Ring in the New Year in wine country

Temecula Valley’s wine country is a “Camelot” experience anytime, but when New Year’s Eve celebrating is right around the corner, the wineries that can orchestrate the event do an especially exciting production as the vineyards ring out the old year and bring in the new. Seasoned chefs prepare their best and the winemakers pair up each course to match the flavors, from appetizers to desserts. Themed entertainment captures the moment with fun, fun and more fun.
Let’s take a tour of Temecula wineries that are planning some festive New Year’s Eve parties to make your evening memorable. Thornton Winery has a Roaring 20s New Year’s Eve Gala. Come in costume or evening wear as the fun starts at 7:30 p.m. with a champagne toast and dancing to the live band Faultline. Cuisine includes Lobster Napeleon and Tournedos of Beef. Wines include Brut Reserve, Viognier, Merlot and Zinfandel. Cost is $125 each. RSVP at (951) 699-0099.
South Coast Winery Resort & Spa has the Spirit of Carnivale. Rio music and merriment abound with great food and wines, colorful celebrations and gourmet dinners paired with top quality local wines make up the New Year’s Eve attractions in Temecula Wine Country in an array of venues throughout the winery. Pricing averages $209 per person. Call (951) 587-9463 for more information.
Wiens Family Cellars is presenting a Vintage Hollywood Soiree, celebrating the golden age of Hollywood. Amazing food, wine and high-energy music and dancing. “Old Hollywood glamour” attire is encouraged. Cost is $100 each, with an RSVP by calling (951) 694-9892.
Wilson Creek Winery has a Mardi Gras Celebration with masks and beads provided by the winery. A four-course New Orleans style gourmet dinner will be served featuring filet mignon. Dance to the sounds of Audiocast. Ticket price is $160 each. RSVP at (951) 699-WINE.
Keyways Winery turns the clock ahead for a New Year’s celebration, New York time. This event goes from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. with unique “family style” food service. Entertainment with comedian Ron Ruhman and dancing to Joey P and the Hats. ickets start at $95 each. RSVP at (951) 302-7888. If you want a lift to one of these events, call Going Grape Transportation Service, at (951) 852-1923.
Raise that toast to the New Year with champagne and wine at the source — one of the many memorable events in Temecula Wine Country.
Is Merlot the forgotten red?
The Top 100 Wine Spectator wine selections are out and as we pointed out, some surprises were woven in, starting with the No. 1 selection: a 2005 Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon. (If you are looking for that vintage, chances are you won’t find it. Try the 2006 which is available.) Not one Merlot is listed in the 100 best. This is a varietal that was a household name recently. Two things happened that sunk the brand: too many vineyards growing inferior Merlot, chasing the bubbled market, and the near-fatal blow of a campy movie about saintly Pinot Noir wine called “Sideways.” Some unkind remarks about Merlot came out of the movie, and sales dropped more than 25 percent. Merlot still remains in the cellar.
At its best, Merlot is a soft, round and fruitful grape with origins in the Bordeaux area of France. Other appellations that do well are Washington State, Napa and Sonoma Valleys, Chile and Italy. In Escondido, the Orfila Winery has established a reputation for its “Futures” where customers come from many parts of the country for a November event and the opportunity to purchase the following year’s Merlot release. I tasted the 2007 “futures” wine and I feel it has more going for it, but ’06 is what you will find on most shelves and that is enough to please. Orfila’s Ambassador’s Estate Reserve Merlot is as good as it gets with a price of $28.
Merlot is quirky in that it tastes more refined at cellar temperatures of 55 to 60 degrees than at room temperature, and most are best without aging. Up in Washington State, try the St. Michelle Indian Wells 2005. It sells at retail for about $14 and is a great value at that price.
Wine Bytes
— Il Fornaio in Del Mar has kicked off its last of a series of “Festa Regionale” Wine and Food Pairing events. This time it’s Sicily, now through Dec. 20. Roberto Gerbino, from Catania, prepares the local Sicilian cuisine, paired with such wines as Nero d’Avola and Scurati Bianco. Call (858) 755-8876 for details.
— Wine Styles in Encinitas has a six-pack wine tasting from 10 choices on Dec. 19 from 1 to 7 p.m. The tasting is free with any wine purchase or $10 without purchase. Paninis and four cheese plates will be available. For more information, call (760) 633-0057.
— Holiday Wine Cellar in Escondido presents the “Year’s Best Wine Tasting” from 3 to 6 p.m. Dec. 19. Bubblies, big reds and dessert wines. Cost is $15 pre-sale, $20 at the door. Call (760) 745-1200 for more information.
— Belle Marie Winery in Escondido has a “pre-release” party from 2 to 4 p.m. Dec. 27. Preview their finest just-bottled wines, including six new reds. Admission is free. Open house format. Get more info at (760) 796-7557.

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