The Coast News Group
Frank Mangio and Managing Member Ken Zignorski of Monte De Oro Winery and Vineyard enjoy a new concept from the winery, “Forty85,” their 2008 dessert wine. Photo by Rico Cassoni
ColumnsTaste of Wine

Taste of Wine: Temecula Valley Winegrowers throw 2020 kickoff celebration

It was the day I’d been waiting for, a day when the weather could not have been better, the hills were a lush green and it was the 2020 kickoff wine country celebration for the Temecula Valley Winegrowers of Southern California. This two-day soiree was the annual Barrel Tasting event, when, like the winemakers themselves, guests had a glass of wine drawn straight from barrels along with recently released bottles. Red wines dominated the barrel tasting, like a 2016 Estate Lambrusco from Cougar, a rich red 2018 Meritage blend from Lorimar and a 2017 Syrah from Monte De Oro, ready for new French Oak.

Twenty-two wineries were available for tasting on the Sunday that Tech Director Rico and I visited. The day prior, some 22 other wineries were on display with their barrel tasting. There was a nominal cost for both days and clearly that was the bargain for wine lovers.

California wine countries are divided by three major geographic districts: North Coast including Napa Valley, Sonoma and Anderson Valley; Central Coast including Paso Robles, Monterey and Santa Lucia Highlands; and South Coast which is almost exclusively Temecula Wine Country. This oasis is virtually in the middle of some five Southern California counties with a population of 20 million people, and is celebrating its 50th year producing wine. The national wine publication, Wine Enthusiast, recently awarded Temecula Wine Country one of the “Ten Best Wine Travel Destinations” in 2019, an honor well deserved, as more owners and winemakers learn how to maximize what the earth and climate can provide that are exclusive to Temecula’s AVA district. Learn more at

Outstanding examples of this model are Cougar Vineyards operated by owner/winemaker Rick Buffington with his all-Italian offerings.  From Tuscany’s Sangiovese to Puglia’s Primitivo, the taste of Italy is maximized with “Old World” flavor. Visit

Mark Manfield brought Lorimar Vineyards and Winery to Temecula’s wine country in 2012, with a philosophy of “a fusion of wine, art, music and food.”

He salutes his strong music background with oversized musical notes displaying the impressive wine grapes and handcrafted designing of the blends that he and fine winemaker Marshall Stuart produce.

Live entertainment on the weekends at the Tuscan style, beautifully crafted winery is not to be missed. 

Lorimar is the complete package. Check it out at

Our next winery is equally impressive, Monte De Oro, presented next by Rico Cassoni of Taste of Wine & Food.

Monte De Oro — a stunning winery with award winning wines

Senior Editor Frank and I had the pleasure of spending part of our afternoon with Monte De Oro General Manager Ken Zignorski, during our visit to Temecula’s Wine Barrel Tasting weekend. Even before we get to the wine, it is worth noting that the Monte De Oro Winery is a stunning facility in Temecula Wine Country. Visitors are greeted with a fountain when entering the three-story all-glass entry way where they are presented with a vast open space tasting room featuring long and prominent wine bars on either side and a view into the cellar below.

On either side are hallways that lead to secluded tasting rooms in separate wings of the winery and as one continues to walk through the main tasting area, they enter into outdoor cocktail patios chocked full of fire features.

January 2020 marks 10Monte De Oro Winery’s 10-year anniversary. Prior to making their wine, Monte De Oro planted their first vineyard in 2002 and by 2004 grew to 72 working acres with a 2/3 red grape and 1/3 white grape mix. Their first harvest was fall 2004 with 9 tons each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah that was purchased by Leoness Cellars and earned 90 points from Wine Enthusiast.   

In 2007 after realizing the quality of their fruit, 65 owners chipped in to create the breathtaking Monte De Oro Winery. Since their opening, they have earned 219 Platinum, Double Gold, Gold, Best of Class and 90+ point rated wine awards including recent Double Gold Medals from the San Francisco Chronicle for the 2016 Syrah and 2016 Simplexity (Meritage Red Blend). Furthermore, both of these wines have been Double Gold or Gold for the past four years. Frank and I enjoyed both of these during our visit along with the 98-point (2019 CA State Fair for best SOCAL Red Wine/Petite Sirah in CA) 2015 Petite Sirah (bottle purchase only) with a total of 42 months in the barrel and bottle aging before release.

However, the wine we discussed the most was the Forty85 dessert wine. In 2008, in the hustle and bustle of putting together the winery, 12 barrels of late harvest Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc were always in the way and eventually got tucked away and forgotten.  When Ken and Winemaker David Allbright tried the forgotten barrels a year or so ago there were amazed at what they tasted and created their 2008 Forty85 dessert wine that earned 92 points at the 2019 World Wine Championship for the 4,085 days it spent in the barrel. They are only 220 cases of these 375 milliliter bottles gold wax dipped bottles (also bottle purchase only). Ken, Frank, and I decided this would be a great over ice cream liqueur. Get Forty85 while you can! Nicely done Ken and Winemaker David on your exceptional Monte De Oro wines. Visit

Wine Bytes
  • AVANT in the Rancho Bernardo Inn is planning a world-class tasting of Napa Valley’s ZD wines from 6 to 9 p.m. Feb. 27. Cost is $125 per person. The event offers dedicated time with Chef de Cuisine Christopher Gentile and his five-course meal, and cellar master Joe Baumgardner and his teachings of the fine wines of ZD. Call (858) 675-8551 for an RSVP.
  • Parc Brasserie in the Bankers Hill district of San Diego welcomes Silver Oak Winery to a five-course wine pairing dinner at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 26. Cost is $115 each. Some of Napa Valley’s best wines will be served.
  • February “Leap Day” is Feb. 29 and Marriot’s Marina Kitchen is making it memorable with a Stag’s Leap dinner from 7 to 10 p.m., presented in their private dining room. Main course is a Brandt Beef Eye of Ribeye steak with two Stag’s Leap Cabernets from the great 2016 vintage. Guest charge is $150. Call (619) 230-8337 for details.