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How to Celebrate Valentine’s Day All Month – or Year! – Long in Temecula Valley

Tuesday, February 1st, 2022

We can think of no better way to experience romance than while sipping wine and taking in the rolling hills, hot air balloons, and gorgeous vistas of Southern California’s Temecula Valley. Whether you’re planning on hitting up some wineries with your significant other, hanging with your best gal (or guy!) pal, or rolling solo for a little self-care, we’ve got the wines and the experiences to help you celebrate your best Valentine’s Day yet, Wine Country-style.

GETTING OUT AND ABOUT

If you’re headed out to Wine Country for some in-person swirling and sipping, check out these fun special events and ongoing winery programs that are sure to get the romance flowing year-round.

SIP Passport:

This ticket to Wine Country allows you and your honey to sip your way through Temecula Valley at your own pace. Enjoy a curated wine flight at any five of the participating wineries, Monday through Friday (Valentine’s Day just so happens to fall on a Monday this year!) and see where the experience takes you.

Monte de Oro Signature Food and Wine Series:

If you’re looking to avoid the crowds on February 14th, kick off the romance a little bit early at this feast for the senses including a multi-course culinary experience with a selection of Monte de Oro’s award-winning wines. Still determined to get out on the town on Valentine’s Day itself? Snag a ticket to Monte de Oro’s Valentine’s Day dinner, with a four-course meal, wine pairings, and live music.

Bottaia Blending Lab:

Sometimes, the best way spice things up is by taking on a new activity together. Become winemaker for a day at Bottaia’s unique wine blending lab, where you will roll up your sleeves and make your very own custom wine blend, complete with a cork and label. Lay the wine down to open up on your next anniversary or special occasion, or sip it while celebrating Valentine’s Day 2022.

Doffo Winery Sweetheart Dinner:

Romance doesn’t need to be all chocolate and roses, right? On Saturday, February 12, hit up everyone’s favorite moto-themed winery for a decadent four-course meal with wine pairings while rubbing elbow’s with the tight-knit Doffo family and fellow wine (and motorcycle) enthusiasts.

Galentine’s at Peltzer:

On February 11, ditch the guys and celebrate being single (or single for a day) while you dance, shop, sip, and nosh the night away. Enjoy local bites and food trucks, live music, a pop-up market, and of course, lots and lots of Temecula Valley wine. 

Wine and Wellness at Akash:

Sometimes connecting with your partner means reconnecting with yourself as well. Akash Winery not only offers ongoing yoga and fitness classes among the vines, but they have also launched a one-of-a-kind Wellness + Wine club, featuring access to yoga, Lagree-inspired workouts, and kickboxing classes, not to mention post-workout sips and monthly bottles to take home. Nothing like a little sweat – or zen – to get in the mood for romance.

STAYING COZY AT HOME

If you’re looking forward to a little Netflix and chill this Valentine’s Day, you’re going to need a steady supply of wine. Here are a few of our favorites for sipping with your favorite partner in wine.

Bubbles

And we don’t mean the bath kind! Temecula Valley produces some spectacular traditional method sparkling wines, made with quality grapes and painstaking attention to detail, for the perfect kickoff to any special occasion (or to sip, like we do, on any ordinary Monday).

A few to try:

Thornton Winery Brut NV, $54 – Close your eyes and you’re in Champagne! A blend of classic Champagne grapes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this crisp, clean sparkler boasts juicy apple, pear, and tropical aromas, and a toasty, creamy finish.

Bottaia 2020 Rosé Spumante, $45 – We love the offbeat blend of Italian grapes in this dry, soft-pink bubbly, with notes of strawberry, raspberry, melon, and lime zest.

South Coast Winery Ruby Cuvée Sparkling Syrah NV, $24 – Need something bright and juicy to pair with that box of Valentine’s Day chocolates? Pop a bottle of this deep crimson-colored red sparkling wine for a decadent treat.

Big, Bold Reds

There’s something about a rich, velvety red wine that just oozes romance. Temecula Valley is known for producing some truly exceptional full-bodied reds that are perfect for sipping with your significant other – with a special dinner or simply while curled up on the couch and enjoying each other’s company.

A few to try:

Baily Winery 2018 Meritage, $75

This rich, complex red is an elegant blend of classic Bordeaux grape varieties. It is lean but powerful, with ripe berry fruit, plum, sweet baking spices and an intriguing tobacco note.

Leoness Cellars 2018 Signature Series “Eloquent”, $99

This silky blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel is the ultimate contemplation wine. Dark berry fruit aromas are framed by notes of sweet and savory spice like vanilla, black pepper, chocolate, and anise.  

Fazeli Cellars 2017 Shiraz, $50

Taking its name from the fabled ancient Persian city of Shiraz, as well as the alternate spelling of “Syrah,” this wine boasts silky black currant and blackberry layered with vanilla, sweet tobacco, mocha and black pepper.

