California off the beaten path
Tying together a few loose ends that form a pattern of sorts, today we visit three California wine-producing regions that take us just a bit off the beaten path.
It's worth remembering, after all, that California is a huge geographical region, larger than many wine-producing countries, and its wine regions are varied and diverse.
With vineyard land prices skyrocketing out of sight in Napa, Sonoma and many of the state's other best-known wine areas, amid increasingly savage land-use battles among farmers, land developers and environmentalists, it's not surprising that vineyards and wineries are gaining attention in less-familiar regions.
Take Temecula, for instance. Billed as Southern California's wine country, the vineyards were developed in the 1960s by commercial land developers as a way of creating an additional attraction for subdivisions in the high desert country inland from San Diego. It has evolved into a compact wine-producing region in a part of the state that's miles from Napa, but convenient for quick trips from San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles. Today we welcome as a new advertising partner the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association, a non-profit organization that promotes the region's 18 wineries. One of Temecula's major wine-tasting events, the annual Temecula Valley Winter Barrel Tasting, is coming up Feb. 7-8. For details, see the association's announcement below.
Farther north in the inland Golden State, California's Central Valley - particularly the San Joaquin Valley that forms its gigantic southern portion - has long been known primarily as a source of table grapes and the anonymous wine grapes that go into inexpensive "jug" wines.
But a distinctive portion of the Central Valley - the relatively cool Sacramento Delta, where the Sacramento River and its tributaries wind through a watery recreation area - is starting to develop a reputation for wines of good quality and value. Lodi, not far south of Sacramento and slightly elevated above the Sacramento valleys, has recently started to transcend its jug-wine history as a producer of interesting Zinfandel. Clarksburg, with its vineyards in the river valleys, is developing an excellent reputation for Chenin Blanc and California's own Petite Sirah.
In today's tasting reports we'll feature a fat Petite Sirah from Clarksburg and a berry-laden Zin from Lodi, both of which offer good examples of the regional style.
HAVE YOU TRIED WINES FROM THESE PLACES?
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Southern California's Wine Country:
Tired of the same old, same old? If you're the kind of person who likes to think "outside the box" when it comes to the things in life that you enjoy, Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association invites you to think Temecula!
Not just another of California's "other" wine regions, Temecula makes it easy for you to enjoy a wine-country tour. It's neatly convenient to Los Angeles and San Diego, with easy travel connections from just about everywhere. Temecula's 18 stellar wineries offer an eclectic selection of premium award-winning California wines on a compact, scenic wine road that you can do in a day, if you're in a hurry, or extend to a relaxing long weekend of wine touring, fine dining, and luxurious hotel or resort living under the Southern California sun.
There's always something interesting going on in Temecula. Coming up next is our popular annual Winter Barrel Tasting! Indulge your senses ... swirl, smell, sip and savor while the region's wineries offer samples of wines aging in barrels and tanks, new releases and old favorites. Wines are paired with complementary food and stimulating conversation in an intimate atmosphere. $70 per person.
Go beyond the tasting room experience to get an insider's look at the soul of wine country during Winter Barrel Tasting weekend, Feb. 7-8, 2004.
Always a sellout, so order now: Call 800-801-WINE for reservations or order online at
Vinum Cellars 2002 "Pets" Wilson Vineyards Clarksburg Petite Sirah ($14)
Inky dark reddish-purple, almost black, shows the typically opaque appearance of Petite Sirah. Rich and jammy fruit aroma is almost like sniffing a jar of blackberry preserves. Flavors similar, a burst of ripe, sweet fruit, mouth-filling and ripe, with tangy lemon-squirt acidity almost hidden by the fruit but sufficient to provide a sturdy structure. (Background on the label: "Pets," a nickname for Petite Sirah, gets a double meaning here, as the wine's name also honors grower Ken Wilson's dog Tanker, who is featured on the label. Part of the proceeds from sales of this wine support a Clarksburg animal shelter.) (Jan. 1, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Red meat is called for, and gyros-style lamb-and-beef burgers were perfect.
VALUE: Fairly priced, but check online vendors, as California prices appear to be a few dollars less than I paid East of the Mississippi.
WHEN TO DRINK: Petite Sirah is known for extreme ageworthiness, changing little in the bottle for many years before developing interesting complexity after a decade or more.
WEB LINK: You'll find the winery Website at
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Locate vendors for Vinum Pets on Wine-Searcher.com:
Housley's Century Oak Winery 2001 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel ($13)
This clear, dark reddish-purple wine breathes ripe mixed berries, shaped by a back note of aromatic oak and an odd but not unpleasant whiff of butter. It's all fruit on the palate, though, jammy, ripe and sweet, blackberries and raspberries in a classic, exuberant Zin, not overly alcoholic by Zinfandel standards (13.4%), with plenty of fresh-fruit acidity to hold it together. (Jan. 12, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Zin is a natural match with grilled meats, although this one worked just as well with a robust Italian dish of pork chops braised in red wine with fennel seed.
VALUE: Because the region is still unfamiliar, Lodi Zins tend to command a somewhat lower price than those from more sought-after appellations.
WHEN TO DRINK: Best consumed while it's young and fresh, but a year or two on the wine rack shouldn't do it any harm.
WEB LINK: Housley's Century Oak Winery is online:
FIND THIS WINE: This is a California Wine Club selection. For information on availability and pricing, contact the Club at 1-800-777-4443.
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Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2004