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3 Things I Learned about Wine in Temecula

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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 méthode 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?

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

Cheers~
Carrie

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California Winery of the Year

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Happy Wine Wednesday!

We didn’t know it until we got there, but while we were in Temecula, we were stayed at the California Winery of the Year.

The friend who recommend visiting Temecula Wine Country also recommended that we stay at the South Coast Winery Resort and Spa. She knew that Rob proposed to me at the vineyard where we stayed in Tuscany. She had been to Tuscany as well and said, “You guys will love it because it’s the closest thing you’ll experience to Tuscany here!”

She recommended getting a villa with a vineyard view. I told her about the of the Gulf of Naples view I somehow scored for us on our honeymoon to the Amalfi Coast thanks to the Trip Advisor reviews on Hotel Il Nido. Rob took full advantage of the balcony and sat out there long after I got chilly and retired each night.

“Oh! He’ll love this, then!” She said.

The view from our private patio

The view from our private patio at South Coast Winery.

I’ve never done a review or “impression” of a hotel on this blog. Quite frankly, hotels are often an afterthought for us. Generally, we just like to find an affordable place to sleep in a safe neighborhood. However, I did a little extra research on hotels for our honeymoon. I highly recommend Trip Advisor. While you’ll find negative reviews on every place listed, you’ll find the reasons people like or dislike a hotel or restaurant and it’ll help you decide what you want for your experience.

Because we were going to wine country and celebrating ten years together, I was willing to spend a little more money than we would on a basic hotel room. And you can’t forget the location factor! South Coast Winery is located pretty much in the epicenter of all of the other vineyards you might want to visit.

We really did enjoy our stay at South Coast and we would most definitely stay again. But I thought I’d share what we liked and disliked about our stay to give you a sense of what is important to you when you are choosing a place to stay.

I was disappointed in:

  • The front desk service – It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t personable. We were the only ones there when we checked in. All of her questions and instructions seemed robotic, not sincere. With no one else behind us, she didn’t ask what brought us to South Coast or if we were celebrating something special. Okay, that would be superior service. But I felt more valued at The Westin in Pasadena. {A new-to-me hotel chain with which I’m quite pleased!} The same gal checked us out and I felt the same way. She did ask if I would take the time to fill out a comment card/satisfaction survey, though. But I felt like it was just procedure. I wanted to, but we had to get to the airport and didn’t have the time.
  • The decor in room – I need to get over this one. It wasn’t that bad. It just felt a bit dated. I KNOW – First World Problems. I think the website portrayed a better looking room. Or maybe I was just coming down from L.A. traffic stress and wanted to be over-the-top-wowed.049
  • We went during the off season – So, this can be a pro or con and is not the resort’s fault. There didn’t seem to be anyone else staying there! The grapes were already harvested and we saw no hot-air balloons. Hey, wait a minute… If there were very few people there, why didn’t they offer to upgrade us? Maybe if they would have asked if were celebrating something…
  • They didn’t refill the coffee – We were lucky enough to have a Keurig in our room with two K-cups of regular coffee, two decaf coffees and two teas. We used the two regulars the first morning. They never refilled it. Okay, so we could have asked…
  • The bed – I woke up with a backache every morning. Since I’m prone to back issues, take that with a grain of salt. Though I was completely content with the beds in both Pasadena and Beverly Hills earlier in the trip. Maybe I was just longing for my bed at home by this point. I was also hot. I couldn’t find the right temperature/cover ratio.

But here’s what I LOVED about South Coast Winery Resort:

