Monthly Archives: October 2013

3 Things I Learned about Wine in Temecula


I’m no sommelier, but I’d to think that I know more about wine than the average American, though most of it was self-taught. One of the best ways to learn about wine is by reading and tasting… in the presence of Company! And you have to have a passion for it.

In Temecula, I was pretty impressed with the wine knowledge of the wine reps/bartenders/servers at each of the wineries. I don’t know why I didn’t expect that. Maybe because it’s been a while since I’ve been to wine country. Maybe it’s because I’ve been to nice restaurants where people pronounce Viognier and Pinot Gris incorrectly.

For the record, they are Vee-yoh-N’YAY and PEE-no GREE.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been to places in the Twin Cities where people who should have the knowledge just don’t. Not that it’s that important for them to know. Because how many guests do they get that really care?

In any case, in my experience, the knowledge in Temecula was on par with other well-known regions in California. They knew which grapes were Rhone varietals and which were Bordelais. AND they knew things I didn’t know.

And I liked it.

It’s one of the things I’ve always loved about wine. There is always something else to learn. It never gets old. It never gets boring. Wine trends change. Flavors and styles change. Your palate evolves.

Here are three things that I distinctly remember learning in Temecula:

1) Champagne

I’ve mentioned before that a sparkling wine is not truly Champagne and cannot be called such unless it is from the Champagne region of France. However, at Wilson Creek they make an Almond Champagne. I don’t know why I didn’t think twice about it. Maybe I thought the name was just gimmicky. But a gal tasting next to us asked how on Earth they could call their product Champagne.

“It’s because the law didn’t go into effect until 2007. Anything produced before that, already having that name was grandfathered in. In addition, if anyone truly wants to, they can call their sparkling wine ‘champagne’ as long as it has a lower-cased ‘c’,”

I had no idea.

It was that recent? I truly believed that they just couldn’t call it Champagne. Of course, a search on the Internets offers conflicting information on the origins and laws. It’s a bit more detailed and complicated.

Still, I have noticed that the higher end sparkling wines in the U.S. will just indicat that they use the m├ęthode Champenoise. I believe that they want to show respect for the region, but also indicate that they use the same rigorous method.

methode champenoise

2) Estate Grown

At one winery, the wine rep touted about a particular wine, “This wine is 100% Estate Grown.” Knowing that the term “reserve” means nothing {except to that particular vineyard} and that wines in the U.S. can be labeled by varietal as long as it consists of of 75% of that labeled grape, I wasn’t really sure if Estate Grown meant anything. So I asked…

“Is Estate Grown a legal term?”

“Why yes,” he said without hesitation. “For a wine to be labeled Estate Grown, it must be made of at least 95% of grapes grown on that estate. However, this particular wine is made of 100% Estate Grown grapes.”

It’s common for wines to be produced from grapes all over a region or outside of one vineyard. So to have a wine grown from a particular vineyard block is a big deal. However, what constitutes any particular “estate” is still a puzzle to me.

3) American Oak vs. French Oak

Okay, I’ve read a gazillion pages of tasting notes with my ten years doing in-home Wine Tastings for The Traveling Vineyard. Most of these notes indicate how long the wine was aged in oak. However, I never really paid much attention to that because most of my guests didn’t care. But at South Coast Winery, when Gregg was helping us choose which wines to sample, he mentioned that one was particularly smooth because it was aged in French oak, NOT American oak.

“Do you know the difference?” he asked. I was actually sort of embarrassed. Why? Because for as long as I’ve been doing Wine Tastings, I felt like should know. But I also knew that if someone asked me, I didn’t have the explanation at the tip of my tongue.

So here you have it:

American oak has a wide grain versus the tight grain of French Oak. The tight grain gives the wine a more subtle and refined taste. That’s a pretty generic descriptions in my own words. If you are looking for a longer explanation, click here.

But we could taste it in the wine.

Seriously. Even if it was the power of suggestion… Shit, this Cabernet was smooth. No wonder why so many high-end French wines are smooth, velvety and elegant. But they cost more, too. That’s because French Oak is more expensive. It’s also the reason why it’s not very common to see many everyday American wines fermented in French Oak. It’s costly to procure those French oak barrels.

And if you didn’t know this already, some of the most mass-produced wines take the short cut and just put oak chips in the wine to soak. Seriously. Who wants that?


What’s something surprising that you learned about wine lately?