Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bella Vista Winery: Good Views and Good Wine

It was mid-April this year when I drove from Capistrano Beach to the Temecula wine region. I only had a few wineries I really wanted to visit and the first stop was a complete delight. Bella Vista Winery is well named, resting on a hill that overlooks much of Temecula. There I had the privilege of meeting the owner, Imre Cziraki, and a more fascinating man would be hard to find.

The Dream of Imre Cziraki

Generous, affable and with a firm passion for his wines, he regaled my wife and I with stories of his escape from Hungary during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. One of his friends told Imre that his name was high on a list of those considered enemies of the state. That was all the motivation he needed to make his way, eventually, to the US.
Knowing only a few words of English he’d learned from his grandfather, also a winemaker, he managed to make his way to California. He purchased La Cresta in 1982, Bella Vista Vineyards in 1998 and the former Cilurzo Winery in 2004. The few words he’d picked up from his grandfather he later learned were all curse words. One can imagine the confusion his new American friends must have experienced when he used them.
A self-made man, one would think he’d take his own path to wine-making and that proved to be correct. The tasting room is expansive and could accommodate multiple tour bus crowds. The grounds are large, with plenty of areas to stroll and enjoy the views while sampling the wines. The website offers photos of some of the many events that take place here, and everyone seemed to be having as good a time as my wife and I.

Bella Vista Wines

Many of Bella Vista’s wines are unique and well-priced. The list is a long one, so I’ll focus on a few of my favorites. We had to try the 2007 White Cabernet Sauvignon. Many years ago, my wife Barbara was dining at an up-scale Chicago restaurant and asked the waiter for a Cabernet Sauvignon. The waiter replied, “Did you want the white or the red?” “Oh, I’ve never had the white, why don’t you bring it,” she said, rather disingenuously.  After a while the server returned, red-faced, and said, “I’m sorry, we’re all out of the white.”
Well now, we could finally try a White Cab. Actually the wine has a darker Rosé cast to it, fruit-forward with hardly a hint of tannins. Tart cherry and spice make this a very drinkable wine, perfect for those that are tannic-challenged. The 2007 Petite Sirah Rosé is a wine with greater depth than one would assume from a Rosé. Layers of red fruit hovering around cherry and a satisfying mouthfeel will make this a summertime favorite.

The 2005 Grenache weaves of complex tapestry of earthy dark fruit and ripe red fruits and is one of the best domestic interpretations of this Rhone grape I’ve ever tried. Not so heavy that it would overpower the bird, I’d try this one on Thanksgiving. In fact, I will try this one on turkey day. The 2004 Petite Sirah Reserve was another favorite of mine. Taken from some of the oldest plantings in Temecula, it shows maturity and youth in each sip. Earth and spice and rich fruit, this wine should continue to evolve for years, but hard to resist now.

This should be your first stop in Temecula, and if you do try all the wines, probably your only stop. Not to worry, there is plenty of beauty around you here, and numerous spots to sit and contemplate how our lives are enriched by good wine. The Cziraki family lives the American dream so many of our youth these days have lost sight of. Take some inspiration from Imre and by all means take some of his wine and make your own dreams. Salut!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

House Family Winery of Saratoga

I recently went to a wine tasting event at the home of Dave House. I’ve reported previously about the technology Dave employed to grow outstanding grapes for his wines here. The tasting took place on a grassy hill top near shade trees with breathtaking views of the vineyard and countryside. Dave also gave a talk on his grape growing methodology and a tour of the vines.

We went with our good friends Ken and Debbie McKenzie. Dave was one of the movers and shakers at Intel and many of the attendees are past employees of a fraternity that likes to celebrate reunions with wine. I’m all for that!

House Family Winery wines included Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot based wines. The 2009 Chardonnay is already sold out and the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon is nearly all gone. The small case production of fewer than 200 cases per wine is partly responsible and so are the wonderful flavors and balance of all the wines. The best way to secure them is to join the wine club, or go to their website and purchase online.

The 2008 Merlot is 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. A rich blend with layers of red and dark fruit and spices. The tannins are soft and well integrated. If you’ve been bored with typical California Merlot this one will wake up your taste buds again.

The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon has 75% Cab, 13% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petite Verdot. Almost the classic Meritage blend, very complex with black currant, plum and cocoa and a mouth-feel that is lush.

The winemaker is Jeffrey Patterson of the well-regarded Mount Eden Vineyards. Jeffrey works with all the varietals mentioned as well as Pinot Noir, which will be in the future for House Family Winery. This is one boutique winery well worth checking out. Salut!