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Temecula is in its "Teen Years"
Preisers’ Reserve: We recently had an experience that is hard to describe in words. It involved a social visit to the home of Greg and Petra Martin of Martin Estate Winery and Vineyard, where we were whisked into a world of antiques surrounding the themes of castles, weapons, armor, and the old West. Displayed in one of the oldest homes in Napa Valley (the 1887 Harris winery), the Martins have maintained the winery and hospitality rooms downstairs, while living upstairs in antiquity surrounded splendor.
But today we highlight the fruit of good works, the 2003 Martin Estate Rutherford Reserve ($110), a hand crafted wine of immense depth. Our hosts recommend decanting, but even then it was obvious that the structure of this wine is such that it could open for hours before reaching full potential. We wish we could tell you that it had the chance to do so – but it did not. We enjoyed the up front dark berries and mid palate stone fruit before the beautifully long finish. And one of the best things about the evening? We sampled the wine with and without food. It’s great either way. If you are a serious collector of wines and/or antiques (Greg is one of the world’s largest dealers in these artifacts), give the Martins a call. www.martinestate.com 707-967-0300
So a couple of people asked us where we were a few weeks ago, and we said, “Temecula” (truly a town in California). Well, we might as well have said Abergavenny (truly a town in Wales) for all the help that gave our friends in locating us. But when you think about it, who really knew anything about Napa forty years ago, or even newer wine areas in California, such as Los Olivos, a decade past?
As is the way of the world, new places to see and experience continue to pop up with incredible speed. Temecula, a town of about 60,000 people approximately ninety minutes southwest of Los Angeles, cannot yet lay claim to being a first rate wine area, but it does have things to offer, including the old pioneering spirit of sharing, good will, and a never-say-die attitude. These qualities have allowed the growers and vintners to produce a great number of wines worth sampling now – in many cases not so much because they are presently great, but because of their potential. In a few instances, however, there are some excellent bottles available in the region.
At an earlier date we had the good fortune of having met Temecula’s most recognized wine personality - writer, radio host, and enophile Le Roy Guilford. Without him and his wife Phyllis we would not only have plodded around looking for the best places to visit, but we would never have been welcomed so warmly. As it was, a relatively quick trip allowed us a good understanding of the county.
First and foremost, Temecula seems to be a huge tourist destination on weekends. Many of the sixty some wineries are on vast acreages and offer modern tasting rooms (some more pleasing to us than others) designed to service scores of people at once. Interviews with almost everyone we met revealed that the great majority of visitors are female, and that they prefer their wines white and sweet. So is this a problem? Unfortunately, it is. Temecula County is simply not a region conducive to producing white wine of high quality. It was not only obvious to us as we tasted whites that mostly went from bad to worse, but many in the industry evidenced more than a hint of latent embarrassment as they poured Chards and Sauvignon Blancs for us to sample. When we asked why the wines were produced at all, the answer was invariably that the women buy them, and it makes good business sense to offer what sells. Can’t argue with that. Indeed it does.
So we are here to say to the women of the area, “Learn to enjoy reds. Temecula has some good ones.” Let’s talk about them.
It seems to us that no winery within hundreds of miles can touch the mature, Napa-like quality of Boorman Estate Winery and Vineyards, owned by Todd and Rosie Boorman. Sitting high above the valley and avoiding the fog that envelops much of the balance of the region, the grapes at Boorman have an opportunity to ripen in the long hours of sunlight, and then be fashioned into serious wine by Todd’s use of the most up to date techniques. We enjoyed each wine we sampled, such as the 2005 Barbera from the Santa Barbara Plateau ($26) [chocolate and cherries with a long finish]; and the 2004 South Coast Merlot ($24) [full mouth with some terroir on the finish].
However, we loved the 2004 Cabernet Franc ($30) [red berries pervading layers of fruit leading to dark cocoa]; the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon ($29) [dark cherry and plumbs with soft tannins and lingering chocolate – quite a value]; the 2002 Metaphor ($40) [heavy mouthful of a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petite Verdot]; and the 2003 Petite Verdot ($26) [showcasing black grapes and blueberries]. When you are in this area, Boorman demands a visit (even it you have to go out of your way).
Though he does not create the large variety of wines found at Boorman, Charlie Curry at Curry Vineyards and Winery rivals their quality with his 2005 Syrah ($18.50) [a phenomenal value overshadowed only by the blueberry nose, the bright red velvet mouthfeel, and black berry/chocolate finish]. We happened to have ordered it to accompany a venison chop for dinner, and what a pairing it was. The 2005 Curry Cabernet Sauvignon ($18.50) evidences good forward fruit with ripe tannins – kind of like a cherry lifesaver. If you are lucky, Charlie will have time to sit and chat.
How About a Break for Dinner?
It was hard to find anyone who raved about the restaurants in Temecula. Thankfully Charlie Curry is a former chef and recommended the Brick Marble in Murietta (next door to Temecula). Still unknown among most everyone we met, this restaurant is good enough to be a destination itself. Charming ambiance, a romantic bar, excellent service, a creative menu backed up by a top chef, and superb ownership, made this a fabulous night out. The scallops and venison were as succulent as we have sampled, and when paired with wines from a statewide list, all was well. Call Norm or Linda Hull at 951-677-3563, as this will be a hard-to-get-into room very quickly.
In continuing our winery tours, we ran across a fun experience at Thornton Winery, where we sat in the lounge and were waited on by Mary and Ingrid, excellent wine and bubbly educators. The winery offers a Sauvignon Blanc, a Chard, a Sangiovese, and some blends – all served at tables rather than crowded bars. While we did not buy any wines (even at prices below $25), you very well might, as they certainly were “sippable.”
We would also suggest you pay a visit to Wiens Family Cellars, where tasting room manager Joseph Wiens and his staff poured some nice wines from the bottle and the barrels. The best? The 2005 Petite Sirah Sage Vineyard ($29) [smoky and chewy].
Wilson Creek Winery is one of the more well known, and we thought the wines worth tasting here included the 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (as you might have imagined from what we wrote above, the only white in the county we enjoyed). At $19, and with a pleasant, round finish following the citrus, this was a nice find. The best at this lovely property were the two dessert entries – a chocolate Port called “Decadencia,” ($37 for 375 ml), and the cream Sherry ($35 for 375 ml.). Don’t leave without trying the Decadencia mixed with Almond Champagne in a chocolate cup. It’s always nice to find something different.
Keep an eye on Churon Winery, with its new winemaker Benny Rodriguez. We are choosing not to discuss the “pre Rodriguez” wines as they will not be available for long, but we greatly enjoyed Benny’s 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc/Merlot Blend ($29). Excellent fruit, nice balance, and, as you see, relatively easy on the wallet.
Finally, if you can find Barrett Bird at Santa Margarita Winery and taste his Cabernet Sauvignon ($10), do so. Let us know if you have ever tasted a better one at that price, or so enjoyed learning local history.
Would we go back to Temecula? Not this year, maybe, but soon. As the region discovers what it will grow best, as the vines mature, and as the winemakers gain experience, this area will be a better and better vacation spot.
Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.