Something Sweet

Who needs a box of Valentine’s Day chocolates when you can sip your dessert with one of these indulgent sweet and fortified wine selections? Pair them with an after-dinner sweet treat, a salty cheese course, or nothing at all – they’re just that tasty.

A few to try:

Callaway Vineyard & Winery Late Harvest Cabernet Sauvignon, $26

Grapes spend extra time on the vines to develop the ripest possible fruit notes as well as elevated sugar levels to create this smooth, sensuous treat, packed with black cherry and raspberry jam, cinnamon and a hint of licorice.

Mount Palomar Limited Reserve Tawny Port, $65

This extremely limited bottling made from 100% estate grown grapes is made in the style of the great fortified wines of Portugal. A blend of 11- and 10-year tawny port, this rich, amber nectar is ripe with aromas of molasses, fig, tangerine, and brown sugar.

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Four Must-Have Temecula Valley Wines for Your Thanksgiving Dinner Table

Friday, November 5th, 2021

Thanksgiving Cheer

Holiday meals are so full of different, often competing, flavors that it can be tough to find just the right wines to pair. So why not select a few unique options and let your guests mix and match with each course? To that end, we have compiled a quick guide to four foolproof wines from Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country to sip alongside your Thanksgiving spread this season.

BUBBLES

No party is complete without some festive sparkling wine! And, it’s actually one of the easiest wine to pair with food because it goes with just about everything. From your welcome toast over hors d’oeuvres, to a spread of appetizers, to a versatile pairing for your main course, sparkling wines cleanse the palate, and compliment a wide range of flavors, so they are a must-pour for any occasion.

Temecula Valley also makes a ton of really great sparkling wines! From light and easy sweeter styles, to offbeat fizz made from non-traditional grapes, to complex vintage classic method sparklers, there is something to suit ever palate. You could even pair each course with a totally different style of sparkling wine for a unique food and wine experience.

A few to try:

Oak Mountain Winery Sparkling Pinotage, Temecula Valley, $34

Bottaia Rosé Spumante, Temecula Valley, $45

Carter Estate Blanc de Blanc, Temecula Valley, $41

VIOGNIER

Viognier is a white grape known primarily for its role in white wines from the Rhône Valley, in particular the appellation of Condrieu on the right bank of the Northern Rhône. It has been said to be “the hedonist’s white grape variety,” because of its exceptional body, perfume, and richness, making it perfect for a late Fall or early Winter dinner.

Temecula Valley viognier presents all of the classic markers of the grape – a heady aroma of stone fruit like apricot and peach, floral notes of honeysuckle and apple blossom, and a touch of amber musk. It’s also got a rich, slightly oily texture that coats the palate, and makes it an ideal pairing for some of the more complex flavors of the holiday table.

A few to try:

Leoness Cellars Cellar Series Viognier, Temecula Valley, $29

Falkner Winery Viognier, Temecula Valley, $40

Monte de Oro Viognier, Temecula Valley, $23

MONTEPULCIANO

Not to be confused with the region of Montepulciano in Tuscany, the Montepulciano grape is one of Italy’s most widely planted. Primarily associated with the region of Abruzzo in Central Italy, wines made from the Montepulciano grape can be medium-bodied and food-friendly – a style largely intended for wines meant to be enjoyed regularly at the family dinner table.

However, in Temecula Valley – as with some producers in Italy – winemakers are experimenting with a much more serious style of Montepulciano. These wines are full bodied with dark, ripe fruit, notes of forest floor, chocolate, and spice, a medium tannin structure, and a refreshing backbone of acidity to balance the richness of the fruit. Pair these wines with the full spectrum of Thanksgiving flavors, from turkey, to duck, to roast beef, to earthy vegetarian dishes, and everything in between.

A few to try:

Robert Renzoni Vineyards Montepulciano, Temecula Valley, $49

Fazeli Cellars Montepulciano, Temecula Valley, $50

Cougar Estate Cask Montepulciano, Temecula Valley, $50

SHERRY-STYLE WINES

It wouldn’t be a holiday meal without a little something sweet to end with. Sherry – the famous Spanish fortified wine – is produced in a number of styles, from the light and dry fino and manzanilla sherries to the nutty and oxidized amontillado and oloroso sherries, to the sweet and popular cream sherries, to the rich, luscious PX sherries. The sweeter styles are a perfect after-dinner drink, sipped on their own, or with a helping of holiday dessert or a cheese course.

True Sherry wines must come from grapes grown and produced exclusively in the Jerez region of Spain. However the term “Sherry-style” may refer to wines made using similar production methods. Temecula Valley makes wines in this same way. These wines are fortified with a neutral spirit and typically aged oxidatively – that is, with exposure to oxygen – resulting in a browning of the wine, and nutty, toasted aromas.

