Showing posts with label Temecula. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Temecula. Show all posts

Friday, September 14, 2018

Temecula Celebrates

Temecula Valley Wine Growers are celebrating their 50th anniversary with a special wine release.  The wine style was decided by a group committee made up of Hart Winery's Jim Hart, Baily Winery's Phil Baily and Jon McPherson of South Coast and Carter Estate wineries.  They tossed around ideas like a Bordeaux blend, a Super Tuscan-style blend and even one made from "offbeat" international varieties, including Portuguese.  The wine they finally decided upon is made from 50% Syrah, 26% Grenache and 24% Mourvèdre

TVWA's director Krista Chaich says the 50th Anniversary wine perfectly represents the "People, Passion and Perseverance" theme of Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country.  She says the 50th Anniversary wine will be available for purchase at special events and through Hart Winery, retailing for $50.  Special etched magnums will also be available for purchase.

This Temecula wine is a medium dark beauty.  It offers up a bit of oak on the nose, but it smells beautiful.  Smoke, vanilla, tobacco, dark fruit.  It may be a little heavy-handed, but it's enticing.  The palate doesn't completely follow suit, though.  It tries to be a Rhône, but trips up about at Pinot Noir.  One or the other, okay.  In between, not so much.  The wine tastes pretty good, but it's a bit thin, with some tartness that's not really welcome.  Nice try, but it misses.  There are plenty of good wines being made in Temecula, though, so don't let this scare you away.

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Monday, July 2, 2018

Temecula Wine Pairing Dinner

Temecula is trying to work its way up the California Wine Regions ladder, and it's a tough climb.  It's got to be hard enough to fight for the attention of Southern California with Santa Barbara County, just up the coast a bit.  But trying to wedge yourself into a conversation containing Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Paso Robles, etc. is a suicide mission.  Add in the fact that Temecula is still just getting on its feet as a serious wine region, which many will argue is still a work in progress.  The Temecula wine community would love to see Angelenos spending their day trip money there, instead of driving north.

The Temecula Winegrowers Association recently held a small dinner in Los Angeles, the purpose of which was to woo people who write about wine to write about Temecula.  I was an easy target, because I do like Temecula and have found a number of wines from that region to be quite good.  That said, there has been a lot of chaff with the wheat as the area grows up.  The dinner was held in a pop-up space on a side street in Venice. 

One aspect of the Temecula Valley that was hit upon time and again was its proximity to the Pacific Ocean.  Most people think of the area as a hot, landlocked inland hell, but it's not.  Several of the representatives present pointed out that Temecula is actually less than 20 miles from the California coastline and receives the benefits of the ocean breezes.

Winemakers were standing together as I walked in before the dinner, telling each other "PBR per acre" inside jokes, spinoffs of "it takes a lot of beer to make wine."  In the aperitif time, I got to speak with Leoness Cellars owner Mike Rennie, a self-described "crazy ol' farmer" who happens to own about a quarter of the Temecula Valley's 2500 acres of grapes.  Rennie talked about how he speaks with former NFL quarterback - now Orange County winegrower - Vince Ferragamo weekly about grapes.  Rennie grows 19 different grape varieties in his Temecula soil.

Patrick Comiskey, who writes about wine for the "Los Angeles Times" seemed rather unimpressed with the pre-dinner beverage until I told him it was a Temecula Blanc de Blanc.  He admitted that it was "very good," and he seemed to be genuinely surprised by the realization.  The Carter Estate Blanc de Blanc is all Chardonnay - that's what Blanc de Blanc means - very dry, toasty, bright and balanced.  It will pair with just about anything, and it went great with the African spice popcorn and sfingi - Italian doughnut puffs - that were passed around before dinner.

Former NFL star and actor Fred Dryer was there as the guest of CRN's Michael Horn.  Dryer does a sports show for Horn's website and seemed rather unengaged - even when asked about his TV series "Hunter."  Dryer lit up, though, when I asked about his status as the "Sultan of Safeties."  He’s the only NFL player ever to score two safeties in the same game.  He really didn't seem very impressed with the food, which I thought was outstanding.  He also begged off on sampling much of the wine, explaining that he was driving.  Locavore chef Leah Di Bernardo of E.A.T. and her crew provided a menu that was inventive and delicious. 

As for the wine, Renzoni Vineyards winemaker Olivia Beale spoke eloquently about her creations, Tim Kramer explained the Leoness offerings and Marcello and Damien Doffo were there as a father and son wine crew.

Wines and Food

Leoness Mélange d'Ete 2017 - This lovely white is an off-dry mix of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Muscat.  Its sweet, floral nose is great, while the palate is flat but fruity, peach mostly.  It was paired with grilled peach toast to nice effect.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards Vermentino 2017 - Made from grapes grown by a grower "down the road."  There's a nice tropical nose with fabulous salinity, and similar notes for the palate.  The great acidity suggests a great food wine.  It should have been a great pair with the San Diego halibut, but oddly, it was not.  It wasn't a bad match, though.

Renzoni Lyric Rose 2015 - This rosé of Syrah displays a nose that’s herbal and full of strawberries.  The palate is dry and fruity, perfect .  Chef Leah's heritage pork paired extremely well with it, featuring strawberry on pork, served with the bone on plate.  A knockout dish.

Doffo Winery Viognier 2017 - This was served with the cheese course, in the middle of the meal.  Its flowers, peaches and herbs show wonderfully on the nose.  The palate has a great acidity, with stone fruit flavors in a straightforward presentation.  The wine was very nice with the triple cream brie.

