Wines at Temecula’s Ponte create a Mediterranean experience

The new flavors and names to know at Ponte Winery in Temecula’s Wine Country are Barbera, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Pinot Grigio and a sweet and holiday-perfect wine, Beverino. Quite a transformation!
I sat down with the young, wine-smart Robert Cartwright, the chief winemaker at Ponte, in the rustic and charming Smokehouse Restaurant.
Robert had come to Ponte from Central California in 2006 to place an outsider’s look and feel to the property. Ponte has been putting its label on the wines only six years. Prior to that, founder and owner Claudio Ponte had been doing well selling grapes to other wineries and concentrating on the usual varietals that made Napa Valley famous, but haven’t worked that well in Temecula.
I asked Robert about this transformation while we tasted a new 2007 Holiday Zinfandel. “When I first came here, I saw little concentration of grape flavor in the vineyards,” he said. “We planted some varietals that are all about concentration and that do well in the warmer, drier climate we have here. They are mostly French Rhone Valley, Central and Southern Italian grapes. Recently we harvested two vintages of Spanish Tempranillo, which we are very excited about. The berries are small and in large clusters, insuring great flavor.” I then asked about the 2007 Holiday Zinfandel we had been tasting, so he took a few more sniffs and sips before answering. “Firm tannins due to extended maceration in the tank to give it flavor and depth. It’s been barreling in oak for that in your face fruity quality, but just the right added earth notes.” Spoken like a winemaker who is always seeking the right qualities in his wines, moment to moment.
For more on Ponte, its wines, wine club and Smokehouse Restaurant, go to www.pontewinery.com.
This and that in the wine world
— Wine Spectator shook the wine world with its release of the 2009 Top 100 Wines of the World last week. Its No. 1 wine is a Columbia Crest Washington Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2005 Columbia Valley Reserve. This winery is part of Chateau Ste. Michelle, which sells half the wines made in Washington. The Cab is blended with 5 percent Merlot and 4 percent Cabernet Franc and sells for $27. Interestingly enough, this wine is not in the top 100 in the recent Seattle Times list. Their best cab is a Quilceda Creek vintage 2006 with a suggested retail of $125. A winery in Washington that I have visited and liked is Di Stefano, near Seattle. Their wines are now available at Vino 100 in San Marcos.
— The grape harvest was a long and tough one for the California Central Coast, Sonoma and Napa. Volume will be down. The rains came and caused this and other challenges.
— The Thanksgiving long holiday weekend was great sales news for wines. Some year-over-year sales increases of 50 percent or more were recorded, especially on online Internet sales. Shoppers came out looking for and getting some strong deals on their favorite bottles.
— Italian wines are much in demand with the highest growth in the Piedmont area. Sicily still produces the most wine of any Italian region. There are some 15,000 known grape varietals in the country.
— The “Chef of the Fest” at the recent San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival was Anthony Sinsay of Harney Sushi in San Diego. He won over 40 of his peers in a contest judged by members of the American Culinary Federation. More than $50,000 in cash and prizes was awarded to the top chefs.
Wine bytes
— Holiday Wine Cellar in Escondido presents its Grand Holiday Tasting featuring dozens of premium wines, sparkling and dessert wines from 3 to 6 p.m. Dec. 19. The charge is $20 per person. Call (760) 745-1200 for more information.
— A Port and Chocolate Tasting is planned from 2 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 19 at Bacchus Wine Market in the Gaslamp downtown San Diego. Six great ports will be paraded out to match up with decadent chocolate. The fee is $20 each. Call (619) 236-0005 for details.
— Holiday Nights at the Bernardo Winery in Rancho Bernardo happen from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Dec. 18, and it’s all free. See Santa and Mrs. Claus, lots of holiday lights and festivities for the family. It all centers around the tasting room, antique shops and Café Merlot. Craftsmen will be making one-of-a-kind gift items as you shop, dine and taste the wines. Carolers and musicians will entertain. Call (858) 487-1866 for details.

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