When you leave Thornton you’ll exit onto Rancho California again. Turn right and, as you go, keep an eye out on your left for Mount Palomar Winery. It’s pretty well marked, but if you reach the cross-street named Calle Contento, you will have gone a bit too far. Drive up the steep hill to the Mr. Palomar parking lot and there you will find perhaps the oldest winery in Temecula. There you can sample a wide array of varietals from Bordeaux, the Rhone, and, not surprisingly, Italy. Palomar’s one of the few wineries in this country that produces the white wine, Cortese, which is the predominant white in Italy’s Piedmont. I’m not crazy about it, but its singularity is always intriguing. Try the winery’s really excellent 2009 Castaletto Sangiovese. Summer’s rolling in, and, as my son Greg pointed out in a recent blog, it’s rosé season … Palomar’s rosé, made from Sangiovese is an excellent start to the season. Want something simple but hearty to go with the summer’s grilling? Try Shorty’s Bistro Red, which starts out with a bunch of Cabernet Sauvignon and then throws in all kinds of other stuff from all over Italy and France. Lots of fun to drink.
Want more? Go back to Rancho California, turn left, and make your way past Anza Road to a smaller street to the right: Monte de Oro. Turn right and then keep your eye out on the right for the entrance to Palumbo Winery. Go up the hill through the vineyards, and, to your left, there’s a parking lot of sorts. This tiny operation is, in my view, the best red wine winery in the Temecula Valley, and has been so almost from its inception. Everything red they make is first-rate. Make sure you try the Tre Fratelli … it’s a stunningly good meritage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Funny thing: when, in my student wine classes, I first started talking about Temecula, I noted that, although the valley seemed promising for the likes of Sangiovese and its Italic brethren, I held out small hope for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and other Bordeaux varietals. Then I made my first visit to Palumbo. So much for that lecture.
A bit further up Monte de Oro is a new winery, Lorenzi. Well, it was new to me because, as often happens in Temecula, Lorenzi had been producing wine for some years, but with tasting only available in the area of Old Town, which I rarely visit. This year, however, Lorenzi opened a formal and large tasting room right at the winery, not yet on most Temecula maps, and so, as often happens in this region: a heretofore untested and untasted wine experience. They do a nice ’09 Syrah, and and even more impressive ’09 meritage called “Adam and Eve.” This last is particularly interesting because it’s blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot is reminiscent of Bordeaux’s spectacular and largely unaffordable Cheval Blanc.
How about one more stop? Go back (left) to Rancho California, and turn right to Glenoaks Road. Turn right and keep driving until Glenoaks Road dead ends at De Portola Road. De Portola more or less parallels Rancho California, and is often spoken of locally as its own “wine trail.” Turn right on De Portola and, a bit further on, on your right, is Danza del Sol winery. This, for years was the site of Filsinger, one of Temecula’s smaller and older wineries and a producer of pleasant Sauvignon Blanc and little else. It’s a lot bigger operation now, with some very impressive red wines. Try, in particular, Danza del Sol’s 2011 Petite Sirah, for, as the Cilurzos discovered long ago, that varietal thrives in Temecula.
This winery, too, has a fine meritage, along the line of the one at Lorenzi. Interestingly, the del Sol’s Cabernet Sauvignon by itself is not particularly interesting, but, in the meritage, it thrives.
Danza del Sol was the end of my most recent travels, but let’s not forget the other 35 wineries in the area. Plan a trip and make some choices. Tasting at four or five wineries should be enough for any one excursion, and remember, you’re tasting, not drinking. If you consume all the wine they pour you from all of those flights they serve, you’ll be blotto in no time. If this last advisory sounds excessively paternalistic, remember that I’m an old man and entitled to be paternal.