One such Sherry-style wine is made with Pedro Ximénez grapes which are dried like raisins, fortified, and aged completely oxidatively, yielding a wine that is as dark as coffee, with rich caramel and dried fruit notes. In Spain, these are known as PX Sherries, and they are among the sweetest wines in the world. Pour this over vanilla ice cream or sip it alongside your holiday pecan pie for a totally decadent treat.

A few to try:

Raúl Ramirez Bodegas y Viñedos Bandido, $45

Mount Palomar Winery Solera Cream Sherry, Temecula Valley, $29

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Move Over Pumpkin Spice; We’ve Got Delicious Fall Wines

Friday, October 1st, 2021

While we realize seasonal transitions in Southern California aren’t always so obvious – sunny and 85 degrees to sunny and 79 degrees, for example – we still don’t like to miss out on the festive changes we associate with the weather getting crisper and the days getting shorter.

Beautiful Fall Vineyard

One of these changes is, of course, reaching for those fantastic in-between wines that mark the Fall season. You know the ones – the rich, nutty Chardonnay instead of the bright and fresh Pinot Grigio; the light-bodied red packed with juicy red fruit instead of the salmon-colored rosé.

It’s not holiday season yet, and we’re still not ready to move into cold weather wines, but pumpkin spice has started creeping into everything, and we find ourselves eyeing those cozy sweaters in the back of the closet. In celebration, we have compiled a guide to some of our favorite wine for transitioning into cooler Fall weather.

BOLD WHITES

Peltzer Family Cellars Chardonnay

Says Pelzer Tasting Room Manager Danae Wager, “The transition from summer to Fall is not always smooth (like we insist our wines to be). As the weather cools off, we love to feature our Chardonnay with any dish that would typically be paired with a lighter bodied red wine to ease the transition in temperature.”

This robust Chardonnay boasts notes of yellow apple, apricot, and lemon meringue pie and is perfect for homemade Fall soups. Think: roasted butternut squash or loaded baked potato soup to warm the palate. 

Fazeli Cellars Oaked Chardonnay

This luscious white is aged on the lees in French and Hungarian oak barrels for eight months. It exudes all that one expects from a classic California Chardonnay, with notes of Fuji apples, pear, pineapple, and prominent warm, toasty oak notes on the finish.

Leoness Cellars Viognier

“Fall in Temecula seems to be staying warmer and warmer!” Says Leoness Cellars Executive Director, Spencer Szczygiel. “Around this time of year, I’ll often reach for a white wine with a little more weight to it – our Leoness Viognier being a favorite.”

He explains that the Viognier’s stone fruit and spice notes pair exceptionally well with heartier fall salads like peppery greens with apple, blue cheese, nuts and grilled chicken – which are great if you want to avoid turning on the oven during the lingering Southern California Fall heat.

 Europa Village Estate Arneis

Showing complex yet light and airy aromas of honey, wild herbs, water chestnut, and pear skin, this golden-colored wine immediately draws the attention of the taster. This is a rich and very full-bodied wine, with flavors of apricot, pear, and a slight nuttiness like honey-dipped cashews, that carry this wine through a long and harmonious finish – just like the slow transition from Summer to Fall in the beautiful Temecula Valley.

HEARTY REDS:

Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery Monastrell

This is a lighter red wine with hints of cherry and cedar, making it perfect for a sunset charcuterie board or even a fish dish, as well as classic options like chicken and pasta. This is the ideal red on a warm day when something rich and velvety doesn’t feel quite right.

Peltzer Family Cellars Estate Sangiovese

This medium-bodied Sangiovese is packed with maraschino cherries, pomegranate, allspice, and violet. It’s a great wine for Thanksgiving, with the red fruit notes enhancing the traditional turkey dinner flavors. “You may need more than one bottle to satisfy the in-laws!” jokes Tasting Room Manager Danae.

Chapin Family Vineyards Montepulciano  

This wine is the perfect choice if you’re looking for an elegant, light-bodied red, packed with an abundance of aromas and flavors of cherry, blackberry, currant, and fresh herbs, with soft, round tannins, and a smooth, dry finish. Pair this with a backyard sunset as the cool evening breezes set in.

Fazeli Cellars Megregan

“Mehregan” is the Persian harvest festival celebrating the Autumn solstice. This earthy Grenache (with a touch of Shiraz) lovely to sip as we prepare for winter and toast to the close of our long summer days. It’s got bright Bing cherry cola and anise notes and a medium body, with soft supple tannins on the finish.  

Lorimar Winery Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre

This quintessential Rhône Valley-style blend is the perfect wine for the cooler fall months, boasting aromas of red currant, ripe plum, cocoa and a pleasant touch of Red Vines.

