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.