Tag Archives: Temecula

Discover Temecula: Thornton, Wiens & Leonesse Wineries

Continued from Discover Temecula: Briar Rose Winery

After my introduction to California’s Temecula Valley at Briar Rose Winery it was time for lunch at Café Champagne.  The restaurant located at Thornton Winery serves contemporary fusion cuisine in a cozy French country setting overlooking the vineyards.  The best part is you don’t have to choose between food and a tasting of Thornton’s wines — you can enjoy a wine flight with your meal.

Thornton Winery opened in 1988 and produces a variety of white, red and sparkling wines.  I went right for the red wines and ordered the Zin Lover’s Flight.  This included the 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel from Cucamonga Valley, the 2007 Huis Vineyard Zinfandel from Temecula Valley, the 2007 Estate Petite Sirah from Temecula Valley and the 2006 Late Harvest Zinfandel from Cucamonga Valley.  My favorite was the 2007 Huis Vineyard Zinfandel, which was barrel aged for 22 months in 41% new American oak and 59% two year old French oak.  The wine had jammy blackberry and cherry flavors with cocoa and spice on the finish.

I also got to try the Sparkling Wine Flight which included Thornton’s NV (non-vintage) Brut, NV Blanc de Noirs, NV Cuvée Rouge and NV Cuvée de Frontignan.  All are made using the traditional Champenoise method.  I like my sparkling wines to be dry, so I found Thornton’s a little sweet for my taste.  Of the four I enjoyed the NV Brut the most.  It is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc with a small amount of Pinot Noir, with notes of golden apple, pear and creamy toast.

While the setting was lovely, the experience was marred by slow and uneven service, though there were only a few other tables filled.  Once I was able to get the attention of a server and order, the sparkling wines arrived flat.  The server was apologetic and brought out a new flight, but I found it odd that the restaurant would send out a poor representation of Thornton’s wines.  I hope I dined at Café Champagne on an off day and that this is not the norm.

After lunch I went to Wiens Family Cellars.  The winery was founded in 2001 by Doug Wiens and his brothers George, Jeff and Dave.

Wiens Family Cellars prides itself on its red wines.  And I could see why, after tasting some that ended up being my favorite from my visit to Temecula.  But first I started with a really nice white, the 2008 Solace.  Bright with nice floral, pear and citrus notes, the wine’s flavor matched the sun on its label.  The blend of 44% Viognier, 41% Chardonnay and 15% Roussanne was partially aged in French oak and on lees, adding creamy flavors of caramel and vanilla.

I then tried a variety of red wines including a Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel and a couple of blends.  My favorite of the single varietals was the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.  It was smooth and spicy, with flavors of blackberry and plum.

My favorite red overall was the 2008 Domestique, a blend of 45% Grenache, 26% Syrah, 26% Mourvedre and 3% Sangiovese.  It was a delicious mix of black fruits and earth, with flavors of black currant, blackberries, plum, spice and leather coming together for a pleasing, lingering finish.

I ended the day with a few more whites and reds at Leonesse Cellars.  The winery was founded in 2003 and its name means “village of dreams.”  The tasting room is perched above the vineyard, offering great views as you sip.

Of their white wines that I tasted, my favorite was the 2008 Roussanne, which had delicate floral aromas and flavors of ripe lemon, apricot and honeysuckle.

On the red side I enjoyed the 2007 Cinsaut, 2007 Melange De Rêves and 2007 Limited Selection “Six.”  The light bodied 2007 Cinsaut reminded me of an Oregon Pinot Noir with its fresh cherry and strawberry flavors and a hint of vanilla and clove.

The 2007 Melange De Rêves is modeled after Rhône wines and is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsaut.  It was medium bodied with flavors of ripe raspberries, boysenberries, tobacco and black pepper.

The 2007 “Six” is so called because it is the sixth release in Leonesse’s Limited Selection Series line of wine.  It’s a blend of 85% Sangiovese, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Merlot that was aged in small French and American oak barrels.  It had spicy flavors of plum and black cherry, rounded out by violet and eucalyptus.

I went sweet for my final wine with the 2008 Late Harvest Muscat Canelli.  It was rich without being syrupy, with notes of peach, apricot and honey.

With Temecula being home to more than 30 wineries, I barely scratched the surface during my one day trip.  I definitely plan to return to discover more.


