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Your Guide to the Perfect Temecula Valley Wine Country Picnic

Thursday, June 3rd, 2021

Picnicking with Wine

While Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country has many different restaurant dining options at wineries as well as in town, it’s also a great place for a casual picnic (over a glass or two of local wine, of course). With gorgeous weather virtually year-round, and plenty of places to grab delicious provisions, it’s time to pack your picnic basket and head out to Southern California’s most picturesque wine region for a perfect al-fresco wining and dining experience. Here’s how.

Step 1.  Pick Your Spot.

You truly can’t go wrong throwing down a blanket at any of the Temecula Wineries that offer grounds for picnicking while in Wine Country. Many wineries also conveniently offer a selection of small bites to purchase with your wine, like snack boxes with cheese, charcuterie, and other wine-friendly nibblies.

Wilson Creek Winery has sprawling grounds with plenty of spots to settle in for a day of sipping, noshing, and relaxing. There’s even a small children’s play structure for an experience that keeps the whole family happy. Longshadow Ranch Vineyard and Winery is also a great place to visit, offering panoramic views of Wine Country in a working farm setting, as well as a friendly cohort of animal pals to meet. Stop in at Maurice Car’rie Winery and grab one of their world-famous baked brie and sourdoughs along with a bottle of their estate grown and produced wine and you have yourself a perfect picnic lunch.

Step 2. Stock Up on Tasty Bites.

Most wineries have something for you to grab on-site to go with your wine, whether it’s a full restaurant meal, a few picnic staples, or local food trucks parked outside. Sangio’s Deli at Cougar Winery is one of our favorites for delicious subs and sandwiches, pizzas and salads, paired perfectly with the wines made primarily from native Italian grapes. Watch the world go by on the patio at Doffo Winery over a cheese and charcuterie plate or a hummus plate featuring their famous housemade chimicurri, prepared daily by Fuego y Sal Catering, while sipping on one of the winery’s many award-winning selections.

If you’d prefer a true Wine Country picnic, stop by Grazing Theory in Temecula and order one of their eye-catching, gourmet charcuterie or veggie lunch boxes that feature lots of local ingredients and artisanal products. Or, grab one of the delicious sandwich selections prepared on bread baked in-house daily from Great Harvest Bread Co. in town for the perfect picnic lunch.

Step 3. Pop a Bottle.

While we always believe that if you like the wine, and you like the food, you have yourself a perfect pairing, there are nevertheless some wines that just seem made for Wine Country picnicking.

Whether you’re celebrating a milestone Wine Country-style, or simply celebrating everyday life, a bottle of bubbly is always a delight. Carter Estate Winery and Thornton Winery offer the valley’s best traditional-method sparkling wines in a range of styles, from brut to sweet, Blanc de Blancs to Blanc de Noirs and everything in between. Sparkling wines are also the perfect pairing for a just about any dish, so sip this festive wine while taking in Vineyard views and enjoying the afternoon breezes Temecula Valley is so famous for. We also love a crisp white or light rose while noshing on picnic fare, especially in the warmer months. Hart Winery produces several crisp, clean, mouth-watering white wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Vermentino, and Arneis that are perfect for sipping at one of their picnic tables in the summer. If you’re feeling pink, grab a bottle of Akash Winery’s Parlez Vous Rosé for a tasty lunch accompaniment. If red wine is more your thing, try something lighter and fruitier, like a bottle of Fazeli Cellar’s Phel Phel, a bright and juicy 100% cinsault, or even something like South Coast Winery’s sparkling Shiraz for something totally different.

Step 4. Strike a Pose.

No picnic is complete without a few selfies or group photos! Showcase you, your family and friends living your best life in Temecula Valley with a photo or two to document the occasion. Don’t forget to tag us at @temeculawines and use the hashtag #DrinkTemecula so we can share in your adventures!

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Carrot Hummus with Spring Vegetable Crudités

Tuesday, May 4th, 2021

Carrot Hummus with Spring Vegetables

Blending carrots, chickpeas, and tahini produces a hummus with a captivating new taste. Cook the carrots first to heighten their sweetness, and then surround the fluffy spread with a garland of crunchy spring vegetables for dipping. Briefly blanching sugar snap peas and asparagus tips will brighten their color. Pair with your favorite Temecula Valley Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil 
  • ½ pound (225 g) carrots, peeled and coarsely grated 
  • Sea salt 
  • ½ teaspoon whole cumin seed or ½ teaspoon ground cumin 
  • 1 can (15.5 oz/439 g) chickpeas, drained, or 2 cups cooked chickpeas 
  • 2 large cloves garlic 
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice, or more to taste 
  • ½ cup tahini 
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts  
  • Aleppo pepper, hot red pepper flakes, or paprika 
  • Spring vegetables for dipping, such as radishes, baby carrots, roasted beets, sugar snap peas, asparagus tips, Persian cucumbers, hearts of romaine, and scallions 

Directions:

Heat a 10-inch (25-cm) skillet over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil. When the oil is almost smoking, add the carrots and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the carrots have wilted slightly and lost their crunch, about 3 minutes. Set the skillet aside. 

If using whole cumin seed, put the cumin seed in a small dry skillet over medium heat. Cook, shaking the skillet often, until the cumin seed darkens and begins to smell fragrant, about 2 minutes. Let cool, then pound fine in a mortar. 

Put the carrots, toasted cumin or ground cumin, chickpeas, garlic, and lemon juice in a food processor and process until very finely chopped. Add the tahini and process until well blended. With the machine running, add enough water through the feed tube to make a smooth puree, about 1/3 cup. Add salt to taste and more lemon if desired. Process for 5 minutes to make a smooth, light hummus. Transfer to a serving plate, spreading it with a rubber spatula and making some “valleys” where oil can pool. 

Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and cook, shaking the skillet constantly, until they are golden brown, about 2 minutes. Immediately pour the hot oil and pine nuts over the hummus. Sprinkle with Aleppo pepper and serve at once with vegetables for dipping. 

Suggested Pairings:

Hart Winery ~ 2019 Sauvignon Blanc – This alluring, food-friendly, classically-styled wine was produced from Sauvignon Blanc grapes grown entirely in the Hart Family Vineyard. 

Longshadow Ranch Winery ~ Cloud Peak Sauvignon Blanc – A nicely crisp Sauvignon Blanc with hints of pink grapefruit. Nice sour finish.

Sweet Oaks Winery ~ 2017 Chardonnay –  The nose is bright and fresh with lemon-lime zest and golden apple aromas prevailing, due to stainless steel fermentation

Vitagliano Vineyards & Winery ~ 2018 Chardonnay – This bold yet balanced wine has aromas of peach and vanilla jumping out of the glass, it leads into a palate of velvety granny smith apple.

Recipe and photo courtesy of the Wine Institute of California

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Move Over, Chardonnay. Sauvignon Blanc is Here and it is a Must-Sip From Temecula Valley

Tuesday, May 4th, 2021

National Sauvignon Blanc Day is officially May 7. While we find ourselves asking, “Who creates these ‘days’ anyway?” we love any opportunity to celebrate the grapes that thrive in Temecula Valley’s warm, Mediterranean climate. So, in honor of this deeply important holiday, we sipped through a whole lot of Sauvignon Blanc in order to come up with a round-up of some of our favorites from Southern California’s Wine Country. We also chatted with some Temecula Valley winemakers who shared their thoughts on what makes Sauvignon Blanc so special in the region.

Akash Winery 2020 Sauvignon Blanc, Temecula Valley, $36

Akash Winery 2020 Sauvignon Blanc

This lush yet refreshing Sauvignon Blanc, produced from 100% estate-grown Akash Vineyards fruit, is sure to win you over with its juicy pineapple, peach nectar, and orange blossom aromas. Warm days and cool nights allow the grape to ripen slowly and evenly, offering crisp natural acidity to perfectly balance the ripe guava and grapefruit flavors. An incredibly versatile white that’s a treat for any occasion.

Europa Village Winery 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, $27

Flintiness and bright acidity balance a lovely richness of body highlighted by yellow apple and white peach. Pairing with grilled fennel crusted oysters or a Wine Country Salad topped with a dollop of creamy Chevre serves to even further enhance the sensory experience this wine delivers.

“Sauvignon Blanc shows its beauty in its diversity,” explains Matt Rice, Director of Tasting Rooms at Europa Village. “A top example from the Loire Valley might show a bracing acidity and flint character where a compatriot from Bordeaux might show creamy pear and a silky soft texture. It is always an excellent choice for Temecula Valley, as the warm days allow the variety to deliver a unique ripeness and rich body. This intertwines perfectly with the bright acidity the grapes attain due to the cool nights made possible by the Rainbow Gap letting in cooling afternoon and evening winds.”

Oak Mountain Winery 2020 Sauvignon Blanc, Temecula Valley, $26

Only 85 cases were produced of this Sauvignon Blanc, which opens with complex aromas of lime leaf, pink grapefruit, green apple, lemon grass, honey-suckle, and wet stone. Refreshing, forward, zesty flavors of lime, lemon, grapefruit, white peach, and passion fruit follow with bright acidity.

South Coast Winery 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Temecula Valley, $18

South Coast Winery 2018 Sauvignon Blanc

Produced from the Musque clone – a hybrid cross of sauvignon blanc and muscat that offers the best characteristics of both varieties – this wine has the floral, spicy nature of Muscat tempered by the grassy, citrus character of Sauvignon Blanc, resulting in a wine that is a cornucopia of flavors and aromas: sweet kiwi and lime, gooseberries, pears, passion fruit and wildflowers. A crisp acidity is delicately laced throughout the wine, giving a zesty, clean finish. Harvested from Carter Estate Vineyards, this wine emulates the Sauvignon Blancs of Sancerre and the Menetou-Salon regions of France. 92% is fermented in stainless steel, resulting in a fruit character that is very upfront and clean. The balance was fermented in two-use French oak and that portion was blended back prior to bottling.

“Utilizing a split harvest, where parts of the vineyard block are harvested at different levels of ripeness yields flavors that range from grassy green to tropical ripe,” explains South Coast and Carter Estate Winemaker Jon McPherson. “Also, using different yeast selections and fermentation regimes, we build layers of complexity into the wine which all add up to a Sauvignon Blanc with rich character, depth and dimension.”

Falkner Winery 2020 Sauvignon Blanc, Temecula Valley, $35

This delicious straw-colored wine has wonderful favors of white peach, ripe lime, and floral notes of almond blossom with a nice, lingering finish.  This wine is great for just sipping or enjoying with food, especially as the weather warms.  The wine pairs well with seafood (shellfish in particular), chicken, and cheeses.

“Here at Falkner Winery, we pride ourselves in producing high quality wines from whites to reds. Our Estate Sauvignon Blanc is a premier wine that our wine club members have enjoyed for many years,” says Raymond Murgo, Falker Winery’s Tasting Room Manager. “We feel that Temecula Sauvignon Blanc presents a fresh, aromatic bouquet, with wonderful fruit-forward flavors and a strong, lingering finish.”

Hart Winery 2020 Sauvignon Blanc, Temecula Valley, $28

This 100% Sauvignon Blanc is all estate grown using 65% Musque clone and 35% traditional California clone. Produced using all stainless and no oak, it shows crisp acidity, intense aromatics, citrus, tropical notes, and hints of grass.

