May 2010


I have wanted to drop some pictures and words into this space and describe last weekend’s visit to Vinify in Santa Rosa to taste the wines of the wineries who call the custom crush facility home, but I just haven’t used what little free time I’ve had so far this week to do so.

I had a great time, I tasted many very good wines and a few that I didn’t love, saw some friends, and topped off my trip south with a visit to Lee’s Noodle place for a combo Pho bowl.

I have been attending classes every weekday for the last four weeks, and this is my last week of intensive training in Microsoft Excel. I am an Apple guy, but this Excel 2007 is an incredibly powerful piece of software, and working with it has been really fun. My 13 year old son is coming up on his year end finals, and his mother returned to college and is also in the midst of finals. I have been busy helping both of them with their studies.

In addition to my morning classes, I have appointments each of the next two days, and I have a great friend visiting Mendocino county so i need to break free to spend some time visiting with her while she is here – and drink some wine together.

Long story shortened: I’m taking a few days off, but I’ll be back; I have so much more that I want to write than I have the time to do so. I don’t see running out of things to say, I just don’t want to bore you in saying it.

Vinify Wine Services is a custom crush facility for wine in Santa Rosa owned by Hillary and Justin Lattanzio. Some of the best boutique winemakers in Sonoma County make their home at Vinify’s state of the art winery facility.

This Sunday, May 23, 2010, the Lattanzios are throwing open the doors at Vinify for a once-a-year Open House wine tasting, from 1:00 pm – 4:30 pm.

Vinify is located at 3358 Coffey Lane, Suite D, Santa Rosa, CA 95403 (707) 495-4959.

Over 40 wines, made with passion, will be poured. There will be food. There is a raffle for a few cases of mixed wines. There is also a Riedel glass for you to taste from, then take home with you.

Here is a link to more event info.

Wineries Pouring include:

Baker Lane
Barbed Oak Vineyards
Bevan Cellar
Bjornstad Cellars
Calluna Vineyards
Cinque Insieme Wines
(Les) Claypool Cellars
Desmond Wines
Frostwatch Vineyard and Winery
Gracianna Winery
Jemrose Vineyard
Lattanzio Winery
Olsen Ogden Wines
Pfendler Vineyards
Sojourn Cellars
Westerhold Family Vineyards

I live in Ukiah, and do not get to taste Sonoma County wines, the wines of my home for over 40 years, as often as I would like. I am attending this event, and I hope that I can see a good number of my friends who remain in, and near, Santa Rosa attend as well.

I have tasted a number of wines from some of the wineries that will be pouring, and loved them. I am looking forward to retasting old favorites, and making fresh discoveries as I find new wines to love as well.

The event ticket cost is only $20, and advance ticket purchase is recommended.

I hope you will join me at Vinify on Sunday; look for me, I’ll be the guy wearing the “JohnOnWine.com” hat.

Cheers,

John

Lorenzo Petroni is a blessed man. As owner of the North Beach Restaurant in San Francisco, Lorenzo’s talent in bringing the freshest quality ingredients together in classically simple combinations has resulted in his restaurant being the #1 Italian restaurant in the Italian neighborhood of America’s greatest city for food over the last 40 years. In 1992, Lorenzo and his wife purchased 37 acres of south facing, rocky, seriously sloped Sonoma County land right below the famed Monte Rosso Vineyard in the Sonoma Valley. Over a period of years, the land was transformed into vineyards, planted largely to Sangiovese Grosso, and the 1998 was the first vintage that saw the Petroni Vineyards name gracing bottles of wine. Lorenzo’s talent, handwork, and passion have seen him rewarded with success in two different fields; in addition to incredibly delicious food at the North Beach Restaurant, he is making delicious wines at Petroni Vineyards.

