New Year in Temecula

Balloons over the Vineyard in the Temecula Valley (photo: Teresa Newman)

This year we kicked off our New Year with a visit to the Temecula Valley with tastings at both old and new wineries. The valley has gone through a tremendous resurgence coming out of a very flat economic period during the Great Recession. Properties were exchanged, new owners emerged and production began to uptick from early 2000 levels. The larger, more established properties such as Callaway Vineyard and Winery continue to maintain production levels and experiment with some new techniques with moderate success in some cases. New entrants like Ponte have emerged to rival South Coast and Wilson Creek in the hospitality experience sector. The “south canyon” along De Portola Road has cropped up a new swath of wine making establishments with large manor properties. Finally, long term boutiques such as Hart and Briar Rose continue to do what they have done for years to focus on their clientele.

One thing is certain from our tastings: the long term market for Old World, barrel fermented wines so popular in the early days of Temecula and still prevalent in other tier-2 California AVAs (some Livermore and Lodi AVA wineries come to mind) is beginnng to run its course.  While the mass market for consumed wine still has no issue with high alcohol by volume (ABV) levels used by some wine makers to bring out the characteristics of less matured fruit, the high ABV wines produced by older European style barrel fermentation – usually double the fermentation time in the barrel rather than fermentation in the barrel and then settling in the bottle – has created a dichotomy of wine offerings that in our opinion is unsustainable for the region. This creates some level of confusion in the wine buying market as to what Temecula as an AVA is “known for.” At the end of the day the taste of Temecula wil be judged on a palate of wines across the world, not just by the history of the region. As such Temecula – while poised to find its voice – has not yet done so with consistency across wine producers in the region.

As such our ratings based on our tastings keep this in mind. We work to give clear meaning and understanding to the ratings on an impartial basis and compare the wines below with relative scores as you would find in Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles and other regions we review on a regular basis.

As more ratings are added we will update accordingly.  Links are to Cellar Tracker notes and demarcated with SW for StonewoodWine rating.


NV Robert Renzoni Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore SW89

Very nice classic prosecco properly made by its Italian origins.  Careful attention during disgorgement and dosage reveals very tiny bubbles and a superior structure than store bought offerings. A creamy “tres leches” nose and palate yield a cremant experience.  Some cellar aging potential due to the mature structure.


2015 Ponte Family Estate Arneis SW89

Traces of melon and tangerine give way to smooth minerality on the palate. Excellent pairing with apple or pear salads with goat cheese.

2014 Hart Winery Arneis SW91

Crisp and clean with bright minerality much like a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc but with hints of melons and citrus like a Spanish Albarino. Exceptional value wine and <20/btl (club price, w/o shipping).


2013 Ponte Family Estate Malbec (Mendoza) SW89

With origins in Mendoza this is a classic Argentina Malbec offering. Dark smoky nose and a deep dark fruit tannin that has a lingering finish.

2013 Hart Family Mourvèdre SW91

Classic Mourvèdre with dry cherries and cassis on the nose with traces of white pepper which get bolder on the palate. Very well structured pair with roasts like pork or lamb with stuffed goat cheese figs.

2013 Callaway Vineyard & Winery Wild Yeast Syrah  SW88

Warm pepper and allspice on the nose, with plum tannins on the palate. The yeast gives this wine more grip than one would expect coming from Temecula, allowing it to pair up on the food structure like a region with more dense terroir. A nice mix-it-up for Syrah or Zin lovers.

2009 Callaway Vineyard & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon OPR Estate Vineyard SW88

Excited to try this highly regarded Cabernet Sauvignon offering from Temecula Valley and was thoroughly disappointed. The softness of this “robust red wine” left me flat. The nose is creamy and soft and the palate is complex more like a fortified wine and soft port – perhaps even a late harvest – than a bold California style Cab. If the idea was to put a lot of money behind a big wine and sell it for a high price tag then Callaway really missed the mark – and their target audience – with this wine (retail $175/750ml).

Additional previous Temecula AVA reviews:

2012 Wiens Family Cellars Chateau Grand Rouge Riverside County SW89

Surprising great SoCal blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc sources from the Sage district in Riverside County. Deep dark fruits with cassis and leather. Serious SoCal steak wine.

2014 Wiens Family Cellars Pinot Noir SW88

Surprising SoCal offering of a cold climate varietal. Grown at elevation close to the coastal range, blended 80/20 Pinot and petit Syrah. Young but don’t cellar long, drink by 2019.