Thornton Winery
is located at 32575 Rancho California Road and is open daily for tastings from 10am to 5pm (6pm on Saturdays).  (951) 699-0099

Cafe Champagne is open for lunch and dinner.  Reservations can be made at (951) 699-0088.

Wiens Family Cellars is located at 35055 Via Del Ponte and is open daily for tastings from 10am to 5pm.  (951) 694-9892

Leonesse Cellars is located at 38311 De Portola Road and is open daily for tastings from 11am to 5pm.  (951) 302-7601

For more information on Temecula Valley wineries visit www.temeculawines.org.

Discover Temecula: Briar Rose Winery

Tucked away in a valley in southern California is Temecula, one of the state’s lesser known wine regions.  While it may not yet have the name recognition of Napa or Sonoma, Temecula is home to more than 30 wineries.  At just 90 miles southeast of Los Angeles and 60 miles north of San Diego, Temecula is waiting to be discovered.

Visitors to Temecula should bring an open mind and an open palate.  There you’ll find family-owned wineries that have fun with nontraditional blends and a wide variety of grapes.  Planted in Temecula are Bordeaux and Burgundy varietals like in Sonoma and Napa, Rhône and Mediterranean varietals like in California’s Central Coast, and a few other varietals from other parts of the world thrown in for good measure.

I started my tour of Temecula wine country at Briar Rose Winery.  The cottage that houses the tasting room is almost as charming as owner Dorian Linkogle.  Warm and welcoming, Dorian spoke about her wines with such enthusiasm that I couldn’t help but like them even before I took my first sip.

Briar Rose produces about 2,400 cases of wine.  All are unfiltered, with no added sugar.

We began with two white wines: the Estate Viognier and 2009 Gewurztraminer.  The Viognier had sweet citrus aromas with notes of grapefruit, honeysuckle and lemon zest on the palate.  If you could drink in the garden setting it would taste like Briar Rose’s Gewurztraminer, which had lovely off-dry flavors of apricot, lychee and rose petals.

As I was enjoying the wines Dorian explained the origin of our fairytale setting.  The original owner worked for Walt Disney and built a replica of Snow White’s cottage for his wife.  Dorian and her husband Les (Briar Rose’s winemaker), bought the property in the early 1990s.  After years of selling their grapes to neighboring wineries they opened up their own winery in 2007.  Briar Rose takes its name from another fairytale, the princess in Sleeping Beauty.

Before moving to the reds Dorian poured me a taste of the 2009 Fumé Rosé.  The wine is 100% Sauvignon Blanc that is aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, a process that gives the wine its light pink color.  Light and refreshing it was a great sip on the hot day, with a mix of citrus flavors, dried cherries and not quite ripe strawberries.

From there I tasted a variety of reds: three vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon (2003, 2004 and 2007), the 2007 Katrina Estate Zinfandel, 2004 Petit Verdot and 2007 Cabernet Franc.

I particularly liked the Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.  The first had big flavors of cherries, blackberries and plum with gripping tannins that gave the wine good texture.  The Cabernet Franc had a fragrant nose of red fruits and flavors of raspberries and black plum with a spicy finish of cloves and tobacco.

As we were enjoying the jammy red fruit flavors of the Katrina Estate Zinfandel, Les came into the tasting room with a barrel sample of the 2009 Zinfandel.  Cloudy purple-red in color, the wine had flavors of fresh raspberries that will only get better as the wine continues to age in oak.

After finishing with the traditional wines and curious to find out what exactly was a ‘wine lager,’ I asked for a taste of Briar Rose’s Talking Frog Hefe-N-Vine.  It was created by the winemaker as a mix between wine and beer — unusual, but quite tasty.  It’s made from 100% Viognier that was fermented with yeast used to make hefeweizen.  The wine lager had a head similar to beer, with small bubbles like a sparkling wine.  The sweet bread aromas and flavors of apple and honey made for a crisp and refreshing sip.

With its intimate and enchanting setting, along with a variety of enjoyable wines, Briar Rose is the perfect place to kick off an exploration of Temecula Valley.

Briar Rose Winery is located at 41720 Calle Cabrillo in Temecula, California.  Tastings are by reservation only and can be made by calling (951) 308-1098.