  • The private patio facing the vineyards outside our door – We could literally step outside and be in vineyards, even pluck a grape. We left the patio door open the first night and heard what we thought were coyotes! So cool! {We stayed in a Deluxe Vineyard King Villa.}
  • The Keurig & fridge in our room – We made coffee the first morning with the Keurig and took it out on our private patio. They didn’t refill it though. So if we wanted something the next morning, it’d have to be tea or decaf coffee. We picked some supplies up from Baron’s Marketplace to munch on for breakfast and in the evening. It was great to have the fridge for cheese, fruit and water.
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  • The location – Right in the heart of Temecula Wine Country!
  • The bottle of wine in the room – Along with the room, we received a complimentary bottle of wine. I didn’t give it much of a look and we didn’t drink it while we were there. However, we have opened it at home since we’ve been back. It was a 2005 Merlot! At first we thought that maybe they put the “drink-now-wines-that-are-about-to-turn” in the rooms. But after we opened it, we learned that wasn’t the case. It was one of the better merlots I’ve had in a long time. Kudos to South Coast for not skimping on that one!
  • The spa and underwater music in the pool – I didn’t get the opportunity to try the spa, but I have at the last two California wine resorts where I’ve stayed. And I can say that it’s really nice to have a spa on site. However, one thing Rob and I truly missed out on was the pool. When a wine rep at another winery learned that we were staying at South Coast he asked, “Have you tried the pool? There is underwater music!” Damn. We forgot our suits. TIP: Just like I keep a corkscrew in my suitcase that never comes out, Rob has now vowed to keep a swimsuit in his suitcase that stays there.
  • The restaurant – We dined at the Vineyard Rose for a late breakfast the morning after our day of tasting. Again, I was disappointed with the somewhat dated decor. But the South Coast Huevos Rancheros made me giddy with happiness because they were so flavorfulThe scrambled eggs were combined with chorizo, pepperjack cheese and pico de gallo. A flour tortilla was served on the side with borracho beans, hashbrowns and a Merlot fruit cobbler that I. Could. Eat. Everyday.
  • The specials – Just for staying at the resort, we received Passport which included a two-for-one tasting, restaurant and spa specials.
  • We went during the off season – Yes, this was on my list of disappointments. However, as we know, that can be a good thing, too. I have no idea if we’d have to wait for a table or tasting if it was a busy time of year.
  • The Tasting Room – Because we went during the off season, we walked right up to the bar with our two-for-one tasting tickets. We got personalized attention from Gregg, who let us taste wines he thought we’d like side-by-side. He also led us to a great burger in town. Oh, and did you know that South Coast has won more awards on their wines than any other winery in the entire state?!
  • The Wine Club – We joined South Coast’s Wine Club! The only other one we really considered was Danza del Sol. We took our first shipment home with us and have loved all that we’ve tried. Rob keeps saying that he’s glad that we joined this one. It’s really opened our eyes up to some interesting wines. We had a Syrah that we weren’t too sure about at first. But after it had time to open it up, it kept evolving in the glass. I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I’ve had that happen! With the wine club, we get to relive our trip every time we open a bottle.
    Check out this wine menu!

    Check out this wine menu!

    What’s the most interesting place where you’ve stayed on vacation?

Cheers~
Carrie

Old Town Temecula

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We arrived in Temecula on a late Monday afternoon and checked into our suite at South Coast Winery. It was too late to begin Wine Tasting. Most wineries close at 5pm. So we took the time to pick up a few provisions at Baron’s Market {We love this place and wish we had one near us!} and then headed down to Old Town for some dinner. We had originally planned to drive down to Escondido to visit Stone Brewery and try out some recommended Carne Asada there, but we were just too beat from the L.A. traffic to drive anywhere further. We liked feeling settled at home base.

I don’t know why I never thought of Temecula as reminding me of the Old Southwest. But, duh, we were in the Southwestern part of the U.S.

And I definitely got that vibe when we ventured into Old Town. While I doubt (m)any of the buildings date back to those days, the architecture of the quarter still retains that character.

And because all of my California vacation posts are going to be out of order, you won’t mind if I tell you about the end of our evening in Old Town first, right? As we were driving away in the night, I noticed a building on the hill, that was lit up, almost glowing, in a pink hue.

“That must be something an important!” I said. I made a detour to drive past it. It was such a grand building. We came to learn that it was the Temecula City Hall/Civic Center and the pink was lit up for October Breast Cancer Awareness month. It was absolutely beautiful. {And I don’t even like pink!} 

Here is a photo from the City of Temecula’s Facebook page:

In Old Town, there is an assortment of independently owned shops and restaurants to discover. That night, we had a hankering for some Italian. But we weren’t yielding the results that suited us on Trip Advisor and Yelp. So we found a place to park and walked Front Street. We happened upon…

Crush & Brew

Crush & Brew is bar/restaurant specializing in local wine and beer. Everything on their beverage menu hails from Southern California! This place was right up our alley. Because I didn’t know what to choose, I started with a Wine Flight. It was delivered to me in this little wine tree!