Leoness Cellar Select Meritage 2014 - 50% Merlot and 35% Cab Franc with splashes of other noble grapes filling out the blend.  This beefy wine was paired with beets and berries, and fared surprisingly well.

Doffo Mofodoffo Gran Tinto 2015 - This wine features mostly Zinfandel with some Petite Sirah.  I would have bet it was a Tempranillo.  Smoke and red fruit decorate the nose, big tannins are there to work on meats, and a savory streak delights.  It paired with braised lentils well, too.

Renzoni Sonata 2014 - A Tuscan blend, half Cab and half Sangiovese, the clone used to make Brunello.  All oak and tannins, this might have been better as simply a Sangiovese.  24 months in new French oak definitely left its mark.  It shines with food and was served with grilled octopus, pasta shells and a tomato sauce.  It was an interesting pairing, although not ideal for this wine.

Doffo Mistura 2015 - Mistura is Portuguese for "mixture."  This Cabernet/Syrah blend was the first Doffo wine produced on the property.  There are baskets of red and blue fruit on the nose, and a soft and fruity feel on the palate . The wine paired wonderfully with the King Trumpet mushrooms on grain.  In my opinion, the Mistura was the best wine of the evening, and it was the best pairing offered.

After a break for an iced hazelnut and vanilla Spokane coffee, the meal wrapped up with the Leoness Signature Selection Grande Mélange 2014.  Their play on Châteauneuf-du-Pape has Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvèdre.  There was good structure, nice fruit and a savory note that showed a bit tart.  It paired well with the vanilla bean gelato that ended the meal.

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Friday, August 31, 2012

Five Great California Wine Country Road Trips

This is the sort of thing that makes me wish I had a lot more time on my hands.  September is California Wine Month, and Wine Institute - hard-working champion of the California Wine industry - has come up with five great wine country tours that will introduce you to California wine by roadtrip.

Each tour is a five-day trip that covers different California wine regions, from emerging treasures like the Sierra Foothills and Temecula to the well-known grape-stomping grounds like Napa, Sonoma and Paso Robles.  When combining wine tasting and cars, always remember to spit, and have a designated driver.  Look at the video, then start booking hotels.

The following trip ideas come from Wine Institute's Department of Tasting California Wine.  Fire up the GPS and let's get moving.

There’s nothing like a drive on California’s scenic North Coast to show you not only the Pacific Ocean’s dramatic beauty but also how profoundly it affects the region’s climate.  That coastal influence gives us San Francisco’s famous fog, towering redwood trees, and a perfect home for cool-climate grapes like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and others.  This scenic five-day round trip from San Francisco takes you wine tasting, shopping, dining, kayaking and more.  Visit Sausalito, Muir Woods national park, quaint Mendocino and Sonoma County’s diverse wine regions.

Day One:
Start with an invigorating walk along San Francisco’s lively Fisherman’s Wharf, taking in the shops and eye-popping views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands, Alcatraz, and if you’re lucky, a show-stopping patch of mysterious fog.  Then put the top down and head north on Highway 101 to the artsy village of Sausalito just across the bay.  Treat yourself to a seafood lunch paired with a glass of California wine before continuing north to see some of California’s famous redwood trees at Muir Woods, a national park about 30 minutes away.  Stroll among the giants, and when your neck gives out from too much looking up, get back in the car and drive an hour north to Santa Rosa in Sonoma County.  In addition to historic Railroad Square with restaurants, shops and a California Welcome Center to help you plan your journey, Santa Rosa is a great place to spend the night, offering centralized access to various great wine regions and wine towns in Sonoma County.

Day Two:
From Santa Rosa, there are a lot of great options for how to spend the day.  In the morning, stroll Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square, and if you’re a Peanuts comic strip fan, check out the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center before heading out for lunch and wine tasting in the pastoral and picturesque Russian River Valley.  If you like to greet the morning with exercise, go to Bodega Bay (where Hitchcock filmed The Birds) for a morning kayak ride, then head to the quaint town of Occidental, Freestone, Graton or Sebastopol for lunch before tasting the cool-climate Pinot Noirs of the Sonoma Coast in the surrounding areas.  If your version of the great outdoors is to shop and dine alfresco, visit the fun wine country town squares of Sonoma to the southeast or Healdsburg to the north for lunch and shopping.  If you head to Sonoma, explore the various wineries of Sonoma Valley, also known as Valley of the Moon. If you go to Healdsburg, check out the nearby wine regions where you’ll find Alexander Valley’s rich Cabernet Sauvignons and Dry Creek Valley’s signature Zinfandels.  Overnight in Santa Rosa.

Day Three:
In the morning, take 101 North, exiting at Highway 128 at Cloverdale.  Soon you will be in Mendocino County’s wine region, a great place to stop for brunch and wine tasting.  Once in the postcard-perfect, seaside village of Mendocino, most of which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, there are many options for entertainment. You can explore the charming shops and eateries, buying your loved ones a treat at the Mendocino Chocolate Company.  You can spend the afternoon exploring via scenic Highway 1, checking out historic lighthouses, such as Point Cabrillo Light Station, which features an inn or take a picnic lunch to enjoy on the grounds of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.  Try hiking coastal or wooded trails such as the Van Damme Pygmy Forest Trail (in the winter months you can enjoy whale watching).  Stay overnight in a romantic B&B.

