Tasting in Temecula

It’s been quiet around here lately.  Too quiet, and I’m sure “real” bloggers are cringing at the silence.  But I’ve been out tasting and traveling, and today I’m back with a discussion on California’s Temecula Valley.

Never heard of Temecula?  Well, you’re in good company and there are a few reasons for its obscurity.  For one, it’s pretty small – only 40-ish wineries call Temecula home, and you can drive from one end to the other in about ten minutes.   It’s also pretty far off the beaten path for most wine travelers, located about halfway between LA and San Diego.  To top it off, the wineries here are fairly small, so their wines are rarely found outside of Southern California.P1150558

Until recently, any visit to Temecula would be a short one – there were scarcely enough wineries in the valley to make a day of it.  And what you’d find were mostly sweet wines and flavor-infused sparkling wines.  Nothing wrong with that of course, but it did mean that the region was always overshadowed by it’s bigger brothers to the north.

Fortunately for wine lovers the tide in Temecula is changing.  While the sweet wines and fruity bubbles are still there, the region is upping its game on the more traditional reds and whites.  Many could easily hold their own when compared to similar wines produced in other parts of California.  The Italian white varietal Arneis really shines here as well as Muscat made in a range of styles.  For reds there’s a huge variety, but Syrah and Zinfandel in particular are worth seeking out.

With over 40 wineries you can easily spend a couple of days here.  Wineries in Temecula fall into two broad categories: tiny-production family wineries, and large “chateaus” with plenty of room for busses and limos.  There’s really no middle ground.  Both are making pretty good wine, but I greatly prefer the smaller places which are less crowded and thereby offer more personalized attention.

If you’re a first time visitor, Hart Winery is a great place to start.  This small family winery is the first one on the map and serves as a great introduction to the wines of Temecula.  If you’re not sure where to go from there, they’ll offer some solid recommendations of both large and small wineries.

Tasting fees in the region are generally $10-$15 for 5-6 pours.  Most places hold you pretty strict to that number, often by using poker chips to keep track of your pours (a blatant and tacky tie-in to the nearby casino.)  However, an extensive collection of 2-for-1 tasting coupons is available at http://www.temeculawines.org/wineries-vineyards/coupons.php .  A few appear in the printed Temecula Visitor’s Guide as well as on winery web sites.

P1150556The nearby casino is your first hint that despite being a legit wine region, Temecula has also become a party destination for Southern Californians with money to throw around.  In fact, weekends here can be nothing short of miserable, especially during the summer as the larger wineries become crowded and  temperatures can exceed 100 degrees.

So if you’re trying to save a buck here, avoid weekends!  For inexpensive hotels, check out nearby Corona and San Marcos, or even San Diego.  In fact, combining Temecula with a visit to San Diego is a great way to experience the region, especially if you’re a beer lover (since that’s kinda San Diego’s thing.)

If you get hungry, your best option is to head back into the city of Temecula or pack a picnic.  Several wineries are picnic friendly and offer first-come-first-serve picnic areas for groups of 10 or less.  Many of the larger wineries do have restaurants on site, but most are unjustifiably expensive and only open on weekends.   The one exception seems to be the deli at Cougar Vineyard & Winery where you can get a pretty good deli sandwich and drink for about $10.

So, should your travels take you to southern California, or if you just happen to be in the mood for something a little different for your next wine trip, give Temecula a shot.  I’d be curious to compare notes!

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