Feeling in an especially romantic frame of mind this week, we’d like to showcase one of the most romantic, indulgent, swoon-inducing trips in recent memory: Temecula Valley wine country.
Tucked away in Southern California there is a splendid little secret kept close in the back pockets of Los Angeles wine-lovers. Though the term “California wine country” generally evokes Napa and Sonoma of the North, here comes its SoCal kid sister, who suddenly seems all grown up and ready to take the world by storm. A delight to discover for all the senses, the incredible food and scenery of Temecula pairs tremendously well with the delicious wines that the region is producing with deserved pride.
For New Yorkers escaping the frigid weather to some L.A. sunshine, a day trip to the valley is highly recommended. If you’re able to spare a luxuriously longer weekend, let yourself indulge in a night or two at the sublime Ponte Vineyard Inn, a boutique hotel with a fantastic restaurant and vineyard to match.
Here, guests can truly immerse themselves in the gorgeous surroundings and the fabulous indulgences of wine and cuisine. Whether or not you are lucky enough to spend the night in one of Ponte Vineyard’s charmingly appointed rooms, it would be a travesty to miss dinner at Bouquet, their top-notch restaurant. Here, Chef Riccardo Cuccaro harnesses his passion for seasonal ingredients into a delightful menu of Italian-inspired dishes.
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let us begin, as all perfect Temecula journeys should: with lunch.
Perched on a hilltop overlooking a vast array of vineyards and distant mountains, Callaway Winery makes a perfect first stop on a day of wine country exploration. Their on site restaurant, Meritage, makes use of the abundant local produce, and its rotating menu exuberantly showcases decadently rich plates paired perfectly to Callaway and other local wines. Relax at your table and let your first your server and then your sommelier make your decisions easy with their expert guidance. The sumptuous courses will arrive in a perfectly timed train, as you gaze at the vista just beyond your wine goblet. From the freshly baked bread to the glorious salads to the richly prepared fish of the day, it is impossible to stray from delicious on this menu.
Once sated (and then some) begin a leisurely exploration of the region’s lovely array of vineyards and wineries, one sip at a time. It is easy to choose your own adventure in Temecula, with something to suit everyone’s taste, aficionados and novices alike.
Though our trip was limited to only one fabulous afternoon, we fell easily in love with the region’s big heart and bold wines. Here is a short list of our top picks:
Weekends are hopping with live music and even livelier visitors at Leoness. Nestled in beaucolic, rolling hills the enchanting setting produces not only pretty pictures but also wines of incredible depth and flavor. Among the 8 main wines and a number of other specialty select varietals, our favorites were the Syrah and Cabernet Franc—both aged for an extended period of time in a combination of small French and American oak barrels, adding softness and complexity the heady reds.
After tasting our way through their private tasting room library, we found ourselves unable to resist lingering on their open air veranda, listening to the stirring flamenco guitar and watching the sun cast long shadows in the valley.
If ever there was a local celebrity winemaker, it would undoubtedly be Tim Kramer. Tim, working in consultation with Ken Zignorski (Monte De Oro’s senior partner), directs all of Monte De Oro’s winemaking strategies and practices, ensuring that all wines are crafted in a style which showcases the true varietal character of each grape variety, balanced with the fruit-forward terroir of the Temecula Valley and subtle influences from extended barrel aging in nearly 100% French oak barrels.
Exemplifying sustainable wine ecology, Monte De Oro uses a combination of 21st century innovation and centuries-old tradition in an environmentally responsible approach to growing its grapes and making quality wine. The careful attention to vineyard practices coupled with a delicate handling of the fruit and wine throughout its time in the winery results in wines that are elegant, balanced, well structured and integrated. Red grape production includes Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Petite Syrah, Mourvedre, Malbec, Grenache, and Cinsault.
Of all the Temecula wineries, Wiens is known for its quality red wines, “Big Reds,” and with good reason—the winery (and the family behind it) is almost obsessively focused on producing a world class Bordeaux blend. Tasting their Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, it is hard to believe that Temecula can produce luxury reds among the highest quality in California, and yet still somehow remain under the global radar.
“Making wine is a family thing,” says Doug Wiens, winemaker and viticulturist for Wiens Family Cellars. “We have a large and tightly-knit family with a broad range of talents, all contributing to the success of our business.” And over a glass of any one of their luscious reds, Doug is very likely to gush about how much he loves working both with wine and with his family. “We enjoy the company of friends, good food, and fine wines. Our goal is to create a place where people feel right at home – part of our family.” And certainly Wiens has proven that they can succeed—whatever they put their minds to.
Ponte Vineyard Inn and Bouquet Restaurant
35001 Rancho California Road
Temecula, CA 92591
Callaway Vineyard & Winery and Meritage Restaurant
32720 Rancho California Road
Temecula, CA 92591
38311 DePortola Road
Temecula, CA 92592
Monte De Oro Winery & Vineyards
35820 Rancho California Road
Temecula, CA 92591
Wiens Family Cellars
35055 Via Del Ponte
Temecula, CA 92592
Learn more about Temecula Wine Country at: temeculawines.org
Photographs by Jeffery Owens for Socially Superlative