Day Four:
Head up the coast in the morning on Highway 1, passing Fort Bragg, home to the redwoods Skunk Train, and continue until you get to 101 North.  Soon you will see the awe-inspiring Avenue of the Giants, a world-famous drive through more than 51,000 acres of redwood groves. There are many quirky attractions in the area, including places you can drive through a redwood, but don’t miss Rockefeller Forest’s “Champion Redwood” at 370 feet tall.  If you have an extra day, travel north to Redwood National and State Parks for hiking and an overnight stay.  Stop for lunch as you go south on 101 in the early afternoon towards historic Ukiah, where you can check into a charming B&B and explore the area’s wineries.  If you don’t mind a slightly longer drive, before Ukiah take Highway 20 south to stay in scenic Clear Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake entirely in California and a great home base to check out wineries in the Lake County wine region, known for its delicious Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon wines.

Day Five:
Spend the morning enjoying a stroll or hike in Ukiah or Clear Lake, before making your way south towards San Francisco.  Make sure to stop in the Los Carneros wine region, which straddles both Napa and Sonoma counties.  Los Carneros, which means sheep in Spanish, is aptly named for the sheep dotting the rolling hills.  These natural weed controllers are the perfect reminder that more than 70 percent of California’s acreage participates in California’s Sustainable Winegrowing Program, the largest of its kind in the world.  As you head back to San Francisco on 101 South, you can choose among several enticing small towns in Marin County. Nestled below majestic Mt. Tamalpais, Mill Valley’s Lytton Square is reminiscent of a European village, complete with cafes, and fashionable boutiques.  With celebrity musician residents like Bonnie Raitt, Bob Weir and Sammy Hagar, it’s no surprise that Mill Valley is home to the famous Sweetwater, one of the top roots music clubs in the nation, well-known for its famous guest musicians who occasionally “drop in” for an evening to improvise.  The historic railroad town of Tiburon is reminiscent of a New England fishing village.  Its chic Main Street – filled with trendy shops, art galleries, high-end waterfront restaurants and popular casual cafes -- is known as "Ark Row" because of the 1890s recreational houseboat lifestyle enjoyed in Belvedere Cove by sea captains, Bohemian artists, and summer residents from San Francisco.  San Rafael, the oldest, largest and most culturally diverse city in Marin, boasts one-of-a kind shops, ethnic eateries and lovely Victorian buildings. Here you can also cruise down Fourth Street in San Rafael, where part of “American Graffiti” was filmed.


This five-day round-trip itinerary is a foodie’s paradise, with stops from San Francisco’s Chinatown and Little Italy to Berkeley, the legendary birthplace of California cuisine.  It also takes you from mountains to the sea: you’ll take in the thrilling scenery and wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Livermore Valley and Half Moon Bay.

Day One:
Take advantage of San Francisco’s food and wine culture.  In the late morning, try one of the city’s walking foodie tours, such as North Beach/Little Italy, Chinatown or the Mission District (Latin Quarter).  Head to Jackson Square and sample some California wines at the various wine bars.  Follow up with antique shopping in this lively neighborhood, or general shopping in Union Square.  Take a spooky night tour of Alcatraz, paired with wining and dining on Fisherman’s Wharf or nearby North Beach. Overnight in San Francisco.

Day Two:
Spend the morning at a San Francisco museum or two, then put your day in gear and head east over the Bay Bridge to charming university town Berkeley.  Take a guided or self-guided walking tour of the city’s famous Gourmet Ghetto, sampling the neighborhood’s culinary offerings.  If you’re not too full, don’t miss Chez Panisse, the landmark eatery owned by Alice Waters, pioneer of California’s locavore movement and California cuisine.  For those who love wine bike tours, skip Berkeley and head straight to Oakland, where you can do a guided or self-guided biking tour of various urban wineries, including lunch.  For dinner head back to San Francisco, leave the car at the hotel and walk to any number of eateries, where you can enjoy great California wine paired with regional cuisine.  Overnight in San Francisco.

Day Three:
After a leisurely breakfast of San Francisco’s famous sourdough pancakes, drive southeast to beautiful Livermore Valley, one of California’s oldest wine regions.  Enjoy lunch in charming and historic downtown Livermore, filled with quaint shops, eateries and galleries.  Enjoy wine tasting downtown at one of the tasting rooms or wine bars, or check out one of the local renowned wineries, some of which date back to the 1880s!  In the late afternoon, drive 40 minutes southwest to San Jose for fun and dinner on Santana Row, a Mediterranean-style shopping and entertainment district filled with chic boutiques, trendy eateries, hotels, wine bars and lounges. Overnight in San Jose.

Day Four:
In the morning visit a museum or gallery in the charming, tree-lined streets of downtown San Jose, all within a quick stroll of each other.  Or go for chills and thrills at the spooky Winchester Mystery House, featured on many haunted and mystery television shows.  At lunchtime, stop by the beautiful wine country town of Los Gatos for a bite and a short stroll.  Then go wine tasting in the Santa Cruz Mountains, one of California’s first designated wine regions and an area rich with wooded peaks and small vineyards tucked into quiet hillsides.  Noted by “Food and Wine” as a region to watch for Pinot Noir, the region boasts smaller wineries known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on the west side, and Cabernet, Merlot and Zinfandel on the east.  Dinner and overnight in Santa Cruz.

Day Five:
If you like to start the morning with an adrenaline rush, head to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, California’s oldest amusement park.  Or if you’re more in the mood for hiking, head north on Highway 1 for a coastal trek at Año Nuevo State Park, where you can catch a rare glimpse of elephant seals.  Travel north on Highway 1 to the inviting Half Moon Bay, a crescent-shaped bay filled with surfers and fishermen.  Watch the surfers and enjoy lunch, wine tasting and shopping on Main Street.  Return to San Francisco for the night.


This adventurous round-trip itinerary starts in Napa Valley, any wine lover’s dream destination, where exquisite Cabernet Sauvignons await alongside pampering hot springs and bike tours.  Then it heads for the hills, exploring Gold Country and the Sierra Foothills for gondola rides, panoramic views and off-the-beaten-path wineries before winding back down to earth in Lodi, home to some of California’s oldest Zinfandel vines, as well as the Madera Wine Trail.

Day One:
Travel about an hour northeast of San Francisco to delightful downtown Napa.  Stroll the shops and tasting rooms, then enjoy a gourmet snack paired with local wines at the Oxbow Public Market.  Head up Highway 29 and get an eyeful of scenic Napa Valley, stopping at renowned wineries for tasting and fun facts about Napa’s 16 smaller appellations.  Take a break in charming wine country towns, filled with great restaurants, artisan food and gift shops, tasting rooms and wineries, such as Yountville and St. Helena.  Next, head north to Calistoga, where you can enjoy strolling the shops of Lincoln Avenue or take a guided biking tour of local wineries.  Or if you’d prefer some pampering, take advantage of one of several hot springs resorts, where you can relax in a natural hot spring or enjoy a rejuvenating massage or mud bath.  Dinner and overnight in Calistoga.

Day Two:
It’s worth the early morning rise to check out a hot air balloon ride over Napa Valley, which culminates with a brunch paired with local wines.  Next, explore the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, or spend the afternoon heading south on Napa’s other main artery, the Silverado Trail—once the only road to Calistoga’s silver mines and patrolled by bandits Black Bart and Buck English—to check out more wineries or any of the cool wine country towns you missed on Day One.  As late afternoon approaches, head northeast about 90 minutes to Sacramento, taking scenic Highway 128 past Lake Berryessa over to hook up with Interstate 80.  Explore historic Old Town and enjoy a trendy eatery and nightclub/comedy club downtown.

Day Three:
Spend the morning at a museum, such as Crocker Art Museum, one of the leading art museums in the state, the California State Railroad Museum in Old Town, or the Discovery Museum Science & Space Center.  Head 50 minutes northeast to the hidden gem Sierra Foothills wine region, known for Zinfandel, Barbera, Syrah, Viognier and incredible scenery.  A great place to stop first at the Gold Rush town of Placerville for lunch, shopping and winery tasting rooms. (If you’re visiting in late spring when the snowpack melts, grab a sandwich at a deli and go whitewater rafting nearby.)  To explore more winery activities, you can’t go wrong with El Dorado County wineries or other Sierra Foothill regions such as Amador County, Calaveras County, Nevada County and Placer County.  Spend the evening an hour northeast in beautiful South Lake Tahoe, filled with great restaurants, glittering casinos and shows.  Overnight in South Lake Tahoe.

Day Four:
In the morning, ride the Heavenly Ski Resort Gondola for panoramic views of Lake Tahoe.  Spend the morning hiking, or if you’d rather get on the road straight away, head southwest 90 minutes on Highway 88 for lunch in the fun Gold Rush Town of Jackson.  Shop or savor a tasting room in town, or check out a winery or two in Calaveras County, which offers 21 tasting rooms in historic gold rush towns bordered by giant sequoia trees—and was made famous by Mark Twain’s story, “The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”  If wine tasting in town is enough for you, and you want to live a bit of history, try panning for gold in Pine Grove.  Head about 45 minutes southwest to Lodi, home to some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in California.  Stop in the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center, which has an expansive tasting bar featuring a wide selection of regional wines, educational demonstration vineyard on grape growing and a gift shop featuring handcrafted products and Lodi giftware.  If you’re out of time, make a plan to go there in the morning.  Overnight at a local B&B.

Day Five:
Armed with information from the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center, explore the Lodi wine region’s wineries, enjoying lunch and shopping in picturesque downtown.  Another way to explore the region is the Lodi Wine & River Tours, where you glide down the beautiful Mokelumne River while sipping local wines and looking for birds and other river creatures.  If you have time to venture further two hours south to check out the dessert wines of Madera, gateway to Yosemite National Park, the Madera Wine Trail is a great wine adventure.  Spend the evening in San Francisco.


Nothing says California more than driving a convertible with the top down up Highway 1.  With the ocean in view, wind in your hair and wine on your mind, this trip takes you from Santa Barbara’s “Sideways” movie territory to the cool-climate wines of San Luis Obispo and red-wine mecca Paso Robles, then swings back to the ocean and beautiful Monterey before ending in San Francisco.  Besides wining and dining, there’s a zip line, hiking, Hearst Castle, Big Sur, Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium to interest you!

Day One:
From Los Angeles, head north on California’s iconic Highway 1 about two hours to Santa Barbara County, whose wine regions were featured prominently in the hit film “Sideways.”  Visit Old Mission Santa Barbara, one of the state’s most famous spots on California’s Historic Mission Trail.  Stop for lunch and shopping on beautiful State Street in downtown Santa Barbara.  Make sure to sample regional wines at one of the street’s many tasting rooms. Dinner and overnight in Santa Barbara.

Day Two:
In the morning, head north to the unique historic Danish town of Solvang.  Enjoy breakfast and coffee at a Danish bakery or café, followed by shopping for souvenirs and admiring the Old World architecture.  Do a self-guided Sideways Tour of Santa Barbara’s wine regions, including a stop for lunch at the Hitching Post, famous for Santa Maria-style barbecue and featured in the film.  After the tour, head north on Highway 1 for a seafood dinner in downtown Pismo Beach.  Overnight in Pismo Beach.

