Monday, January 26, 2015

13 Great Wines From Temecula - There's Gold in Them Thar Hills (CA)

Temecula Valley....California? Yes. I always write when I am travelling. Think of this as the occasional travel piece. Enjoy!
So I was going to Los Angeles, and I had already been to the Santa Barbara wine country several times, and I thought it was time to visit the wine country northeast of the Newport Beach area in Southern LA and of course finds itself the jewel of San Diego....Temecula. However, it was funny, when I attempted to crowd source some responses on the Temecula Valley wine region, I got lots of puzzled looks and shrugs? How was this possible? So I did some research.
According to Wikipedia: Vincenzo and Audry Cilurzo established the first modern commercial vineyard in the Temecula Valley in 1968. In the same year, Guasti-based Brookside Winery planted its own vineyard. In 1971, Brookside produced the first wines from Temecula grapes at their Guasti winery. Callaway Vineyard and Winery began farming grapes in 1969, and opened the first Temecula Winery in 1974. Its Founder, Ely Callaway Jr. went on to gain fame and fortune in the world of golf with his namesake company, Callaway Golf. John Poole's Mount Palomar Winery opened in 1975, and in 1978 the Cilurzos opened the third Temecula winery at a new site. Their original vineyard, Temecula's oldest, is now owned by Maurice Carrie Winery. Other notable stories regarding the start-up of the more than 25 wineries in the region abound, making Temecula Valley a small but significant wine production center. Its wines are generally less known than those from higher-production California wine districts such as the Napa Valley AVA in northern California and the Santa Ynez Valley AVA (made famous in the Academy Award winning movie Sideways).

The United States Department of the Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau established the "Temecula AVA" in the Federal Register on October 23, 1984. The TTB renamed the same viticultural area "Temecula Valley AVA" effective June 18, 2004, approving an application made by the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association. This is the only American Viticultural Area to change its name following initial approval. The Federal Register lists the official area for the Temecula Valley AVA at 33,000 acres (134 km2). Within the appellation there are 5,000 acres (20 km2) located in a "protected" area referred to as the Citrus/Vineyard Zone. This area is generally located in and around the Rancho California Road area within the County of Riverside. County guidelines strictly enforce number of acres needed to build a winery, lodging and other limited housing and commercial ventures.

So my goal was to unearth some quality wines from the region. Armed with a small handful of recommendations and some results from research, I drove forewarned and forearmed into the region.

I drove from Newport Beach, and the drive could not be any more magical. Whether you are starting from anywhere in Los Angeles or San Diego, you soon leave the beaches behind you and climb into the hills of the Temecula Valley. Its as stunning a drive as the spectacular drive up into Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez and Santa Rita mountains. Long winding roads. And downtown Temecula is actually very quaint. A really enjoyable drive.

There is no question that this region produces lots of good syrah, cabernet franc, and a solid compliment of Italian grapes as well. The zinfandels from this region are also very good, but they are not the opaque varietal wines produced in Napa and Sonoma. They are more medium bodied, with bright cherry and slightly more acidity, and I found them surprisingly intriguing.

Hart Vineyards was my first stop. They are one of the first wineries you will see as you come in from the southern entrance into the valley. And they are easily one of it's best producers. Hart Sangiovese 2012 was wonderful! Medium bodied with bright fruit and long finish. Marvelous! Among the best domestic Sangiovese I have had.

Hart Estate Cabernet Franc 2012 was spectacular. Mature fruit. Not a hint of weed or herbaceousness. Absolutely a fantastic win with nice long finish. Great balance. Complexity. Impressive!

Jime Hart, winemaker, with his dad. Father an Son. A whole separate article will be coming on them.

A quick stop at Mount Palomar yielded one of the most unexpected finds - Mount Palomar Cinsaut Blanc 2013. This is a blanc de noir, meaning it is a white wine made from a red grape The wine has a slightly dark white hue. More golden/salmon hint. But not as much as you might expect. It is definitely a white. Very nice fruit. Great complexity. This was a stellar find!

The Wilson Creek Syrah Cammi Ridge Vineyard 2012 was lovely. A big plum, prune, bright cherry wine, with long, long lasting fruit and wonderful layers of flavors. Immensely enjoyable.


Doffo is big with the locals. They are among the region's top producers. The winery is very cool with a motorcycle collection to compliment your wine tasting. Tour the barrel room and motorcycle museum. Doffo Mistura 2012 was a revelation. A gorgeous red wine with bright and dark cherry and hints of cranberry. A lovely, lovely proprietary blend.

The Temecula region produces lovely syrahs, and so it's no surprise that the Doffo Unfiltered Syrah 2012 makes this lis. A spectacular wine, with plum and cherry dominating the profile. A bit of afruit bomb up front, the wine eventually untangles gorgeously on the tongue and results in layers, and layers of flavor that linger. An excellent, complex wine that is wonderfully balanced.


Chapin Vineyards is another of the real quality focused producers. A beautiful setting, I found their Chapin Syrah 2012 and their Syrah Private Reserve 2009 to both be a pair of heady Syrahs that were incredibly impressive, especially the Private Reserve.

The Chapin Petite Syrah 2011 was also a spectacular wine. Again, not as big and opaque as some of the Napa or Sonoma versions of this varietal wine, a dark garnet color, was a big, jammy wine, with huge dark fruit up front and a big mouth feel. But more bright/ripe cherry than you would normally get. And, there's a touch more acidity here, so the red fruit lingers and luxuriates inside your mouth.


Palumbo Family Estate Cabernet Franc 2011 was a beautiful wine. Again, Cabernet Franc down here tends to be a lovely wine, absent of herbs and grass. All you get is big, ripe cherry, a hint of graphite, and a beautiful wine that exhibits cranberry and red cassis. Lovely!


 Lorenzini is another of the better producers, and their Lorenzini Estate Sryah Signature Series Reserve  was another absolutely lovely Syrah from the Temecula Valley. Lorenzini made a small host of lovely, lovely red wines.


Last but not least was Leoness. They had some absolutely stellar wines.

The Leoness Mouvedre 2011 was an absolute revelation. Big, lovely fruit, filled with pllum, prune, cherry and spice, this wine showed exceptional finesse. An elegant re wine that immediately catapults it to major appreciation. As lovely a Mouvedre as I have experienced.

The Leoness Tucalota Vineyard Cinsault 2007 was another shocker. As good an any of the other varietal wines of this same name domestically produced. Fantastic. Impressive. Belongs right up there with the Turley Cinsault and my other favorite from Unoinville. This is an incredibly delicate wine with a broad range of gorgeous red berry flavors. Truly amazing.
There's no question the Temecula Valley is producing great wine. Like other smaller regions in California and on the west coast, it seems to fall under the long shadow of Napa and Sonoma. And especially being down near LA and San Diego, there is some eye rolling sometimes from the wine cognoscenti, suggesting that no wine of great quality might be found there. But I found absolutely the opposite. It is a quiet wine country, that has experienced some growing pains over the last 15 years, but is now at a juncture, where wonderful wines are rising from this region in a much greater rate than ever before. Any wine person worth their salt, must absolutely find this little gem of a region. Everyone in a rush to emulate Sidways, rushes to Santa Brabara, and with good reason. But if you want to find some real treasures, take a turn, and go down the coast, and up into the hills of Temecula. There's gold in them thar hills!
Read more: