After a terrific visit to San Diego, including dinner at Born & Raised, I hopped in an Uber for the hour-long drive north to go wine tasting in Temecula.
"It reminds me of Tuscany," my friend's Italian friend said as we sipped our red wines on the patio of Leoness Cellars, one of Temecula's wineries, over Labor Day weekend.
He said it was why he moved to Temecula, Southern California's wine country.
Wine Tasting in Temecula Valley
As of 2022, the Temecula Valley has nearly 50 wineries. However, one of my Uber drivers heard that permission had been granted for up to another 100 to open.
Still, it's a relatively minor player compared to the 400 wineries in Napa Valley, some of which produce the best wines in the United States.
Sonoma County has 425 wineries, and Paso Robles has about 200 wineries.
In addition to San Diego, the region is also easily accessible by car as a day trip or weekend getaway from Los Angeles, Orange County, and Palm Springs.
The first winery I visited, Leoness Cellars, became my favorite of the four I'd see.
Leoness Cellars opened in 2002 with 20 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon. It now boasts 500 acres of grape vineyards and 300 acres of citrus and avocado.
For a $22 tasting fee, I had the opportunity to try six of their great wines. The 2015 Cabernet Franc-Merlot was my favorite wine.
As luck would have it, my friend and her Italian friend were already enjoying the weather on the outdoor patio when I arrived. I joined them for lunch after my wine tasting.
Other than the scenic views of Temecula Valley, the praise for the food led me to visit Leoness Cellars first.
I ordered buttermilk chicken with foie gras, prosciutto stuffing, zucchini, and thyme butter sauce. Additional entrees included cod and a bouillabaisse.
I'm not usually a fan of black forest cakes or fruit in my cake; however, the Black Forest gateau was the most appealing option on the dessert menu, so I gave it a try.
The chocolate and almond cake was layered with chocolate mousse, amarena cherries, chocolate ganache, white chocolate mousse, and almond and hazelnut praline.
The different colored layers made for an excellent presentation.
The menu also featured a sweet corn panna cotta, tangerine creme brûlée, and pavlova.
After lunch, my next stop for wine tasting in Temecula was the nearby Avensole Winery. The grounds, complete with a pond and fountain, were beautifully landscaped.
White chairs were set up on the lawn near the tasting room for a wedding ceremony, a pretty spot to host special events.
The tasting room featured a 360-degree bar with plenty of space.
For $20, I tried another six wines, including a 2016 Riesling that tasted of mango, guava, and pear. I also enjoyed an award-winning 2014 Super Tuscan blend.
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Danza del Sol
My friend's Italian friend recommended I check out Danza del Sol, so that became my last winery stop of the day.
Unlike the first two wineries, Danza del Sol didn't have views of the surrounding hills, which was disappointing.
I paid $20 to try four wines. Their 2014 Syrah was a good wine, but I was ready to wave the white flag and head back to my hotel at this point.
My fourth and final wine tasting in Temecula was at Fazeli Cellars, a Persian-owned winery founded in 2006, which I visited on a different day.
I paid $17 to taste a variety of wines. However, I was more excited to eat their ahi poke for lunch on the outdoor patio by this point.
Fazeli had beautiful views and the best gift shop of the four wineries I visited.
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Where to Eat in Old Town Temecula
Old town Temecula is easily walkable and has enough bars and restaurants to keep you well-fed for a long weekend.
The Goat & Vine
Aside from lunch at Leoness Cellars, my pizza at The Goat & Vine was the culinary highlight of the trip.
Goat cheese, shallots, yellow and red grape tomatoes, lemon zest, fresh basil, and a whole head of garlic conspire to make a helluva pizza.
I ate three-quarters in the restaurant and took the rest back to my hotel, where it didn't last the night.
I overdid it by ordering the jacked cappuccino ice cream cake three times larger than I anticipated.
Il Tramonto Ristorante
Il Tramonto (now closed permanently) is an Italian restaurant next to The Goat & Vine.
I ate here my first night, ordering the buffalo Caprese with fresh slices of mozzarella, tomato, and basil leaves drizzled in extra virgin olive oil and balsamic. It was served with an avocado panna cotta.
My main was a simple, rustic Bucatini Alla Trapanese. Bucatini pasta is thicker than spaghetti and has a hole in the middle, suitable for soaking up the sauce.
A massive slice of tiramisu, my fave, was delivered for dessert.
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I enjoyed a solid brunch at 1909, ordering the french toast with baked brioche, marsala poached berries, cinnamon nutmeg whipped cream, and cayenne powdered sugar.
Crush & Brew
My last dinner of the trip was at Crush & Brew, where I ordered an artery-clogging chicken wrapped in prosciutto with polenta and a heavy cream sauce.
My friend's pan-seared mahi-mahi with mango salsa looked prettier and healthier by comparison.
I'm glad I gave myself time to enjoy wine tasting experiences in Temecula after visiting San Diego. They're not just for wine connoisseurs!
Five nights in Temecula would've felt like too much had I not also been there to see a friend. The historical part of town is tiny, and there are only so many delicious wines I can handle trying in a day.
The rolling hills, vineyards, and weather of Temecula Valley wine country are indeed reminiscent of Central Tuscany. I'm so grateful to have experienced both regions on back-to-back trips.