For more information on Temecula Valley wineries visit www.temeculawines.org.

Click here for Discover Temecula Part 2: Thornton, Wiens and Leonesse

It’s Time for Wine: Petit Verdot – The James Dean of Wine

Kind of dark. Brooding. Powerful without being overpowering. Perhaps not for everyone’s taste. Such are the descriptors used by entertainment writers over the years for a number of distinctive actors, but the one that comes most immediately to mind is James Dean (though in Rebel Without a Cause Sal Mineo was the darkest character – too dark). Dean, on the other hand, met the criteria above, and further, like a good wine, he could also show off range, style, and an ability to attract an ultra loyal fan base.

Every so often we do something at our home in South Florida that has not (as far as we can determine) been done before. In years past we have amassed almost all of the Charbonos and all of the Pinotages produced in California, and had them tasted by a qualified panel of judges. This week we did the same with the increasingly popular Petit Verdot, which possesses all the characteristics ascribed to James Dean (we just wish we had come up with the connection between the two, but that honor goes to Dine Magazine’s Patrick Sullivan).

Wine lovers are usually aware that Petit Verdot is one of the modern five red “Bordeaux Varietals,” just as they are aware that generally it is used in small amounts to blend in some power and structure to other wines, such as Merlot or Cabernet Franc. Truth be told, however, there are more than five Bordeaux varietals (Carmenère – a sixth – is making a comeback in the New World). Petit Verdot, currently out of favor in France due to its long ripening season coupled with France’s poor late season weather, is now being bottled as a single varietal in many areas of the western hemisphere and Australia.

The impetus behind Petit Verdot being bottled on its own, or having added to it a small quantity of Merlot or Cab, most certainly comes from the American psyche that includes creativity, invention and ingenuity, and an American way of life that declines to impose winemaking rules merely due to tradition. Winemakers here are rarely satisfied with the “status quo” and constantly search out the newest envelope pushing techniques and products. Thus came single varietal Petit Verdot not so many years ago, and, to the surprise of almost everyone you ask now, there are over 30 being made in California, over a half dozen in Virginia, and more in Australia, Canada, and other countries.

As mentioned, everyone knows a good Petit Verdot should be strong on tannins, deep purple in color, and possessed of some spices that will enhance whatever wine to which it is added. On its own, however, one might ascribe to the wine the following descriptors in varying combinations: blackberry, pencil shavings, tar, cedar or other woods, cigar box, vanilla, oak, and leather.

OK – to our Florida tasting of last week. Participants included four writers, a sommelier, the leading independent retailer in South Florida, two collectors with top palates, and a restaurateur who maintains an award winning wine list. Each wine was judged as to whether, hypothetically, a medal should be awarded, and, if so, which one. They were also ranked as they compared to each other in the minds of the judges, with each rank being worth designated points. Ultimately we ended up with a result that mirrored the comments of the judges pretty closely.

After the formal blind tasting and ranking, we then took the five wines with the top scores and for fun blindly tasted them again and ranked them next to each other. Kind of like the NCAA “March Madness” where teams have a ranking before the tournament, and then usually have a different ranking after head to head competition.

As far as we know, all wines made in California were included in this tasting except Mazzoco (declined to participate), Homewood (the vintner listened and never called back), Carmody-McKnight and Goosecross (these 2 did not even have the courtesy to answer 2 emails, 2 phone calls, and a fax), Martin-Weyrich (they actually sent a bottle but with their present troubles we did not include the wine), Ledson (they called 3 times to say they would participate but never sent anything), and James Cole (they donated, but the particular bottle we received was defective so we did not rate it – we will retaste and comment in a future article). Because of the relative few Petit Verdots being produced, we put all of them in side by side competition regardless of vintage.

