The People. The Passion. The Perseverance.
This is the motto of the 50th Anniversary of the Temecula Valley Wine Country. This year, 2018, marks the 50th Anniversary of Temecula Valley Wine Country. Press and writers were invited to attend a 10-course wine pairing dinner called “Behind the Wine Bottle” to celebrate this anniversary. The food was courtesy of Executive Chef Leah di Bernardo of E.A.T. Extraordinary Artisan Table, a local restaurant and marketplace in Temecula. Wine pairings were courtesy of Leoness Cellars, Robert Renzoni Vineyards, and Doffo Winery. From the layout, to the execution, wine, and food; everything was TOP NOTCH. It was a very impressive event and one that I was very grateful to be able to attend.
The wine history of the Temecula Valley actually goes back more than 50 years. Wine grapes were first planted by Spanish missionaries in 1820. 50 years ago in 1968 is when the first commercial vineyard was planted by Vincenzo and Audrey Culurzo. The first commercial wine (from Temecula Valley grapes) was not produced until 1971 by Brookside Winery. And in 1984, the Temecula Valley was officially recognized as an AVA. Trouble struck in the 90’s when Pierce’s Disease (which comes from the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter) wiped out 40% of vineyards in the Temecula Valley. Vines were re-planted in the latter part of the 90s to more diversity, including grapes of Italian, Rhône, and Iberian heritage.
Temecula has a thriving wine scene with over 2,500 acres planted and over 40 wineries operating. 23 million people live in Temecula and the surrounding areas, which gives the region a “built in” audience. It is the perfect day or weekend trip for many in southern California. So much so, that over 91% of Temecula wine is consumed locally. Not leaving much for “export” out of the area. Temecula has suffered from a not so stellar reputation over the last couple of decades, but I can authoritatively say that quality here has skyrocketed and Temecula can stand confidently next to many classic wine regions in the world.
And now, for the food and wine details!
Aperitif: Carter Estate Brut (approx $35)
Chardonnay grapes from the South Coast. This wine is dry, yeasty, and toasty. Everything you could want in a sparkling! Quite respectable and enjoyable.
Grilled Peach Toast (Almond Ricotta, Seeded Bread, Pistachio Dust)
Pairing: Leoness Cellars 2017 “Melange d’Été"
This wine is light, crisp, and off-dry with 1.5% RS. It is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, and a few other. Melange d’Été means “blend of summer” which is quite fitting. A perfect name for this aromatic white. This wine gives me citrus, green fruit, and an abundance of tropical fruit (peach, apricot). “Like with like” is a great wine pairing rule that rings true here. I also had the pleasure of sitting with Tim Kramer, winemaker at Leoness. Quite fun to enjoy wines with the winemaker at your side!
Local Halibut (Smoked Créme Fraiche and Forged Greens)
Pairing: Robert Renzoni Vineyards 2017 Vermentino
First off, the smoked créme fraiche on this dish was to die for. We could not get enough. And fun fact, Robert Renzoni was my first and only wine club many years ago. Now that I am intimately involved with wine, I like to pick it all out myself, so a wine club doesn’t work for me. I digress! Vermentino is an Italian variety. The Italian expression would generally be more nutty and have more minerality. This guy is more fruit-forward. The wine sees a super cold fermentation for 30 days. The cool helps to preserve the fresh fruit aromas. On the nose I get citrus (lime), green fruit (pear), and tropical fruit (melon). On the palate, lots of stone fruit plus tropical fruit (pineapple and lychee).
Cook’s Pig Heritage Pork (Strawberry Variation, Confit Belly, “Bone Marrow”)
Pairing: Robert Renzoni Vineyards 2015 “Lyric Rose” Rosé of Syrah
This wine is named after Lyric, Robert’s daughter. It is made in the Provence style with lower brix, sugar, and alcohol. The wine is totally dry though it has a candied/confected red fruit (watermelon and raspberry) note. In regards to the food, this dish is divine. On another level. Chef Leah somehow managed to make a chimichurri with strawberries. And the pairing is stellar. The red fruit notes in the wine bring out the strawberry in the chimichurri. And the meatiness of the Syrah works well with the pork belly.
Palate Cleanser: Fermented Beets and Sauerkraut
I love fermented/pickled anything and they did a good job with the execution of this course. See picture below: it was passed on a tray with small forks. A nice way to switch gears and give everyone a break from another plate dropped in front of them.
Cheese Course (Triple Cream Brie, Oak Cracker, Honeycomb)
Pairing: Doffo Winery 2017 Viognier
The Doffo family is from Argentina, where my people come from! This wine sees concrete egg fermentation, which is said to add minerality. We dined with Damian Doffo, winemaker, as well as his father. This low-acid Viognier with a delicately perfumed nose is their only white wine. I find many aromatic wines a bit “in your face”. This one is not. The palate is also delicately perfumed, floral, and feminine. Plus, the pairing works well: fat with fat. Public Service Announcement: For god’s sake, don’t buy grocery store strawberries.
Beets & Berries (Beets, Local Berries, Whipped Chévre, Walnuts)
Pairing: Leoness Cellars 2014 Cellar Selection Meritage
This wine definitely has some power on the nose. Predominantly Merlot based with some Cabernet Franc. It’s a masculine, strong, and assertive red. The Cabernet Franc lends green, vegetal notes. A well-balanced wine with integrated oak use. I get red plus black fruit, black pepper, earthiness, and a slight funk. This is also a nice pairing.
Braised Lentils (Spiced Beluga Lentils, Pimentón, Soft-Cooked Quail Egg)
Pairing: Doffo Winery 2015 Motodoffo “Gran Tinto”
Why I have never put a soft-cooked egg on top of lentils, I will never know. On to the wine! This wine is 85% Zinfandel plus 15% Petit Syrah. A big boy. Hellooooooooo New World (both on the nose and the palate). I get fruit, fruit, and more fruit. Plus some chocolate and Raisinets (I have never used that descriptor before!), but it’s a good way to convey a raised note with chocolate.
Pairing: Robert Renzoni Vineyards 2014 Estate “Sonata”
A lovely wine with some heat on the nose (it makes my sicilia stand on end!) and a very approachable palate. This wine is a blend of Brunello plus Cabernet Sauvignon. All estate fruit. A solid, good wine.
King Trumpet (Seared, Sprouted Grains, “Steak Sauce”)
Pairing: Doffo Winery 2015 “Mistura”
This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. A lovely nose with a fruity, juicy palate. Some of the fruit is ripe, almost raisined but I like it. Structured. A very appealing and approachable wine. Fantastic pairing.
“Coffee” (Iced Granita, Toasted Hazelnut, Vanilla)
Vanilla Bean Gelato (Braised Figs, Port, Armagnac)
Pairing: Leoness Cellars 2014 Signature Selection “Grande Mélange"
This is a Châteauneuf-du-Pape style blend of Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, and Mourvédre. This wine has grace, elegance, soft tannins and can stand to age a bit. A delightful red to finish off dinner.
Temecula has everything a successful winegrowing region should have: history, land, people, passion, and the tools. With this event, my expectations of Temecula have been exceeded. And I am confident that I am not the only one. People's view of Temecula and Temecula's wines will only go up from here!