Monte De Oro a hill of gold, grapes

Monte De Oro is one of Temecula Wine Country’s most recent showcases for a style of Mediterranean wine making that is rapidly spreading in popularity. Little rain falls in this warm epicenter of Southern California, yet its only 20 or so miles from the cooling breezes of the Pacific Ocean. It’s a near ideal setup for quality, flavorful grapes that are processed into wines that are winning favor with wine buyers, lots of them. More than 10 million people live little more than an hour away from Temecula Wine Country and the striking, palatial Monte De Oro.
Sixty-seven investors from all over the world founded this winery in 2002. The first wine was made in 2005, mostly from four estate vineyards in the area. Wines are available in the tasting room and through the wine club. The winery is on a 16-acre hill with 12 acres of vines.
It’s divided into architecturally balanced rooms around the great tasting room that overlooks a glass ceiling underground barrel room, the first of its kind in Temecula.
Amber Nelms, the director of hospitality, pointed out there are 700 barrels in the room. 
“We serve 11 different wines in our tasting room that has two wine bars,” she said.  “Nearly all are estate grown. I know most visitors are fascinated by lightly stepping over the barrel room, but look at the ceilings, they are all in the shape of a barrel!” 
After “wowing” the main dining room that seats up to 180, Nelms took us out on the massive patio that surrounds the building. 
A cascading water feature and a massive fireplace highlighted a special events venue that recently hosted the Temecula Wine and Culinary Showcase that fit 31 wineries, 16 restaurants and several thousand guests.
The busiest person in Monte De Oro for this showcase event was General Manager Ken Zignorski, who has been in charge since the opening, and is preparing for the next big development at the winery: a gravity fermentation facility that will be easier on the grapes as they mature to wines.
My favorite on the wine tasting menu had to be the 2006 Merlot. It’s 100 percent estate grown and is from the nearby DePortola Vineyard. It’s a medium-bodied wine with soft tannins and a luscious berry taste through the palate. It was a Silver Medal winner at the 2010 San Francisco International Wine show and won three other medals recently  ($28).
Other wines that nearly matched: the 2006 Zinfandel ($30) and the 2005 Synergy 65 Red Blend ($33). 
Monte De Oro is elegant in every way and deserves an opportunity to be on your list of wineries to know. Start by browsing through www.montedeoro.com.
Other Wines to Know
These wines were tasted and researched during the last two months. They are all available and prices shown are the best I have found, but may vary from those that you have seen. Prices are almost always less when you join their wine club.
— 2006 Ferrari-Carano Tresor Bordeaux Blend, Sonoma, $58. A French classic style with California new-world taste. Full bodied and silky.
— 2008 Jeff Runquist “Z” Zinfandel, Amador Calif., $24. Fresh, vibrant and balanced Zin. Awarded Best New World Zinfandel at the 2010 New World International Wine Competition.  More complex with time.
— 2008 Leonetti Cellar Merlot, Walla Walla, Wash., $70. Spectacular rare 100 percent Merlot vintage from three vineyards. Fifteen months in French Oak.
— 2006 Markham Merlot, Napa Valley, $18. Winery established in 1879. Flavors of plum, espresso and raspberry. 
— 2006 Oak Mountain Temecula Hills Compilation Rhone Blend, Temecula, $45. A 2,900-foot-steep hillside vineyard. Rock and granite soil matures the flavor. Outstanding longevity once opened.
— 2008 Pedroncelli 3 Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma, $16. Gold Medal winner Orange County Fair. Flavors fit for fine dining or a quick pizza. Oak notes balance currant and spicy pepper notes.
— 2008 Ponzi Vineyard Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Ore., $21. A choice find at the new wine shop side of Sage Restaurant, Encinitas. 
Wine Bytes
— Callaway Vineyard and Winery Temecula is holding its annual Grape Stomp and Harvest Festival from 5 to 9 p.m. Oct. 2. Live entertainment and dancing. Enjoy a gourmet buffet and silent auction. Callaway is honoring America’s Heroes, our men and women in uniform. Cost is $78 each. Call (951) 676-4001 for details.
— Reds of the West are put to the test at Sbicca’s Del Mar from 1 to 3 p.m. Oct. 2 in a fun, informative seminar on reds from Oregon, Washington and California. There is a $45 fee. Details at (858) 442-2749.
— Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula hosts Sip, Savor and Stomp on Oct. 3. Live music, appetizers, grape stomp, hayride and dinner for just $65 per person. Starts at 5 p.m. Get more info at (951) 699-WINE.
— Meritage Wine Market is planning a Just Burgundy wine event from 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 8. Call Mark and the team at (760) 479-2500.
— La Jolla Art & Wine Festival, to benefit the elementary school children of La Jolla, is the weekend of Oct. 9 and Oct. 10, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Location is Upper Girard in the Village. More than 150 juried artists will show, with a fine wine and beer garden. There is a $15 charge for a two-day pass, or $10 for one day. Pay at the event. See more at www.lajollaartandwinefestival.com.

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