The North Beach Restaurant, 1512 Stockton Street in San Francisco

Lorenzo hosted me for a midweek lunch time tasting of his wines, paired with foods, at his North Beach Restaurant. After a tour of his restaurant, including a trip to the kitchen that had me wanting to jump behind the line to cook, we sat down at a table overlooking his restaurant and bar; Lorenzo told me, “this is my office.” Joining us was one of Lorenzo’s sons, Peter Petroni. Peter, a good son, is clearly proud of his father and it was nice to share time with both the elser and younger Petroni.

Peter and Lorenzo Petroni

Throughout the generous lunch and wine tasting, a stream of people would stop by the table to say hello to Lorenzo, shake his hand, to pay their respects, and his multiple phones would ring as the demands of running two businesses continued while we broke bread. Lorenzo kindly gave me over 2 hours of his time, and during our time together, I listened to a very happy man talk with passion about the land, the grapes, the wines, and about the land, the ingredients, the food.

A monochromatically matched necktie loose at his lilac colored shirt color, a gold watch peaking out from one sleeve, a gold ring on each hand, well groomed graying hair, expressive eyebrows above intelligent eyes, a happy man, Lorenzo is easily given to smiling as he tells the story of each new taste treat, be it wine or food. Protecting his shirt and lap, he wears his napkin in what I consider the Italian way, spread from the neck downward.

Lorenzo Petroni, “in the office”

A fun feature: the linen restaurant napkins feature a sewn in buttonhole in one corner, allowing the napkin to be fastened to the top button of a man’s shirt. I am of ample girth, and a napkin worn in such a manner protects the belly from falling food that could never make it to the lap anyway. Similarly, I remember a gal pal of more than ample bust who complained that a lap napkin was largely useless.

Lorenzo hired a winemaker from New Zealand’s Stonyridge Vineyard, Martin Mackenzie, and together they make the wines at Petroni Vineyards of uniformly high drinkability; smooth, round, lush, fruit forward, with elegance and balance. “Wine is made in the vineyard. A great winemaker preserves what happens in the vineyard,” explained Lorenzo.

During our tasting, Lorenzo poured a wine or two of high alcohol percentage, but they didn’t taste like high alcohol wines, instead showing great balance. Lorenzo explained, “we pick by flavor, not sweetness,” laughing at the vineyard and winery folk out in the fields looking through refractometers, looking like lost sailors, trying to gauge when to pick by sugar level. Lorenzo talked of a family dog, Emma, who would spit out unripe grapes fed to her, but would eat them off the vine herself when they were ready and tasted right.

With Lorenzo as a perfect host, the tasting bounced from wine to food to a new wine and and a new food with constant retestings of different combinations of food and wine. I will recap the wines and the foods in a far more orderly fashion than the manner in which I tasted them.

The Wines, Extra Virgin Olive Ol, and Grappas of Petroni Vineyards

2009 Petroni Vineyards Estate Rosata di Sonoma $12 – 14.1% alc. 50-55% Sangiovese, the rest split roughly evenly between Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Round mouthfeel. Flavors of strawberries and cream, barest hint of honey. A Rosato/Rose/Blush with balls, great body, texture, nose, mouth, and finish. Neutral oak adds body and texture without imparting flavor.

2008 Petroni Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County  $23 – 14.1% alc. Wow! Barrel fermented, 50% new oak, the rest in 2nd and 3rd year barrels. Minerally. Honeyed stone fruit. Lemongrass. Citrus. Mouth coating roundness. Delicious. Supple.

2007 Petroni Vineyards Chardonnay Napa County $35 – 14.5% alc. Light, bright, floral nose. Clean cream, light oak, apple and tropical fruit mouth. Smooth, round, fruit forward. Gorgeously textured.

2006 Petroni Vineyards Rosso di Sonoma $28 – 90% Sangiovese Grosso, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% other. Floral, sweet. Deep chocolate covered fruit. Dark rich cherry, Earthiness. Scrumptious. Such a nice body.

2006 Petroni Vineyards Estate Syrah $48 – 14.5% alc. Cedar spice box, cinnamon, dark cherry nose gives way to a lush smooth forward blueberry cherry fruit mouth. Just opened and beautiful right away. What round ness!