Wilson Creek Winery Cinsault

This bright, vibrant sipper is the ultimate light red wine for this time of year. When grown and harvested in Temecula Valley, Cinsault features all the fall fruit flavors from cherries to berries to complement the comfort foods of the season.

Leoness Cellars Grenache

A blend of 78% Grenache, 14% Syrah, 8% mourvedre, and aged in French and American oak barrels for 18 months, this wine is medium-bodied with aromas and flavors of raspberries and cherries complemented by hints of tobacco, earth, and spice leading into a soft, lengthy finish.

“During this unique transition between seasons, my favorite wine is our 2017 Grenache,” says Leoness Director of Hospitality Leonard Grose. “With its lighter body and vibrant rhubarb and clove hints on the nose and palate, this wine is perfect for a hearty fall chicken soup with lentils, carrots, and celery.”

Europa Village Primitivo

This jewel-toned Primitivo dazzles with aromas of raspberry crème, cherry liqueur, and autumn leaves. On the palate it stays true to the Puglian style, balancing fresh acidity and a pleasant jamminess, with flavors of black cherry, and smooth, well-integrated tannins. This is the perfect wine to enjoy as the sun sets a bit earlier and the twilight beckons us to enjoy the lovely fall weather.

A LITTLE SOMETHING SWEET

Bel Vino Winery Late Harvest Blanc

Grapes harvested later in the season have a chance to develop rich, ripe aromas and accumulate high sugar levels. When pressed and vinified the resulting wines are lusciously sweet and make a stellar pairing for salty cheeses and dessert courses – or can serve as dessert course themselves!

“What better way to experience fall, than with a late-harvested, intensely flavorful and aromatic Late Harvest Blanc,” says Mike Janko from Bel Vino Winery. “The relatively high sugar levels balanced by bright acidity make it great for sipping or to be enjoyed as a dessert wine.”

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Grilled Pork Shoulder Chops with Nectarine Slaw

Friday, July 2nd, 2021

If you have grill duties this 4th of July, show everyone you have the right stuff with these succulent pork chops. Shoulder chops aren’t as common as loin chops so you may need to ask a butcher to cut them for you. They have more flavor, and this garlicky rub guarantees that they will be a dish you want to make all summer long. Juicy California nectarines make this slaw a standout. Pair with your favorite Temecula Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel.

Grilled Pork Shoulder Chops with Nectarine Slaw

Serves 4

Ingredients:

Rub: 

  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed between your fingers 
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt 
  • ¾ teaspoon garlic powder 
  • ¾ teaspoon ground fennel 
  • ¾ teaspoon paprika  
  • 4 bone-in pork shoulder blade chops, about 8 ounces (225 g) each and ½ inch (1.25 cm) thick 
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 

 Dressing: 

  • ¼ cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil 
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, or more as needed 
  • 2 teaspoons honey  
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 

 Slaw: 

  • ½ pound (225 g) green cabbage, cored and very thin sliced 
  • ¼ pound (115 g) radicchio, cored and very thinly sliced 
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and grated 
  • 1/3 cup (40 g) minced green onion, white and pale green parts only 
  • 1/3 cup (40 g) toasted slivered almonds 
  • 1 large ripe but firm nectarine, very thinly sliced 


Directions:

In a small bowl, combine all the rub ingredients. Brush the chops on both sides with the olive oil. Sprinkle both sides of the chops with the rub, pressing it into place with your fingers. Place the chops on a rack set over a tray and refrigerate, uncovered, for 8 to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature before grilling. 

Make the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, honey, and salt and pepper to taste. 

Prepare a moderately hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill to medium-high.  

Make the slaw: In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, radicchio, carrot, green onion, almonds, and nectarine. Toss to mix. Add enough of the dressing to coat the slaw lightly; you may not need it all. Toss gently and taste for seasoning. 

Grill the chops about 5 minutes per side for medium doneness. Let rest 5 minutes to allow the juices to settle, then serve with the slaw. 

Suggested Pairings:

Bella Vista Winery ~ 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon – Deep red color that highlights flavors of blackberries and cassis.

Leoness Cellars ~ 2018 Cellar Selection Zinfandel – Offers beautiful aromas and flavors of sweet black fruit with hints of vanilla, allspice and black licorice framed by soft tannins and a long, silky finish.

Masia de la Vinya ~ 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon – Rose petals, baked cherry pie, slight bite of white pepper.

Wiens Family Cellars ~ 2019 Dualis – While being a true 50/50 split, our 2019 Dualis shows more classic notes of Zinfandel, with the Cabernet playing a supporting role.

Recipe and photo courtesy of the Wine Institute of California.

