Monday, October 08, 2007

Temecula CA Day Tripping and Wine Tasting

Temecula CA is a day tripper or weekender's paradise from the Los Angeles - Orange County - San Diego - Palm Springs Megalopolis. I discovered this little town more than 15 years ago, when it was still considered in it's wine infancy. In those days, a leisurely drive, wine tasting, a picnic and a drive home was something easy for a couple of yuppies to do. Fast forward, and to fall 2006, and somehow a decade and a half had passed since my last visit to this great valley surrounded by rolling hills and a thriving wine industry. I'm told that the wineries here host more guests than the famed Sonoma and Napa regions, because of the proximity to the locations named earlier. Truth is, the wine here is good too.

I came back to this little haven last week for an afternoon of wine tasting, a lunch, and a charity dinner at the Temecula Creek Inn to benefit Cancer for College (and my chance to make my kids jealous and meet Will Ferrell). When I was under 40, I would have never had the "guts" to go wine tasting by myself, nor the self discipline to pace out the tastes and stay sober.

After an easy one hour drive from Orange County, I dropped my other half at the College for Kids Golf Tournament, and headed over to Thornton Winery (32575 Rancho California Rd., Temecula, CA 951-699-0099). I had decided to try smaller wineries that I had not yet visited, and that I didn't think were on my book club's itinerary for our now annual trip. Thornton was one of the first wineries I saw, but what caught my eye was the sign for "champagne" - one of my favorite wines!

I had a light lunch in the Cafe Champagne (the lunch entrees looked good but large and expensive for what I wanted) of a soup and bread. The service was excellent as was the Champagne. There is a lovely center courtyard with a fountain and plenty of room to take in the neighboring hills. The tasting room is far more civilized than many, and instead of standing at the bar, you sit at a table indoors or out, and choose a "flight" of wines to taste. I of course chose the champagne flight. A flight is typically a set of wines (4-6) that are served at one time and move from driest to sweetest. While waiting, I enjoyed the reading material which included a bit about the 19th annual champagne jazz series on Saturdays in September and October. One of my favorite jazz artists: Candy Dulfer was scheduled to play there Oct. 7. I'll have to check out this series for next year. Only an hour away, it would make for a great "date" with a spouse, friend, or even alone.
My favorite Thornton champagnes were: the 1996 Brut Reserve (served with my lunch), the Non-vintage Brut, and the 1996 Brut Reserve Natural. Your results may vary. I also learned that being alone has it's advantages as I met two nice women from Escondido, north of San Diego. The best part: the chance to go home with 4 bottles for the price of 3!

Next stop was Stuart Cellars (33515 Rancho California Road, Temecula CA 951-699-0099) which was just down the road and looked like just what I wanted: a small winery. This winery is a wonderful, small little gem. I liked every wine I tasted, the wine tender (Kenny) was gracious, informed, and efficient with all of the guests, and the guests were very friendly. Here I met two women from Rhode Island that were working in CA for 2 weeks, a gentleman involved in RV Fractional ownership, and a couple who lives literally a 1/4 mile from me. Small world indeed. I came home with a great Chardonnay, and an unexpected pink wine (I don't do pink anymore - HAH!). The port here is excellent To this winery, I'll be back.

As the golf tournament went long, I found myself looking for a place that was open after 5, and hoping for a snack. My choices seemed to be Mount Palomar, South Coast, and Miramonte. I chose the last because it was the smallest. I arrived just after 5 and found the small tasting room and lounge alive and just starting "Flamenco Fridays." Unfortunately tasting ends at 5 (thought the tasting menus were still out), but they will let you taste your wine before you order it. I settled on something I can't remember because the "wine tender" seemed terribly uninterested in helping me find a wine I liked. This place has these gorgeous labels of rock stars like Mick Jagger, Madonna, and others on some bottles. I asked the host about them, and he just tersely responded that they were for sale as collectors items. Guess I wasn't what he though might by one...even though the Madonna label is something I was VERY interested in. On the bright side, the flamenco food was delicious and inexpensive (try the spinach empanada), and the music was certainly entertaining. I will not however return to Miramonte, as I was made to feel unwelcome.

The charity dinner was at the lovely Temecula Creek Inn, well run, well provisioned. Excellent location for an event with great staff.

Other wineries worth visiting: Wilson Creek, Maurice Car'rie, Oak Mountain (not on the tourist map), and my favorite besides Stuart: Leonesse.

Happy Day Tripping and wine tasting.

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