Posts Tagged Temecula

Top Temecula Wineries, Part 2: Palumbo

13 February 2013

Who knew I would have so much to say about Temecula? Don’t be fooled by the “Part 2” in the title. This is actually my fourth post about this unsung wine region north of San Diego, and I saved some of the best for last. Well, almost last. On the advice of the charming and startlingly young sommelier at the Ponte Vineyard Inn (geez, kids are learning about wine early these days!), I visited two of Temecula’s smaller wineries, Palumbo and Doffo. The intimate tasting rooms provided exactly the sort of wine-tasting atmosphere I like most: Casual, friendly and focused on the wine.

Should you find yourself in Temecula at some point, don’t miss these guys. First, Palumbo:


Matt and Joe at PalumboOn a quiet side road away from the big wineries along Rancho California, this winery was recommended by almost every Temeculan I spoke with. All the fruit for its wines comes from Palumbo’s 13 acres of vineyards, because owner Nicholas Palumbo “believes in producing only what he grows himself,” according to the winery website. And good for him. I don’t know much about viticulture, but it makes sense to me that if you’re not controlling what happens in the vineyard, you’re not controlling what happens in the bottle.

Here are some of the excellent and very focused wines I tasted in the congenial Palumbo tasting room:

2011 Viognier: Fresh, tropical nose. Focused, surprisingly tight fruit followed by tart acids and some exotic spice on the finish. Viogniers can get a little overblown sometimes, but Palumbo kept a tight corset on this one!

2009 Syrah Clone 877: You know it’s serious when clone numbers start appearing. This wine had a meaty, earthy aroma, and again, it showed impressive focus and restraint. A supple mouthfeel gives way to zingy spice, some tannins and a bit of tobacco. Marlene Dietrich with a cigarette.

2009 Shiraz/Cabernet “60/40”: If you hadn’t guessed, this is a blend of 60% Shiraz and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. It had a soft and jammy nose, rich but tightly wound red fruit, something herbaceous in the middle and a bit of spice at the end.

2008 Cabernet Franc “Catfish Vineyard”: Made from grapes grown on 21-year-old vines, this wine had aromas of iron and earth. It tasted earthy and tight, with focused red fruit flavors, a bit of sweetness, medium tannins, and a finish reminiscent of the aroma.

2009 Tre Fratelli “Meritage”: This Bordeaux-style blend had a marvelously rich and fruity aroma, with some violets in there as well. Woo! A very elegant wine, with impressive focus and non-trivial finesse. Ample fruit was tempered by silky tannins and some acids. Fine balance.

2009 Sangiovese “Due Figli Vineyard”: Brick red, with an earthy, jammy nose that had me itching to give this wine a taste. I was not disappointed. It tasted wonderfully lush, with jammy fruit, a luxurious mouthfeel and a tannic finish. Way to end the tasting with a bang!

Up Next: Tasting amid the motorcycles at Doffo.

Top Temecula Wineries, Part 1: Wiens

6 February 2013

Should you decide to visit the picturesque wine country of Temecula, California, there are three wineries you simply shouldn’t miss, on any account. All three serve excellent wines which showcase some of Temecula’s true potential.


Blair in the Cellar Room at WiensThis winery has a large tasting room on the main road through the region, and this tasting room no doubt draws the buzz-seeking groups so prevalent at Ponte.

In a very smart move, this winery allows people really interested in the wine to make reservations for a $30 reserve tasting, held at formally set tables in a separate room on the property. I reserved a space for the 10:30 a.m. tasting on a Sunday, and it turned out to be a private reserve tasting — not a single other person had signed up! It was a grand experience, and the wines were, without exception, positively delightful.

2010 Reserve Chardonnay: A pretty gold color, this wine smelled of ripe pears. It had a lush texture and a woodsy start, but limey acids and even some minerals ensured that this was no butter bomb.

2008 Reserve Cabernet Franc: The fruit for this wine came from Paso Robles, but Wiens just sold this vineyard, and so the 2008 will be the last vintage of its Paso Robles Cabernet Franc. It had a sexy aroma of rich plums, a little black pepper and some chocolate. Woo! True to the variety, the wine moved from plummy fruit to something herbaceous to a tannic finish. A pairing of Havarti tamed the tannins, and some olives cured with rosemary and red wine made for a wonderfully bright and briny match.