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The wines I tried:

037The bartender didn’t put them in the order that they should be tasted. {All wines should be tasted white to red, lightest bodied to fullest bodied, dry to sweet.} So I tasted them in the order I thought they might go. The favorite of the bunch for both of us was hands down the Leoness Zin. It was then that we decided that we should probably put that on our winery list for the next day.

The beer list was incredible. While I sipped my wines, Rob enjoyed a couple of brews from this list, one which included the Aftershock Jess Y James:

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Rob really enjoyed talking with our bartender about the brews. He noticed Rob’s interest and pulled out a map for us in which he started to mark up the nearby breweries! This is how we started to plan for our own Temecula Brewery Self-Tour.

While we were at it… “Could you please recommend some wineries!? We are tasting tomorrow and are too overwhelmed by all of the options.”

And so began the process for mapping out our wine route, too. 😉

We had fully intended to dine here as well, until we took a look at the food menu. Nothing was speaking to us. So I did another little Smartphone search to see if there were some other options in Old Town. I found a couple and told Rob to hang tight and enjoy his brew while I walked around the block. Palumbo’s, the Italian place, was closed on Monday nights. But Blackbird Tavern sure looked inviting! There was no menu outside the door, so when I returned to Crush & Brew, Rob and I pulled the menu up on our Smartphones.

DONE!

The only problem? We walked right in. Their door was literally openIt was a beautiful night.

“Uh. Sorry. We have a private party only tonight,” I was told as I pulled a seat up to the bar.

Boo hoo.

So we walked to the corner and stepped into…

The Edge

At The Edge, we took a seat at the rounded bar and ordered some great local beers on tap – the Wiens Type 3 IPA and Refuge Blood Orange Wit, not knowing that we would be visiting those breweries not too far down the road within two day’s time! Because it was still Happy Hour for the Monday Night Football game, we ordered a few apps to split.

As we waited for our food, an older gentleman (who I thought was the owner) saw that we had a map and promptly came over to give us advice on where to stop for wine tastings the following day. This is the man who asked:

“What kind of wines do you like?”

“We tend to like big Cabs and Zins,” Rob told him.

This question, I learned, was key. At first, while I appreciated his suggestions, I wondered if he was just giving us names of those people who were his friends and telling us to steer clear of people he didn’t like. Some of his recommendations were the same as those from the younger server at Crush & Brew. But he also told us to skip a couple that were recommended. Truth be told, he was spot on with his recommendations!

Then our Happy Hour apps arrived:

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Black n Blue Sliders, Garlic Fries and Fried Pickles

Those just aren’t any sliders there! They are two beautiful medium-rare, perfectly-seasoned mini burgers with a special melty blue cheese sauce, and topped with shoestring onions with julienned beets and carrots on the side as additional toppings. They were so good that I don’t remember much about the fries (except that I ate them), that I ate one pickle and passed on the rest and that we put in a second order for sliders!

The funny thing is, that we weren’t the only ones! Our bartender said a couple on the patio did the same thing after trying their first round.

The menu online doesn’t seem to be up-to-date because none of the items we ordered appear on the menu. But I will tell you, that Rob and I agree that these are…

The best sliders we ever had!

~

Truth be told, we did get our Italian fix at Palumbo’s on Wednesday night, post-brewery tour. However, I’d consider it more of an Italian family joint. The food was good, but nothing too refined. We were so tired and in need of nourishment that it didn’t even occur to me to take photos there. And we ordered an excellent bottle of local Sangiovese (Renzoni) for only $28. That’s a steal for a great bottle at a restaurant!

There’s one more place I want to talk about in Old Town, but you’ll have to wait until next week…

To learn where we tasted wine, click here.

To learn which breweries we visited, click here.

Is there a place near you that only serves local beer, wine or food?

If so, what do you like best about it?

Cheers~
Carrie

Temecula Breweries

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When I was planning our trip to California, I thought it would be a great surprise to take Rob to a few craft breweries. I started out on this California Craft Beer website and zoomed in on the greater Los Angeles area. I wasn’t sure if we’d have time to hit any before heading down to Temecula, but I noted a couple, just in case.

