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.