Temecula AVA Has Come a Long Way

28 Dec


Wine tasting in the Temecula Valley is a far cry from way back in 1984 when the AVA was established.  After fighting and, for the most part, winning a battle against Pierce’s Disease, wineries have proliferated.  Taking advantage of the cool nights with morning fog and long warm sunny days, local wineries have produced numerous wines with 90+ ratings.   Most of the wines I tasted tended towards old-world style with a bit of restraint, rather than the “fruit and oak bombs” for which many California wines are known.

I think the most surprising aspect of the area were, at least on a beautiful Monday during Christmas break, the crowds of visitors.  With over 30 wineries on the Temecula Valley Wine Area (TVWA) trail, it was rare to see one without a nearly full tasting room.  Many of the wineries, particularly South Coast, Ponte and Avensole, rival the largest and most popular of Napa Valley, with huge open tasting rooms, impressive European architecture and stunning views of the vineyards and surrounding mountains.   A nice contrast to Napa is the great number of wineries with restaurants and cafes.   Convoluted Napa laws prevent most wineries there from serving real food, and it’s nice to be able to enjoy the Temecula scenery and wines with a meal.

After researching the many possibilities on the TVWA trail, I chose Hart and Monte de Oro to visit.  Hart Winery is small and family-run with a reputation for high-quality Mediterranean varietal wines, while Monte de Oro is a much larger operation which attracts vans and buses of groups for tastings.  While Monte de Oro wines were excellent, I found the ratio of tasting room staff to visitors to be too low.  We received little attention and almost no depth of knowledge about the wines or winemaking methods.   On the plus side, the server noted my wine style preferences and helpfully suggested the wines she thought I would most prefer.

First stop was Hart Winery, with my favorites described below:

  • 2016 Arneis.  I was surprised to find this little-known white from Piedmont region of Italy here.   Pale gold in color, with floral and peach aromas,  this was a delicious and refreshing light-bodied wine that bears a strong resemblence to Muscadet from the western Loire Valley.  A great start to the tasting! 8 out of 10
  • 2013 Mouvedre.  A staple of southern Rhone blends, Hart’s version was a light ruby in color, with a nice bouquet of dark berries.  Medium-plus in body, due to the 14.5% ABV.  Angular tannins on the lingering finish.  7.
  • 2014 Tres Hermanos.  A typical Rhone GSM blend (50% Grenache, 33% Syrah, 17% Mouvedre), pale purple in color, a light body and clear taste of fresh cherries.  Very soft tannins.  Delicious!  8.5

At Monte de Oro, after jostling my way through the crowds to a small open spot at the tasting bar, I was served 6 wines, highlighted by two interesting blends and a wonderfully frizzante white :

  • 2012 Congruity.  A deep cranberry in color with aromas of berry jam, this Zin-Syrah blend was fruit-forward with a soft tannin structure and spice on the finish.  Probably the first time I’ve tried a blend of Zinfandel and Syrah, and the fruit of the Zin balanced nicely with the spice and depth of the Syrah. 8.5
  • 2012 Synergy.  This is a blend of the original 5 grapes planted in Temecula – Syrah, Merlot, Cab Sauv, Zinfandel and Cab Franc.  Cassis, dark berries, black pepper and sweet smoke, this complex blend has a long, balanced finish.  9
  • 2014 Bolle de Oro.  Bright silvery straw color. Peach and guava on the nose with flavors of melon and pear, a light acidity and lively effervescence.  Off-off dry and refreshing.  At only ~$20 per bottle, I  rate this 9 out of 10.

Overall, I found a day in Temecula to be delightful, with a bustling and historic downtown, dozens of good restaurant choices, and tastings (and views) that rival the more famous wine country to the north.  Cheers!



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