2009 Chateau Grand Rouge: An unusual Cabernet Franc-heavy blend of 45% Cabernet Franc, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Malbec. With a lovely dark red hue, this Bordeaux-style blend had an alluring aroma of chocolatey raspberries. Beautifully balanced, with plummy fruit, soft balancing acids, some rather hefty tannins and a bit of wood. It has some finesse but also a spicy zing — it’s an elegant young thing with a bit of a wild streak.

2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: This blend of 90% Cabernet and 10% Merlot had a darkly fruity nose mixed with something herbal. It exhibited restrained power, with hearty, meaty fruit and a tannic finish. It would surely be magnificent with a good steak, but it also worked marvelously with some goat milk gouda, becoming bigger and spicier.

2007 Reserve Syrah: The aroma of dark plums, chocolate and tobacco had me at first sniff. I also loved the supple mouthfeel and dusky fruit, followed by some acids, white-pepper spice and a touch of tobacco at the end. It tasted even zestier when paired with some smoked gouda.

2009 Reserve Petit Sirah: It’s rather unusual to see this variety as a varietal, but it really worked. Clocking in at a substantial 15.3% alcohol level, this wine had a deep aroma of raspberry jam. Another sexy wine with ample, rich fruit, a spicy finish, and some not insignificant finesse. Some salami-wrapped mozzarella brought out some additional meaty notes in the wine.

None of these wines is inexpensive, but hey, if you’ve got the money, you’ll surely be pleased with any of the above.

Ah crap. I got so excited about these wines, I didn’t leave much room for Doffo and Palumbo. Well, those wineries deserve their own blog posts in any case. The Temecula journey continues!

The Fine Wines Of Temecula

2 February 2013
Kelli at Hart Family Winery

Kelli at Hart Family Winery

The AVA of Temecula north of San Diego had an inauspicious beginning. Vines weren’t planted here because someone thought, “Hey, this is a great place to make wine.” The vineyards were a marketing tool, used to lure prospective home-buyers! The Oxford Companion to Wine explains: “Beginning in the late 1960s, insurance company developers used vineyards as part of their sales pitch to urban-weary escapees from Los Angeles and San Diego.”

In spite of this remarkably unromantic beginning, Temecula has started to come into its own, and some vintners are crafting wines of real distinction. Because of cool breezes from the Pacific funneled through a gap in the mountains, it turns out Temecula vineyards can do a lot more than look pretty for suburbanites.

As I wrote in this post, Temecula’s tasting room experience still has some growing-up to do. A number of venues still gear themselves to birthday and bachelorette party groups looking more to get a buzz than experience beautifully made wines. But at some Temecula wineries and tasting rooms do focus on the wines, as opposed to getting drunk, and many of these are showing off some very fine wines indeed.

I started my second day in Temecula at Hart Family Winery, mostly because its tasting room opened at 9:00 a.m., an hour or two earlier than everyone else’s. I felt a bit apprehensive, I must admit, after the previous day’s unpleasantness, but Hart’s tasting room was small and quiet, and it offered tastings for half the price of Ponte. And the wines weren’t too shabby either!

2011 Roussanne: Rhône varieties seem to do well in dry, sunny Temecula, and this Roussanne was no exception. It had a green, juicy aroma, juicy fruit and acids, and it ended on a clean mineral note.

2011 Cabernet Franc Rosé: I’m a sucker for good rosé. This example was fruity and fun, with some lemony acids and a touch of stone. Works for me!

2011 Montepulciano: Temecula’s Italian varietals also tended to taste great, including this lovely little number. I liked its nose of earth and raspberries, its ripe red fruit and its food-friendly acids.

2010 Sangiovese: I thought for a moment that I might be in Tuscany when I sipped this brick-red beauty. It felt focused and earthy, with well-balanced acids and an irony finish.

2009 Tres Hermanos: This Rhône-style blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah had tightly wound, plummy fruit and hearty tannins. It had me hankering for a bowl of ratatouille.

2010 Syrah: I didn’t detect too much bouquet here, and the wine felt a little tough. I bet it would benefit from some decanting or some additional age.

2010 Aleatico Port: I felt especially excited to try this port, made from the very unusual Aleatico variety. This grape, a red relative of Muscat, originated in Italy, where it’s grown mostly in Lazio and Puglia, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine. The island of Elba also exports a sweet red wine made from Aleatico, and the grape is “surprisingly popular in the central Asian republics, notably Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan,” the Companion notes.

I still don’t fully understand how this odd duck of a variety ended up in Temecula, but there it was. The port had a thrillingly rich, raisiny aroma and a beautiful dark magenta color. It started sweet and smooth, then moved to an intriguingly chalky midsection before finishing with a surprising blast of spice. Delightful!

There’s nothing like a good port right after breakfast. Feeling much restored, I set off towards my next tasting. It proved to be the complete opposite, in every way, from the craziness of Ponte.

Up Next: An unexpectedly private tasting at Wiens, some intense focus at Palumbo, and sipping amid the motorcycles with vivacious Marcello Doffo.

First Look: Temecula

30 January 2013

Ponte Vineyards' Tasting Room/Gift ShopYou probably won’t find a “Temecula” section in your wine shop, the way you might see “Napa/Sonoma” or even “Central Coast.” This wine country about an hour northeast of San Diego is just a baby, oenologically speaking, and it doesn’t have much of a reputation just yet. That might be a good thing. Because from what I’ve seen so far, if Napa is “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” Temecula is more “Real Housewives of New Jersey.”

I’ve only been to one tasting room so far, that of Ponte Winery. I went on a Saturday, which is always a mistake in wine country, but my schedule allowed me little choice. The tasting room/gift shop was packed, but that wasn’t the problem — I expected a crowd. I did not expect the extortionate $20 tasting fee, however. I’ve never paid that much for a basic tasting anywhere, be it in Napa, Sonoma or BURGUNDY, for the love of Pete.

I suppose part of that fee pays for the glass I didn’t want to take with me, but most of it goes for the inexcusably large pours. I’m not usually one to complain about a slightly overfilled glass of wine, but if one drank all six “tastings” without spitting (no one in view spat a thing), one would be drunk. If the Ponte Winery tasting room were really interested in its patrons learning about the wines, portions would be much smaller and much cheaper. But perhaps Ponte Winery thinks its guests are just interested in getting a buzz before getting back in their cars? And perhaps they’re right.

Nor did the wines dazzle. Beyond a couple of standouts, most tasted just OK, and with most over $30 a bottle, they should have been pretty darn tasty. Here’s a quick rundown of what I sampled:

2011 Chardonnay: Aroma of burnt tire and wood. Light bodied, with watery fruit, limey acids, and a bit of stone and rubber at the end. $24

NV Vernaccia Nera: This one was really fun. A Lambrusco-like sparking red made with fruit from Italy’s Marche region, it tasted like red fruit, iron and jam. Weird, surprisingly complex and even addictive. I was tempted to buy a bottle to take home; it almost seemed worth it at $30.

2010 “Super T”: A Super Tuscan-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese. It smelled like earth and plums, and it tasted like dark red fruit with a bit of iron and spice. Light bodied and tasty, but I want more than that for $38.

2010 Zinfandel: Not much nose on this one at all, oddly enough. It felt tight, with ungenerous fruit and a relatively tannic finish. $35

2009 Syrah: The chocolate/raspberry aroma got me all hot and bothered, but when I took a sip, it fell a little flat. It just didn’t go anywhere — it was medium bodied, and just not very memorable. What a disappointment after that sniff! $35

2008 Zinfandel Port: I love a well-made Port, and this was a well-made Port. It had a temptingly rich, raisiny nose, and this time the flavor lived up to the smell. It had lots of jammy, chocolatey fruit, balanced by zesty acids and some tannins on the finish. Delightful! It was nice to end the tasting on a high note. $46

I’m trying out a few more Temecula wineries before I leave… Here’s hoping!

Update: Later that evening, in the bar of the Ponte Vineyards Inn, the bartender offered me a taste of the 2009 Ponte Vineyards “Angry Wife, made from a blend of grapes which is “never disclosed so please don’t ask,” according to the label. Now why couldn’t they have presented more wines like this in the tasting room? It smelled irony and red, and it packed a flavor whallop: lots of fruit, hefty tannins and a final kick of spice. Tasty! Don’t keep wines like this a secret, Ponte!