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Temecula Valley

Temecula Valley, not long ago considered primarily a white wine producing area, has gained much recognition for it's excellent red wines. Along with the famous Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs, Rieslings, Viogniers and Muscats, Temecula wineries are producing award-winning Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, Zinfandels and Syrahs, plus Italian varietals, sparkling and fortified wines. In 1998 the thirteen local wineries accounted for over 150 unique wines. Most wineries in the Temecula area are clustered within a relatively small area on or near Rancho California Road, making navigation particularly easy.

I was honored to write the featured wine article for the 1999 Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival program.

Baily Vineyard & Winery
33440 La Serena Way, Temecula / 909-676-9463

As of late November 1999, Baily has a new tasting room situated right on the main highway. The stark, stone block structure hosts a sparse gift shop and impressive tasting bar. Five wines (your choice of 10) are tasted for $4.00. There was a Chardonnay with citrus, fig and melon flavors, a Montage, also with fig and melon aromas, two White Rieslings, a Cabernet Blanc, a slightly sweet Muscat Blanc and a Late Harvest White Riesling with aromas of apples, pears and peaches. The reds consisted of a light, fruity "TV Red," great for a casual barbecue, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a very nice Merlot with berry flavors and soft tannins. My favorite was the Merlot.

Callaway Vineyard and Winery
32720 Rancho California Road, Temecula / 909-676-4001

Callaway, the oldest and largest winery in Temecula, produces some very good food-friendly wines. The extensive list includes a Pinot Gris, Viogner, two Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Muscat Cannelli and a Late Harvest Chenin Blanc. The red wines include Nebbiolo Bello, Dolcetto, two Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignon. The "Calla-Lees" Chardonnay is a widely available, good wine value. I particularly liked the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Barrel Selection Merlot, displaying blackberry, black cherry and plum flavors. The modern visitor center has a vast array of unique and artistic wine-related gifts. Don't forget to check out the views from the parking lot.

Callaway is home to some exceptional dinners where guests are aften treated to a private tour of the winery and out-of-the-barrel tastings, gourmet food and plenty of selected wines. I was present for the last two Holiday Candlelight Dinners that were well worth the cost of $65 per person.

Cilurzo Vineyard & Winery
41220 Calle Contento, Temecula / 909-676-5250

Cilurzo's tasting room is housed in a corner of an industrial-looking facility. The ambiance is simple, the staff is friendly and the wine list is impressive. A small fee allows the visitor to choose six of twelve wines for tasting. The whites consisted of a toasty Reserve Chardonnay with pineapple and tropical fruit flavors, a dry, non-grassy Sauvignon Blanc and a Chenin Blanc with peach and pear flavors and a honey finish. A light-bodied Old Vines Zinfandel exhibited strawberry flavors, the Cabernet Sauvignon had rich currant and cherry flavors, the Merlot was complex with black cherry and licorice flavors and the non-vintage "Vincheno" was a budget-priced pizza or BBQ wine. A peppery Merlot Reserve and a rich, peppery Petite Sirah Reserve were both excellent. Muscat Cannelli, Sweet Zinfandel and a smooth, sweet Late Harvest Petite Sirah round out the list. The white wines were among the lowest priced and best value wines in the valley.

Clos du Muriel
33410 Rancho California Road / 909-676-5400

Housed in a rustic barn-like structure, Clos du Muriel's tasting bar sits opposite working bottling machines and stainless steel tanks and offers an impressive view through large open barn doors. Here they produce a slightly lemon grassy Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, a clean, slightly dry White Zinfandel, a clean, crisp and buttery Chardonnay and a Merlot with ripe berry and cinnamon flavors. A light-bodied Zinfandel had hints of licorice and pepper and a raspberry flavored Sangiovese-Zinfandel makes an excellent dessert wine, and in fact, was served with chocolate. Premium estate-grown wines (tasted for an additional fee) included a Viognier that exhibited layers of banana, guava and pear, and a slightly tannic Merlot with a creamy strawberry aroma.

Filsinger Winery
39050 De Portola Road, Temecula / 909-676-4594

Filsinger is located about 10 minutes away from the cluster of most of the Temecula wineries. The homey, no-nonsense cottage-style tasting room is a contrast to some of the more commercial wineries in the area. There is a light, smooth Chardonnay, a tropical Fume Blanc, a crisp Johannisberg Riesling, a fruity and spicy Gewurtztraminer, Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, White Zinfandel, Gamay Beaujolais and a heavy bodied Cabernet Sauvignon.

Hart Winery
41300 Avenida Biona, Temecula / 909-676-6300

The tasting room is located in a barn-like structure with one end dedicated to one of Temecula's smallest tasting bars and a few gift items. The tasting hosts (often assistant winemaker Bill Hart) are very friendly and casual and the wines, available only from the winery, are very good. The Fume Blanc was light and fruity with flavors of fig and baked apple, the Viognier tasted of pear and peach, the Barbera had cherry and raspberry jam flavors, a slightly tannic Old Vine Zinfandel had blackberry and black plum aromas. My favorites were a rich, tannic Estate Cabernet Franc, one of the best in the valley, and the fruity Stonelake Merlot.