General Conclusions:
-The vintage did not seem to matter when these wines were tasted next to each other. It may have been to a great degree because the panel was made up of professionals who could often identify whether the vintage was fresh or had been around a few years. Nevertheless, the wide range of vintages among the top ranked wines pretty much obviates this factor as a consideration when buying Petit Verdot.
-The location was clearly important insofar as imparting structure and complexity. This tasting was performed blindly by the entire panel, and so no undue subconscious influence can be charged. When one views the results, it really is no surprise that Napa would far and away lead the preferences for a Bordeaux varietal. Six of the seven Gold medal wines were from Napa, and the last five in line were from outside the Napa Valley.
-The price of the wines could be correlated to conclude that one does in fact need to spend more than a nominal sum to buy the better Petit Verdots. The upper echelon wines were all $45 and above, while the lowest scoring 10 wines all had price tags of $35 or less (except Lange Twins, which asks $45).
-Value, on the other hand was a completely different story. Reminding you that the judges on this day are all well familiar with wine prices, it was the general consensus that the prices being asked for many of these wines are more related to the present panache of the varietal than the actual quality of the wine. While almost everything we tasted was pleasant and enticing, almost all of them lacked the complexity one looks for in an expensive wine. To pay $125 (Anderson’s Conn Valley), or $105 (Briar Rose), or $75 (Frazier), or even $68 (Bourassa), one would have to find far more in the glass than did this panel, even though we appreciated all four of the wines enough to assign three gold medals and one silver, Clearly upon looking at the results, you can find top of the line Petit Verdots from $40 – $60, the range where our panel felt comfortable in recommending them if one was seeking quality and value.
-The biggest surprise was the showing of Briar Rose Winery from Temecula. We were stunned to see their Website, with wine prices as high as $1300 per bottle (this is, after, all Temecula), and the asking price for the Petit Verdot is way out of line at $105 in our opinion. However, when you talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk, and this winery did exactly that in this tasting by garnering a Gold medal and high rankings.

Our special congratulations go to Stonegate and Bourassa for earning the most points to tie for first place in the tasting, and also to Trinchero Family for winning the head to head competition among the top five scorers.

Perhaps all that is left is to actually show you the full results. If we have missed a producer, please let us know. It is never too late to taste and at least write about what we find. Maybe a bottle that will remind us of this generation’s James Dean – Johnny Depp.

Rank and Hypothetical Medals from April 11, 2010, Petit Verdot Tasting at the home of Monty & Sara Preiser:

1.    2004 Stonegate ($60) – Gold (Napa)
1.    2005 Bourassa ($68) – Gold (Napa)
3.   2005 William Hill ($45) – Gold (Napa)
4.   2007 Trinchero Family Central Park West ($50) – Gold (Napa)
5.   2004 Briar Rose ($105) – Gold (Temecula)
6.   2006 St. Supery ($50) – Gold (Napa)
7.   2005 Ehlers Estate ($45) – Gold (Napa)
7.   2004 Frazier ($75) – Gold (Napa)
9.   2006 Jarvis ($44/375ml.) – Silver (Napa)
10. 2005 Sawyer ($54) – Silver (Napa)
10. 2006 Imagery ($39) – Silver (Sonoma)
10. 2007 Ferrari-Carano ($38) – Silver (Sonoma)
13. 2005 Trahan ($35) – Silver (Napa)
13. 2006 Stryker Rockpile ($45) – Silver (Sonoma)
15. 2005 Murphy-Goode ($28) – Silver (Sonoma)
16. 2006 Ballentine ($38) – Silver (Napa)
17. 2005 Anderson’s Conn Valley ($125) – Silver (Napa)
18. 2005 Markham ($40) – Silver (Napa)
19. 2006 Heitz ($35) – Bronze (Napa)
20. 2005 Truchard ($35) – Bronze (Napa)
21. 2005 Rutherford Hill ($35) – Bronze (Napa)
22. 2006 Mietz ($30) – No Medal (Sonoma)
23. 2007 Grands Amis ($25) – No Medal (Lodi)
24. 2006 Lange Twins ($45) – No Medal (Lodi)
25. 2007 Linden ($28) – No Medal (Virginia)
26. 2007 Justin ($39) – No Medal (Paso Robles)
27. 2006 Crystal Basin ($28) – No Medal (El Dorado County)

“PLAY-OFF” OF THE TOP 5

1.   2007 Trinchero Family Central Park West ($50) – Napa
2.   2005 William Hill ($45) – Napa
2.   2004 Briar Rose ($105) – Temecula
4.   2004 Stonegate ($60) – Napa
5.   2005 Bourassa ($60) – Napa

It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.

Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for Sallys-Place.com.  Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley, the most comprehensive guide to wineries and restaurants in the Napa Valley, published every March, July, and November.  Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.