Then I remembered that one of our faves, Stone Brewing Company, was in Southern California and tried to figure out if we’d be able to hit it. As I zoomed in on Escondido, where Stone is located, I noticed on the map that there were a few craft breweries right in Temecula! With a little more help from The Google, I found the Temecula Breweries website!

I made a note of the hours and locations of all of the breweries, in hopes that we could hit a few while we were in Wine Country. Yes, I intended to drink beer in Wine Country. I knew it was quite probable that we would get wined out. And we did.

With the help of the same locals recommended wineries, we were able to plot a route and pick some breweries that were near each other. This was not unlike our plan for Wine Tasting!  We picked five breweries and intended to visit the one furthest from Old Town first so that we could end by having dinner in Old Town.

Note: Brewery Tasting Rooms in Temecula are generally open from 4pm to 8pm. Some are not open Monday and Tuesday.

This was perfect for our trip because after a day of tasting the previous day, we had time to sleep in, have a late breakfast, pack for the next day’s early morning departure and have a late, late lunch before hitting the breweries.

And so I give you the Temecula Breweries we visited, in the order of visiting them. Rob collected a pint glass from each.

1) Ironfire Brewing

“Ales for Outlaws.” Ironfire does a great job of encompassing that Old Southwest feel that you’ll still find a bit of in Old Town Temecula. I love the names of their beers! And while you can’t read them at all in the photo below, I loved that they looked like they were burned into wood and hung on the wall, just like you might expect during those times.

093They offer beers by the pint, half-pint and flight (sampler) in their small, standing-only tasting room. Rob enjoyed a half-pint each of the Viscious Disposition Imperial Porter and the DOA Double IPA. I had a half-pint of the Six Killer Stout and snuck a taste of their Cucumber Ale. That would be such a refreshing beverage in the summer!

Ironfire is a newer brewery and the bartender was excited to show us the growlers they just got in! Of course, we couldn’t take one with us, so I snapped a photo. How fitting with their theme!
095And in the bathroom, I found a reward poster for Billy the Kid…

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We liked this place so much that we weren’t sure how the rest would compare! But we ventured onward anyway.

2) Black Market Brewing

According to a bartender on our first night in town, Black Market is the oldest brewery in Temecula. But I’ve just learned that it opened in 2009!

098The bar where these brews were served did not have a seat available. This place was busy! So I told Rob to order two beers that he wanted to try and I’d just have a few tastes. It was my turn to drive!

So we grabbed our Revolution Oatmeal Stout and the Scottish Export 80

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It was Happy Hour, so these pints were only $3.50 each!

…and wandered into the overflow room where we sat at some picnic tables. I liked how the barrels below separated the sitting area from the tank room.
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3) Wiens Brewing

Yes, this is the family who owns Wiens Winery. We weren’t impressed with their wines, so we were curious about their attempt at beer. When we walked into Wiens, it was completely empty. There was no one there. Hmmm… I did like the layout of their beer menu on the wall, though.

102I proceeded to order the Chocolate Porter while Rob ordered a Bourbon barrel-something-or-other called Descend.

103I am so into bourbon barrel-style ales right now! However, they are very high in alcohol, that I knew they wouldn’t be on my menu for the evening! The aroma of this one was right on par with the ones I like. However, the chocolate in my porter tasted forced – almost like someone added Hershey’s syrup to it. I had half and gave the rest to Rob to finish.

We were there for almost an hour and I can tell you that during that time, only one person stopped in. I’m not sure why that is. But almost across the road {within walking distance} was…

4) Refuge Brewery

Rob wanted to skip this one because they are known for their Belgians, of which he is not a fan. I told him to give it a chance. There is no reason to not stop when we were so close.

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This place was hoppin’! It appears that this was the happy hour place to go. It only got busier while we were there.

107Rob made a detour to the restroom and I pulled up to the bar. It was time for a sampler. I explained to the bartender that my husband didn’t like Belgians. I asked him to put together a sampler of beers that just might change his mind…

108Blood Orange Wit {Belgian Style White Ale}, Rampart Red {American Red Ale}, Pumpkin Saison {Farmhouse Style Ale}, Vertigo {Belgian Imperial Style IPA}

Ding! Ding! Ding! The Vertigo won in Rob’s book that night! But I totally missed that they had some Bourbon Barrel “Reserves”!

