Cordiano Winery: San Diego Sojurn

Sheila at Orfila recommended two other wineries to us, one of which was Cordiano. “Make sure to get the pizza!” she said.

On paper, Cordiano didn’t look that far away, but it couldn’t have felt more distant. We drove down a narrow, twisty road, past palm tree farms and along the edge of steep drops, with the kind of vistas you only get in the hills of Southern California.

The place that had the best views, however, was the back porch of Cordiano Winery.

Cordiano Winery
On a clear day you can see forever - and on a cloudy day, you can still see into the next county.

The weather had taken a turn for the cold and windy as we drove up to Cordiano, and ominous rain clouds threatened. The throngs of visitors drinking wine on the expansive back patio of Cordiano didn’t seem to notice. We’d arrived in the middle of an intersection between a party bus and a wedding reception, and the crowd was in a festive mood. The vibe reminded us strongly of Malibu Wines in LA.

Cordiano’s outdoor pizza oven, located next to the tasting counter, was going like gangbusters. Every visitor was digging in. The smell of the pizza was deliciously overwhelming on the back patio.

Scent and the Wine Taster

Unfortunately, the smell was so overwhelming that we couldn’t smell the wine. As we tasted, our palates imparted the pizza flavors we were smelling to the wine. Anxious to get a better assessment of the wines – and get warm, since neither of us had dressed for the sudden chill – we moved into the lovely indoor tasting space.

We couldn’t smell the pizza oven inside, but that was because the fragrances from the large scented candles placed on the tasting bar overwhelmed any lingering aromas from outside. Again, the scent overrode our palates, lending every wine we tasted a strange apple-Jolly Rancher taste, not what I’d expect from a cabernet sauvignon.

I had always heard how important scent was to the wine tasting experience. Friends who are serious wine snobs have told me that if I wear perfume while tasting, it will affect the flavor of the wine. I had shrugged this off, but my experience at Cordiano really brought this home. I don’t feel I can give a real assessment of their wines because my taste buds were so strongly affected by the non-wine smells I experienced.

Cordiano’s ambiance is great, and they throw one heck of a party. I’d like to go back there sometime on a warm, sunny day, kick back on their patio, and see if I can get a better assessment of their wines.

Orfila Vineyards and Winery: San Diego Sojourn

Orfila Vineyards and Winery
13455 San Pasqual Road, Escondido, California (map link)

Many boutique wineries are started by people going into a second career. Few, however, can claim a first career as exotic as Orfila’s founder Alejandro Orfila. He served in numerous diplomatic posts on behalf of Argentina including service as Ambassador to Japan and to the US, as well as serving two terms as Secretary General of the Organization of American States. Photos in a section of the tasting room show him with dignitaries such as Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan, as well as with Jacqueline Kennedy and the Pope.

Orfila Winery
The photos are, of course, inside a giant wine barrel.

Not content with merely guiding and influencing world affairs, Orfila’s appreciation of wine ultimately led him to establish a winery in Escondido. And we’re glad he did! Orfila took over a winery that was one of only two in Escondido that had survived Prohibition.

Do these overalls make my feet look big?

The grounds are beautiful, with grapevine-covered rolling hills leading the eye to spectacular vistas. The estate, which is located on the same agricultural preserve as the San Diego Zoo Wild Animal Park, has plenty of room for weddings and other events. A large mixed-use building serves as a tasting room as well as housing barrels as far as the eye can see. Nikki adds: And the tasting room bar has purse hooks!

Nikki described Sheila, who poured for us, as a wine geek's dream. I agree!

The tasting room staff was friendly and knowledgeable and managed to give personal attention even though the room was quite busy. They pour for the love of the wine. Sheila, our tasting room associate, actually works full-time at the San Diego Zoo but took up pouring at Orfila because she liked the wine so much. We enjoyed our visit a great deal.

The Wines

2008 Viognier (San Pasqual Valley): This had a very mild aroma and an amazingly rich taste. A little sweet, smooth, with a touch of bitterness that holds it all together. Nikki says: It tasted like drinking orange blossoms; I could taste a hint of orange essence and a floral overtone.

2010 Viognier (San Pasqual Valley): A light crisp nose, with citrus and apple. This one’s rich like the ’08, but with more prominent fruit, particularly pear and apple. Nikki says: It’s like someone cranked the flavors in the ’08 up to 11!  Sheila described the richness as custard. I finally have a name to put with that flavor!

2008 Sangiovese (California): Dark in color, aroma and taste with notes of cedar and cherry, nicely structured with just the right amount of tannins. Nikki says; It smelled like the tannic parts of A-1 sauce. I really like A-1 sauce, so this is a compliment.

2009 Montepulciano (California): This was an enchanting swirl of cherry and licorice. Aromas of wood smoke and leaves imparted an autumnal quality to this wine. Nikki says: It tasted like frosted tannins!

2006 Estate Syrah (San Pasqual Valley): This Syrah was pretty tightly structured with a bit of bite. I found a nice cherry flavor in the fruit. I think this one would be great with bold dishes.

2006 Coastal Cuvée Syrah (California): The aroma brought to mind filet mignon on a cedar plank. The flavor was round and rich, with good tannic support. I really craved a nice steak after tasting this one. Nikki says: So did I – and I’m a vegetarian!

2008 Ambassador’s Reserve Estate Syrah (San Pasqual Valley): The grapes used in the ’08 Ambassador’s Reserve were growing during a nearby fire in 2007. The wine does seem to have been influenced. The aroma is earthy, with cedar and herbal notes. The flavor combines cherry and grape, with a nice tannic finish.

2008 Estate Petite Sirah (San Pasqual Valley): I detected holiday spice aromas and cherry in the nose. The flavor was fruity enough to be jammy, pulled together by an expert application of tannins.

