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Help. Obligatory tasting trip in Temecula.

I've been asked to design a tasting trip (3 vineyards) in Temecula for a group of sophisticated, well-traveled, knowledgeable wine drinkers and collectors visiting San Diego. Here are the wineries I've come up with to choose from. Please pass along your experience re: my selections or offer new ones. Also any particular wines to look for. Thanks!

Mt Palomar
Masia de Yabar
Wiens Family
(Palumbo is closed the day we're going)

Orfila (Escondido)

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  1. So, I'd go to Temecula with low expectations so that you can be pleasantly surprised instead of disappointed. There's a lot of bad wine out there, and they're still figuring out what's best to grow there while still being marketable. I'd book appointments//tours wherever possible. That said I'd go to:

    Wilson Creek

    I'd drop Mt Palomar

    1. I've never been there. I've talked to someone who's judged a couple of competitions for Temecula wines. I asked if there was anything good there. His advice: Ignore the hype from the wineries and avoid Bordeaux varietals. They just don't grow properly. But If you want to get big bucks for the wine, you have to grow a grape people recognize. So that's why they continue to grow cabernet sauvignon, etc.
      He felt Rhone, Italian and Mediterranean varietals tended to do better.

      1. Excellent, easy-to-follow advice. Exactly what I needed.

        What about Orfila? Is it worth an extra stop?

        1 Reply
        1. re: pickypicky

          Have no experience with Orfila but based on what I can gather I would skip.

        2. I'd definitely stop at Orfila -- I've always preferred their wines to anything out of Temecula. Your choice, but I'd make it the first stop so as not to have it drop from your itinerary **just in case** you end up running late. (Note: I haven't had any of their wines since the new winemaker took over, following Leon Santoro's passing in 2009.)

          I'd listen to Steve's advice, and avoid the classic Bordeaux varieties. The best Cabernets I've had from Temecula wineries came from grapes grown in Sonoma. That said, Orfila's red Bordelais varietals have been pretty good in the past.

          Other than that, I only have suggestions as to what to avoid, not what to go to. Sorry.

          2 Replies
          1. re: zin1953

            Any to avoid in my list? (I'll make Orfila a definite. I'm intrigued by their winemaker from Sonoma who looks like a movie star.)

            1. re: pickypicky

              None specifically. I truly try to avoid the region entirely. That may not be completely fair, I know, but the best wines I've ever had from Temecula-grown grapes were what I would describe as "very good." Not great, not exceptional, not outstanding -- just "very good," and those were (overall) few and far between.

              Bailey has made some very good Rieslings, for example, which is well worthwhile. But most of what I've had from Temecula grapes is eminently forgettable.

          2. Orfila for sure. Though it's not in Temecula, so time could be an issue.

            Doffo has been the best wine I've had there (relatively speaking), though bottles are really expensive for the source.

            Palumbo has been good.

            I keep hearing that Briar Rose is good but haven't been there.

            I've found some decent wine at Baily and Hart as well.

            But........... tasting in Temecula is, overall, a matter of 'what will you compare it to".

            9 Replies
              1. re: zin1953

                A friend compared it to tasting wine in Texas, which goes a bit far. It sounds like TX and Temecula have the same issue, which has been a slowness to discover, grow, and make wine with grapes well suited to the area.

                1. re: pickypicky

                  OR . . . in many cases . . . bad winemakers!

                  1. re: zin1953

                    Agreed. Many of the Temecula wineries I've spoken with have told me that they buy a good portion of their fruit from pretty decent growing regions in the Central Coast or Northern California, so I've always felt that winemaking MUST be a factor at work here.

                  2. re: pickypicky

                    I dunno about that comparison.... I lived in San Diego in 1987-88 and the wines in Temecula were..... some were not terrible, (some were) but none were wonderful. OTOH, in 2005 I was in Dallas for a conference, and attended a seminar of Texas wines -- most from the Hill Country. There were a couple in that tasting that were quite delicious. I'd say Texas ranks above San Diego -- at least in my mouth.

                    1. re: ChefJune

                      Agreed, although there seems to be enough mediocre-to-terrible wines to go around . . . in both locations, but -- yes -- I'd probably pick the Texas Hill Country over Temecula!

                      1. re: zin1953

                        I'm a native Texan. My mom has lived in the Hill Country 38 years. And I can't agree. They are equally uninteresting wines. Until a region develops a grape growing industry, fine wines won't happen. THAT'S what Texas should focus on: subsidies for ranchers to grow grapes. Both Temecula and Texas wine industries focus on tourism, not wine, and the results are not pretty.