109After whining that I totally missed those, our bartender gave us a couple little tastes of the Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Ale as well as the Four Roses Bourbon Barrel Ale, which was my favorite. I’m so glad that he gave us tastes because I wouldn’t have been able to drink a $6 glass and then drive and Rob probably wouldn’t have been able to drink a $6 glass and stay awake!

You could also learn a thing or two at the Refuge Brewery…

5) Aftershock Brewing

For us, Aftershock was kind of an Afterthought. I almost skipped it because I just couldn’t find it. That is because it’s in a warehouse-type complex all around the back and I didn’t see any signage. I had to call them to get some landmarks. It was a quick visit because we were in need of some dinner. I believe Rob chose a unique beer with strawberry or something of that sort. He had already had the Jess y James Imperial Stout at a bar in Old Town on our first night. So good. At the local supermarket, we could easily spot their beers, marked in green and gold and all. 😉

So we bought our pint glass, she threw in some coasters and we made our way to dinner…

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In the end, we didn’t make it to Stone Brewery, even though we love their stuff. But that’s okay. We can get their beers back at home. And we had a few specialities on tap while in Cali. The way a local put it, “In California, it’s the battle of the North and South: Lagunitas vs. Stone. I’d rather support the local, little guy while I can.”

What’s your favorite local beer where you live?

I just may have to give it a try when I’m in your neck of the woods!

Cheers~
Carrie

10 Tips for Tasting in Temecula Wine Country

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There’s a reason that you’ve probably heard of Napa and Sonoma, but haven’t heard of Temecula Wine Country. Some of the wines in Temecula are decidedly… meh. But there are some really great ones, too!

The trick is to find them.

Because of that, we decided to offer you some tips to make the most of your experience should you go to Temecula one day. And you should! Temecula is a worthy destination. In fact, we will probably return. One of the things that surprised me most {but now makes sense} is the almost desert-like Old Southwest feel. But that’s for a post later this week…

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10 Tips for Tasting Wine in Temecula

(In no particular order.)

1) Get recommendations from the locals.

There are 40+ wineries in Temecula. We weren’t expecting that. In addition, my trips to Sonoma and Napa were all-expense-paid by The Traveling Vineyard. I was spoiled. I didn’t have to worry about transportation. I didn’t have to plan my meals. I didn’t have to choose wineries. We went to the little, boutique ones that supplied the wines for our tastings.

A friend gave me a list of her favorite wineries and ones we should skip. I was still overwhelmed. I just wished that there was a list somewhere of all of the wineries and vineyards in Temecula with a note next to each indicating what it is known for or makes it unique. Okay, so you can get historical and other info here, but the information doesn’t help me decide which vineyards I’d like best.

So when we were out to dinner our first night in Tememcula, we asked for recommendations. The truth is, you’ll get differing opinions. Which, at first, confused me even more.

“What kind of wines do you like?” asked the owner of a restaurant in Old Town.

“We tend to like big Cabs and Zins,” Rob told him.

This question, I learned, was key. He could recommend wineries that suited our tastes! At first, while I appreciated his suggestions, I wondered if he was just giving us names of those people who were his friends and telling us to steer clear of people he didn’t like. {Truth be told, he was spot on with his recommendations!}

In the end, we knew that we still couldn’t do all of the wineries recommended. So we narrowed them down by making sure to hit the ones that more than one person notes or the ones whose descriptions sounded good based on what we liked. Then we planned a route.

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2) Plan a route: Start with the winery furthest from you and make your way back.

After you’ve determined which wineries to hit, make a plan. We were staying at the South Coast Winery. We planned our day so that if we couldn’t hit all of those we wanted to, we could finish up with the ones closest to our home base the next day. I originally planned two days for tasting, but was concerned that we’d get “wined out.”

Therefore, it’s important to do the tastings that you don’t want to miss the first day.

Most wineries are open 11am – 5pm. (A few open at 10am, and a few close at 4pm or 6pm.) Make sure you take that into consideration when planning your route, too.

You can find a map of Temecula wineries here.

3) For a more personal experience and/or better service, go during mid-week or during off-season.