Fazeli Cellars 2019 Boland Rooz, Temecula Valley, $30

Fazeli Cellars 2019 Boland Rooz

The Summer Solstice heralds the beginning of the season and the longest day of the year. To commemorate the occasion, Fazeli Cellars has chosen Sauvignon Blanc, harvested from owner BJ Fazeli’s estate vineyards, for its dry, crisp, and refreshing taste to celebrate the hot summer days. This 100% Sauvignon Blanc is mouthwateringly fresh, with a nose that is sweetly grassy with a hint of citrus.

“The diurnal temperature swings of hot days and cool nights epitomize what is great about Temecula vineyards,” explains Fazeli Cellars Winemaker Allen Kim. “Often times in the morning when you visit the vineyard, located at an elevation of 1800 feet, the grapes are sitting in a cloud of fog or even above the fog layer. The cold air that comes from the Pacific Ocean just miles away from us allows the grapes to retain important natural acidity as well as cooling down the temperature of the vines. Acid is so important in our Sauvignon Blanc because it gives the vibrancy and life to the wines. We are lucky that following this period of cooling, our days are characterized by great sun exposure that allows the vines to completely dry out and achieve ripeness.”

Wiens Family Cellars 2019 Sauvignon Blanc, Riverside County, $26

Wiens Family Cellars 2019 Sauvignon Blanc

This Sauvignon Blanc has aromas of Tropical Fruit, and Fresh Herbs, with Kiwi and Green Melon on the palate, and a refreshingly crisp finish. Additionally, this wine has been aged on the lees (sur lie), giving the finished wine a creamy custard note to help balance the crisp acidity. 

“Depending on when its harvested, Sauvignon Blanc can either be light, with grassy, boxwood, and gooseberry notes, meaning it’s less ripe, or have luscious honey and tropical fruit notes in a riper style,” says Wiens Winemaker, Joe Wiens. “We appreciate both styles of Sauvignon Blanc, so we harvest in two stages.  This allows us to meld the crisp, light character of less ripe fruit, with the tropical guava notes of more ripe fruit, giving us a perfectly balanced, complex Sauvignon Blanc.

Danza del Sol 2018 Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Temecula Valley, $34

This fierce white wine is playful and full of zest, bursting with notes of kiwi, green pineapple, and a lingering finish of apple skin shavings and key-lime zest.

“Sauvignon Blanc is my favorite estate varietal we produce for both Danza Del Sol Winery and Masia De la Vinya Winery. At nearly 50 years old, our five acres of vines are still producing very high-quality fruit, and are extremely resilient, surviving the pierce disease outbreak of the 90s, and never succumbing to pests or diseases,” says Justin Knight, Winemaker for Danza Del Sol and Masia de la Vinya Winery. “With great natural acidity and early ripening time in the season, the options are endless. I’ve made several different styles including a grassy yet elegant New Zealand style; a tropical, more robust new-world style; and even late harvest dessert wines utilizing our Sauvignon Blanc. The versatility speaks to the Temecula Valley as a whole and the great environment we are lucky to have.”

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Your Toughest Wine Questions Answered

Thursday, April 1st, 2021

Geek Out on All Things Wine with These Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country Rockstars

Grapevines at Sunrise

Wine can be intimidating. We’ve all stood in the aisles of our favorite wine stores scanning the backs of labels for hints of anything that might give us a clue of what the juice in the bottle tastes like. We’ve all donned the deer-in-headlights look when a sommelier asks us what type of wines we prefer. Who hasn’t felt a sense of dread during the daunting wine service ritual, where the server waits expectantly while you swirl, sniff, sip and determine whether they may pour the wine for your guests, all eyes on you?

While being a wine expert isn’t a requirement for kicking back and enjoying a glass or two of our favorite beverage, sometimes a better understanding of how a product is made allows us to appreciate it even more.

Which is why we have brought in some of Temecula Valley Southern California’s best and brightest wine stars to answer some of your most frequently-asked wine questions!

Q: The vineyards are starting to look so pretty this time of year! What is actually going on with the vines right now?

A. Greg Pennyroyal, Vineyard Manager, Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyards

As April approaches the vineyard is leaving its dormant stage and entering its first vegetative stage of budbreak. Wine Grapes (Vitis vinifera) are deciduous meaning they lose their leaves in fall and go into a dormancy period usually starting in late October and ending in April. Grapes also need a minimum of 150 Chill hours, a summation of the hours below 45 degrees, to assure they do not bud out too early and get damaged by a late frost. In Temecula, our standard “Frost Free Date” is April 15, giving a positive spin to a date that is usually not so great.

The grapes’ dormancy period also coincides with the rainy season of our Mediterranean climate – wet in winter, dry in summer, with a coastal influence. Our historical rain average for this time of year would be about ten inches; however we are under four inches to-date. This will assist in delaying a budbreak that is too early, however will require that we irrigate and add fertility as the cover crops and soil biology have had less of an opportunity to increase soil fertility.

After budbreak, the vines will enter a vegetative state where initial growth is remarkably fast. If you visit a vineyard one weekend, the following weekend will look like a different vineyard. Following this growth spurt, the vines set flowers. Grape flowers are very small and inconspicuous. When the flowers emerge, they are wrapped under a small cap called, appropriately enough, the calyptra. When the flowers are ready for pollination a gentle brush will cause the calyptra to pop off and the flower will rapidly open before your eyes, great vineyard entertainment after a glass of wine. The flowers have both male and female parts, so they do not need bees to pollinate. White wines are the first to emerge from dormancy followed by red varietals.

Q: How do winemakers get those tiny bubbles in bottles of wine?