California NV Tawny Port: The aroma was just what you hope for in a tawny port. Layers of prune and caramel with just a whiff of alcohol. The mouthfeel was incredibly rich and unctious. The flavor revealed prune, raisin and chocolate, and the intriguing finish was marked by an almost savory sensation of smoke, maybe even burnt gunpowder.

Orfila does it right. Great wines served in a fun, relaxed atmosphere amid beautiful surroundings. Yay!

Wiens Family Cellars: San Diego Sojourn

Wiens Family Cellars
35055 Via Del Ponte, Temecula, CA (map link)
888-98-WIENS (888-989-4367)

I wasn’t expecting the Wiens Family Cellars facility to be quite so large – from the name I was expecting a smaller mom-and-pop kind of operation. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but at first glance its size and style brought back memories of the bad experience we had in Livermore at the winery that shall not be named. Happily, the similarities were all superficial. Wiens Family Cellars shows how a winemaking family can take their enterprise to the next level while maintaining a charming, inviting space in which friendly, knowledgeable staff can show off their wonderful wines.

Wiens Winery
Not to be confused with Ween, although you might find some chocolate and cheese here

The interior is spacious without feeling cavernous. The layout, style, materials and colors are well-chosen to create a warm, traditional wine-tasting atmosphere.

Wiens Winery


Wiens Winery

The scale of the facility and the presence of employee nametags create a slightly more businesslike feel at Wiens than at many other wineries we’ve visited, but once we met the associates who poured for us that quality was superseded by a very personalized experience. Chris, who poured for us, was very knowledgeable and engaging.

Nikki adds: Full disclosure – I was not quite as knocked out by this place as Mike was. This is why we each take our own notes. This is not the first time that one of us has been ecstatic where the other was merely satisfied, and it won’t be the last.

Some wines are miserly with their aromas, but all the ones we tasted at Wiens had amazing fragrances. I suggested they offer wine sniffings in addition to wine tastings, that’s how satisfying the aromas were.

Wiens Winery
Plus, delightful label art!

While Wiens offers wines made from grapes from other appellations, the ones we tasted are sourced from Temecula Valley grapes unless otherwise noted.

The Wines

2009 Infinite Perspective (Riverside County): “Oh, wow!” was really the only response appropriate upon smelling this wine. It’s a blend of  Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc. The aroma was gregarious and inviting, with a hint of yeast. Nikki adds: I found the scent tart and smoky. The flavor starts out bold and fruity with just the right acidity for brightness. Mild tannins and a hint of spice create a nice finish. I’d be happy sipping this on its own, but it would be a great pairing with just about any kind of boldly-flavored food.

2008 Sangiovese: Another “Oh, wow!” aroma. I was reminded of the rich sweetness of cake batter. Nikki adds: I was reminded of unsweetened, spicy chocolate. The flavor was rich and mellow with notes of vanilla and berries. I wrote “Friendly!” in my notebook.

2009 Reflection “Super-Tuscan”: [Sniffs wine, looks in thesaurus for another way to say “Oh, wow!”] Zounds! Another nose-pleaser. It’s Tuscan because of the Barbera and Sangiovese, made Super by the addition of Petite Sirah, Syrah and Petit Verdot. The aroma floated a very light yeast scent over vanilla and fruit. The flavor was bold and fruity, but not overwhelming or jammy. The darker tones are balanced by a nice acidic brightness, and the entire flavor is elegantly framed with light tannins. Again, this would be delightful by itself, but it would also complement (and not get overwhelmed by) just about any bold foods you’d care to enjoy it with.

2009 Domestique: Ah, GSM, my old friend. Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Guy walks into a wine tasting room, sniffs the wine, says “Oh, wow!” Sorry if that’s getting old, but I blame Wiens. They’re the ones making their wines smell so amazing! This blend also put me in mind of delicious baked desserts with a hint of yeast and plenty of vanilla in the aroma. The flavor is soft and vevety, rich and mild. Perfectly balanced tannins support an array of fruit including cherry and black plum. The faint yeast creates a finish reminiscent of rustic bread.

2010 Merrytage: It’s not a Meritage, it’s a special blend released for the holidays. And sharing it with friends would impart merriment indeed. Merrytage is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with Sangiovese and Zinfandel. Wiens really brings out the vanilla notes, especially in the nose. This one is (Oh, wow!) no exception. I also sensed a faint perfume quality. This wine feels very smooth, with flavors of raisin, caramel and a hint of grape skin.

2010 Barbera: Quiz: What did I exclaim upon smelling this? Yeah, that’s right. This had that wonderful cupcake scent – vanilla, sugar, cream – present in many of the wine aromas here with an added quality that I have yet to adequately describe. It’s a sharper component that sometimes seems metallic (in a good way) or mineral-y, or sometimes like cedar. It triggers a specific scent memory but I can’t quite put my finger on it (which is good, because that would require me to put my finger in my nose). I also was reminded of sour cherry. The flavor had both tart and sweet elements with a definite taste of underripe blackberry amid the fruit. I also got cedar and even a whiff of hops!

Amour De L’Orange: I sniffed it, I said it. I’m not ashamed! This is Champagne enhanced with a touch of natural orange flavor. The orange aroma and flavor are perfect complements to those in the wine. The orange draws attention, but then redirects it back to the Champagne. The flavors are distinct but not separate, creating a seamless experience. It’s a masterful example of how different flavor elements can interact to create an energetic sense of motion on the tongue. This was the kind of delicious that could get you in trouble if you had a few bottles on hand.

In summary, Wiens manages to create wines that consistently bear signature elements in flavor and aroma, while maintaining each wine’s distinct character.