What better way to celebrate a friend’s birthday than with wine? Last weekend, I attended Temecula Valley Wine Country’s CRUSH wine and culinary showcase with two of my best friends. My friends and I were able to sample the latest wines and edibles from Temecula’s local wineries (35 to be exact– nearly all currently in operation) and eateries. Held at Callaway Vineyard and Winery, whose label is recognizable by its rising sun “through the mist”, we could see whole bunches of grapes, ripe and ready for harvest, hanging off the vine.
The event had sold out in advance and I think many of the winery staff were a bit giddy that the crowd just didn’t seem to stop coming. All the attendees were in good spirits soon enough. We each received our complimentary Callaway Winery tasting glasses and off we went. It was definitely an amusing sight: while my friends and I fell into a sizable minority of under 35’s, it seemed the entire crowd had had more than their fill of wine by the end of the night. Midway through the event, people were flocking to the food samplings and I heard at least one woman begin to chat up a winery representative about Bottle Shock. During the event, I took note in my program of which wines I especially liked, noting their distinct flavors for memory’s sake (because let’s be real– was I ever going to remember my favorites after the inevitable wine hangover the next morning?). After a few booths, we realized that the winery representatives loved this practice, and soon my friends were pointing out at each winery introduction, “Oh, we’re prepared. Sarah’s taking notes.” Remember that, folks– that’s how you up your wine street cred.
Now, I must preface this summary of my favorite wines by disclosing that I come from Italian stock– I like my red wines hearty and my white wines light and fruity. My friends and I were the perfect tasting group as they tended toward the sweeter French-style wines I don’t always have a taste for.
- Bel Vino Winery
- By far our favorite winery. We chatted with the managers and had a great time at their booth. In a brochure, they are billed as “the friendliest winery in Southern California” and I’d tend to agree. We unfortunately weren’t able to visit their bistro the next day, but the managers described it as a nice, casual spot with TVs running local sports games. But more importantly, the wine. Their 2010 Malbec was nice and warm, while their 2012 White Merlot pleased my friends with its sweetness.
- Thornton Winery
- I had to give Thornton Winery a shout-out for their non-vintage (NV) Brut sparkling wine. As the rep memorably told us “I always like to say champagne corks are just waiting to be popped”, the Brut had a nice apple finish that I liked. Though I usually stay away from sweet wines, I like my champagne on the sweeter side (my favorite is Veuve Clicquot), so I enjoyed this particular Brut.
- South Coast Winery Resort & Spa
- While we’re on the subject of sparkling wines, South Coast Winery’s Ruby Cuvee, a sparkling Syrah, was extremely refreshing and different. It was definitely a great autumn wine to drink while it’s not too hot out, but easing into cooler weather.
- Oak Mountain Winery
- Now if you really want to talk surprisingly delicious, I have to mention Oak Mountain Winery’s NV Mango sparkling wine. I may have lost some of you at “mango”, but don’t retreat! You don’t necessarily taste MANGO!, but it does add a certain flavor that is super tasty and refreshing. You just don’t expect it. They also had a pleasant, dark-tasting Merlot. A family-run winery, it shows that the co-owners personally create each wine flavor.
- Longshadow Ranch Winery
- Just from the name, you might picture this winery’s label– an old-timey etching of a Belgian draft horse. I enjoyed both samplings from Longshadow– their 2011 Sangiovese was spicy and delicious, while their 2011 White Merlot was refreshing. I don’t believe I’d ever tried a Sangiovese wine before, the name of which comes from the Latin “the blood of Jove”. Oh, those Italians.
- Ponte Family Estate Winery
- My friend seemed to taste in the wine that this is a family-run winery. I think it was because you could taste the care with which the blending of the flavors was taken. We sampled the 2010 Super T, a very bold, quintessential Italian red. It was earthy and chocolate-y, and you could definitely taste the hint of raspberries the winery rep pointed out.
- Miramonte Winery
- From the Miramonte Winery, we sampled a 2010 Tempranillo that knocked me off my feet (not literally, thank goodness!). It was a spicy Spanish-style red, nice and earthy the way I like.
As you can tell, it was a lovely night. I have to give one last mention to the Temecula Olive Oil Company, which had a booth of their delicious varieties of olive oil drizzled over popcorn. My favorite was their Roasted Garlic, which would probably go nicely on anything you put it on. We stopped by their shop in Old Town before driving out and they have quite an array of products including stuffed olives and an awesome olive oil moisturizer.