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Temecula Valley wines a work in progress

Although some wineries are content to please the masses and nothing more, others are producing impressive varietals by taking advantage of a climate similar to Spain, Portugal and southern Italy.

August 26, 2011

With abundant sunshine, shimmering heat and a diurnal shift in line with many coastal viticultural areas , there is no denying that the Temecula Valley is an authentic California winegrowing region. However, setting aside Pierce's disease and the prevailing party atmosphere, challenges remain. Problems with hygiene, brettanomyces and volatile acidity in particular still taint bottlings from less diligent producers. Farming practices too can be relatively lax, compared with the meticulous care taken by Napa and Sonoma growers. Winemakers I spoke to voiced concern that the growers have little interest in the extra work required to improve quality in the vineyard, especially when the average limo passenger is indifferent.

For all this, the valley is producing solid, at times impressive wines of varietal and regional character. The warm-weather varieties common to Spain, Portugal and southern Italy — Syrah, Mourvedre, Sangiovese and Tempranillo — are showing promise, as well as American varieties Zinfandel and Petite Sirah.

In general, the red wines have plenty of weight, in the way that Spanish wines or Sicilian reds do: big shoulders, good body, plenty of tannic grip. The 2009 Hart Mourvedre is aromatically spot-on with its scents of spiced strawberry and red-fruit flavors marked by a meaty Provencal rusticity, while the 2008 Palumbo Family Sangiovese, with its dusty cherry scents and firm, grippy tannins, is a bit like an amped-up Rosso di Montalcino. I enjoyed the South Coast Vineyards 2008 Lone Boulder Ridge Syrah, with its exotic scents of anise and black pepper and oak-tinged red plum flavors.

Of course, if you want power, the valley can deliver: The Cabernet-based wines of Wiens Family Cellars knock you back on your heels with their intensity — a familiar Temecula profile. Though the wines of Thornton Winery seemed to depart from this paradigm, David Vergari's 2010s are all below 14% alcohol (with a couple under 13%), lean, zippy wines with refreshing acidity and drive; his youthful 2010 Tempranillo, for example, resembled the Joven wines of Rioja in its bright, cheery red fruit.

South Coast Winery: http://www.wineresort.com

Hart Family Winery: http://www.hartfamilywinery.com

Wiens Family Cellars: http://www.wienscellars.com

Palumbo Family Vineyards: http://www.palumbofamilyvineyards.com

Thornton Winery: http://www.thorntonwine.com

— Patrick Comiskey

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