                        1. re: pickypicky

                          I'm not sure what being a native Texan has to do with anything, nor your mother's home address, but there are several wines from Texas that I would choose *over* wines from Temecula. Indeed, I'd choose them over and over again, over the wines from Temecula.

                          C'est la vie . . .

                          1. re: zin1953


                            I cite my native Texan status because most native Texans will argue everything Texan is better. My mother's long stay in the Hill Country has given me 3 or 4 visits a year to watch and taste as the wine industry has grown. Most Texas grapes are grown in the panhandle. HC wineries source from the Panhandle and from CA. Very small percentage of grapes from the Hill Country make it to wine. The Hill Country is like a showroom. Because that's where tourists come, that's where the wines are sold.

                            I know a French winemaker, schooled in Sonoma, who works for a Texas winery. She commutes between the Panhandle and the Hill Country. Her grapes are in one place, the winery in another. Not unusual, but it's tough to learn this information from wineries or labels in Texas. Even my friend is reticent to discuss the Texas wine industry, which is still experimenting with the best grapes for the various regions -- like Temecula.

                1. re: Beach Chick

                  I'm a little uncomfortable with Ponte's motto: "If you like it, it's good wine." Hmmmm.

                  1. re: pickypicky


                    The most important thing you can ever say about a wine is "Yum!" or "Yuck!" It's what YOU think that counts, not what anyone else thinks . . .

                    1. re: zin1953

                      Wine I like is wine I like. That doesn't make it necessarily "good" or "bad."

                      1. re: pickypicky

                        Au contraire, mon ami -- I would say that the best wine in the world . . . to YOU . . . is the wine you like the most. I would say that there is no such thing, factually, as THE best wine in the world. Rather, it's a matter of personal opinion.

                        Just out of curiosity, how many bad wines do you like?

                        1. re: zin1953

                          A pinot that tastes like bubblegum is not good no matter how many bridesmaids say it is. A winery that would trouble to make that their motto is hawking wines I'm guessing would not meet my standards. I could be wrong.

                          1. re: pickypicky

                            The difference is that you and I might (probably; no doubt about it) absolutely hate the bubblegum Pinot Noir, but to those bridesmaids you're referencing? They think it's the best thing they've ever tasted, and who am I to say they're wrong?

                            1. re: zin1953

                              They're wrong. (you're more egalitarian than I.)

                              1. re: pickypicky

                                No, but after 35+ years in the wine trade, I've come to realize that TRUE likes and dislikes are based solely upon one's own personal palate preferences, and one shouldn't discount them.

                          2. re: zin1953

                            <Just out of curiosity, how many bad wines do you like?>


                  2. If you're considering Orfila, then I really think you should consider Vesper / TripleB in Valley Center. I truly believe that they are producing the best wine from local sources in the entire area. Chris and Alysha are winemakers with the knowledge, passion, and the vision to make world class wine from local grapes

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: RhonelyInsanediego

                      Can't do it on this trip. Orfila (iffy at this point for us) we could hit on return down 15, it looks like. But not enough time to do more. Will keep it in mind.

                    2. Report on Temecula Trip. I'll do my best to be kind.

                      Meritage for lunch - gorgeous view. interesting menu. I chose Callaway Italian and Rhone varietals by the glass, thanks to above reco's. The new owners of Callaway -- a young couple -- were sitting behind us. The tasting room is now automated. Insert card to a machine, a wine spurts out. We passed on that.

                      Doffo - fun. real. the winemaker poured our tastes. we bought two wines, a syrah and a late harvest zin (aka port). Expensive, but might be interesting after forgotten and opened far in the future. Nice olive oil.

                      Leonesse - walked in. nobody liked tasting room atmosphere (a few bus loads of big haired seguined jeans women were crowding the counters), and none of the pourers could explain why the labels show Leonesse spelled two different ways. tasted, left.

                      Wiens - tasted, left.

                      Wilson - walked in, left. tasting room smelled of potpouri and hand lotion.

                      Mt Palomar - disaster.

                      IF I go back, I'll visit Palumbo and Orfila. We did not have time to stop at Orfila, because my group wanted to experience as much of Temecula as they could. The heartening thing to me, as we drove home via backroads through Ramona, were the acres and acres of vines spreading through the county, which I don't remember a few years back. The more grapes that are grown agriculturally, the better wines may become, imo. Of course, the vineyards will need real winemakers.