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Grilled Five-Spice Chicken with Cucumber Peanut Salad

Thursday, June 3rd, 2021

Grilled Five-Spice Chicken with Cucumber Peanut Salad

Vietnamese chefs introduced Californians to the delights of five-spice chicken, and the dish is now entrenched in the Golden State repertoire. A cool, crunchy, lime-laced cucumber salad provides a refreshing contrast to the highly seasoned chicken. The marinade makes the chicken skin extra-crisp and tasty, so purchase skin-on thighs if possible. Pair with your favorite Temecula Valley Merlot!

Serves 4

Ingredients:

Marinade 

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce 
  • 2 teaspoons Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce  
  • ¼ teaspoon five-spice powder 
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced 
  • 1 small shallot, finely minced 
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 4 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on, about 1-1/2 pounds (680 g)

Cucumber Peanut Salad 

  • 1 English cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced 
  • 1 large carrot, coarsely grated 
  • ½ small sweet red onion, thinly sliced 
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice with some pulp 
  • 2 tablespoons water 
  • 1 tablespoon Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce  
  • 1 tablespoon sugar 
  • 1 small clove garlic, finely minced 
  • ½ small jalapeño chili, minced (remove seeds first, if desired) 
  • ¼ cup (10 g) coarsely chopped cilantro 
  • ¼ cup (30 g) chopped roasted unsalted peanuts  
  • Lime wedges 

Directions:

Prepare the marinade: Combine the soy sauce, fish sauce, five-spice powder, garlic, shallot, and sugar and whisk until the sugar dissolves. Put the chicken thighs in a glass baking dish or other container just large enough to hold them. Pour the marinade over the thighs and turn them to coat all over. Cover and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours, turning once halfway through. 

 Prepare the cucumber salad: Put the cucumber, carrot, and onion in a bowl and toss gently to mix. In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, water, fish sauce, sugar, garlic, and chili. Whisk until the sugar dissolves, then pour the dressing over the salad and toss gently. Add the cilantro and peanuts and toss again. Taste and adjust the seasoning. 

 Prepare a hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill to high. Remove the chicken from the marinade and place skin side down on the grill. Brush the flesh side with any marinade in the baking dish. Cook on both sides until the skin has browned and crisped and the chicken juices run clear, not pink, when probed at the bone, about 20 minutes.  

 Divide the cucumber salad and the chicken among 4 dinner plates. Garnish with lime wedges. 

Suggested Pairings:

Frangipani Winery ~ 2017 Merlot – Smooth from start to finish, berries and spice throughout.

Leoness Cellars ~ 2015 Vineyard Selection Merlot – Well balanced and well structured, with beautiful layers of blackberry, black cherry, and plum complemented by earthy aromas

Monte De Oro Winery ~ 2016 Merlot – A medium+ aroma intensity of freshly picked raspberries, bing cherries, and strawberries with vanilla, cocoa bean, red bell pepper, red flowers, clove, cinnamon and charred oak.

Thornton Winery ~ 2016 Merlot – Merlot has cherry, black berry currant and blueberry notes along with a fruit-driven entry that is complemented by oak barrels from France, Eastern Europe and North America.

Recipe and photo courtesy of the Wine Institute of California

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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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Getting to Know Temecula Valley’s Rockstar Tasting Room Staff

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

We as wine lovers always like to hear how winemakers and winery owners got their start. We often think of them as local celebrities; their appearance in the tasting room is always met with hushed whispers and a great sense of excited anticipation – maybe they’ll sign my bottle! Or pour me a barrel sample! And they certainly deserve this rockstar status. However, there is another group of winery rockstars that equally deserve the spotlight – the tasting room staff who keep our glasses filled and hearts full.

Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country is known for its warm and welcoming tasting rooms. This is in no small part thanks to the remarkable men and women who bring their passion and engaging personalities to work every day, and to the stories they share with visitors about our region. Let’s meet a few Temecula Valley tasting room legends.

Walter Carter

Walter Carter, Director of Hospitality, Danza del Sol Winery & Masia de la Vinya Winery

This Temecula Valley rockstar is no doubt one of the best-known personalities in Temecula Valley. Not only is he the consummate wine and hospitality pro, being a Certified Hospitality Industry Professional (CHIP), a 2-time Xenia Spotlight on Service award winner, and a Certified Sommelier, his infectious personality is legendary in both the tasting room and across the region as a whole. Originally hailing from Tampa, Florida, he has lived in Temecula for eight years.

TVWA: Tell us about your family. Kids? Dogs?

WC: Jamie Carter is my wife, and we have a blended family of six kids.

TVWA: Wow – six kids! No wonder you love wine. Speaking of which, tell us about your first “a-ha!” wine moment?

WC: After working a shift in a restaurant in Florida, the chef prepared gorgonzola-crusted lamb chops, which he then paired with a Chianti. It changed the way I saw wine FOREVER! I describe this as my coming to wine (not Jesus) moment. The way the wine elevated the food, and vice versa, was something I’ll never forget.