Keways Winery
37338 De Portola Road, Temecula / 909-676-1451

Keyways Winery, located far from the cluster of Temecula wineries and just down the street from Filsinger Winery, is an eclectic blend of wine, history and Americana. This winery is just plain fun. The wine bar is small and rustic, and is almost overlooked considering the atmosphere. An electric train chugs along on an overhead track, and one can find shelves of restored antique radios and other treasures, a pot-bellied stove and various arty items. Our hostess, Coletta O'Donnell, served three wines ($1 fee): a Chardonnay with a slight citrus and vanilla taste, a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, and a full-bodied Zinfandel with blackberry and cherry flavors.

Maurice Carrie Winery
34225 Rancho California Road, Temecula / 909-676-1711

Maurice Carrie (not to be confused with Carey Cellars) is built in an intriguing French/early American architecture complete with gazebo, windmill and an extensive picnic area. The tasting room is bright and large, with vaulted, wood-beamed ceilings. There is an extensive gift shop that includes a selection of deli items and fresh baked breads. This is also one of the most popular wineries in the area. The complimentary tasting includes several Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Johannisburg Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, a pepper and currant flavored Merlot, and Muscat Canelli. My favorite was a non-vintage Cody's Crush, a blend of 1 White and 3 Red Wines. The wines are all very good values, with 11 of their 14 wines costing less than $10.

Mount Palomar Winery
33820 Rancho California Road, Temecula / 909-854-5177

This is a very attractive Spanish-styled winery off the main highway with a very large visitor center which includes a tasting bar, deli, and a large selection of gift items. Six wines were tasted for a $3 fee. The whites consist of a citrusy and nutty Cortese, Chardonnay, Le Mediterrane Blanc, a rich, tropical Viognier with pear and honey flavors, a dry Roussanne with peach and hazelnut flavors, a crisp Riesling and a sweet Orange Muscat. Reds included a smokey Merlot, Sangiovese, Le Mediterrane and an excellent, smokey Syrah that exhibited aromas of pepper and leather. This is my favorite picnic spot, as one will find one of the most extensive selections of deli items in the valley and many picnic tables scattered throughout the grounds-- many overlooking the vineyards.

Santa Margarita Winery
33940 Madera de Playa, Temecula / 909-676-4431

Santa Margarita is probably the most spartan of the Temecula wineries. The tasting area, consisting of a makeshift bar and basin sink, takes up a small corner at the entrance of the barn-like winery. The proprietor, Barrett Byrd, poured four wines: Semillon, Chardonnay, Rose of Cabernet and a Cabernet Sauvignon that is the specialty of the winery.

Stuart Cellars
33515 Rancho California Road, Temecula / 909-676-6414

Stuart Cellars, Temecula's newest winery, opened by Marshall and Susan Stuart in May 1998, is also one of Temecula's most upscale. There is a very classy wine bar and some of the more upscale wine gifts (including hand-painted crystal) you'll find at any winery. For a moderate fee one can taste four of six wines, $2 extra for the Port. Here I found a complex, tropical Chardonnay with peach and honey flavors, a dry Viognier with peach and pear aromas, Callista (a blend of Rhone White Wines), Zinfandel, Muscat and Tatria (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot), a rich, powerful wine with flavors of blackberry, black chery and currant. My favorite was a 1995 Port that was one of the best I've tasted anywhere, although pricy at $42 for a 500 ml bottle.

Temecula Crest Winery
40620 Calle Contento, Temecula / 909-676-8231

Temecula Crest, formerly Britton Cellars, is located on an unpaved road high above the valley floor. The visitor area is a large open space with a tasting room and gift shop at one end. A $4 fee allows the visitor to taste five wines including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Blanc, Rancho Red (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo), Merlot, a peppery Cabernet Sauvignon and a Nebbiolo that would go well with any barbecue.

Thornton Winery
32575 Rancho California Road, Temecula / 909-699-0099

Thornton Winery (and Champagnery) is an impressive complex built in the style of a French chateau including a large courtyard with fountain, an herb garden, banquet rooms and an upscale gift shop. Tastings are $6 for 4 wines and are conducted in a formal classroom style within the winery. Sampled wines consisted of a non-vintage Brut, a tropical, buttery Chardonnay, Grenache Rose and a Zinfandel with flavors of licorice and brambly fruit. Wines are also sold by the glass and may be enjoyed in the courtyard.

Van Roekel Vineyards & Winery
34567 Rancho California Road, Temecula / 909-699-6961

This is one of the newer wineries in the valley. The modern barn-like structure is detailed in brick and green aged wood. The tasting room is very large and comfortable, with a long tasting bar at one end, an extensive gift selection and one of the larger assortment of deli items. This is the second winery in Temecula for the Van Roekels, as Maurice Carrie Winery is named after owner Bud Van Roekel's wife, Maurice Carrie Van Roekel. The wines consisted of a Sparkling Wine, Fume Blanc, Rose of Syrah, Gewurtztraminer, Grenache and a Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc with intense honey and peach flavors.

My Recommendations:

Don't Miss: Callaway, Hart, Keyways, Maurice Carrie and Mount Palomar Wineries.

Deli/Picnic Items: Mount Palomar Winery and Van Roekel Vineyards.

Picnic Areas: Mount Palomar Winery (views) and Maurice Carrie. 

© Copyright 2007 Steven A. Manick
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