A. Sharon Cannon, Director of Operations, Akash Winery

Those fabulous bubbles that make Champagne or sparkling wine so wonderful are products of carbon dioxide (CO2), created during the fermentation process when sugar and yeast are added to a still base wine. There are three primary ways to make sparkling wine: 

Some winemakers choose a labor-intensive traditional method of trapping the gas in the bottle, which then “lay down,” sometimes for decades, producing high-quality sparkling wine (think Champagne). The most important part of this process is the secondary fermentation, which happens as mentioned, inside the bottle. During this process, the yeast consumes the sugar which is where the carbon dioxide is produced. The wine is then left to lay on their “lees,” (dead yeast cells) for a period of time. While this may sound gross, these yeast cells are what give traditional method sparkling wines their signature toasty, yeasty, brioche-like flavors. The bottles are gradually rotated and tilted until they end up upside down, so that all of this sediment makes its way to the neck of the bottle, which is dipped into a solution to freeze the solid contents, making them easy to remove. Bottles are then topped up with the “dosage,” a combination of sugar and/or wine, donned with a cork and wire cage, and then ready for you to drink.

The Charmat Method (or tank method) is where the winemaker will use a pressurized tank for the secondary fermentation process (think Prosecco). Here the liqueur de tirage (a mix of wine, sugar and yeast) is added to the pressurized tank of still wine, in which the secondary fermentation. The wine, once ready, is then filtered and bottled from the tank. These wines are generally youthful and easy drinking!

Lastly, there is just plain carbonation, where carbon dioxide is simply added into the wine (think of your Soda Stream injecting bubbles into your water). You’ll know this one if you’ve ever had it though, as the bubbles with dissipate very quickly! 

And remember, those bubbles you have in your fridge which you are waiting for a “special occasion” to open: The special occasion is today, friends!

Q. Speaking of stuff getting into my wine, sometimes I see things floating in my bottle? Does this mean the wine is bad?

A. Jim Hart, Winemaker, Hart Winery

There are a number of things that can cause “chunkies” in wine, some of them intentional and others maybe not so intentional. In so-called “natural wines” (so-called because there really isn’t a true definition for natural wines), a certain amount of sediment and haze should be expected, as these wines are usually un-fined and unfiltered. Additionally, these wines are often made without added sulfites, and can occasionally undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle causing haze and “floaties.” More conventional wines are sometimes intentionally bottled without filtration as some winemakers believe filtration somehow strips a wine’s character (not true), and are okay with some sediment in their wine.

The most common cause of stuff floating is with wines that haven’t been properly cold or heat stabilized. Wines that aren’t properly heat stabilized will throw small amounts of haze or, in extreme cases, what appear to be floating globs in the bottle. Wines that aren’t cold stable will, when chilled, lose tartaric acid which will look like crystals (sometimes called wine diamonds).

The good thing about all these things you might find floating in your wine is that none of them are really harmful; just be careful who gets the last glass! 

Q. I love rosé. But how is it made?

A. Nick Palumbo, Winemaker, Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery

Rosé wine has gotten a bad rap from wine drinkers over the last few decades simply because so much of it has been made to appease the palate of a generation of consumers that grew up on overly sweet, processed beverages. That said there are basically three ways to make a rosé wine which can be broken down into a not-so-great way, a good way, and the best way!

Many don’t realize that all grapes, white or red, have clear juice inside when they first come off the vine. It is the skin of the grape that contains the color; so, in order to get a red wine, the winemaker needs to keep the juice in contact with the skins of a red grape in order for the wine to develop its color, along with everything else that gives the wine structure and flavor.

Some inexpensive rosé wines are simply a blend of finished Red and White wines that in different proportions can make a wine that looks the part but rarely if ever tastes anything like a classic, well-crafted rosé.

Then there is the saignée, or “to bleed” method, which is a really a good way to make two different wines from a single lot of grapes. It is also considered a way of making red wine better or more intense by “bleeding” off some of the juice early in the process, resulting in two separate lots that can be made into both a red and a rosé. If the winemaker is serious about the rosé, a very good wine can be made. However, this rosé is often considered a biproduct of the red winemaking. The locals drink that, while the winery ships the more expensive reds off to market.

The last method is an approach that wineries employ when their sole intent is to make a quality rosé, which results in a rosé that is often superior to the above methods. This method, often called “Limited Skin Maceration” (LSM) is a process in which the grapes are crushed and left in contact with the skins for a limited amount of time. The color can start to develop within minutes for grape varieties with very intense color, or can take up to 48 hours in some cases. When the desired color is achieved, the juice is separated from the skins, and fermentation is started much like a white wine would be made.

I have made wines from both saignée and LSM methods with great success, but am really proud of our current Spring release of our Rosato Secco. This wine is an LSM version of Sangiovese that is perfect for sipping by the pool, pairing with a charcuterie board, or – even better – a classic bowl of moules frites (steamed mussels and French fries) served by a beach in Southern California within miles of our beautiful Temecula Wine Country. Drink Local!

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Harvest is Here! Discover the Unique Tools and Techniques Temecula Valley Winemakers Use to Produce Some of Your Favorite Wines

Tuesday, September 1st, 2020

Winemaking is equal parts agriculture, science, and art. This magical combination has allowed for infinite permutations and possibilities for different styles and flavors of wines, and captivated wine lovers all over the world.

While many may assume that wine is simply fermented grape juice, from soil to grape to cellar to glass, there are, in fact, many, many options available to the winemaker when it comes to crafting a unique product. Some are more common – like aging the wine in small or large oak barrels. Other techniques are less traditional, and may be linked to a winery’s signature style, a winemaker’s preference, or a desire to experiment with something new and different.

Since harvest in Temecula Valley has officially begun, we thought it would be fun to pull back the curtain on some of this magic that happens in the winery. So, we caught up with a few Temecula Valley winemakers who shared with us some of the offbeat techniques and traditions they use to create the region’s world class wines.

Nick & Cindy Palumbo
Owners, Palumbo Winery

Palumbo Vineyard & Winery

In addition to only farming their own grapes, which allows them to pick precisely and by slope and orientation based on ripeness, Palumbo does all fermentation in open bins as opposed to tanks. Owner and winemaker, Nick Palumbo, feels this offers a much more hands-on approach.