We arrived in the late afternoon on a Monday and did the bulk of our tasting on a Tuesday. We’re also told that October tends to be a bit slower. Win-win for us! We had a lot of personal attention. Some of these tasting rooms were huge! I can’t imagine them completely full on the weekends. How would you even get to taste or learn anything?

When we tasted, there were usually five people or less in the tasting rooms when we were there. Rob hates crowds so I was thanking my lucky stars that things worked out this way.

On some occasions, we were the only ones in the tasting room. On others, even it was busy, we always got a spot at the bar and could ask questions about the wines. As much as I like to think I know about wine, I learned a thing or two!

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A Sparkling Sangria from Wilson Creek

Also, some wineries only offer certain wines in their restaurant that are limited and not usually available for tasting. If they have some leftover from the weekend on a Monday or Tuesday, you may get to try them!

4) Plan to visit only four to six wineries a day. (NOT 8!)

This is why, with 40+ wineries and maybe only a day or two in Temecula, you need to pick wineries that suit your tastes!

We had planned to hit about six wineries that Tuesday and had a couple extra on our list in case we had more time.

We did eight.

This was TOO many.

I’d like to think that palate fatigue was the reason I had trouble differentiating or appreciating the wines at the end, but I will admit it probably had something to do with having too much to drink.

In the same respect, it goes without saying, you need to decide who is going to drive. {Unless you go on a tour where that is provided for you.} Rob was designated that day. {My turn was the following day!} So he tasted a lot less. {The next tip explains how.} And we actually parked and walked from our resort to the 8th winery because it was right next door.

5) Split your Tasting.

This was one of the best things we did. We knew that we couldn’t taste all day long and still have one of us drive, so we *hoped* it would be okay if they let us split a tasting. Besides most tastings were $15 for six tastes. That could really add up at the end of the day for the two of us! {Six wineries for two people would have meant about $180!}

We were so happy that at our first tasting that the wine rep asked us if we preferred to share a tasting or if we wanted our own. All of the other wineries followed suit and had no problem with it. It seemed common and even the norm! Whew! We also found that each taste was about four good sips, so it was perfect for us.

Tastings generally cost $10 – $15 and offer four to six tastes. At each winery, you receive a card with a space for your server to write down each of your tastes {so they know how many you have remaining} or you’ll receive tickets to redeem tastes, like this:

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6) Not comfortable splitting? Find two-for-ones.

Okay, so I get that you might not what to split your tasting with someone who’s not your S.O. Or maybe you are going with a group of girlfriends and you just met Suzy yesterday. Or Jane tends to be a drinker, so you’re worried that you’ll only get half of a sip. To make it more affordable, see if you can find some two-for-one coupons/cards. That’s what this “Ladies-in-Hats” bachelorette party from Alaska did before they went off to enjoy the view.

I found a two-for-one coupon before our trip online and printed it off of the winery’s website. I was so proud until Rob pointed out that the expiration was June 30th. Oh. They really need to update that. I forgot about it until…

We stopped in at Danza del Sol. We were the only ones there! The wine rep asked us if we had a two-for-one deal. Rob said, “Uh, no. How would we get one of those?!” I think he was hoping he’d offer the two-for-one anyway.

But he said, “Well next time, just go to the Wine Grower’s Association website.” {You enter your email to have deals sent to you.} “Wait! I might have a couple of them for you.” He gave us two-for-one coupons to three other wineries! SCORE!

Another benefit of two-for-ones is that even if you are tasting with your S.O., there are often too many wines to choose from on the list. If each of you gets different wines, you each get try twice as many! Some wine reps liked to showcase the wines side-by-side. For example, a zinfandel from this year or that or with grapes from an entire vineyard vs. a block or a wine aged/fermented in French vs. American oak.

Because we were staying at the South Coast Winery {more on that next Wine Wednesday!} we received a “Passport” that included a BOGO Wine Tasting as well.

7) Talk with your server/wine rep/bartender.

We were lucky enough that it wasn’t too busy that we could really talk with and ask questions of the people pouring the wines. But even if you do come when it is busy, they are there to serve you. They may be busy pouring like crazy, but if you want to get the most of your experience, you need to determine which wines you really want to try either because a) It’s a wine you’ve never had before and it sounds interesting or b) you might want to buy it.

First, look at the menu. What looks good to you? In what do they seem to specialize?