TVWA: Do you have a favorite wine pairing?

WC: Gorgonzola-crusted lamb chops paired with a Chianti (of course), and 2009 Danza del Sol Syrah paired with blue cheese cheesecake.

TVWA: We think we may already know the answer, but do you have a signature tasting room style or move?

WC: The “Walter Pour” – an exaggerated long pour with a smile.

TVWA: Can you share one of your most memorable tasting room moments?

WC: Meeting my future wife. She was hired a couple of months after I was. I didn’t know it at the time, but she would end up being my best friend in the whole wide world.

TVWA: What does life look like for you outside of the winery? Got any hobbies?

WC: Golfing, and I love to cook. I love a good grill session, crock pot recipe, air fryer (just got one and I love love love it), you name it. I find it therapeutic when I have time to put together a nice meal for my family to enjoy. That is something that is very important to me.

Diana Geenen


Diana Geenen, Hospitality Operations Manager, Leoness Cellars

This Upland, California, native has been in Temecula Valley for the past 6 years. She is the proud mama of three dogs and a bearded dragon, and enjoys painting, cooking, exploring the restaurant and craft brewing scene, and gardening. She has also been part of the same book club for 11 years! Now that’s commitment!

TVWA: What was your first “a-ha!” wine moment?

DG: When I first heard of blind tasting. I was amazed this was possible! Ever since then, I really concentrate on the characteristics of different varietals and regions and try to commit them to memory. I really enjoy practicing blind tasting with my co-workers. 

TVWA: What is your favorite wine pairing?

DG: When I’m feeling extra fancy, Sauternes and Foie Gras. Though, nothing beats a ribeye steak and a beautiful bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon! 

TVWA: Do you have a signature tasing room style or move?

DG: One of my favorite things that we do at Leoness is side-by-side comparisons. For example, the same varietal but from two different vineyards tasted side-by-side can show the guest how a vineyard really influences the end result. We are so lucky to have our Vineyard Series wines. Guests have so much fun talking about the wine this way and can pick their favorite. It’s great to witness their A-HA! moment!

TVWA: Can you share one of your most memorable tasting room moments?

DG: I think the most memorable moment for me was Valentine’s Day 2019. We had the biggest storm in Temecula, and all the roads were flooded. I barely made it to the winery, and we were actually forced to close for the day, along with many other wineries, because the weather conditions were so unsafe. Water was coming into the tasting room and into our barrel room. It was truly a sight I’ll never forget!

Raymond Murgo

Raymond Angel Murgo, Tasting Room Manager, Falkner Winery

Raymond is originally from Anaheim, California, but has spent the past 9 years in Temecula. He married his high school sweetheart, Ana, with whom he has two daughters, Angelina (age 11) and Avani (age 8), as well as an English Bulldog named Coco Lola, whom he affectionately refers to as his “fur baby.”

TVWA: What was your first “a-ha!” wine moment?

RM: My first A-HA was when I worked for Buzz and Kimberly Olson at Tesoro Winery. I had just turned 21 and, up to that point, I’d tasted wine maybe twice at family gatherings. It was an ‘06 Merlot, blue label, with the vineyard’s decal. It was the fabled unicorn; when we had a bottle out, it was like a golden treasure. So, I opened up the bottle and poured glasses for Buzz and me, and I and remember looking at how beautiful the deep blue hue was. I began swirling the glass and watching, almost in slow motion, the wine glide from side to side. We raised our glasses and took that luscious sip. Black cherry and plum, finishing with a softness… the vanilla just rolled on the back of your palate. We talked for a great while, finishing that bottle, but I wouldn’t believe, at 21 years of age, I had found what my love and passion would be. 

TVWA: What is your favorite wine pairing?

RM: My favorite wine pairing has to be Falkner Winery’s Amante Super Tuscan paired with the Spanish Octopus we serve at our on-site restaurant, The Pinnacle. Chef Jason just knows his way with it to keep the tenderness, and the Amante accentuates the red plum, roasted pepper, and roundness. You would think I’d go with white wine, but no way! I learned with many of the dishes at The Pinnacle Restaurant that our Amante is a killer treat! 

TVWA: Do you have a signature tasting room style or move?

RM: So my family, friends, and wine club member have sent me some insightful characteristics when I asked them about this (and some direct messages that are strictly meant to stay in the tasting room… those had-to-be-there moments!). But what I have gotten mostly as feedback is that I make wine approachable to all visitors. I am able to tell a story about the world of Temecula Valley Wine Country with knowledge, ease, and laughter! It’s almost as though I bring them into the backyard, and we can just relax for those 45 mins… it’s home. 

TVWA: Can you share one of your most memorable tasting room moments?

