Tucked away in a valley in southern California is Temecula, one of the state’s lesser known wine regions. While it may not yet have the name recognition of Napa or Sonoma, Temecula is home to more than 30 wineries. At just 90 miles southeast of Los Angeles and 60 miles north of San Diego, Temecula is waiting to be discovered.
Visitors to Temecula should bring an open mind and an open palate. There you’ll find family-owned wineries that have fun with nontraditional blends and a wide variety of grapes. Planted in Temecula are Bordeaux and Burgundy varietals like in Sonoma and Napa, Rhône and Mediterranean varietals like in California’s Central Coast, and a few other varietals from other parts of the world thrown in for good measure.
I started my tour of Temecula wine country at Briar Rose Winery. The cottage that houses the tasting room is almost as charming as owner Dorian Linkogle. Warm and welcoming, Dorian spoke about her wines with such enthusiasm that I couldn’t help but like them even before I took my first sip.
Briar Rose produces about 2,400 cases of wine. All are unfiltered, with no added sugar.
We began with two white wines: the Estate Viognier and 2009 Gewurztraminer. The Viognier had sweet citrus aromas with notes of grapefruit, honeysuckle and lemon zest on the palate. If you could drink in the garden setting it would taste like Briar Rose’s Gewurztraminer, which had lovely off-dry flavors of apricot, lychee and rose petals.
As I was enjoying the wines Dorian explained the origin of our fairytale setting. The original owner worked for Walt Disney and built a replica of Snow White’s cottage for his wife. Dorian and her husband Les (Briar Rose’s winemaker), bought the property in the early 1990s. After years of selling their grapes to neighboring wineries they opened up their own winery in 2007. Briar Rose takes its name from another fairytale, the princess in Sleeping Beauty.
Before moving to the reds Dorian poured me a taste of the 2009 Fumé Rosé. The wine is 100% Sauvignon Blanc that is aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, a process that gives the wine its light pink color. Light and refreshing it was a great sip on the hot day, with a mix of citrus flavors, dried cherries and not quite ripe strawberries.
I particularly liked the Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. The first had big flavors of cherries, blackberries and plum with gripping tannins that gave the wine good texture. The Cabernet Franc had a fragrant nose of red fruits and flavors of raspberries and black plum with a spicy finish of cloves and tobacco.
As we were enjoying the jammy red fruit flavors of the Katrina Estate Zinfandel, Les came into the tasting room with a barrel sample of the 2009 Zinfandel. Cloudy purple-red in color, the wine had flavors of fresh raspberries that will only get better as the wine continues to age in oak.
After finishing with the traditional wines and curious to find out what exactly was a ‘wine lager,’ I asked for a taste of Briar Rose’s Talking Frog Hefe-N-Vine. It was created by the winemaker as a mix between wine and beer — unusual, but quite tasty. It’s made from 100% Viognier that was fermented with yeast used to make hefeweizen. The wine lager had a head similar to beer, with small bubbles like a sparkling wine. The sweet bread aromas and flavors of apple and honey made for a crisp and refreshing sip.
With its intimate and enchanting setting, along with a variety of enjoyable wines, Briar Rose is the perfect place to kick off an exploration of Temecula Valley.
Briar Rose Winery is located at 41720 Calle Cabrillo in Temecula, California. Tastings are by reservation only and can be made by calling (951) 308-1098.
For more information on Temecula Valley wineries visit www.temeculawines.org.