Day Three:
Today, you have a choice to make: stay near the coast or head inland?  To keep it coastal, spend the morning in downtown San Luis Obispo, featuring museums, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, the world-famous bubblegum alley and many shops.  Enjoy lunch in one of the renowned restaurants before exploring various San Luis Obispo wineries including those in Edna Valley.  Your other great way to spend the day is to head to downtown Paso Robles for shopping and dining, followed by winery hopping in the Paso Robles wine region, known for day/night temperature swings that create bold red wines.  If you’re seeking a more adventurous way to explore wine country, go zip lining over the historic Santa Margarita Ranch or hiking on a coastal trail.  Enjoy dinner and overnight in the charming seaside town of Cambria.

Day Four:
In the morning, stroll the shops in Cambria and head 15 minutes north to San Simeon. Sneak a rare peek at elephant seals before heading to the world-famous Hearst Castle, the former home of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.  You can see his wine cellars on the Kitchen & Cottages tour, and taste his descendants’ wines nearby at Hearst Ranch Winery.  Head an hour north on Highway 1 to Big Sur, the most famous stretch of the road, featuring dramatic oceanfront cliffs.  Enjoy lunch at one of Big Sur’s scenic eateries, followed by a short hike among the woods and beaches of Andrew Molera State Park.  If you don’t feel like hiking, take a short drive north to historic Cannery Row in Monterey, made famous in the John Steinbeck novel. Stop by the Taste of Monterey, the Official Regional Wine Visitors’ Center, where you can learn more about Monterey Bay’s unique “Blue Grand Canyon” and how it creates a unique cooling effect on the vineyards.  Sample cool-climate wines from throughout the Monterey County wine region and plan your explorations for the following day.  Dinner at Monterey’s Cannery Row or nearby Fisherman’s Wharf areas.  Overnight in Monterey.

Day Five:
Enjoy the morning at the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, followed by lunch in the elegantly charming Carmel-by-the-Sea, filled with great galleries and eateries.  Spend a couple of hours exploring nearby wineries before heading two hours north to end your day in San Francisco.


For a wine lover, there’s more to Southern California than blue skies, surf and sunshine—it’s full of surprising wine regions, where winemaking has been taking place since the late 1700s.  On this five-day round trip, you’ll hit hot spots like Malibu and Palm Springs while also exploring wineries in Temecula, Cucamonga and even San Diego and Malibu.

Day One:
Start the morning with a guilty pleasure.  Head to Grauman's Chinese Theater on the Hollywood Boulevard strip, and see how your hands and feet measure up to the autographed imprints of Hollywood legends.  There you can sign up for Starline Tour’s latest two-hour tour of the celebrity homes and hangouts, the TMZ Tour.  This hilarious tour, created by TMZ producers, shares insider information and the guides are on the lookout to film celebrities in action.  Following the tour, grab some lunch and visit the intimate, high-elevation wineries in Malibu and other neighborhoods of Greater Los Angeles.  Dine and play at the Santa Monica Pier and Third Street Promenade in the late afternoon and evening. Overnight in Los Angeles.

Day Two:
Drive two hours south to playful San Diego, where there are many ways to enjoy fun in the sun.  Start in magnificent Balboa Park, the nation’s largest urban cultural park, boasting 15 major museums, several performing arts venues, lovely gardens and many other cultural and recreational attractions, including the San Diego Zoo.  Options for the afternoon include Mission San Diego de Alcala, home to the oldest grapes in California, or visiting some of the San Diego area’s 50 wineries, known for Merlot and Chardonnay.  End the night with dinner and nightlife in the historic Gaslamp Quarter downtown. Overnight in San Diego.

Day Three:
There are several “must see” attractions to explore in the morning.  In addition to the zoo, Sea World and Legoland are sure bets.  In the afternoon, head off the beaten path (about an hour northeast) to the fast-growing Temecula wine region, which has been growing grapes since the late 1700s.  Tempered by coastal fog, this warm region is best known for its Italian and Rhône varietals—and its annual Balloon and Wine Festival.  Enjoy dinner and overnight in charming and historic downtown Temecula.

Day Four:
A popular pursuit is an early morning hot air balloon ride or biplane ride over Temecula Valley, which gives you a great view of the local wine country and ends with a champagne brunch.  If you’d rather sleep in, spend time exploring the shops of downtown Temecula.  In the afternoon, don’t miss the amazing bargains at Desert Hills Premium Outlets on the way to Palm Springs.  Enjoy the impressive collection of Art Deco architecture in downtown Palm Springs, as well as great restaurants for dinner.  If you’re feeling lucky, head to one of the many casinos, or fun evening shows like the campy Palm Springs Follies, a Broadway-caliber celebration of the music, dance, and comedy of Mid-Century America with a delightful cast old enough to have lived it.  Overnight in Palm Springs.

Day Five:
If you’re feeling adventurous, take a morning desert jeep tour, with stops at oases, ghost towns and the San Andreas Fault.  If you’re feeling more laid-back, travel to the eerily beautiful Joshua Tree National Park, made famous by the top-selling U2 album.  You can drive through the park at your own pace, but don’t miss the ranger-led tour of Keyes Ranch inside, which lets you get a hands-on glimpse of the tough pioneer lifestyle in this land shaped by strong winds, unpredictable torrents of rain, and climatic extremes.  On the way back towards Los Angeles, check out a winery or two in the Cucamonga Valley, which preserves the past with historic ranches and vineyards and is known for Port-style wines and old-vine Zinfandel.

