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Monday, September 12, 2011

A Night at the Temecula's CRUSH

If someone tells you that Temecula is just like Napa, the polite thing to do is to smile and nod and turn your head before you roll your eyes.  Because Temecula is not like Napa, not even a tiny bit.  Whereas Napa is old and established and considered by some to be the wine making capital of the world, Temecula is young and new and still finding its way.

Is this a scene from Gunsmoke?  No, just a typical sight in Temecula. 
And there I was, sitting in the front row in front of Temecula's top wine makers hoping they don't know who I am.  I'm guilty of mocking some of their efforts, but come on, sparking wine that tastes like a Chinese almond cookie?  And I've been there on the weekends where drunk bachelorette parties burst into the tasting rooms shouting "whooo hoooo" and drinking their wines like a Jager shot.  No, Temecula is definitely not just like Napa.

But don't tell these guys.

I must admit, after listening to them talk passionately about Temecula wines for an hour, I finally get it.  Wine making is an art, a way of life, but you still need to pay the bills.  So if sweeter whites are the ticket, the gateway wine to more serious reds, then give the people what they want - hopefully without compromising the art.  That's what Temecula is all about, producing a large variety of wines for every level of wine drinker.  Over the years the wines have gone from meh to a level of surprising sophistication. Seriously, if you haven't been for a while it's time to go back and taste! 

Once a year Temecula holds an event called CRUSH at the Monte De Oro Winery. With over 30 wineries pouring their best and local restaurants serving up gourmet foods, this has to be one of the best food and wine festivals in Southern California. It's a great way to sample all the wines in one place and the sold out event wasn't so packed that you felt like you were at the Del Mar Fair. 

I asked for a glass of sparkling wine and they all jumped to attention!  Gee, thanks!

The main event is held outside on the gigantic patio with sweeping views of the vineyards.  Local restaurants like Rustico served up their specialties, like this killer Mac N Cheesy thing that was rich and creamy and crispy on top and, well, incredible. And unlike a lot of food fests where the serving size resembles a CostCo sample, tastings were generous.  And best yet, the lines moved fast so you rarely found yourself without a plate of food or a full glass of wine. 

Let's see some of the food highlights.

What is that?  The Creekside Grill at Wilson Creek Winery was cooking up these monster pork ribs.  I sort of assumed they would be cutting these up into tiny bites, but look at the final plate.

Da-yammm!  This was an entree sized sample and was melt in your mouth deliciousness.  I knew I had to pace myself but I couldn't resist.  Gone.  What's next?

Meritage at Callaway did a terrific Asian dumpling, a cross between a won ton and a potsticker with a modern touch.  Nice.

Let's stick with the Asian theme and go with a bit of ahi poke on top of a crispy won ton skin with some tangy slaw from the Lazy Dog Cafe, one of my favorite bites of the evening.  I ate four of these, the ahi gloriously fresh and inviting.

Ummm, what is this?  A scallop with bacon?  Gimme, gimme.  I gobbled these up like the Donner Party finding an old friend.  In fact, I loved these so much I forgot to take notes on who made these.  Please forgive me, I was hungry and these were sweet and succulent and oh so tasty.  Whoever you are, thank you. These scallops were every bit as good, if not better, than what I've had in many upscale and ultra expensive restaurants.  One more?

The restaurant at Ponte Winery was responsible for the beef carpaccio and a dessert of cheesecake with cherries with a consistency of creamy yogurt, both big winners.  I ate two desserts, and I usually don't like desserts so you know this was good.

Here's a weird one.  Temecula Catering was wowing the crowd with this simple yet elegant dessert, a bit of molecular gastronomy with a compressed watermelon and a shot of oil and balsamic vinegar on top.  You shoot it in like this -

And then you pop it in your mouth and say "Ummmmmm, wow, ummmmm."  Later that evening they did something even crazier.  Let's see.

It's creme brulee on a stick!  The lines were long for this one and it was fun to see all the adults looking like happy little kids as they were handed their sucker.  And yes, it really tasted like creme brulee.  And you keep the stick!

All in all, CRUSH was a terrific event and quite a bargain at $65.  Wine lovers like myself found more than a few new wineries to check out and no one left hungry if the stacks of empty plates were any indication.  In the end, who cares if Temecula isn't just like Napa?  Maybe being San Diego is good enough.  It was for me.


Coming Soon!  San Diego Brew and Winery Guide


On A Lark said...

I went to this event and loved it! Beautiful setting, lots of good wine, food and friendly people.
What a wonderful way to get a taste of what Temecula Valley has to offer.

Crush is a fantastic way to get a crash course on Temecula wines!

Sienna Spencer-Markles said...

Hey Wally,

Thanks so much for your great article on Temecula Valley & the CRUSH event! So glad you had a great time. Loved your pics and commentary - very entertaining!