Barreling around Temecula wine country

The rolling hills of Temecula Wine Country were alive with wine lovers at the recent Harvest Celebration and Barrel Tasting, an annual event that I especially enjoy. Winemakers and owners are side by side offering samples from the barrels and recently released bottles, getting firsthand reactions before they go to market.
First stop is the check-in area at one of the first wineries visible on the main entrance, Rancho California Road. This year it was Callaway Vineyard and Winery, where visitors picked up a “treasure map” of how to get to all the 25 participating wineries, what was being tasted and gourmet food samplings. A glass, serving tray and punch card were provided, and away we went first to Callaway.
Callaway is significant since it was Temecula’s first winery, started some 40 years ago. Businessman Ely Callaway saw the future and deliberately ruled out a winery in Napa Valley. Instead, the pioneer in him came out and he built and planted on a Temecula hillside. Present ownership is now emphasizing Mediterranean varietals.
Their selections included the 2005 Special Selection Merlot and the 2005 Winemakers Reserve Chardonnay, with a barrel tasting of the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.
We then stopped at the tucked-away Disney-style setting of Briar Rose Winery. Les and Dorian Linkogle are specializing in small-lot limited production estate reds and whites of the most premium style. You must call ahead to taste, but it is well worth it!
You can always expect the unexpected from winemaker Les, who was offering a barrel sample of a Zinfandel/Barbera blend and the world-famous Briar Rose Wine Lager Beer blend. With a twinkle in his eye, he took me back into the barrel room and together we sampled a 100-year-old barrel of Port.
It was sweet and sensuous, like no other port I have tasted.
After a lengthy reunion with Briar Rose, we set off for nearby Falkner Winery where owner Ray Falkner was offering his Gold Medal winning 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, another Gold winner, the 2005 Cabernet, and the barrel favorite, a 2007 Merlot. This estate selection had rich, dark cherry flavors and was beauty in a barrel. Falkner has a “4 for 3” sale going this month where you buy four and pay for three. The winery’s Pinnacle Restaurant is offering a “Holiday Lunch Special” Nov. 27 through Nov. 29 for $55 a couple including a glass of wine each. Call (951) 676-8231 for reservations and exact hours.
On the way to stop No. 4, I noticed a huge new winery in the final finishing stages. The impressive Monte De Oro will open in early December and has an underground barrel room and panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and the valley, retail center, tasting and banquet rooms and outdoor patio. It sits across from La Cereza Vineyard and Winery, owned by my good friends, Buddy and Cheri Linn.
This is a historic Spanish-style winery, with such Old World favorites as Gold winners Garnacha and Tempranillo, and a cigar bar named after Ermest Hemingway. Their spotlight wine was the first red in the “Girlfriends” series, the Vino Rojo “Red Girlfriends,” a blend of Merlot and Petite Sirah. Another new creation was the 2005 Ortpo, La Cereza’s late harvest port. It’s a blend of Petite Sirah and Zinfandel.
Our final stop as we ran out of time was Robert Renzoni Vineyards on the newly named De Portola Trail, south of Rancho California Road. The Renzoni family has a long history in the wine business and a year and a half ago, this vineyard was opened and billed as the true Italian style winery in Temecula. From Pinot Grigio to Sangiovese, the luscious earthy taste of old Italy floods your senses. On this day they were offering a 2008 La Rosa, a Rose of Sangiovese, along with a barrel tasting of their 2008 Tempranillo. The food sampling was a four cheese Penne Pasta, a fitting capper to a lovely day in Temecula Wine Country.
Wine Bytes
— San Diego Wine Company on Miramar Road has an Opolo Wine Tasting from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Nov. 28 for $20 per person. This is one of the leading wines in the Paso Robles Central Coast. For details, call (858) 586-9463.
— Vigilucci’s Restaurant in Coronado spotlights a Reynolds Family Winery Tasting at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 1. Sommelier Mike Powers presides more than six wines with rustic appetizers, for a $20 fee. RSVP at (619) 522-0946.
— Wiens Family Cellars in Temecula is planning a holiday Reception and Shopping Night from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 2. Admission is free. Wine and light refreshments will be served. Bring an unwrapped toy for a worthy charity. For details, call (951) 694-9892.
— The new Paon Restaurant and Wine Bar in Carlsbad has the Conway Family Wines in for a Wine Dinner from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 7, with a full “deep sea cool climate” menu. Call (760) 729-7377 for details.

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