For more ideas on these and other great California wine country road trips, including California wines, wine regions and winery activities—from tastings to tours, picnics, concerts, bocce ball and more—go to Wine Institute’s lifestyle and travel website.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Summer Wine: Callaway Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Temecula’s Callaway Vineyards and Winery has not been a favorite of mine, so it wasn't exactly a thrill when Russell, our waiter, offered Callaway as the Sauvignon Blanc selection.  Several years ago I tasted through Callaway’s whites and rosés and found them tasteless, flabby and lacking acidity.  With a meatless Mediterranean meal ahead of me and the late afternoon warmth still breezing into Cayenne Cafe, I figured “At least it will be cool.”

It was.  White wine is always served too cold in restaurants.  I’ve almost given it up as a crusade; the restaurants aren’t listening.

But the Callaway Special Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is a pretty good wine for a warm afternoon, especially with some nice tabbouleh, falafel, hummus, grape leaves, spinach pie, olives and vegetable couscous on the table.  The wine pairs very well with the whole smorgasbord, if you'll pardon the international metaphor-mixing.

There’s just a slight tint in the glass, and the nose shows apples, citrus and a hint of vanilla.  It’s full in the mouth, with flavors of lime and pear dominant.  The acidity seemed a little light upon sipping, but it came in where it was needed - on the finish.  A nice spread of minerality leaves the palate clean and refreshed.  Winemaker Craig Larson has done a nice job with this crisp white.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Wines of South Coast Winery

One of Temecula’s showcase wineries - South Coast Winery - held their second live-streamed Group Therapy session of 2011 on May 25th.  Interested parties watched the live video stream and tweeted with one another - and the world - about the wines they were tasting.

The event is designed to coincide with their wine club shipments, so you can expect another Group Therapy session sometime in August.  Tasters were able to order ahead of time the package of wines being featured so they could taste and tweet along with everyone else.  Now And Zin was provided with complimentary samples for review.

With one event like this already under their belts, the group at South Coast Winery seemed pretty relaxed in their comfy chairs in front of a cozy fireplace.  South Coast Owner Jim Carter and winemakers Jon McPherson and Javier Flores held the fireside chat in a living room setting with the logs burning behind them.  Carter used the homey setting to announce that the South Coast wines will soon be distributed nationally.

The participants on the viewing end had a nice time, too.  In addition to those tasting in person, there were wine lovers chatting on the winery’s website and on Twitter about the four wines in the tasting group.  I caught several comments indicating pleasant surprise at the quality of the wines as well as at least one complaining of overly ripe fruit.  That’s a matter for debate; while the flavors were admittedly big, I didn’t feel it was something unexpected from grapes grown in Southern California.

Here are the wines which were tasted in the most recent Group Therapy session:

the tasting tableSouth Coast Winery Sauvignon Blanc Musqué Clone 2009 
Temecula Valley Carter Estate Vineyard
This extremely aromatic wine is made entirely of the Musqué clone of Sauvignon Blanc.  That’s a cross between Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat.  This clone allows the florality of Muscat to soften the acute grassiness of Sauvignon Blanc.  The Carter Estate Vineyard, from which the grapes come, is now seven years old.  The wine has an amazingly low alcohol level of 12.2% abv.

Light in color and beautifully aromatic, the wine has generous notes of fresh cut grass and a driveway after a brief rain.  The mouthfeel comes on strong, too.  There’s a striking acidity, with flavors of lemon peel and minerals.

South Coast Winery Brut 2007 
Temecula Valley Sparkling Wine
70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir, this sparkler shows off its main grape.  Most of the fermentation was in stainless steel, while only 12% of the blend was fermented in new French oak.  Closed cuve secondary fermentation with 11 months on the lees finished this methode champenoise offering.  The alcohol level is 13% abv.

Despite the limited exposure to oak, there's a very aromatic nose with huge yeasty notes.  Flavors of apples and citrus dominate the palate, and there is quite a bit of acidity.  It's a very fizzy wine, but when the bubbles die down it takes on the feel of a dry still wine with a touch of yeastiness.  Several tasters were pining for some sushi to pair with it.

South Coast Winery Tempranillo Rosé 2010 
Temecula Valley Carter Estate Vineyard
This Temecula Tempranillo is a beautiful light magenta color.  The nose is, once again, aromatic.  Strawberries are met with a touch of funk, while herbal berry aromas also come into play.  The wine offers a zippy acidity, and the strawberry and cherry flavors are enormous!

South Coast Winery Syrah 2005 
Temecula Valley Rolling Hills Estate Vineyard
This Syrah was fermented in stainless steel and aged 14 months in French/American hybrid barrels.  The 14.3% abv alcohol level makes itself known on the nose, which is all spices, vanilla and clove layering over the blackberry and cassis fruit.  Definitely not a cool climate Syrah, there's a ton of very ripe and juicy aromas with lots of spice and a touch of tar.
The palate shows intense fruit with big spice flavors as well.  There's a lot of influence from the oak at first and it runs a bit hot, so let it sit a while or decant before serving.  The wine shows a great meatiness after it opens up a bit.  Three days after opening the nose is incredible.  Tar, leather, meat and sage all play with an admirable complexity.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter.

Monday, May 23, 2011


South Coast Winery

Now And Zin has the pleasure of participating in South Coast Winery's second live-streamed Group Therapy session for 2011. 

Wednesday May 25th at 6:00 p.m. PDT, the tasting and fun will get underway in person at the Temecula, California winery or online through Twitter.

Watch online and tweet about the wines as they are tasted.  Simply go to and click the Group Therapy button to join the video feed, and use the Twitter hashtag #SCWGroupTherapy to channel your comments into the stream of those participating.

