Chef Vincent LoganA couple of tasty food samples were provided along with the wines.  Arancini - Italian rice balls - were provided to those tasting.  They paired beautifully with the Viognier, and when adorned with the duck Bolognese sauce, went well with the Sangiovese.  Executive Chef Greg Stillman and Sous Chef Vincent Logan (pictured) are to be commended for turning out a large quantity at high quality.  Logan told me early Saturday afternoon, "We did 800 of the Arancini, and we're running out.  So Greg's in the kitchen working on another batch."

As I said, they do a good business at the restaurant.

Maurice Car'rie Winery

After Ponte, we were to meet some friends at Maurice Car'rie Winery, which works in tandem with neighboring Van Roekel Winery.  A fun tasting room in a Victorian style house offers some fun wines at the winery established in 1986.  Most of the wines are a little on the sweet side for me, but that's what Jose and Heather like about them.  It's their favorite Temecula winery.  They do make great sippers on the porch, though, especially the whites.  Winemaker Gus Vizgirda is of Lithuanian ancestry and studied German wines while serving in the U.S. Air Force there.

A door in back leads to the barrel room, where we tried a new release and a not-quite-released barrel sample.  Some spicy little meatballs were kept over heat next to an array of cheese and bread.  After the barrel room, we took a table on the porch, where Jose produced a couple of bottles of his favorites.  There are some picnic tables on the grounds also available.

Sampled in the back room was the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc - a slight grassiness was offset by a sweet side.  Pineapple and tropical notes abound.  A barrel sample of the '10 Chardonnay - only 4 months in oak so far - shows very nice tropical fruit as well.  They are giving it some more time in the barrel, but for my palate the oak is just right.

Pineapple Champagne caught my eye in the tasting room.  It isn't really Champagne, of course, and has a small amount of pineapple juice augmenting the sparkling wine.  It's tasty and fun, much like a sparkling cocktail.  The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is simple on the nose and palate.  We drank it chilled outside and it was enjoyable.  The 2010 Riesling has a honeysuckle nose, tasting of pears with good acidity, especially on the finish.  It was fantastic with the bread.

Oh, the bread!  Baked Brie and Sourdough loaf, with the brie baked inside.  It's available baked on weekends only - lucky us - and unbaked every day.