“Oxygen is our friend during fermentation and punching down, and stirring of the active fermentation helps in a lot of ways,” he says. “Healthy fermentations, the efficient dissipation of heat (without costly, energy-hogging cooling units), and the binding, or ‘locking in’ of various flavor and color components are just a few reasons we do this.”

Palumbo also works with whole cluster pressing of their Viognier (grapes are neither destemmed nor crushed), resulting in more delicate, less astringent white wine due to the limited contact with skins and stems; and, hand-sorted, whole berry fermentation on their reds. Here, grapes are destemmed but not crushed, allowing the berries to more or less crush themselves under their own weight and begin fermenting with the addition of yeast. Winemaking in this way slows the release of tannin and color in order to give more control over the vinification process.

Steve Andrews
Owner, Oak Mountain Winery

Oak Mountain Winery

In addition to having the first 104-foot subterranean wine cave in Temecula Valley, boasting more than 400 barrels of wine, a kitchen, banquet and tasting room, Oak Mountain is also home to a new, cutting edge piece of machinery, called “The CUBE.”

This vibrating grape destemmer ensures the gentlest possible process of removing grape berries from their stalks, and allows for raisined and overly mature grapes to remain on their stems so that they can easily be removed as waste. Only fruit free from defects is then recovered for fermentation, ensuring the resulting wine is clean and high quality.

Somerset Winery

Kurt Tiedt
President, Somerset Winery

Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Rome, Georgia…Temecula? What’s old is new again! Temecula newcomer Somerset Winery is making wine in Amphorae – giant vase-shaped clay vessels – a winemaking technique that originated thousands of years ago.

Winery president Kurt Tiedt, and winemaker David Raffaele, were intrigued by these vessels while attending the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in early 2020, and felt that they could be the key to taking their winery to the next level.

Since then, they have acquired three uniquely different amphorae – a classic Terracotta “Rotunda,” a “Terracotta Cigar,” and the “Opus 17” – a behemoth that stands over nine feet tall, has a six-inch thick interior, and weighs more than 8,000 pounds. All are imported from Italy.

These ancient vessels have seen a resurgence in recent years in many well-known wine regions because of their unique ability for winemakers to produce a wine that is somewhere between oak and stainless steel aged. While stainless steel tanks – being totally free from oxygen during fermentation – preserve the primary fruit characteristics of a wine, oak does the opposite. The porous nature of wood allows for plenty of oxygen and imparts other aromas, flavors, and additional tannin to the wine. Clay takes the best of both worlds – it, too, is porous and allows for the oxygen that is essential for giving a wine texture; but, it is neutral, so it also preserves the purity of aromas and flavors of the grapes, perfectly amplifying them in the case of quality fruit.

Somerset’s first Amphorae Syrah was just released, and is full-bodied, with mineral and earth tones and a creamy, smooth finish.

Jim Hart
Winemaker, Hart Winery

Hart Winery

Using Mission grapes from the Cazas and Hunter vineyards planted sometime between 1882 and 1905 on the Pechanga Reservation – by far the oldest wine grape plantings in Temecula Valley – Hart Winery produces a fortified Angelica wine made using the original winemaking techniques of the Franciscan missionaries. Angelica wine dates to the Mission period in California, and its name is thought to have been taken from the city of Los Angeles.

According to family history, the Hunter vineyards were planted from cuttings of original Mission Grapes taken from Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in Oceanside. Once extensive commercial vineyards, these two small remnant vineyards are still farmed by the descendants of the families who planted them well over 100 years ago.

DNA testing of the vines done by U.C. Davis confirms that these vines are original Mission rootstock – genetically identical to grape vines originally brought to California from Spain by Spanish Missionaries.

“[We at] Hart Winery are proud to work with the families who have preserved these heritage vineyards,” says Owner and Winemaker, Jim Hart. “We are honored to work with this exceedingly rare, ancient old vine fruit.”

Thought to be one of the first wines made in California, Angelica wines are fortified with brandy and aged for many years. Hart chooses to age their Angelica for over two years in old wine barrels, set outside in the warm Temecula sun, where the wine reacts with the heat and oxygen to develop deep caramel, hazelnut, root beer, and toffee notes. The barrels are never topped, and the heat plus the extended exposure to oxygen in un-topped barrels, ultimately changes the wine from its original light red to a brownish color as is typical for Angelica wines. It’s a rich, layered wine that makes for a decadent after-dinner drink with (or as!) dessert.

Akash Patel
Owner, Akash Winery

Akash Winery & Vineyards

Sometimes unique winemaking methods take the form of superstitions and traditions!

Akash Patel, Owner & Director of Akash Winery & Vineyards tells us they bury 11 pennies in the ground on the first day of harvest. According to the family, it’s an Indian good luck tradition that Mrs. Patel started for the winery. We’ll drink to that!

Happy Harvest!

Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press Enterprise/SGNC

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PAN-SEARED SALMON WITH CORN AND POBLANO SALAD

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

Pan-Seared Salmon

Wild-caught California salmon is one of the culinary highlights of summer in the Golden State. A fresh corn salad with a Mexican accent is the perfect complement and would be just as compatible with halibut fillets, scallops, or shrimp. Pair with your favorite Temecula Valley Grenache Rosé or Sauvignon Blanc.