2011 Wiens Family Cellars Domestique SW89

Delicious GSM blend for Syrah lovers. Deep dark fruit and chewy grippy tannins from the Mourvèdre. Really impressive, cellar fit for 5-10 years.

2013 Callaway Vineyard & Winery Mourvedre Special Selection SW90

Nice follow-up to the 2012 vintage. Smoky nose and a smooth palate of Bing cherry and cassis. Nice sip, pair with roasts like poke and lamb or ribs.

Updated Tasting Notes, 1/9/2017 f. Thornton and Lorenzi Estate wines:

2014 Thornton Cabernet Franc SW89

Light peppers and violet on the nose give way to dark fruit and plum on the palate. Pair with meaty pasta dishes or light game fare.

2014 Thornton Cabernet-Merlot SW86 

Light Woody nose with cherry and black currant with moderate tannins on the finish. Soft young wine.

2014 Thornton Mourvèdre SW90

Safe and woods yield raspberry tart and vanilla on the palate with mild tannins . Great wine representing the region’s classic Rhone heritage.

2013 Thornton Cabernet Sauvignon SW89

Blackberry jam on the nose with currant and cassis on palate with moderate tannins. Shows the promise that Cabernet has for the future in this region.

NV Thornton Brut Sparkling Estate SW88

Classic brut style Chardonnay base sparkling wine. Perfect for brunch with finely styled air and crisp citrus fruit. Upscale mimosa or Bellini material.

2014 Lorenzi Estate Chardonnay WE90 SW91

Flowers and honeysuckle on the nose with melon traces of butter and ginger on the palate. Delicious composition of moderate oak. Drink thru 2019.

2013 Lorenzi Estate Rita’s Rose SW89

A blend of six wines all balanced to produce a full bouquet of flowers and strawberry petals with light cherry and plum on the finish. Rivals some commercial French offerings from Provence. Drink now.

2013 Lorenzi Estate Tres Bianca SW90

Pinot Grigio, Viognier and resiling combine to form a delicious off dry white blend – a real delight summer wine. Little girls dancing on the grass in party dresses that will grow to sophisticated ladies. ABV 13% with lower sugar content.

2012 Lorenzi Estate Grenache WE89 SW89

Not a puny man Grenache. Structure on the nose with anise and hazelnut give way to a long finish of Bing cherry, orange wood and smoke. Drink now thru 2017.

2012 Lorenzi Estate Syrah SW87

Dark cherry and gravel on the nose with full body and moderate tannins on the back. Barrel aging fans will like this wine. Drink now.

2011 Lorenzi Estate Alpha Red WE91 SW92

Ruddy blend of Syrah Cab Merlot cab franc and Petite Verdot. Deep and meaty nose with excellent texture and long finish with moderate tannins. Very cellar ready through 2020-25.

2012 Lorenzi Estate Brutus SW87

Classic right bank Bordeaux blend very full body with intense structure and grip of tannins. A bit of flash in the back palate drives off the finish.

2011 Lorenzi Estate Bordello SW89

Classic left bank Bordeaux blend with fullness of structure with deep dark plumb and currant. Appropriately priced at $52/btl. Lovely velvet finish. Drink now thru 2020.

2012 Lorenzi Estate Old Vine Zinfandel SW88

Red and white pepper on the nose, gives way to a fuller dark fruit and peppercorn finish. Would pair well with roast, game meats and hearty pastas. Drink now thru 2017.

2012 Lorenzi Estate Cabernet Sauvignon SW87

Light body Cabernet with peppers and mild tannins. Weaker finish more like a Barolo than Cabernet. Drink now.

2011 Lorenzi Estate Cabernet Sauvignon WE92 SW90

Full nose and great structure, dark fruits, cassis and moderate tannins. Long, deep complex finish. Drink now thru 2020. 

2009 Lorenzi Estate Catalyst WE94 SW92

Deep well of complex fruits including and oak finish with ruddy tannins. Very impressive for the Temecula Valley, much like some offerings from Paso Robles. At $175/btl retail this is a Temecula library collector add. Cellar and drink thru 2020.

2012 Lorenzi Estate Catalyst WE93 SW90

Little brother does good, with a lighter structure yet the same family boldness due to the lack of Grenache. Bright and zippy finish very clean with moderate tannins. Drink now thru 2020.

Lorenzi Estate Bacio Tawny Old Vine Zin Port SW90

Tree nuts and bark on the nose with smooth structure for a port. Hardly tastes like a fortified wine. Curl up with a warm fireplace, book blanket and some chocolate or cheeses – or both. A true crave wine port.


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