by Rick Riozza

Yes, that’s right. I was dying of thirst; it was one of our typical hot and dry afternoons. Passersby were telling me there was a “river” nearby; so I groped along with hope.

Who would have thunk? A winery right in the middle of Rancho Mirage. Tulip Hill Winery was a wonderful surprise. There in the noon day sun I easily played the madman without a drop of English blood in my scorched soul. Call it a vino lover’s oasis in the desert, or, call it a simple wine layover in the CV, but just don’t call me late for the wine tasting.

Shawn was behind the bar and she welcomed me with opened bottles of whites, reds and dessert wines, that I found to be absolutely delicious and geared for us desert dwellers. Refreshing and light-bodied, a
majority of all the wines I enjoyed were also relatively light in alcohol content, which is the right call in our heat.


For some strange reason, I assumed that the wines served here were produced around here. I’ve covered a lot of Temecula wines, some excellent, a few very good, and a few very over the top with fruit and alcohol content. The heat tends to ripen the grapes quickly, causing the increased sugars to increase the alcohol in the fermenting process.

Mt. Oso Vineyards, near Tracy, California, is the largest and the primary vineyard for Tulip Hill wines. We may think, Hey! that’s a pretty warm area in the north San Joaquin Valley. But an anomaly exists, there is a cool ocean influence that blows over into the interior. The bottom line is we get to enjoy wines from vineyards with Napa Valley climates. Further, the winery also sources grapes from as far north as Lake County.

The Tulip Hill Winery Tasting Room is located at The River at Rancho Mirage, 71800 Hwy 111, A125 760.568.5678. They’ve got a great website that will bring you up to speed with a photo gallery of the Tasting Room along with info on all the unique gifts, wine accessories, exclusive lines of specialty food and chocolates that compliment the wine tasting experience. Go to and click on to the Tasting Room

Running with the spring fling of enjoying light and refreshing wines, their tasting program includes six one ounce pours for $6 from their wine tasting menu of over 15 wines.

They have from 3 to 5 chilled white wines to taste that include the 2010 Lake County Sauvignon Blanc, a very light wine with floral notes, a whiff of dried herb, a dab of fruit and a taste of honey; the 2009 Tracy Hills Mt. Oso Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay—Bronze Medal Winner at my favorite San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition—also light bodied with apple and pear aromas and flavors, a little spice, and only a light hint of a oak with a nice creamy finish; and the 2010 Lake County Riesling, a lightly sweet wine with notes of lychee fruit and Asian pear. It’s the perfect afternoon quaffer.

Light to medium bodied reds include three wines that are 13.5% alcohol or under! The 2009 Tracy Hills Merlot, with all of your favorite signature Merlot aromas and flavors; the 2008 Tracy Hills Mt. Oso Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon—it’s nice to enjoy a light bodied Cab with a great balance of berry fruit, silky tannins, and acidity; and its “Reserve” sibling Cabernet Sauvignon, which is bolder with flavors of blackberry, dark cherry, and licorice enveloped by the usual suspects of espresso, leather, and cedar. There are also fun choices of blended reds that include the mix of Cabernet Sauvignon/Sangiovese and
Merlot/Syrah. Who can ask for anything more?

Anyone with a sweet tooth will always leave room for dessert. The 2006 Zinfandel Dessert is in the style of a Ruby Port with a total harvest fruit compote profile, and, one of my favorites, the 2003 Syrah Port , chocolaty and jammy and displaying that unique “petrol” note reminiscent of those delicious Alsatian Rieslings out of Strasbourg France.

Deemed “the only winery tasting room in the desert”, Tulip Hill Winery at The River in Rancho Mirage is a unique destination for us locals, “snowbirds” and visitors. And what a great place to hang out while everyone’s shopping.

Here’s to relaxing at the winery! Cheers!

Rick Riozza is the desert’s sommelier-about-town entertaining at private and corporate wine events and tastings. He can be contacted at

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