Serves 6

Ingredients:

Salad

  • 2 large poblano or Anaheim chilies 
  • 2 ears yellow corn, husked 
  • 1 cup (40 g) very coarsely chopped cilantro 
  • ½ small red onion, chopped 
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 
  • Juice of 3 limes, or more to taste 
  • 1 large avocado, ripe but firm, diced 
  • 3 ounces (2/3 cup/85 g) coarsely crumbled queso fresco 
  • Kosher or sea salt 
  • 1 serrano chili, finely minced (optional) 

Salmon

  • 4 six-ounce (175 g) skin-on salmon fillets 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • Lime wedges for serving 

Directions:

Make the salad: Preheat the broiler. Put the poblano or Anaheim chilies on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil until blackened on all sides. Let cool, then peel, remove stems and seeds, and dice. Turn the oven to 425°F (220°C). 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Prepare a bowl of ice water. Add the corn to the boiling water and boil 30 seconds, then remove the ears with tongs and plunge them into the ice water to stop the cooking. Drain when cool and pat dry. With a chef’s knife, cut away the kernels. You should have about 2-1/2 cups (350 g). 

 In a large bowl, combine the diced poblano or Anaheim chilies, corn, cilantro, red onion, olive oil, and juice of 3 limes. Add the avocado and queso fresco and toss gently.  

 Season well with salt and add more lime juice if desired. If the salad is not spicy enough for you, stir in some or all of the minced serrano chili.  

 Put 2 tablespoons olive oil in a cast-iron skillet and put the skillet in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Season the salmon with salt. Place the fillets in the skillet, skin side down, and bake until they just flake when probed with a paring knife, about 10 minutes.  

 Serve salmon immediately with the salad on the side. 

Suggested Pairings:

Churon Inn Winery ~ 2019 Sauvignon Blanc – Well balanced with citrus flavors

Hart Winery ~ 2019 Grenache Rosé – With notes of cherry, watermelon and cranberry.

Leoness Cellars ~ 2019 CS Sauvignon Blanc – Rich citrus and stone fruit aromas are complemented by subtle hints of lemongrass and a crisp, lingering finish.

South Coast Winery Resort & Spa ~ 2017 Grenache Noir Rosé – Light in body, crisp in acidity and very dry, this rosé is the perfect wine for any cuisine and any festivity.

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Our Top Temecula Valley Wine Picks for Summer

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

Summer Sippin’

There’s something about Summertime sipping that just feels right. Maybe it’s the sensation of a breeze cooling our neck as the sun warms our face while enjoying a crisp glass of Pinot Grigio on our patio; maybe it’s the sun staying out just that little bit longer; or maybe it’s the amazing food that comes out during the warmer months – the smell of the grill, the sweet juices of peaches and watermelons running down our chins, fresh seafood, burgers, corn on the cob… Whatever it is, there’s just nothing like a great mid-summer glass of wine. But what to sip?

Here are some of our favorite go-to wines for the Summer months:

Sparkling

Not only does bubbly pair perfectly with just about any type of cuisine, it is a wonderful treat no matter the occasion. From milestone celebrations to simply feeling good on a Tuesday, it’s the ultimate refresher after a long day (or at the beginning of one – hello, brunch!).

Pair with: Literally anything. But bubbles and salty, fatty, fried, or crispy food is a match made in heaven. Think potato chips, calamari, tempura shrimp, truffled popcorn, cured meats and cheeses… we could go on… and on…

Some wines to try:

Thornton Winery NV Brut

Carter Estate Winery 2015 Blanc de Noir

Oak Mountain Winery NV Pinotage Sparkling

Leoness Cellars NV Brut

Crisp, Unoaked White

We all love a rich, buttery Chardonnay, but hot weather calls for something a bit more quaffable. Instead of those weightier whites like Viognier and Chardonnay, opt for something light and bright. Classic Italian and Spanish grapes like Arneis, Vermentino, Pinot Grigio, Albariño, and Verdelho are juicy and fresh, and act like a refreshing squeeze of lemon on your favorite Summer dishes.

Pair with: Seafood dishes prepared in a variety of styles, summer salads, and creamy pasta dishes.

Some wines to try:

Hart Winery 2019 Albariño

South Coast Winery 2019 Verdelho

Cougar Winery 2019 Estate Falanghina

Danza del Sol 2018 Vermentino

Rosé

There’s a reason “rosé all day” isn’t just a social media hashtag, it’s also a way of life: You can literally drink the stuff all day, every day. Rosé is a fantastic Summer sipper because it comes in so many different styles and hues, making it the whole package when it comes to food-friendly wine pairings. From pale pink and dripping with notes of watermelon and lime, to fuller-bodied and bursting with berry fruit, there’s a style to suit every palate, culinary creation, and occasion. And, it’s also pretty darn good on its own – unless you count your feet in the pool, a lazy swing in a hammock, or a sunset barbecue as part of your pairing.

Some wines to try:

Ponte Winery 2019 Pas Doux

Robert Renzoni Vineyards 2019 Lyric Rose

Doffo Winery 2019 Rosario

Akash Winery 2019 Parlez Vous Rosé

Light Red

Still craving that inky red wine, even in 100-degree weather? While Temecula Valley can be known for rich, full-bodied, luxurious wines, the region also produces quite a few lighter-bodied, fruity red wines, which are absolutely stunning on a warm summer day. Serve them with a slight chill to bring out the bright berry fruit. We promise you’ll thank us for the suggestion.

Pair with: Simple grilled meats and kabobs, tomato-based pastas, pizza

Some wines to try:

Fazeli Cellars 2015 Phel Phel

Baily Winery 2016 Cabernet Franc

Wiens Family Cellars 2018 Pinot Noir

Europa Village Bolero Cellars 2016 Garnacha

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Real Temecula Winemakers Drink Pink: Our Top Picks for Temecula Valley Rosé this Summer

Monday, July 22nd, 2019

Rosé wine and the perfect pairing of cheese and fruit

Rosé all day. Yes way rosé. Stop and smell the rosé. You’ve probably heard them all, or seen them while scrolling through your Instagram feed, usually accompanied by gorgeous pics of glasses brimming with baby pink liquid being sipped by glamorous folks with designer shades and trendy outfits. The bottom line is that rosé is on the rise in a big, big way. 

