MERCED — The plan was to drive to San Diego and watch the San Francisco Giants sweep the series with the struggling Padres.
I suggested we go early and spend a few days in Southern California's wine country. The editor agreed and we booked two nights in the historic town of Temecula in Riverside County.
Temecula Valley is 90 miles southeast of Los Angeles, 60 miles north of San Diego and 20 miles from the California coast. Americans Indians named the area "Temeku," which translates to "where the sun shines through the mist." Weather in Temecula Valley is much like Napa Valley, warm dry days and, because of the ocean influence, cool evenings.
Old Town Temecula was once a stop on the Butterfield Overland Stage Line. Original buildings are still in use, including the First National Bank of Temecula.
Plan on spending the better part of a day in historic Temecula. Park anywhere along Front Street and walk the wooden sidewalks. You'll visit specialty boutiques, art galleries and antiques shops.
The editor and I tasted wine and olive oil at Villa de Calabro on Main Street. We sampled 14 interesting and delicious infused olive oils. We crossed Front Street and tasted the wines from Lorimar Vineyards. We picked up a cabernet- mourvedre blend called Duet to take to dinner at the Gambling Cowboy Restaurant.
There are plenty of dining options in Old Town Temecula, but the menu posted outside the Gambling Cowboy Restaurant lured us in. The Lorimar wine was a perfect match for our lamb and beef entrées. We both opted for the "loaded" baked potato, which was the size of a Nerf football. We enjoyed our leftovers for several days. The dinner and service were excellent, definitely worth a return visit.
The thirty-five wineries in Temecula Valley are a few miles east of Old Town, and fourteen of them have restaurants. We took advantage of that and kept our picnic supplies in the car. We visited Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyard. If you've had almond champagne, it was probably made here.
The food at the winery's Creekside Grill Restaurant is exquisite. We shared a cheese plate that could have fed six, and paired it with the winery's award-winning petite sirah pure heaven. The next day we tried the Meritage Restaurant at Callaway Vineyard and Winery and decided to share plates, a wise decision. We ordered warm marinated olives, chicken liver pate, a flatbread lamb wrap with steak fries and a green salad. To top it off, we paired it with a bold sangiovese.
The Meritage has been selected as one of the top 100 hottest restaurants and I can see why, delicious food in a beautiful setting. I suggest you plan a mid-week visit and take advantage of the wine country restaurants.
My next column will focus on the wines from this beautiful valley. For more information on Temecula Valley, go to www.temeculawines.org. Our trip was great, the baseball part, not so much. We did see a sweep. Unfortunately, it was the Giants falling to the Padres bummer.
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