Tag Archives: wine tasting

10 Tips for Tasting in Temecula Wine Country


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…


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.


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!


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:


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?


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:


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!


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!


Sending Back a Bottle of Wine


You are in a restaurant for a nice night out. You order a bottle of wine… and you *know* the markup is at least 100% on the bottle. That’s one way that restaurants make money. There are a lot of overhead costs for storing and serving wine, too. But when the sommelier or server brings it over and opens it for you and pours you a taste…

…when is it okay to send it back?

When you are given the opportunity to taste the wine, make sure you follow the steps of Wine Tasting; just do an abbreviated version. No one – your dining companions included – wants to wait for you to do a thorough examination of the wine. You can tell almost immediately if the wine has gone bad. Here are some tips:

  1. Don’t smell the cork! Contrary to popular belief, this is actually a faux pas. It will tell you nothing. The cork is given to you for two reasons: 1) For you to examine – Wine running down the cork can tell you that air may have seeped into the bottle, oxidizing it. 2) Tradition – Long ago, opening the bottle at the table and offering the matching cork proved that was truly the wine in the bottle, that it wasn’t a nice bottle refilled with another wine.
  2. Swirl your glass. Draw circles on the table with the base/foot of the glass to get a good swirl without spilling.
  3. Smell the wine.
  4. Taste the wine.

The cork on the left is from a bottle where air may have seeped in and oxidized the wine.

If the wine has gone bad, that is when you can send it back.


But how do you know if the wine has gone bad?

Trust me. You will know. Do you want to drink a wine that smells and tastes like a wet newspaper or rotting cardboard? I thought not.

But just in case you still aren’t sure check out the Wine Portfolio‘s descriptions on how a wine can go bad and when it is appropriate to send back.

But what if you don’t like the wine?

Can you send it back then?

In terms of etiquette… no. Otherwise, we all could just have the restaurant open bottles and bottles for us to taste until we find the one we want. That would be quite an expense to the restaurant.

In fact, the restaurant where we hosted our wedding reception in Pensacola, Florida, had wines on their list worth thousands of dollars. In this case, these wines could not be sent back, regardless if the wine had gone bad or not. Check out their Reserve List policy at the bottom of the page:

Reserve List

McGuire’s Irish Pub Reserve Wine List

While McGuire’s Irish Pub houses a wine cellar meant to take care of such wines, anyone who cellars wine knows that opening aged wine at any given time is a gamble.

Instead of worrying if you are going to like a bottle of wine or not, let your server or sommelier know what you tend to drink or what type of wine you are looking for – dry or sweet, fruit forward or earthy, for example. Or choose something safe. If the menu has names you recognize or lists wines you’ve had before, choose one you like. For me, if I see something from Sonoma County, particularly the Russian River Valley, I know I will probably like it. Still, I personally like to try wines I’ve never had before. To try something new, I don’t mind the risk. I’ve found some of my favorite wines this way!

An Exception?

All of that being said, I did meet someone who was quite knowledgeable about wine who disagreed with me about when it is appropriate to send back a bottle.

She said that she wouldn’t be reluctant to send back a wine she didn’t like if she is at the type of restaurant where the staff should be knowledgeable about their wines, especially if there is a sommelier. If she gives them a description of what she likes to drink or what she is looking for that evening and asks for a recommendation, but that wine fails to live up to her expectations or the description she is given, she sends the wine back.

I understand her point, but I don’t know if I could be so bold. I brought up the the cost to the restaurant for opening this bottle and the inability to sell it once it is opened. She explained that the restaurant could offer the bottle by the glass as a special that night.

I never thought of it that way.

Then I thought of one night while dining at Sul Lago, Shawna offered us to try a wine that wasn’t normally offered by the glass. We never would have had the opportunity to try it if it hadn’t been opened and sent back. Sure we paid $10 or $12 per glass for that wine, but it was sooooo good!

Besides, I kind of like the idea of wines changing based on what the restaurant has or wants to open that night, rather than having a set wine list. Our favorite wine bar in Sorrento on our honeymoon was like that. Every night, different wines were listed on the chalkboard and erased when gone:

Wine List at Bollicine in Sorrento, Italy

Wine List at Bollicine in Sorrento, Italy

So while it’s perfectly acceptable to send a wine back if it has gone bad, it’s still bad form to send it back if you just don’t like it. If you do, chances are the restaurant will still appease you. However, you will most likely look foolish to the restaurant and to the other guests there if you put up a stink, especially if it’s a standard mass produced wine!