RM: My most memorable moment had to be when Kyla Pratt, an actress who played in one of my childhood favorite movies called “Love & Basketball,” stopped by to visit. She was so fun; she even got behind the bar with me and started pouring for her party. It was just another one of those times that it felt like we were all friends and family hanging out. 

TVWA: What does life look like for you outside of the winery? Got any hobbies?

RM: Outside of the wine world, I’m a huge family man. With my Mexican-American lifestyle we have a party to go to every weekend, prior to COVID. I love taking my girls to family adventures. I can’t breathe without my Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Lakers (Kobe fanatic), and Anaheim Angels. I played almost every sport from the age of 7 years old and up. So, when I can rally the troops, we get together and play basketball. But, one of my hidden passions is that I love history and literature, especially historical fiction. I am currently writing a biography about my family and linking the social norms and experiences from the 1990s to present. It’s a whole lot of fun learning where you came from to practicing the foundation for your future grandkids. 

Laura Kessens

Laura Kessens, Wine Consultant, Robert Renzoni Vineyards

This Scottsdale, Arizona native has been in Temecula for a whopping 20 years! When not charming guests with her warm personality and wine knowledge at Robert Renzoni Vineyards, she spends her time cooking, going wine tasting, and hanging out with friends and family, especially her two daughters.

TVWA: What was your first “a-ha!” wine moment?

LK: Hart Winery

TVWA: What is your favorite wine pairing?

LK: A glass of wine and a sunset!

TVWA: Do you have a signature tasing room style or move?

LK: I’m not going to tell you what it is! You’ll just have to come experience it for yourself!

TVWA: Ha! Fair enough. Can you at least share one of your most memorable tasting room moments?

LK: Some guests asked me where I liked to go wine tasting. I told them. The next day, they came back to me with the wine they had bought and wanted me to sign a bottle for them… wow.

Danaé Wegner

Danaé Wegner, Tasting Room Manager, Peltzer Family Cellars

Even though Danaé was born in Lake Arrowhead, California, she definitely considers Temecula her hometown. This makes sense given she has been here for 25 years! Her love of wine infuses even her life outside of the winery. She loves to create lavish charcuterie spreads and host friends and family for what her friend and Certified Sommelier, Art DeCaro, has lovingly dubbed “Wine Family Dinner.” She also loves to snuggle her “big baby bear” (AKA a very large Newfoundland dog) named Amber Jean.

TVWA: What was your first “a-ha!” wine moment?

DW: For my 21st birthday, my wine-loving Aunt Georgi took my sister, Dara, and I out to the Mission Inn in Riverside to celebrate. We stayed up all night talking and drinking her favorite go-to everyday bottle, St. Francis Zinfandel. I realized that evening that wine creates moments, which create memories, and I was in love. 

TVWA: Do you have a favorite wine pairing?

DW: As a Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 certification holder, I enjoy only the finest food and wine pairings, like Peltzer’s DOCG Prosecco and the Pizza con Rucola from our friends at Spuntino’s!

TVWA: Do you have a signature tasing room style or move?

DW: Reaching up on my tip-toes in order to pour a glass of wine across the bar for thirsty customers. Being 5 feet tall creates strong calves in this industry!

TVWA: Can you share one of your most memorable tasting room moments?

DW: While taking a group through a tasting, it seemed apparent that one of the younger gentlemen wanted to be sure that I knew he was wildly experienced in the world of wine. I asked if he had ever had our premium sparkling wine. No, he had not. Well, it is very exclusive and I would have to go ask my manager if I could pour it for him. 

Permission granted! I went into the back and pulled out our Non-Vintage Pellegrino. It was his favorite wine of the day, and his friends appreciated his slightly shorter wine snob stance. We keep in touch, and I attended his wedding in 2016.

Rebecca Barone

Rebecca Barone, Wine Server, Monte de Oro Winery

Although Rebecca was born in in Northern California, she has called Temecula home for the past 19 years. Her 21-year-old son and his wife are serving in the Air Force, and her 18-year-old daughter just graduated high school. She has been married for 29 years, and has an adorable little Chihuahua named Cheerio.

TVWA: Do you have a favorite wine pairing?

RB: My favorite pairing is a big red with some salty Manchego or Parmigiano cheese.

TVWA: Do you have a signature tasing room style or move?

RB: I would say my style is honest and authentic but also fun and knowledgeable.

TVWA: What does life look like for you outside of the winery? Got any hobbies?

RB: My hobbies – other than wine – are being with my family, reading, hiking, and being outdoors.

Huge thanks to all the amazing winery staff who contributed to this piece. Got a favorite Wine Country tasting room rockstar? Tell us on social media and we will give them a shout out!

