Tasting the wines of California

Anyone can take grapes and ferment them into something resembling wine, but it takes a true artisan to make some that is truly great. The only way to really experience what California wine is all about is to experience the wineries themselves.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Filsinger - Temecula

I want to like Filsinger. The people are nice, the tasting is cheap, and the wines are among the cheapest in Temecula.

Unfortunately, I don't. Neither does Patty. The wines all have this weird funk to them, something that says "this isn't right" and I can't get away from it. The two cabs they were pouring were the best of the bunch, but cost about twice what I would pay for them. They have a sweet zinfandel called "sweet desire" that isn't bad if you like that sort of thing.

Not a bad stop simply because the tasting is cheap and the people are nice, but if you are crunched for time you have better options.


Falkner - Temecula

A bigger winery, with a very nice tasting room and restaurant etc. The last time I bought a bottle of Falkner I believe I called it "twelve buck chuck" although that might have been a LITTLE harsh...

We've never tasted there, so we decided to head there first. First off, it's expensive. $8 minimum, up to $16 for eight tastes of their regular and premium wines. We bought the $8 tasting, because it seems very obscene to pay $16 to taste wine unless you are at a world class winery, which Falkner is not.

They had four reds and some sweet nonsense. We tasted the four reds, and they were unremarkable. Patty wasn't as disappointed as I was, but we weren't impressed. Then I asked if they could pour me something red other than the sweet wine, and was told "that's all we have" which is a blatant lie. They had lots of other reds, but they want to charge more to taste those and were unwilling to accommodate even one taste. News flash: If you want me to buy wine, you should probably let me taste it first.

People who pour more wine, sell more wine. We left Falkner and won't look back. $8 to taste four mediocre reds definitely is one of the worst deals anywhere.

Pass on this one.


Sunday, November 04, 2007

Frangipani - Temecula

Frangipani was a real surprise. These guys are on the "other" main road, the one that has a lot less traffic, but some excellent wineries. We have never been there before, and decided to pop in for a taste. They charge $10 to taste all of their reds, which while expensive is still a much better deal than many of the wineries in Temecula.

What was a treat was that they have some big wines that clearly will benefit from aging. The Cabernet Sauvignon in particular was exceptional. The Petite Sirah was also well worth drinking. The facility is nice, the people were delightful, and the wines were high quality and meant to be aged. I wasn't impressed by the Grenache or the Sangiovese, but the rest was worth a taste.

Highly recommended. We'll be back.


Foote Print - Temecula

This is a small family owned winery that makes very good wines, although they are quite different. They have a Cabernet Franc that is unique to any Cab Franc I've ever had. It's almost like a jammy Petite Sirah. They only make about 1000 cases a year total of all of their wines.

They have a good cab, an ok zin, a very unique and tasty cab franc, a late harvest zin, and a few other odds and ends. They are generally only open on the weekends, and they are wonderful people to visit with. You can also pet the horses, although watch out for the brown one, he snaps.

They also sell a selection of organic fruit from their gardens.

This is one of those don't miss wineries. We love the place.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

Ramon Rios - Tracy

Tracy? Yes, Tracy. Ramon Rios is a small little winery that specializes in portuguese varietals. They currently sell a 2003 tempranillo, a 2004 tempranillo/barbera blend (90/10), and a very nice port. I really like their port because it isn't nearly as sweet as most other ports. It has a very regal flavor profile to it. Unfortunately, my wife didn't like it so we didn't buy it.

We did take home the 2004 tempranillo/barbera. Nice wine, much better than the 2003.

They also have a chardonnay, but I didn't taste that one...


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Hart - Temecula

Hart comes highly recommended by others in the Temecula Valley. One of the oldest wineries in Temecula, Hart is a wonderful little stop. The tasting room is very small, but a recent rearrangement has opened it up quite a bit. We had a great time at Hart, enjoying the company of other guests.

Unfortunately, Hart's wines are hit or miss. The volcano ridge wines are very good, but fairly expensive. We have purchased the 2002 Cab from them in the past, but the current vintage (2003) isn't nearly as good. They also sell a Zinfandel from the Lopez Ranch in Cucamonga, and it isn't worth purchasing. They had a very limited bottling of Barbera which was good and reasonably priced, so we took a bottle home.

If you are a red wine fiend, Hart is worth a stop because there are some gems here, but there are better choices in the Temecula Valley.


Baily - Temecula

Baily is usually a quick stop for us, as we love their Sangiovese. It is very good, and very reasonably priced, especially for Temecula. This is the perfect burger or pizza wine (ok, Fenestra's True Red holds the title for the very best pizza wine) and we usually pop in and pickup a few bottles. Today we did a full tasting, and it merited a writeup.

The "TV Red" Sangiovese continues to be excellent, and we purchased several bottles as per our custom. The other standouts on their menu were an excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, and their Meritage. Baily's Meritage is the most expensive wine I've ever purchased in Temecula, at around $40 per bottle. That's Steven Kent territory, and a wine has to really be exceptional to get me to spend in this price range. We bought another bottle today, in addition to the Cabernet and our usual Sangiovese.

Baily has a very attractive facility, with a nice tasting room and a restaurant that we have never been in. Baily should be part of any Temecula wine tour.


Calloway - Temecula

Across the street from Thornton is Calloway, a winery we had never been to before. Calloway looks fairly industrial from the street, but don't be deceived. There is treasure hidden inside. The tasting room has a fantastic view, and they've taken full advantage of it with large windows looking out over the Temecula valley.

They have two flights of wines you can taste, a regular and a reserve. The reserve is worth the extra $5, but I would skip the first two red wines and have them pour the first two red wines out of the "regular" flight. The Merlot and Syrah, both part of the "regular" flight were quite good. In fact, the one wine we took home with us was the Syrah. On the other hand, the final three reds are well worth tasting in the reserve flight.

Calloway was a pleasant surprise. We didn't expect much, but really enjoyed our visit.


Thornton - Temecula

Wow, where to start. Well, first of all, that's part of the problem. Unlike every other winery I've ever been to, Thornton does not have a wine tasting bar. Instead you have to sit down in the "Champagne Cafe" at a table, get a menu, talk to a waitress etc. Rather than a traditional flight for tasting they have preset "groups" that you can pay to taste. The whole experience is very odd, and very expensive. $15 to taste four wines and no glass? Yikes!

But are the wines worth it? In a word: No. We tried two Champagnes and two reds. The Champagnes weren't bad, but were terribly overpriced. As for the reds? Well, the Cabernet had a nose of pickles. Pickles! Unfortunately, it didn't taste any better than it smelled. I still can't figure out how they managed to make red wine smell like pickles.

So in summary: No wine bar, expensive, bad wines, and snooty as well. What's not to like? Everything.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Crystal Valley Cellars - Lodi

Crystal Valley Cellars is a winery in the cosentino family dedicated to producing wines outside of Napa. Their wines are excellent. The 2005 CigarZin is excellent, reminding me of all the good notes from the 2002 vintage (the 2004 was disappointing). The 2002 Lodi Cab gives the Cosentino Napa cab a run for its money at a fraction of the price. The 2003 is good as well, but needs some age.

CVC has a lot going for it, and should be the last stop you make anytime you visit Lodi, just be sure you have money left over to spend, because you will want to take some of their wonderful wines home with you.

We did.