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This Callaway menu is one of the smaller ones of the bunch and was one of our least favorite wineries, but you get the point.

Then, tell them what you like, but be open-minded.

If you say, “I only drink Cabs,” then you aren’t going to be impressed every place you go. Cabs might not be their specialty.

I often said, “We tend to drink big reds at home. But what are your specialties? What are you known for? What do you have that might surprise us?” I know that from doing in-home wine tastings that sometimes what you think you will like is different than what you will that day! The dry Riesling at Miramonte was exceptional. I adored the dry sparkling wines and ports at both the South Coast Winery and Wilson Creek. The Petit Verdots and Mourvèdres at many of the wineries like Danza del Sol were some of the best.

The wine rep will steer you in the right direction if you give them the right information. Show your interest. Show your passion. If it’s slow enough, they may even give you extra tastes or special pours. 😉

We went to one winery where I swear a 22-year-old version of Justin Timberlake took us through every red on their menu. We only paid for five tastes there. But he was so excited that we liked reds and that he’d be talking with people who appreciated the same styles of wines that he did that he wanted us to experience them all. It was fantastic!

And don’t forget to tip! A couple of bucks is fine. We liked to tip mid-way through the tasting. If we really liked the wines and were hoping for specialty pours, we’d even throw in a fiver.

8) Plan a lunch in between & drink water deliberately.

We had a tentative lunch planned. We did pick up some groceries when we came into town the night before. So my  breakfast consisted of a small portion of the grapes and cheese with the bread in this picture:

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Our intention was to stop and eat at one of the wineries that offered food. But it didn’t happen. By the time we were hungry, we weren’t too impressed with the winery that had a restaurant (Callaway), that we skipped it entirely. That wasn’t such a good idea.

Wineries do offer tap water. But it is usually in a location across the room. You need to make the effort to go there and get yourself a glass. Or keep a filled water bottle in your car and force yourself to drink X amount after each tasting.

9) Join a Wine Club or two!

To relive your Temecula Wine Country experience while you are back at home, join a wine club. How do you choose? There were a few wineries where we found a wine we really loved, but we weren’t so keen on the other ones we tasted. Then there were wineries were we liked all of the wines.

That is the club to join.

They usually offer many types of clubs, so you can do reds, whites, mixed, sweets or bubbly. There’s something for all tastes. We ended up joining the South Coast Reds Wine Club. The other club we considered was Danza del Sol. If you sign up on the spot, you can take your wines home with you and get your next shipment delivered. {Just be sure to pack your wines carefully in your checked luggage!} If you want to decide later, just make sure your wine reps info is on the order form, so that they get the credit. Most of the clubs are shipped quarterly, not monthly. So that helped us decide that the cost was worth it.

10) STOP… and smell the roses grapes!

Don’t rush. Enjoy the views, like those hat ladies did…

…and the art, too.

Or just take time to pet the vineyard dog!

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So I know you want to know… Where did we go?

On that gorgeous Tuesday, we visited the following wineries in this exact order:

  • Leoness – great Zins, tried an excellent Cab Franc, beautiful view
  • Danza del Sol – great reds, loved nearly all of the wines we tried!
  • Wilson Creek – known for their Almond Champagne. We liked their dry bubblies and ports!
  • Miramonte – beautiful views!
  • Callaway – only because we had a 2-for-1
  • Lorimar – excellent reds, known for music on the weekends!
  • Wiens
  • Ponte

The next morning, we visited the winery at our resort at South Coast after breakfast.

Our favorites (in no particular order):

  • South Coast
  • Danza del Sol
  • Lorimar

Ones we would definitely SKIP or advise to skip next time:

  • Callaway
  • Wiens
  • Ponte

The only other one we were recommended, but didn’t do was Briar Rose. They require reservations for their tastings. I thought this meant that they were more formal and elite and perhaps more expensive. But it sounds like it means that they just have a smaller tasting room. We had intended to make reservations and go on day two, but we were all wined out.

Overall, we loved tasting in Temecula. Although there are several wine regions we want to visit, we do hope to return one day. We might fly into San Diego next time, though, just for a change!

Have you ever done wine tasting like this?

If so, list your favorite thing and your number one tip!

Cheers~
Carrie