“’Rosé All Day’ is not just a hashtag, it’s a cultural movement sparked by Instagram,” notes Alpana Singh, Master Sommelier in Business Insider. And the numbers don’t lie. In 2017 rosé sales were up 53% in the U.S., according to Nielsen, while wine sales overall increased by just 4%.

The pink stuff is here to stay, which is a good thing. Rosé is incredibly versatile, coming in a full spectrum of hues from barely-kissed blush to deep raspberry and everything in between, as well varying levels of dryness and a diverse range of flavor profiles from crisp and clean to luscious and mixed-berry-driven. It’s remarkably food friendly, a happy in-the-middle option with the ability to pair well with things that go with whites and reds. It’s also fun. While there seems to be a distinct rosé season – late Spring to early fall – the increased demand for drinking pink has opened up rosé for year-round drinking, with many retailers offering full sections dedicated to dozens of different selections.

We in Southern California feel right at home sipping rosé any day from January to December. It’s a drink that marries well with sunny days and a laid back SoCal spirit. Happily, Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country produces some truly outstanding bottles and has been doing so for quite some time. In fact, in 2001, in an article about the importance of supporting local wineries, the Wall Street Journal described Temecula Valley’s Hart Winery, saying they “Make one of America’s best rosé.”

When we asked Jim Hart what makes Temecula Valley rosé so special, he explained that, “It’s because it’s not produced as an afterthought. It’s produced to be a rosé. That’s why it’s so good. It doesn’t actually make sense to make rosé in Temecula because our fruit is too expensive to not go toward making reds. So when we take that high quality fruit and intentionally make a rosé with it, the result is amazing.” Jim says they pick their fruit early and then treat and ferment the wine like a white, which results in deeply expressive, high quality wines.

Here are a few of our favorite Temecula Valley picks for this rosé season and beyond.

Hart Winery Rosé of Sangiovese

Sangiovese is one of Italy’s flagship wine grapes and shines just as brightly in Temecula Valley. It is also a delight when used to produce rosé. To make this award-winning wine, Hart used a cold pre-soak followed by pressing, and a low-temperature white wine fermentation. The result is a lightly pink, near-dry, delicately scented and flavored rosé, bursting with strawberry and watermelon notes on an elegant, floral backdrop. Excellent with a wide range of foods, and a great summer sipper.

South Coast Winery Rosé of Tempranillo

Multi-award-winning and the only American rosé to earn a Double Gold at this year’s 50 Best rosé tasting, this wine is made from a blend of two different Iberian Peninsula clonal selections of Tempranillo (one Spanish and one Portuguese). Some of the fruit was machine harvested and quickly drained and pressed, while a portion was hand-picked and whole cluster pressed. The two lots were then blended prior to fermentation. The result is a wine with beautiful extraction and color, youthful acidity and great structure, offering ripe strawberry, sweet blackberry and watermelon notes. It is a wine with focus, finesse and elegance, showing wonderful varietal characters while remaining fresh and enjoyable.

2018 Robert Renzoni Vineyards Lyric Rose, $29

This is one of those amazingly quaffable wines that you could drink for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Ballet slipper pink and perfectly dry, this summer sipper is made from 100% Syrah. It boasts delicate notes of Ranier cherries, fleshy white peach and rose petals that give way to rich flavors of guava and melon. A delightful aperitif wine, meant for sipping by the pool or as you stroll Temecula Valley vineyards.

2018 Akash Winery Parlez Vous Rosé, $35

This intensely hued rosé, packaged in a stand-out, uniquely shaped bottle, is impossible to miss. Made from Temecula Valley newcomer, Akash Winery, this is a complex rosé that demands attention. A massive onslaught of aromas burst from the glass, displaying crushed raspberry, cranberry and strawberry notes, followed by watermelon Jolly Rancher and kaffir lime leaves. But don’t let the sweet, ripe bouquet fool you. On the palate, this rosé is completely dry, with a plush, almost grippy mouthfeel and an endless finish, making it a truly versatile food wine, capable of standing up to heartier fare and meat-based dishes. 

2018 Ponte Pas Doux, $28

“Pas Doux” translates to “not sweet,” a descriptor that lets the drinker know this wine, made from old vine Sangiovese, was intentionally made in a classic, dry, Provençal style. The grapes were harvested at sunrise rather than in the dawn twilight in order to select the lightest clusters.  The light juice was then full-cluster pressed directly to tank, and briefly cold-stored in stainless steel to retain and develop the structure and brightness. The Rhône yeast used for fermentation achieved warmer temperatures than expected, resulting in a rich, round palate and ultra-tropical ripeness.  In the bottle, this juicy rosé is a dynamic, rich, dry and complex yet focused wine.  The crisp acidity makes it a match for light fare, poultry, seafood and salad, but it can also stand up to hard, robust cheese and dried fruits.

2018 Wiens Family Cellars Rosé of Barbera, $26

We can’t get enough of the soft peach color of this elegant rosé, made from 100% Barbera, a grape that truly lends itself to rosé -making thanks to its ability to retain bright acidity. At only 11.5% alcohol it’s a great poolside or picnic sipper, but equally at home paired with an elegantly prepared dinner. Notes of ripe pink grapefruit, wet river stones, key lime and rose petal give way to mouthwatering peach and nectarine and a dry, lingering finish. 

2018 South Coast Winery Vineyard Rosé Sparkling Wine

It’s tough to talk about Temecula Valley rosé without mentioning bubbly. This wine, a blend of 52% Zinfandel 38% Tempranillo and 10% Merlot, captures the seductive fruit aromas and flavors from the three red varietals used in its creation. The estate grown grapes were specifically selected for their inherent red berry fruit character and their ability to work together in a blend. Each lot of fruit was whole cluster pressed and fermented separately prior to blending and secondary fermentation. Strawberry, raspberry and cherry rise out of the glass with each tiny bubble, making this wine a real “Jolly Rancher” treat. Finished as a Brut style, this wine has a very clean, bright acidity which makes it balanced, refreshing and inherently drinkable. 

