For those of you who have spent any time wine tasting in Temecula on a weekend, I’m sure you have experienced the madness that is Rancho California Rd. Now there is a good reason for this, these are some of the most well known wineries, producing not only excellent wines but delicious cuisine and in some cases, first class accommodations. But for those of you who would like to get off the beaten path, De Portola Rd is an excellent alternative. Loaded with 10+ wineries, you’re sure to find a few wines that’ll tickle the pallet. I have 4 suggested below that provide top flight service, an atmosphere that is welcoming and picturesque and wines that are unique and in many cases, quite exceptional.

Cougar Vineyard & Winery – Opened in 2004, Cougar Vineyard & Winery has grown into an excellent addition to the rapidly improving wines of the Temecula Valley. I have noticed the quality and selection of wines here improve greatly over the years. Now offering a number of unique varietals that fall primarily in the Italian world, you can definitely find something that will surprise and delight. On my recent trip I tried 5, and each had something interesting to offer. Here are a few thoughts. Nebbiolo was first on the list and when I brought it up to nose I was surprised by the aroma. It was nothing like any Nebbiolo I’d ever smelled…or any wine for that matter. The aroma? Sweet and sour sauce. On the pallet it mellowed down to almost a ketchup taste. Sounds a little strange, but a delicious way to start. Next up was the Sangiovese…also a bit different. The aroma was typical of the varietal with a slight medicinal feel. On the pallet the overriding taste was creamy black licorice. I also enjoyed the Bella Rossi, A wine with some bite, that’s ready for pairing with a some spice rubbed barbequed meat. That’s 3 that I found offered something unique, but be sure to spend a little time and find your own favorites. The relaxed atmosphere of Cougar is to be enjoyed. Have a seat out front and take in the view of De Portola below, but don’t get too comfy…there’s still a whole day of tasting ahead.

Somerset Winery – One of the newer wineries in the Temecula area, Somerset Winery opened for business in 2018 and quickly set itself apart with an elegant Tasting Room and garden-like grounds, surrounded by acres of mature grape vines. As this was my first time there, I tried everyyyything. The GRV was first up. Reminiscent of a Pinot Grigio with a nice aroma of orange blossoms continuing on with the taste of honey and orange through it’s nice long finish. The Mac puts the honeydew/honeysuckle up front and on the pallet as well. Le Sep explodes on the nose with a mixture of potpourri and chocolate, which had me anticipating a big wine, but leaves me a bit shocked that its much lighter than I thought it would be. Finally the Cab Franc. Smelling of cherries and black licorice, it rides smoothly over the pallet with a moderately long finish. Now up the hill to Fazeli Cellars.

Fazeli Cellars – One of my favorite wineries in all of Temecula, Fazeli Cellars puts a smile on my face just thinking about it. Bizhan has put together a winery that pleases every taste. From the Baba Joon Kitchen serving up some delicious treats (try the Persian Kitchen Tacos or Fava Bean Hummus) to the wines, which are unique and exceptional. Not one to usually gush over a Chardonnay, but if you can find theirs (sometimes in short supply) with it’s vanilla wafer characteristics and creaminess, buy it, bath in it, love it. Not only does it tantalize the nose and pallet, but creates it’s one of those rare wines that creates an “experience”. Also recommended are the Baba Joon and Montepulciano…delicious. The atmosphere is friendly and lively but be sure to not get too comfortable, there’s still one more stop.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards & Winery – A huge cavernous tasting room, yet it somehow still feels homey (if not a little roomy) With it’s pallet cleansing pretzels (no crackers here kids) and readily available snack choices, it’s a great place to wrap up your day. Started things off with a fizz, a green apple fizz that is (was that a Dr. Seuss line?)  A nice unique prosecco to begin. Next I would recommend the Chardonnay (buttery and waiting to be paired with shrimp or crab) and the Estate Brunello Di Sangiovese with its aroma of warm, maple spice cookies. Be sure to try a few of the other excellent wines and then enjoy the grounds and relax as your day winds down.

This is by no means the only wineries that deserve a visit on De Portola, but they are some that I have consistently enjoyed, not only for their wines but for their outstanding hospitality. As Temecula is only 45 minutes down the road, be sure to follow us on Instagram (@boozepress) and look for more features and in-depth stories coming soon, as well as a few surprises. Cheers…