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Grilled Baby Back Ribs with Smoky Cherry BBQ Sauce and Red Cabbage Citrus Slaw

Friday, June 29th, 2018

This looks like an amazing dish to serve for your 4th of July BBQ! Fresh cherries round out the smoky heat of a feisty barbecue sauce that glazes tender pork ribs as they crisp on the grill. Pair with your favorite Temecula Valley Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

Sauce:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pound fresh California cherries, pitted, chopped
2/3 cup ketchup
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 to 2 teaspoons ground chipotle chili pepper (or smoked Hungarian paprika)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Rub:
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 racks baby back ribs, each about 2 pounds, membranes removed

Slaw:
1/2 medium head red cabbage, finely shredded, about 4 cups
2 large carrots, coarsely grated
1/2 medium yellow onion, coarsely grated with juices, about 1/2 cup
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Make the sauce:
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the jalapeño and garlic and sauté until fragrant, 1 to 2 minute. Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer the sauce to a food processor or blender, process until smooth and taste for seasoning.

Prepare the ribs:
In a small bowl, combine the rub ingredients. Evenly coat the ribs with the rub. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Prepare the grill for indirect cooking over medium-low heat (about 300°F). Grill the ribs, bone-side down over indirect heat, with the lid closed, until the meat is very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours, turning occasionally to ensure even cooking. During the last 20 to 30 minutes of grilling time, baste the ribs with the glaze every 5 or 10 minutes. Remove the ribs from the grill and let rest 5 minutes, then cut into individual ribs for serving.

While the ribs are grilling, make the slaw:
Combine all of the slaw ingredients in a large bowl and toss to thoroughly coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour to allow the flavors to develop.
Serve the ribs with the remaining sauce for dipping and the slaw.

Suggested Pairings:

Baily Winery ~ 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon –  These grapes hail from the oldest vineyards in Temecula, planted in 1968. This wine offers warm, rich tones with subtle, herbaceous qualities and a hint of mint.

Doffo Winery ~2015 Zinfandel – Awarded 1st place at Temecula Valley People’s Choice Blind Tasting!

Leoness Cellars ~ 2015 Cellar Selection Zinfandel – This wine offers beautiful aromas and flavors of sweet blackberry and juicy plum, with hints of clove and black licorice framed by soft tannins and a long, silky finish.

Thornton Winery ~ 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon – Very classic berry and pepper aromas came forth while subtle herbaeceous notes meld with the warm toasty aromas from the oak.

Recipe and photo courtesy of The Wine Institute of California

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Get to Know Merlot!

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

Considered one of the most food-friendly and approachable wines on the planet, Merlot surged to popularity in the United States in the 1990s. Now wine-lovers can find great Merlot and delicious Merlot blends from all over the world – from South America to France to Italy to right here in Temecula Valley, California.

Here are five fun facts about Merlot!

Sourced from Snooth/Wikipedia

1) Did you know the word “merlot” translates to “young blackbird” in French? The name was thought to have been given either because of the grape’s beautiful blue-black color, or blackbird’s fondness for grapes.

2) Merlot’s flavor profile fluctuates within the sweetness spectrum. Cooler climates bring out hints of berries, plum, and even tobacco. Merlot grown in hotter climates might mimic flavors found in fruitcake or chocolate.

3) A bit about Merlot blends: When Merlot first arrived in California, it mostly sold as single varietal bottlings (100% Merlot) until winemakers began blending it with other red grapes in the French Bordeaux tradition. Now, California’s Meritage wines are a signature of the state and always include Merlot as one of the essential blending grapes.

4) Merlot is so popular because of the grape’s ability to please all palates. Wines can range from very fruity simple wines to more serious, barrel-aged bottles.

5) Merlot has a high sugar content and low acidity, which makes it a very food-friendly wine, able to be paired with a variety of dishes. For example, Cabernet-like Merlots pair well with grilled meats. Softer, fruitier Merlots go well with salmon, mushroom-based dishes and greens. Light-bodied Merlots pair well with shellfish like prawns or scallops, especially if wrapped in bacon or prosciutto. Snake River Farms is a company that sources high-quality American Wagyu cuts, prime rib, filet mignon, Kurobuta pork, and other premium roasts. Though their products aren’t quite cheap, you can notice the difference in texture and taste of their meats over their competitors. Read full snake river farms review at Grilliam.com – Snake River Farms (SRF) is a premium meat brand that’s used at Michelin-starred restaurants and sold at select retailers and online. It sells not Japanese Wagyu, but American Wagyu — the result of imported Japanese Wagyu cattle crossbred with traditional Angus cattle breeds.

Looking for a great bottle of Temecula Valley Merlot?  Check these out:

Baily Winery 2012 Merlot

Bel Vino Winery 2013 Merlot

Falkner Winery 2013 Merlot

Leoness Cellars 2014 Vineyard Selection Merlot

Oak Mountain Winery 2013 Merlot

 

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