The first time around was a lot of fun, and this venture should be illuminating as well.  You can join South Coast Winery on Facebookand follow them on Twitter.  The latter is how Now And Zin's Randy Fuller will be participating in the Group Therapy session.

Here are the wines which will be tasted in the Group Therapy session for May:

South Coast Winery Sauvignon Blanc Musqué Clone 2009 Temecula Valley Carter Estate Vineyard

South Coast Winery Brut Temecula Valley Sparkling Wine 2007

South Coast Winery Tempranillo Rosé 2010 Temecula Valley Carter Estate Vineyard

South Coast Winery Syrah 2005 Temecula Valley Rolling Hills Estate Vineyard

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


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.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Temecula Valley

The wine country in Southern California's Temecula Valley recently had its annual Spring Barrel Tasting weekend, which they call the World Of Wine.  It provides an opportunity for wine lovers to travel from winery to winery, checking out some of their best wines paired with some tasty food, and get a sneak peek at future releases sampled right from the barrel.

Peggy Evans, the Executive Director of the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association, said the event was a big success.  "We sold about 1400 tickets, which was great, and we had all 33 member wineries participate, so it was a great turnout."

More fun is in the works for Temecula wine country after the summer, says Evans.  "We won't be doing any big events until September, when we celebrate California Wine Month.  We do passport tastings for the whole month,and then we also do a big showcase event called Crush, which we'll be doing the second Saturday of September.  That's the only time during the year that we have all our wineries in one location.  Then we have another barrel tasting in November, so we have three primary fundraisers a year."

Any time is alright, though, for a trip to Temecula for wine tasting in Southern California.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Temecula World Of Wine

Celebrate the coming of spring with a day trip to Southern California's Temecula Valley for some wine tasting.  It’s not too far from Los Angeles, the countryside is beautiful, the wine trails are really simple, the wines are often award-winning, and the quality is surprisingly high.  If you’ve never been to Southern California’s wine country, early March brings a great way to get an introduction. 
The Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association has a world of wine to offer over their Barrel Tasting Weekend, March 5th and 6th, 2011.  Their member wineries - more than 30 of them now - swing open their cellar doors and invite you in to sample tank and barrel tastings of future vintages along with tastings of finished wine.  The event is even catered.  Each winery will have food selections specially paired with featured wines.

You can start almost immediately after exiting the 15 Freeway.  Take Rancho California Road or the De Portola Trail to get started on your self-guided tour.  At your first stop - Ponte Family Estate Winery - you’ll get a winery map with menu listings, a passport ticket and a souvenir logo glass.  Take a few minutes to map out the wineries you want to visit – if you haven’t already done so – and get started.  You may be surprised that you’ll find some new favorite wines as a result of your visit.  Ponte Family Estate Winery specializes in Italian varieties, so I'll probably linger there a bit.  Also try to make it by South Coast Winery Resort and Spa.  It is the jewel of the valley.  It was the first Southern California Winery ever to win the coveted Golden Bear Award at the California State Fair as "Best Winery in California."  They followed up that success by winning the award again.

The World of Wine Barrel Tasting Weekend runs from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.  Tickets are $99 per person and are good both days.  Sunday Only and Designated Driver tickets are available at a discount.

Friday, February 25, 2011


South Coast Winery

A support group is a welcome friend when you feel you aren't getting the attention you deserve.  South Coast Winery Resort and Spa, in the Southern California wine country of the Temecula Valley, held the first of what appears to be a series of events called Group Therapy on February 23, 2011.  Fans of Temecula wines certainly know how to support one another.  They also know how it feels to be an afterthought when the conversation turns to the grape-growing regions of California.

The region lies about as far away from Los Angeles as Santa Barbara, but in the other direction.  Located a couple of hours southeast of L.A., Temecula is tucked away south of what's known as the Inland Empire.  Thanks to the eastward curve of the California coastline, however, Temecula is less than 20 miles away from the Pacific Ocean.  They get enough of that good ocean breeze to make grapes a viable commodity.

Though they are still "bubbling under" as a wine region, South Coast is one of the leaders in bringing a Napa-style elegance to the valley.  The sprawling resort is easily one of the showcases of Temecula, if not the pinnacle.  Private villas, music features, wine dinners, the Grapeseed Spa and a tasting room environment that places fun above all else make South Coast one of the most popular stops on the Temecula Wine Trail.  If you've ever been to a wine country wedding, you get the idea of the mix between fancy and fun which the folks at South Coast maintain.  It is, no doubt, a big reason so many weddings are held at the resort.

At Group Therapy, though, it was the wine they wanted to focus on.  The event was presented live at the winery and streamed online for those who couldn't make it.  A Group Therapy package of the wines to be discussed was offered for sale through the winery's online store.

Winemakers Jon McPherson and Javier Flores proved to be a nice team heading up the show.  They served as "play-by-play" and "color commentator" for the evening, with McPherson providing a solid background for the wines on the table and Flores interjecting some whimsical banter along the way.  McPherson opened with a lesson on how to grade wine by numerically scoring its different facets.  He seemed to catch some in the audience off guard when he revealed that Pinot Grigio is actually a red grape, and the reason it has no color is because the juice sees limited contact with the skins.

Owner/vintner Jim Carter was also along, and he touched briefly on the struggle Temecula has had getting what he feels is proper recognition of the product.  "We're right there with Napa," is how he summed up his feelings on the quality of the wines being made in the valley, and at South Coast in particular.

I couldn't make it to Temecula for the live Group Therapy session, so South Coast provided me with two of the wines that were the topic of discussion, and I followed along online.

