Cougar Winery in Temecula was no joke.
I was recently on a trip to SoCal and wanted to try a few wineries down in Temecula and the San Diego Hills. I came across Cougar Winery on the map and absolutely thought this was a joke; or at the very least a novelty wine similar to Marilyn Merlot or Bitch. I could hear the marketing now, Cougar Juice, Hot Tub Wine, Mature Merlot, Panty Dropper, etc, etc.
All joking aside, Cougar Winery is making serious Italian varietal wines; Aglianico, Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Primitivo. And they're good. Joey, the assistant winemaker and I talked for the better part of 3 hours, sampling each wine and discussed vineyard practices, the barrel program, crush, and pretty much everything else about winemaking, travel, and food. For instance, using Hungarian Oak rather than French Oak is a regular Italian practice, not regularly American. A real pleasure to have a chat and talk about an Italian varietal program in the United States.
Trying to make Aglianico is adventurous winemaking. Aglianico is somewhat obscure, but the king of the varietals in Basilicata (the arch support of the Italian boot). I try a lot of Italian varietals up here in Sonoma County, Muscardini and Lago di Merlo come to mind as quality producers. The other impressive showing that I've tried is from Giornata Wines in Templeton on the south central coast.
I'm interested to see how the Cougar program develops and how the wines age. There's real structure in the wines, great acidity, and some real thought as to where they want to take the program.