Somehow, a conversation over barbecue and Michelob last Saturday night turned to Temecula. Temecula (or, more properly, the Temecula Valley) is a wine region just up the road from my house here in San Diego – it’s about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. It’s known for two things: casinos and wineries. Every time I drive past, I see at least one mini-coach filled with a good half-dozen party types doing the circuit of the local wineries, drinking, not tasting, and obviously enjoying themselves. Me, though, I’ve never been. I’m a native Northern Californian, which means I tend to be suspicious of any wine from the Southland (i.e. Southern California) – and no, Sideways country doesn’t count as it’s north of Los Angeles, you know – and the one time it was mentioned in wine school (in Washington state), Temecula was briefly noted as a success story, but only in terms of the hospitality industry (i.e. not as an actual wine producing area, just as a pleasant place with fake Tuscan villas making a living selling crap to daytrippers in mini-coaches).
However, there are most definitely locals who absolutely swear by the quality of the local wines. One of them (an ex-coworker) was nice enough to give me a bottle of wine from Palumbo Family Vineyards a couple of years back, and here it is in front of me. The packaging is lovely and the cork extra long: it looks exactly what a moderately expensive wine should look like. But what’s the wine like?
First of all, it’s inky black with a very slightly watery rim. The smell, well, it quite frankly reminds me of vanilla ice cream with a trace of dill pickle. There are definite notes of dusty cocoa, baker’s chocolate, roasted coffee, and espresso: it smells like someone went a little bit overboard with the char here, but then again heavily oaked wines are of course usually highly palatable to Americans. Even so, I find it disappointing because I don’t smell fruit, minerals, earth, or for that matter anything other than wood here. Hrm.
The wine, once drunk, is deeply unpleasant. Imagine if you will a new brand of Lipton Cup-a-Soup called “Consommé du Parker” – this consists of nothing other than tannin extracts with a peel-off sticker that says “90+” on the package. Now, dump that in a bottle of uneventful grape juice. Shake slightly – not enough to truly distribute the tannin – et voilá, you’ve got a bottle of Tre Fratelli. A mouthful of this is as unpleasant as drinking a bottle of Yoo-Hoo you forgot to shake: the initial sweet fruit attack is quickly displaced by a sensory nightmare of tiny bits of particulate matter that quickly turn into harsh, grating tannins that cover your teeth like a cheap rug. The fruit flavor, such as it is – it’s a simple, boring red-fruit aquarelle – is quickly overshadowed by the mouthfeel, and there’s no finish, no line, absolutely nothing to recommend this wine at all.
In short, this is strictly amateur hour. I’m sure the people that make it are lovely people, and I’m sure that their tasting room is a lovely place to visit, but this isn’t as good as even the cheapest Jacobs Creek wine I’ve tasted. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
Palumbo Family Vineyards