Pinot Grigio Temecula Valley Sparkling Wine

This bubbly is the 2010 vintage and is comprised of 63% fruit from the Temecula Springs Resort Estate Vineyards, 23% Schuler Vineyards grapes and 14% from Huis Vineyards.  Pinot Grigio may be an offbeat choice for a grape from which to make a sparkling wine, but it works well.  The grape is known for fruity flavors and crisp acidity.  South Coast uses vinification methods similar to those used in Italy's Alto Adige, so it's not too surprising that it comes across with an Italian Prosecco-like flair.

Prodigious medium-sized bubbles produce a frothy, white head and the nose is full of fruit.  Apples are prominent, with an aroma that reminds me apple cider, or Apple Beer, a soft drink I used to enjoy as a kid.  Peaches also make an appearance, as does a slight grassy note.  On the palate it's apples and pears.  The sparkler is nice and dry, with good acidity that remains after the bubbles quiet down a bit.  It's a really lovely taste with fruit for days.  It's also very drinkable at only 11.8% abv.

Il Temporale 2007

The fruit for this Super Tuscan-meets-Bordeaux blend comes from Wild Horse Peak Mountain Vineyards.  The red is made up of 58% Sangiovese, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petit Verdot and 10% Merlot.  On the nose, oak is apparent.  Cherry and earth notes are discernible, too.  The palate shows the effect of 14 months in French oak, with vanilla accents and a cherry cola flavor.  Although I find the oakiness just a bit distracting, there is depth and complexity there.  I like the way the spicy character of the Petit Verdot shines through.  The tannins are strong enough for pairing with roast beef.  Il Temporale logs a 14.1% alcohol number.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Thornton Cuvee de Frontignan

While all my wine world pals seemed to be filling the Twitter timeline to the “fail whale” point about which Champagne’s cork they’d be popping on New Year’s Eve, I was chilling a bottle of California sparkling wine.  From Temecula.

Two summers ago, Denise and I visited Thornton Winery and picked up a bottle of their Cuvée de Frontignan.  We both loved the taste, and it was at a sale price well below $20.  We thought we’d ring in 2010 with it, but a rush of bubbly over that holiday season pushed it into the crowd, and there it waited patiently for the year to pass.

This Temecula sparkler is made from Muscat grapes in the Méthode Champenoise.  It reminds me of Asti Spumante - all the celebratory bubbles of Champagne, just lighter and fruitier.  It has an alcohol content of 12.5% abv, so we could enjoy several flutes without becoming tipsy.

We had secured some of our favorite snacks from Whole Foods Market - Denise calls them Lovely Little Things - and the Cuvée paired quite well with the wide variety of crackers, cheese, olives, grains and rice-based salads. 

The Cuvée de Frontignan has medium-fine bubbles that form a sparkling white froth about a half-inch thick.  The nose is full of fruit growing up against a wall of minerals.  It’s yeasty and spicy on the palate, with fruity flavors tasting so very fresh.  The creamy mouthfeel leads to peaches which linger on the finish.

The bottle lasted three days for us, and on the second day it took on a much earthier and more substantial tone without sacrificing too many bubbles.

Don Reha, Thornton’s winemaker at the time this Cuvée was bottled, has moved on to  R.Merlo Estate Vineyards.  He had been with Thornton since 2003.  David Vergari is now Thornton’s winemaker.  He interned at Napa’s Sonoma-Cutrer and the Hess Collection after studying Enology and Viticulture at UC Davis.  Working abroad for a bit, Vergari now returns home to California, although somewhat south of his native Sonoma County.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Peggy Evans

The recent Wine event, "Unexpected Grapes From Unexpected Places," gave a throng of wine industry and media types a chance to sample the wares of some grape growing regions in California that are considered "off the beaten path," at least for the average wine consumer. 

Temecula may be off the path, but they are quickly blazing one of their own just east of the I-15 Freeway.  After exiting the freeway, you may feel the urge to stop and gamble at the casino.  Continue east, though, and in just a few miles it's a sure bet you'll find some wines you like.  You won't get those kind of odds at the casino.

I was a little disappointed at first that Hart Winery, a favorite of mine in the Temecula Valley, was not represented at the tasting table.  Even without Hart, an admirable array of very good wines were assembled and it seemed to me visitors to the table were leaving happy, and maybe a little surprised.

Peggy Evans, Director of the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association, was kind enough to pour some very good wines for me while singing the praises of the grapes and wines of Temecula.

Baily Winery Dry Riesling 2008 - made to commemorate 150 years of Temecula - crisp, with pears and floral notes

Palumbo Rosato Secco - 100% Sangiovese rose - dry, with cherry and a flinty edge and good acidity

Miramonte Grenache Rosé 2009 - a little residual sugar - pink and sweet

Danza del Sol Tempranillo 2009 - smokey, brambly nose - very earthy and delicious

Wilson Creek Mourvèdre 2006 - not very dark and kinda bright - "mourvèdre lite" - fruity, tasty, dry

Cougar Montepulciano 2006 - "Full Monte" - funky nose, brambly palate, dry

Robert Renzoni Vecchio Fratte "Old Friar" 2007 - 90% Lagrein, 10% Merlot - big, rich, 21 months in French Oak - very dry with full mouthfeel - deep, expressive nose - coffee notes

Leonesse "Melange de Reves" 2007 - Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, and Grenache - smells and tastes darker than it looks - full of fruit

Stuart Cellars White Port NV - late harvest Muscat and Chardonnay - reminds me of vermouth - herbal and spicy - quite good

Tomorrow we head into Ventura County.