                      Thank you, thank you, to all who made suggestions. It really helped.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: pickypicky

                        Yes, well . . . (yuck) . . . you're very kind indeed.

                        >>> none of the pourers could explain why the labels show Leonesse spelled two different ways <<<

                        THAT is hysterical!

                        >>> The tasting room is now automated. Insert card to a machine, a wine spurts out. <<<

                        THAT is disgusting! ;^)

                        1. re: zin1953

                          It's probably just an automated cuvenee. Not so disgusting if the wine isn't so. I agree that it does sound like a very intimate and personalized experience though.

                          1. re: RhonelyInsanediego

                            At some of the wineries in Temecula I might just prefer an Enomatic or Napa Technology system to a live person trying to tell me I'm enjoying what I'm not. But.................. actually having one there is REALLY advancing the well-earned idea that Temecula has been developed more as a tourist destination than a 'serious' wine experience. Sheesh!!!!! Must make it harder for the owners there who are really trying.

                      2. Just seeing your thread now, picky, and can definitely recommend Robert Renzoni as worth a visit your next time there. Truth be told, that's the one winery my husband and I plan to spend time at the next time we breeze -- I mean that literally -- through Temecula.

                        When we first paid Renzoni a visit in May 2010, we sampled the winery's six selections and were really surprised by their balance and elegance, the Sangiovese most of all (we bought a bottle to take home). Additionally, we really appreciated the tasting room manager's knowledge of grapes and winemaking. Truly intriuging was the premium Old Friar Red: It's 90% Lagrein and 10% Merlot, and is memorable for its deep, brooding black fruit and smokiness on the palate and the finish. Although Renzoni fruit is from Paso Robles, the winemaking's on site.

                        I should point out these other items regarding our Temecula stop:

                        1) We enjoyed Ponte's Viognier, and found that everything else had that nasty "alcohol burn" on the back palate.

                        2) Wiens' Syrah is worth a look; it has a hint of garrigue and earthy, brooding black fruit that reminded me slightly of a northern Rhone Syrah (St. Joseph, perhaps?). Nothing else was noteworthy there, other than -- what else? -- that too-too-Temecula alcohol burn.

                        3) The less said about Leonesse's one-note selections, the better. The same holds true for the tasting-room employees, who seemed utterly uninterested in wine, and provided next to no information about their winery's selections. Perhaps their approach works for the party-hearty crowd, but it sure as heck doesn't for wine geeks like me.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: Dornfelder

                          Thanks, Dornfelder, for this info. I wouldn't have chosen Renzoni because I was looking for local grapes as a criteria. But I'll keep it in mind should I "breeze" back through Temecula. Also, that alcohol burn you mention intrigues me, and I wonder now in hindsight if that's one of the things I found repugnant in our tastings. I believe first and foremost were the tasting rooms, which seemed more like Spencer's or Bath/Body Gift Shops. If winery screams tourist stop, then it probably is.

                          1. re: pickypicky

                            Honestly, picky, most Temecula wineries seem to be tourist/"drunky" hangouts -- that's just why my better half and I are truly not fans of that region. I couldn't agree with you more about the gift-shop vibe, which puts us off to no end.

                            And what is with the proprietors of Thornton, their need to create a site -- its tasting room, restaurant, and other areas -- in a building nearly as opulent as the Taj Majal? Fer cryin' out loud, folks, your're an OK-at-best Temecula winery, not Chateau Petrus, Lafite-Rothschild, d'Yquem or Beaucastel.

                            *rolls eyes*

                            1. re: Dornfelder

                              Don't get me started about Thornton's "restaurant"...

                              1. re: JAB

                                @JAB: There's a darned good chance that the "restaurant" at Maurice Car'rie outdoes Thornton's eatery, negatively speaking. :p

                          2. re: Dornfelder

                            Very helpful comment re the alcohol burn. That is definitely an issue I've found often in Temecula tasting. It would seem to me to be more of a style thing than a fruit thing unless it's mostly prevalent with local fruit. Any thoughts on that??

                            1. re: Midlife

                              IMHO, it's a style thing. The folks I've spoken with who like Temecula wines most -- from all of California's wine regions, believe it or not -- seem to really crave those uber-elevated alcohol levels. I guess they don't see an issue with glugging down a 15% ABV Pinot Grigio that sets their back palates afire, other than getting seriously buzzed ... *shrugs*