Night at Mount Palomar Winery is captivating. Guests are greeted by columns enveloped in twinkling white lights. Replicas of the Winged Victory of Samothrace lend an aura of ancient Greece to the ambiance. Olive trees, also wrapped in lights, lead the way to the heart of the winery.
Beyond massive gates is the winery’s culinary offspring – Shorty’s Bistro, where strings of lights were draped high across a courtyard. Under the canopy of light, guests reclined at tables, their wine glasses glinting.
There is little outdoor dining weather left, so in the ensuing weeks guests will migrate into the delightful wine cellar area of the bistro. This quiet retreat is enhanced by petite grape-hued lights, faux grapevines and a massive vintage oak wine cask. The bistro was formerly a barrel room, so a lingering scent of aged wine prevails. Aroma from current wine fermentation also tinges the air – delightfully.
The menu items are varied, but several, such as hummus, have a Mediterranean flair.
Explore the appetizer, “Brie and Berries Platter with Artesian Bread.” Walnuts give the bread an earthy flavor; and cranberries and oranges lend a bit of sweetness. A layer of soft brie cheese on the bread is like icing on a cake. The tray is also studded with fresh strawberries, blackberries and blueberries.
The shish kabob entrée has a Mediterranean flair. It’s served with pita bread, rice and two “stuffed grape leaves.” Two kabobs, one filet mignon and one chicken, adorn the plate. Each piece of meat is sandwiched between green bell peppers and onions, then flame-grilled for a smoky, charbroiled flavor. My favorite – the filet mignon – was almost butter-like tender.
The “stuffed grape leaves” were among the best I have tasted – and that includes samplings in Greece – especially at a street-side “taverna” in Athens Plaka where locals would gather. The flavor was mild and the leaves were tender. Just a smidgen of mint, onion, lemon, dill and sunflower oil were added to the white rice stuffing to give it a marvelous flavor.
Of course, many fine wines are available, as well, including the delightful Mount Palomar Solera Cream Sherry which is aged a minimum of three years in California’s only remaining outdoor solera.
The fact that this wine is solera-aged is worth mentioning, as the solera process of wine aging is an honored tradition developed by the Spanish and Portuguese. The solera aging process is complicated, with a number of barrels involved. Wine is moved from one barrel to another. No barrel ever gets fully drained so the wine cannot formally have a vintage date. Solera-aged wine is a blend of vintages from several years.
The Mount Palomar website explains their solera-aged sherry, “Since 1978 Mount Palomar has produced handcrafted sherry wines in our outdoor aging solera. This is a forgotten winemaking method in California that harkens back to an earlier era. Using the traditional Palomino grape and patient aging of at least three years under the sun creates rich hazelnut and caramel flavors and a long smooth finish.”
Winter is a perfect time to visit Shorty’s Bistro at Mount Palomar Winery – enjoy the cuisine – sample the wine – sit under twinkling lights and imagine you are in some Mediterranean paradise!
Shorty’s Bistro at Mount Palomar Winery is located at 33820 Rancho California Rd., Temecula, Calif. Contact them at (951) 676-5047 or access www.MountPalomar.com for further information including the holiday offerings – a Christmas bazaar, tree lighting and a special screening of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”