When someone asks you to name a wine region in California, what first comes to mind? Odds are that Napa Valley is your first thought. Sonoma may even get quite a few mentions as well. After that, the other regions would probably mostly be mentioned by people who live nearby.
Southern California wine regions tend to not get much love, even though non-native grapes were actually first imported here and grown a long time before they even made their way to the now much more famous regions up north. There are so many new areas trying to grown wine in SoCal that it’s hard to keep track of them, but one region in particular has picked up popularity over the past 10 years quite a bit. So much so, that people from as far away as China are now buying lands there to try their hands at winemaking.
I’ve lived in the Los Angeles area for almost 20 years yet I am a little ashamed to say that I’d never been to the Temecula Valley for winetasting before. I’ve had a few opportunities to buy grapes for homewinemaking from there, but just haven’t accepted any yet. Temecula, which is about 100 miles from Los Angeles, seems like an entire state away from me. It was always on my radar, but it just seemed like the thought of traffic and length of time getting there would get in my way. Traffic from here to there can be a nightmare. Distance-wise, it’s actually shorter than my trips to Los Olivos, but that drive gifts me with views of the ocean for a good portion. A trip to Temecula takes me inland toward the desert. I’m gifted with a few mountain ranges, but mostly just freeway exit after freeway exit filled with chain restaurants.
Ok, enough of my excuses. A couple of months back, I was finally out there in an adjacent town for my brother-in-law’s wedding. Fending off a hangover the morning after, I decided that I would stop quickly in Temecula Valley to see what this “new” wine region was like. During breakfast at the hotel, I did some quick research and located one area in particular that listed a bunch of wineries all in a row. This would be my destination. I did some further research on my phone (isn’t modern technology amazing?) and located the exact wineries I would try. With only a small amount of time, I knew couldn’t waste time going winery to winery. Plus there was that whole 2 hour drive back to LA factor, and no drinking and driving for me!
I had a quick lunch in Temecula and then made my way to the spot on the map. It didn’t take me long to realize that I’d been missing out on the overall scene of Temecula’s wine region. Unlike when I first set foot in quaint little Los Olivos in the early 2000s, Temecula Valley’s “winery row” was a site to be scene. Each winery had a chateau that sat high on a hill with rolling vineyards all the way down to the road, and massive signs for each of them as you passed. You could still see the sense of buildings-in-progress all around but this place was well established already. You could hear live music echoing all over, and smoke billowing from BBQ grills at some of the chateaus. Most roads that lead to their respective wineries were packed with parked cars all the way down. This area was very popular and it was only noon. It wasn’t your tiny sprouting wine region, this was capitalism at it’s finest. Several of the chateaus were available for weddings, some contained hotels, while most contained restaurants and live music daily.
Miramonte Winery was the first place on my list as it’s wine selection looked really interesting. I quickly noticed that many of the wineries in this region were heavily focusing on varietals from Spain and Portugal. The parking lots for Miramonte was so packed, I had to park almost at the bottom of their entrance road. They had a packed outdoor restaurant and lots of people hanging out in their tasting room. It almost had that lounge bar atmoshere it was so loud. I opened a 2015 Touriga Nacional from them for this tasting and must say I was wowed from the first drop. The aroma was loaded with rich tones, and it’s taste had loads of dark berries, figs, and more. Deep purple red coloring, a nice bold amount of tannins, and a solid finish made me try a second drink immediately. It looks like Miramonte Winery has caught on to something here. Touriga Nacional isn’t commonly found as a stand alone red wine like this. It’s one of the main grapes used in Port, but only recently has become more popular for table wines. I noticed lots of the wineries also heavily focused on Tempranillo and was able to sample Miramonte’s. I was quite enjoyable. It does appear that Temecula Valley is quite suitable for Iberian varietals.
For my second winery, I wanted to try somewhere that focused on non-Iberian varietals. A place called Europa Village was a few chateaus away, and attempted to make you feel like you had been whisked away to Tuscany. Their online wine list looked different enough, so it seemed like a good bet.
Something I noticed as I visited Europa Village. This row of wineries were definitely built for tourism first and serious winetasting second. On one hand, it’s brilliantly working. On the other, I do personally enjoy a quieter tasting experience. Both of these tasting rooms had a “gift shop” vibe to them. Sure you could taste wine, but you also had lots of T-shirts and mugs with wine slogans, keychains, and other wine-themed souveneirs.
The name Europa Village seems to be more of an umbrella name, rather than the winery itself. Several of the wines in the gift shop all had different names on their labels, most with a little extra sticker that said Europa Village. I’m not 100% sure why they use different labels, but it might be due to the fact that they are wanting to create different wines from 3 different European countries: Spain, France, and Italy. Possibly each label represents the area those respective wines are made to honor.
Becareful if you are looking for local Temecula wines since Europa Village also offers wines from elsewhere, not just Temecula Valley. I saw wines from Northern California, some with the vague California AVA (as in blended wines from the whole state), as well as Italy. For this reason, I made sure to tell the tasting room employeee that I only wished to try wines from the local area.
They didn’t offer any Cabernet Sauvignons in their tasting flight, but I really wanted to see what a Cab from this region would taste like so I purchased some to bring home. The 2015 C’est La Vie Cabernet Sauvignon I opened for this tasting was very interesting. It was a lighter Cabernet Sauvignon with bright red colors and extreme amounts of sugary strawberries on the nose and tongue. This was like drinking strawberry jam. In fact, I couldn’t taste or smell too much else. It certainly didn’t taste like any other warm climate Cab I had tried before. Maybe this was due to their European focus or possibly the terroir? Not sure, but it was a pleasant milder wine.
These two wines contrasted each other quite a bit. The Touriga Nacional was dry, full-bodied, and powerful, while the Cabernet Sauvignon was light, sugary, and easy to drink. This certainly shows me that while the look and feel of this “wine row” in Temecula is built more for tourism than serious wine connoisseurs, their wines are meant to be taken seriously no matter who you are.
I will certainly be looking forward to the next time I can try more from Temecula Valley.