Last week would have been the perfect time to blog about Temecula, since last week's sold-out wine special included two wines from that region. But, I was knocked to my knees with the flu and just barely eked out my work for the week before collapsing for four days.

Many years ago, Temecula was just a flash of a sign seen from highway 79, going from San Diego to Riverside. She's a grownup lady now and bustles with shops, restaurants and a burgeoning wine industry. We sat on the expansive patio of Thornton Winery for a chat with winemaker Don Reha about the development of the wine business in Temecula Valley. When Don arrived, most wineries were mom and pop operations without the tools and techniques of modern enology. He brought a degree from UC Davis and a pedigreed resume from Fetzer, Cline Cellars and Renwood to Thornton in 2003. Since then, the 25 or so wineries in Temecula have also stepped up their game and are producing notable wine that's putting Temecula on the wine touring map. Thornton is known for their sparkling wines made in the Méthode Champenoise: with the ocean just 17 miles west, the surrounding hills are bathed with the cooling fog necessary for Chardonnay grapes. But, it's the hotter valley floor soil that excites Don. Every winemaker lists the grape quality as the number one element in making great wine. The dry, sandy soil requires drip irrigation which gives precise control over nutrients, thus yielding superior grapes. Don has been moving the winery towards more red wines and winning multiple awards along the way. He poured us his "baby": the 2006 Thornton Estate Syrah. I loved it so much, I bought a case to bring home!
We stayed at Temecula Creek Inn, thanks to Touring & Tasting, and played two of the three parts of their 27-hole golf course. The Stonehouse 9 is particularly beautiful with the fairways lacing through rock outcroppings. My short game fell apart and I chased my ball over around the green and was ready to give up the game for good. Golf, I hate you! But, golf is a devilish teaser--it takes you to the brink of despair, then gives you a peek at heaven and you're hooked again. On the last hole, I had a perfect drive, two perfect fairway shots with my fickle fairway driver, one of my rare decent chip shots and two putts in on the sloping green ringed with bunkers. Golf, I love you!
We enjoyed our meals at the Temecula Creek Inn restaurant, particularly breakfast with the panoramic view of the course through the floor to ceiling windows in the dining room (try the pecan waffles). One evening we opened a special bottle of 2006 Phelps Insignia Cabernet Sauvignon we had brought--a wine given 90 points by Wine Spectator. It was dark and intense with flavors of black cherry and sage and paired with filet mignon and grilled salmon. We also enjoyed a fine lunch at Falkner Winery: the Pinnacle Peak. The rich artichoke cheese appetizer would have been enough for six; the wild mushroom soup was delicate and flavorful, the Cobb salad fresh and large enough for two.
Another wine tasting stop to enjoy is the Briar Rose tasting room. The property was built by a former Disney contractor and it has storybook charm, with Disneyana in abundance. The wood paneled tasting room is intimate and you can try their small-lot, handcrafted wines. Also, stop in old town Temecula and enjoy a free olive oil tasting at the Temecula Olive Oil company. All the tasting rooms were full when we visited, between Christmas and New Year's, a welcome sign during this time of economic stress. Perhaps some of the increased traffic comes from Temecula's location, being so much closer than Napa/Sonoma to the major urban centers like San Diego and Los Angeles. It's half the drive from Santa Barbara and though not quite the world class destination that the Napa and Sonoma area is, it's on it's way and certainly a tasty and more affordable weekend getaway.
None of my photos turned out well, so I nabbed the photos from the websites listed above.

This week's Online Grapevine saves you 50% off retail. The wine shipment includes the 2005 Hall Napa Valley Merlot.I try to keep my rudimentary Italian current by reading Corriera della Sera online; the recipe section is a particular favorite of mine. I found the following recipe as a wine pairing. If you read Italian, check out their Scuola di Cucina for more ricette and tools and techniques of Italian cooking.
2 oz. fatback (or lardon, if you can obtain it) or 2 strips bacon
1 onion
1 carrot
1 stalk of celery
2 oz. butter
2 lb. beef roast
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 cup red wine
1 cup beef broth
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
3 1/2 cups water and 1 1/4 cup yellow corn meal (or 6 servings of prepared polenta)
Mince the onion, peeled carrot, celery and the fatback or bacon. In a heavy pot (like Dutch oven), melt the butter over low heat. Add the vegetables and bacon and cook for around ten minutes, stirring frequently. Add the beef and cook for a few more minutes, turning and browning it on all sides. Add the salt, pepper and red wine and continue cooking until the wine reduces by half, stirring frequently. Mix the tomato paste into the broth and add to the pot, covering and simmering for 2 hours. Uncover, turn the meat and cook another 2 hours, ladling juice over the meat from time to time. While the beef is cooking, boil the water in a separate pot, sprinkle in the cornmeal and cook, stirring continuously until the polenta is done. Serve slices of the beef on a scoop of polenta, with the cooking juices spooned over the top. Approximately 6 servings. Pair with the 2005 Hall Napa Valley Merlot.

1 comment:

  1. Cinzia Rascazzo
    I love stracotto with polenta!


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