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May 10, 2007 02:46 PM

Temecula Wine & Almond Champagne?

We went wine tasting in Temecula,CA last weekend. It was a food/wine pairing event put on by 20 of the 25-30 wineries in that area and we were given tickets by one of the winery owners. I think you have to applaud the wineries there for a valiant effort to develop that area, but they are at a distinct disadvantage in a state with the best wine regions in the country if not much of the world. The wineries are fun, and certainly worth the experience, particularly if you can't make it to the 'better' wine regions or if you're just starting out enjoying wine. But...... if you do a lot of tasting and have a well-developed palate, Temecula is a challenge.

I was wondering if any of the wine lovers here have found any Temecula wines that compare favorably with the mid to upper quality wines of the Central Coast, Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino or even the Foothills area of California. I had a Sauvignon Blanc at Baily and a Syrah at Leonesse that were OK, but that was about it. Part of the problem, I think, was that the pre-paid wine/food people were directed to separate areas at each winery (to keep them separated from regular tasters who hadn't paid for the food) and often the wine we were served had been sitting outdoors for long enough to get too close to the 90 degree temps of the day...... not showing them at their best.

On another note..... Wilson Creek Almond Champagne (Temecula) is very popular in Orange County, and is sold at almost every supermarket in the area. It is made for them by Weibel, near Lodi, and it is a mystery why they think they can call it "Champagne" when the 'real' California sparkling wine makers are careful to avoid the use of that word on their products. Anyway......... This is reasonably decent budget sparkling wine with almond oil infused into it, making it sweet but interesting, especially in Mimosas,etc.. My question is whether there is a better quality, less 'mass-market' infused sparkler out there that anyone knows about.

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  1. I seem to recall that Steve Hagata at Falkner was making some wine under his own label that I liked. I recall liking something from Joe Hart but don't now recall what it was. As to your question about "wines that compare favorably with the mid to upper quality..." I'd have to say, IMHO, no way.

    1. I like Thornton a lot. They have a good Sauvignon Blan and a really good Cab - Merlot blend that I buy by the case.

      1. >>> My question is whether there is a better quality, less 'mass-market' infused sparkler out there that anyone knows about.<<<


        >>> I was wondering if any of the wine lovers here have found any Temecula wines that compare favorably with the mid to upper quality wines of the Central Coast, Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino or even the Foothills area of California. <<<

        Phil Baily produces some very good Riesling, but other than that . . . very little I've ever had from Temecula has ever come close to the Central Coast of the 1980s, let alone today . . . or Napa or Sonoma or . . . . (OK, the exception has been some of the "Sweet Nancy" vintages from Calaway, or some of the methode champenoise sparkling wines from Culbertson (now Thornton).

        The best I've found from down there actually comes not from Temecula but from the San Pasqual Valley. Leon Santoro at Orfila -- -- makes some very intriguingly good wines.

        8 Replies
        1. re: zin1953

          Thanks. I was at a softball tournament within a few miles of Orfila recently but didn't know about it then. I'll check it out.

          I've heard that Gruet makes an almond sparkler somewhere in New Mexico. Any word on that one? I know the idea of an 'oil-infused wine' is sortof an oxymoron, but, well..... sometimes people just like what they like.

          1. re: Midlife

            If Gruet (and it's a really big IF) does make that sort of wine, it's not mentioned on their website.

            Personally, I would be VERY surprised if they did that. Gruet only produces methode champenoise sparkling wines -- along with some table wines -- and they're really quite good. "Almond Champagne" is made by a different process -- the Charmat process, aka cuve close -- and Gruet is not set up to produce that type of wine.

            Doesn't mean they don't buy it from Franzia and/or Weibel, and put their name on it!

            1. re: zin1953

              H-m-m-m. Except for a couple of tasting references to "almond notes" you're absolutely right. I'm pretty sure I remember something more specific from a few years back but it's very likely that, if they ever did make such a product, they've stopped. Wouldn't surprise me as Weibel and Wilson Creek are differerent caliber operations. Trader Joe's, I'm told, sells a 'knock-off' for $8 or so. I was just looking to see if a quality winemaker made something like that. Thanks.

              1. re: zin1953

                ZIN - you're correct, we DO NOT make any "flavored sparklers" and all of our sparklers ARE methode champenoise. Our grapes are grown in NM and we definitely don't buy from Franzia!! :)

                1. re: Gruet Winery

                  Thanks for the 'word'. I couldn't imagine that type of product coming from a quality maker, but thought I remembered something about it from a few years back.

              2. re: Midlife

                Being in AZ, we get Gruet quite often - good sparklers, but none, that I recall with almond.

                Sidenote: was looking at some wine lists in the Midwest, and Gruet was prominently featured.


                1. re: Midlife

                  I have had one in the Amador area at the place that use to be the Sonora Port works. It wasn't to my taste but others seemed to like it. I found the almond really overwhelming.

                2. re: zin1953

                  I agree with you about Orfila they imho make about the best Merlot around. It's also nice because I live about 4 miles from them !!!!

                3. Last trip to Temecula was a bit short and some years back. Nothing really struck me, but we did not venture off the main trail. Since then, they have been hit by several plagues, that have devestated much of the vineyard land, that we sampled wines from. I'd go back, if I was in the area, because of the wonderful folk, that we met. They took their wines seriously, but not themselves. Unfortunately, last trip through, we had dinner reservations in La Quinta, so could not stop.

                  I wish the folk there, the best of fortune in their efforts, but have yet to find a wine from there, that I'd put in a few cases of.


                  1. Wow so many things to say about this post:

                    1) Better quality less mass market infused champagnes
                    This is a difficult request because anything that has an infused flavor is (1) rare and (2) already intentionally targeting a mass audience. I have never had another flavor-infused champagne. That almond-gig is a real freak show, it was sold at the Costco in San Diego for a bit because it was wildly popular. Why? Because the average non-connoisseur obviously loves it, it reminds me of a wine cooler and less of a champagne. PS, if i misunderstood and u just want a solid sparkling wine (not infused) your best bet in temecula is Thornton -- pretty solid champagnes

                    2) Temecula at a distinct disadvatange
                    I totally see what you're saying, but think about it this way. Temecula is at a distinct *advantage* in that they are the only palatable wine-producing region anywhere outside of the central coast. It reminds me of why Snow Summit and Bear Mountain (the two only "legit" so-cal ski places) are swamped w/ ppl but their snow sucks. Because they are the only option within hundreds of miles. Tasting room prices in Temecula were (recently) approx $5 -- last time i went many places were now up to the $10 mark -- it's not because their wines are amazing, it's because the have the market cornered (for the "winery" experience) in this region.

                    3) General "favorites" in temecula
                    There are winners that can compete.
                    #1) Stuart cellars. -- haven't been there in a few years now but amazing quality
                    #2) used to need a reservation - solid structured wines
                    #3) Hart - -- not neccesrily the "best", but great relatively inexpesive wines, and just GREAT freaky blends. They have a ton red blends that you won't find commonly ....
                    #4) Keyways - Out of the way, but great pricing, and generally solid wines.

                    The only other thing i can say ... don't buy at the wineries -- hit up the longs drugstore in T town for your purchases. Amazing discounts, close to half price. Mind you, they don't have everything so you run a risk going this route -- but they stock a lot of the winners from T town.

                    4) ... somebody else mentioned Orfila
                    Orfila winery is about 30 minutes south of Temecula. If you're driving up that way anyways, hit it up. Well worth the visit.