But what do you think about if a wine was recommended to you based on your preferences?

Would you send a wine like that back if you didn’t like it?

Please weigh in on your thoughts on this one!

And finally, the winner of last week’s Wine Wednesday Vacuum Wine Saver Pump Giveaway:

Emily at Blogging Runner!

Emily, please send me an email with your address at UncommonWine (at) Yahoo (dot) com and I’ll send you your Wine Saver. Congratulations!


Wines for the BBQ!


Yesterday, The Traveling Vineyard announced a two-day sale on great wines for the 4th of July. I had fully-intended on making today’s Wine Wednesday post about wines that complement our favorite foods on the grill anyway. So why not share these deals with you? You do know that I like a deal, don’t you?

I mean, really? 20% off? That’s MY DISCOUNT!

This sale started yesterday, so these prices are only good through today – 6/20/12!

So here is my take on what to pair with these wines for your summertime barbecues:

Bright Eyed Bird Pinot Grigio

Get out that bag of kettle-cooked potato chips! This is one to sip on why sitting on the deck. Don’t forget your wine chiller! It’s been popular for both red and white wine drinkers and can also pair nicely with salads or pasta salads with a little bit of grated parmesan or asiago. Or, just about anything pesto will do.

Zeffer Hills & Tria Chardonnays

You won’t get any harsh oak bombs here! In the summer, we want the fruit to shine through, but love that slightly buttery finish. Perfect with buttered corn or buttered popcorn on those rainy movie nights. Note: The Tria is a steal for a Magnum sized bottle – perfect for a party!

Tanglerose Backyard Red

One of my all-time favorites, this wine will not disappoint the red wine lover. Although this wine is made from Italian grapes grown in Sonoma, think of a big bold spicy shiraz or zinfandel. This is the one to pair with barbecue sauce!


Thinking burgers and brats? How ’bout a nice grilled pork tenderloin? Then, this is the wine for you! A lightly peppery finish.

Tanglerose Sweet American Rosé

This is a sweet one. Got friends who only drink sweet wines? This is handy to have in your fridge when they stop by this summer. Or, it’ll make a lovely dessert. Dessert wines should always be sweeter than dessert itself. The perfect pairing for this one? A tangy key lime pie!

Remember: Sale on these wines only available through 6/20/12.

Click here to order. No coupon code necessary.

Let me know if you have any questions or would like some other pairing ideas for summer.

Or host your own Wine Tasting to give any of these wines a try.


The Importance of Company

When it comes to wine, this is one of my favorite philosophies:

The Importance of Company

from Wine-A-Day Calendar – 2005


“Ask any pro how he or she learned so much about wine, and the answer will probably be by tasting a lot. When it comes to acquiring wine knowledge, there’s no substitute for tasting extensively. It’s the thousand-tennis-balls theory: The more balls you hit, the more you improve your swing; the more wines you taste, the more wines you’ll know. But there is a little proviso in here that wine pros often forget to mention. To learn about wine quickly and effectively (and to have the most fun in the process), it helps to have company. That’s because a partner will detect flavors in a wine that you didn’t; a partner will like wines you don’t; and so on. A partner, in other words, causes you to expand your thinking and, as a result, your knowledge. A group works well, too. In fact, as wine education goes, group wine tastings are not only a blast, but the cost of learning is shared if everyone pitches in for the wines. Moral of the story: Round up some like-minded friends and watch your wine knowledge expand exponentially.”

This is how I learned about wine! When I first started doing Wine Tastings, a bunch of us got together on a weekly basis and took a Wine Spectator Class online. We’d read the lesson during the week and take turns getting the wines to sample during our meeting. It was so much fun!

But you don’t have to pay for a Wine Spectator Class to do this. You can host your own in-home Wine Tasting. I provide the wine and glasses. You provide the cheese, crackers, dark chocolate and friends. It’s just one way to learn about the Importance of Company.

Name one way you’ve found tasting wine in groups helpful!