Find all of these selections online or get them straight from the winery. With plenty to do, from wine tastings to concerts, festivals, hot air ballooning and more, you are sure to find enough to fill several days in Southern California Wine Country this Summer. Find out more about what’s going on all season long in the region Wine Enthusiast Magazine named one of the world’s Top Ten Wine Travel Destinations HERE.

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Baked Striped Bass with Peperonata, Olives, and Saffron Aioli

Wednesday, August 29th, 2018

Braised sweet peppers, potatoes, and tomato make a succulent foundation for baked fish. Sauced with a garlicky, saffron-scented aioli, the dish needs only some crusty bread to complete it. Pair with your favorite Temecula Valley Grenache Blanc or Rosé.

Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, halved and sliced
1 pound (500 g) Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced ¼ inch (6 mm) thick
½ pound (250 g) peeled plum tomatoes, halved and thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, halved, seeded, and sliced
1 green bell pepper, halved, seeded, and sliced
1 gold or yellow bell pepper, halved, seeded, and sliced
¼ cup chopped Italian parsley, plus some for garnish
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
Kosher or sea salt
½ cup (4 fl oz/125 ml) white wine
1 dozen black olives, preferably unpitted
4 fillets of striped bass or other firm white fish, 5 to 6 ounces (155 g to 185 g) each

Aioli
1 large clove garlic
Kosher or sea salt
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
½ cup (4 fl oz/125 ml) extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a large, wide Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onion, potatoes, tomato, peppers, parsley, oregano, saffron, and 2 teaspoons salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes render their juice and the vegetables begin to soften, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the wine and simmer for a couple of minutes to evaporate the alcohol. Cover the pot and adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes and peppers are tender, about 20 minutes longer. Stir in the olives. Taste for salt.

Season the fish with salt and place the fillets on top of the bed of vegetables. Add ¼ cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) water, cover and cook until the fish just flakes, about 10 minutes.

While the fish cooks, make the aioli: In a mortar, pound the garlic and a generous pinch of salt to a paste; alternatively, mince to a paste by hand. Put the egg yolk in a small bowl, add a splash of lukewarm water, and whisk. Begin adding the olive oil gradually—drop by drop at first—whisking constantly. (Recruit a helper to pour while you whisk.) When you have achieved an emulsion, you can add the oil a little faster. When you have incorporated all the oil, whisk in the garlic paste.

When the fish is ready, tilt the cooking pot and draw off about ¼ cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) of the juices. Whisk enough of these flavorful juices into the aioli to make it thin enough to drizzle. Taste for salt.

With a spatula transfer the vegetables and fish to individual shallow bowls or plates. Spoon aioli over the fish. Garnish with more chopped parsley.

Suggested Pairings: 

Chapin Family Vineyards ~ Rosella Rosé – Delicate flavor with a hint of grapefruit and a slightly dry and crisp finish.

Hart Winery ~ 2016 Rosé of Sangiovese –  Lightly pink, near-dry, delicately scented and flavored Rose′ wine, very much in the dryer, food-friendly European style.

Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery ~ 2016 Grenache Blanc – Green apple and mandarin orange dominate with citrus peel with herbal notes in the mix.

Recipe and photo courtesy of the Wine Institute of California

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Wine Country Recipe ~ Moroccan Chicken with Roasted Lemons and Green Olives

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

Meaty chicken thighs are braised and crisped in an aromatic broth infused with roasted citrus and North African spices. Pair with your favorite Temecula Valley Sauvignon Blanc.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, about 2 pounds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large lemon, cut into 8 wedges, seeded
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 cup chicken stock
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
20 pitted green olives

Directions:

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large, deep skillet with lid or Dutch-oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Brown the chicken, skin-side down, then flip and cook 2 minutes; transfer to a plate.

Add the lemons to the same skillet and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes; transfer to a separate plate.

Pour off the excess liquid from the skillet, add the onions and 1 tablespoon oil and cook over medium heat until the onions are soft and golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes, stirring frequently and stirring up any brown bits. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute, then add the cumin, coriander, paprika, ginger, and turmeric and cook about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the stock, cinnamon stick, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, then nestle the chicken, skin-side up, in the stock, making sure the skin is left exposed.

Cover the skillet, transfer to the oven, and bake 20 minutes. Remove the lid and scatter and tuck the lemons and olives around the chicken, leaving the chicken skin exposed. Continue to cook, uncovered, until the chicken is thoroughly cooked and the skin is golden and crispy, about 20 minutes.

Serve the chicken in shallow serving bowls with couscous.

Suggested Pairings:

Callaway Vineayard & Winery ~ 2015 Special Selection Sauvignon Blanc – Pairs with scallops, oysters, prawns white lighter textured fish and wine & cream pasta sauces.

Danza Del Sol Winery ~ 2016 Sauvignon Blanc – A mouthwatering balance of fresh fruit and acidity. Opens with aromas of white blossoms that lead to white peach, melon and ripe citrus. Flavors of crisp apple and lime.

Hart Winery ~ 2016 Sauvignon Blanc – Citrus notes of guava and tangerine, a subtle herbal undertone and a clean peach finish. This alluring dry white wine is produced from Sauvignon Blanc grapes grown in the Hart Family Vineyard and Temecula Valley’s Huis Vineyard.

Oak Mountain Winery ~ 2016 Sauvignon Blanc – Succulent melon and grapefruit mingle together in this medium-bodied Sauvignon Blanc. A light influence of French Oak rounds out this crisp, aromatic wine

Recipe and photo courtesy of the Wine Institute of California

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