Cougar to meet Italy for fifth time, putting reputation on the line

Cougar Vineyard & Winery will host its annual Cougar Meets Italy 2020 Thursday, Jan. 16, which features Cougar wines in competition with similar varietals from Italy. Valley News /Jeff Pack file photo

Each year around this time, Cougar Vineyard & Winery tests itself against the wines they are looking to emulate from Italy.

“It’s a little stressful because we’re putting our necks on the line,” Jennifer Buffington, co-owner of Cougar, said. “So until we win one, you know, we’re sitting on the edge of our seats. We’ve never gotten skunked so you know, cross your fingers on that one. But every year that we do it, it’s kind of building up. We’re right there in the running with them. If we don’t win, we show the total points so you can see that it’s comparable.”

They will do it again Thursday, Jan. 16, at the Cougar Meets Italy 2020 event that pits Cougar varietals against their Italian counterparts in a side-by-side, double-blind tasting event.

At last year’s event, Cougar Vineyard and Winery won all three wines in the reds category.

Cougar’s 2016 Barbera won with a score of 17.92 to 17.66, the 2016 Primitivo won 18.25 to 17.58 and the Negroamaro won 18.16 to 17.8.

Italy won over the judges with the white wines, winning the 2017 Falanghina challenge 17.58 to 17.08 and the 17.75 to 16.75 in the 2017 Fiano challenge.

The public is invited to judge the wines along with six professional judges during the competition.

“In the past, the judges get to judge all of the eight wines at the very same time, and the attendees judged one wine at a time,” Buffington said. “What we’re changing is (the attendees are) going to get to judge the Cougar and the Italian counterpart together. So that will make it easier for them, especially since they’re not necessarily professional judges like the guys in front of them.”

Everyone in the room will use a University of California Davis 20-point wine score sheet with a packet containing information about each varietal and the qualities each should have. Each wine will be judged on clarity, color, bouquet, total acidity, sweetness, body/texture, flavor/taste, bitterness, astringency and overall quality.

When the competition is complete, guests will enjoy a four-course dinner.

“During the tasting, they’ll have some, some bruschetta and olive oil, something to kind of keep their palette going. Then our Sangio Deli is going to do the four-course meal with our new executive chef.”

A day earlier, from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15, the winery will host the preview to the main event with a screening of “Bottle Shock” in the Barrel Room. For $10, guests can enjoy a glass of Cougar wine and all the popcorn they can eat.

The next night, the battle begins.

It’s all part of Cougar’s goal of producing quality Italian varietals in Temecula Wine Country, Buffington said.

“That was the whole point of doing what we’re doing, is to do what is in Italy in Southern California,” Buffington said.

Cougar Meets Italy 2020 will take place from 6-9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16, at the winery located at 39870 De Portola Road in Temecula.

Tickets are $75 per person for wine club members and $85 for nonmembers. For both nights, tickets are $80 per person for wine club members and $90 for nonmembers.

The main event is limited to 50 attendees.

For tickets and more information, visit

Jeff Pack can be reached at