Get a taste of La Dolce Vita in Temecula.
If a trip to Italy and the Mediterranean isn’t in the cards this year, soak up the flavors and tastes of Europe in Temecula, California instead.
This wine region in the Golden State is quietly producing some of the best Italian wine varietals in the United States. Pair that with accommodations set against rolling vineyards and top Italian and Mediterranean cuisine and you have all the ingredients to live la dolce vita without hopping across the pond.
CARTER ESTATE WINERY & RESORT
Carter Estate Winery & Resort
If you want the feel of living in a Tuscan villa, a stay at Carter Estate Winery & Resort is a must. Book a king bungalow (Number 21 will give you the best sunset views) and you’ll enjoy 605 sq. ft. of tranquil living space. Step outside and you’re in the estate’s vineyards. The hotel provides a continental breakfast delivered directly to your door, which is best enjoyed on the patio enjoying the solitude and the views.
Carter Estate Winery is known for its Methode Champenoise sparkling wine and the Cuvee Prestige is not to be missed during a tasting flight in the tasting room. My favorite Italian wine here is the 2014 Sangiovese. Unlike some I’ve tasted, this one is smooth without biting tannins. The nose features cherry, cranberry and leather. It’s light and velvety enough to enjoy even without food.
After a day of Italian wine tasting in the Valley, I highly recommend the resort’s Grapeseed spa located at its nearby sister property, South Coast Winery Resort & Spa. A deep tissue massage is just what’s needed to detox from a long day of sipping vino.
For any Italian wine lover, a stop at Bottaia is a must. This modern winery focused on Italian varietals provides an upscale, personalized approach to all its tastings. Wine novices and oenophiles alike should choose the charcuterie tasting (vegetarian option available). The pairing between the food and the Italian wine was the most thoughtful and provoking that I’ve experienced at any tasting in years. For several of the wines, the food our wine educator Bernadette suggested completely changed the experience of the wine. For me, this is the fascinating thing about wine and is what made me fall in love with the grape.
The first stellar pairing was a 2021 Vermentino with an apricot studded cheese. The combination added a complexity to the Italian wine. Likewise, the 2021 Arneis when paired with marinated olives rendered the wine smoother and fuller in body. When tasting the reds, a slice of Manchego cheese brought the 2017 Barbera to life, while a dolmas brought out the best from a 2017 Aglianico.
If you love all the Italian wines and ambiance found throughout the Mediterranean, Europa Village will be your happy place. Located on 300 acres, Europa Village brings the charm of the Old World to life in the New with French, Spanish, and later this year, Italian villages.
If you’re in Temecula with your sweetie, plan to stay in one of the 10 casitas in the Iberian Bolero. The intimate casitas ooze Spanish charm with their wrought iron entrances that open to a private courtyard. Inside, the tile floors, dark woods and neutrals mixed with pops of burnt orange bring the Spanish style to life. Four poster beds and spa-like bathrooms add to the romance.
Wine lovers can get a taste of Spanish varietals like Garnacha, Verdejo and Cava at the Bolero tasting room, while Francophiles can enjoy Syrah, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon at C’est La Vie, the French tasting room. Both wineries are staffed with Level 2 Sommeliers to help educate and guide your tasting.
If you’re staying on property enjoy the flavors of Spain with dinner at Bolero Restaurante. My husband and I opted for a dinner of tapas. Don’t miss the Wild Championones with bomba rice or the garlic shrimp.
ROBERT RENZONI VINEYARDS
Robert Renzoni Vineyards
The Renzoni family has made wine since 1886 when Robert’s great grandfather began working in the vineyards of Fano, Italy. Since then, the family was involved in wine distribution in the United States, and in the mid 2000s Robert and his parents moved from Buffalo to Temecula and founded Robert Renzoni Vineyards.
The hillside property is designed to resemble the quintessential Tuscan villa. For a more intimate experience I opt for the Grandioso Tour and Tasting. I’m given a private tour of the winery and then led upstairs in the villa to the VIP Buffalo Room to experience a charcuterie tasting paired with the estate’s Riserva Portfolio, which aren’t poured in the tasting room.
The Riserva wines are primarily French varietals, the 2017 Cabernet Franc is out of this world, but it’s the Italian wine, Vecchio Frate that stands out. Made from the Lagrein grape, it’s one of a handful of grapes that has both red skin and red juice. With only 1,000 acres planted worldwide, it’s a rare treat to try it.
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No trip to Temecula is complete without seeing the cute Old Town that is dotted with bars and restaurants, among them the authentic Bottega Italia. The small trattoria doesn’t take reservations, but the wait will be worth it when you bite into an authentic Napoli pizza or handmade pasta.
The family hails from Sicily and in addition to running restaurants, also makes their own wines in Temecula. The Catarratto was a nice light white after a long day of wine tasting, and paired well with my crab ravioli in a white wine sauce. For dessert don’t miss a scoop of the house made gelato, and even though Italians would cringe, the cappuccino is so perfect, order it regardless of time of day!
WIENS FAMILY CELLARS
Wiens Family Cellars
Originally started by four brothers in Lodi, Wiens Family Cellars relocated to Temecula in 2016 and is known for its big reds and Italian whites.
I was lucky enough to have my tasting led by winemaker Brian Marquez, who grew up as friends with the Wiens family. Marquez tells me he focuses on keeping the alcohol low in the Italian white wines so the pure expression of the grape and the crispness is maintained. We taste a 2021 Fiano that bursts with honeysuckle and stone fruit. It’s won a gold medal in every competition it’s entered. The 2022 Vermentino is following the same path, winning a best in class in the most recent San Francisco Chronicle judging.
If you’re a red lover try the 2019 Barbera and then take a stab at guessing the varietal of the tongue and cheek named 2018 Obscura.
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There are a lot of winery restaurants in the Valley and my favorite is Leoness Cellars. The restaurant has a coastal Mediterranean feel with a gourmet menu. On a recent visit I opted for a Charcuterie platter with a fantastic Humboldt Fog cheese topped with honey that paired well with the light, somewhat sweet Italian Muscat Canelli. Keeping with the Italian theme, the Winter Truffle Carnaroli Risotto was a decadent main.
While Doffo Winery is known for its Syrahs and Zins, Italian wine lovers should grab a glass of Vermentino and take in the winery’s large collection of Ducati motorcycles. The entire Duffo family races bikes and owner Damien’s collection of 200 cycles spanning eight decades is museum-worthy. In addition to Ducati, Vespa, Moto Guzzi, Gilera and more are represented.
As a huge fan of Italy, I jump at the chance to go, but since several trips a year aren’t possible, I love that I’m able to still live la dolce vita close to home, too.