2004 Petroni Vineyards Estate Brunello di Sonoma (Sangiovese Grosso) $65 – 15.1% alc. but doesn’t taste hot or overblown. We are tasting a bottle decanted the previous day at 5:00pm. Perfumed. Rich garnet color. So delicious. “Oooh.” Oak, cherry, berry, leather.

As a child, the adults used to enjoy a small glass of after dinner grappa, and would give cherries that had soaked in the grappa to the children – perhaps to hasten their bedtime. I remember the burn of the grappa cherries. More recently, I have enjoyed duck cooked in a grappa soaked cherry reduction, first at McCormick’s in San Francisco, and then at home. I do not know enough about different grappas, but I tasted two that Lorenzo makes from his grape pomace, and found them as different as could be:

Petroni Vineyards Estate Grappa di Lorenzo (Brunello) – 80 proof. Open. Fruitier, like a Johnny Walker Scotch. I greatly enjoy Scotch from the House of Walker.

Petroni Vineyards Estate Grappa di Cabernet Sauvignon – 80 proof. Restrained. Mineral. Clean, and direct, like a Talisker Scotch. Talisker Scotch, the one aged a mere 10 years, is my favorite single malt I’ve tasted – ever.

Because I don’t have a frame of reference handy from years of grappa tasting, I compared the grappas to two scotches I do have more than a passing familiarity with. Both were absolutely crystal clear, and possessed the heat I remember from childhood, but sipping first one, and then the other, made me realize that I have missed an entire world of experiences in not paying more attention to grappa.

Petroni Vineyards Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil $30 – Leccino, Pendolino, Carotina, Moraiolo, and Frantoio olive cultivars – In 1992, Lorenzo air freighted 10,000 tiny olive plants from Italy to his vineyard estate. Fresh, flavorful, bursting with floral, herbal, and spice notes.

Hand cured Prosciutto with melon. Salt and sweetness. Beautiful.

An Insalate Caprese made of Tomato, Basil, and Burrata, a wonderfully creamy fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream, with Petroni Vineyard Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Green Radicchio and Spring Onion picked that morning from the gardens at Petroni Estate, Salt melted by a spritz of Vinegar, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Pepper. This just screams of freshness.

Lorenzo had Sand Dabs. I had Veal Osso Buco with Peas, Polenta, and Swiss Chard. Let me say that my Osso Buco was amazing, and I loved alternating bites with sips of the Syrah, Rosso, and Brunello. OMG Yum, just sayin’.

We shared some Walnuts from Livermore that had red colored nut meat, naturally dried Figs, and Pecorino cheese from Cortona, Italy.

Proving there is no such thing as too much of a good thing, Lorenzo had both a Lemon Sgroppino and Raspberry Sgroppino placed before me, deliciously refreshing alcohol fruit sorbet ices, absolutely delicious intensely fruit flavored dessert beverages, made from fresh fruit.

The tablecloth where I sat is still white after over 2 hours

Everything we ate at the North Beach Restaurant was delicious; it was the ideal of Italian cooking, a few fresh high quality ingredients per dish in classically simple combinations, perfection. Noth Beach Restaurant is located at 1512 Stockton Street, San Francisco, CA 94133, (415) 392-1700, and has reasonably priced valet parking available at the front door which in San Francisco is exceedingly rare.

Similarly, the wines of Petroni Vineyards, made from organically grown grapes (“We didn’t use poison growing up, why start now?”), are each and everyone an example of simply beautiful deliciousness; round, great fruit, expressions of terroir. The wines are available in some wine shops in northern California, Illinois, and Texas. Wines can be ordered winery direct by email wine@petronivineyards.com or phone (707) 935-8311.

Lorenzo extended an incentive to my readers to join the Petroni Vineyards wine club; if you order 12 bottles per year, all the same or a mix/match combination, then all the wines and olive oil will be discounted 20%. There is no fee for joining the wine club, and you can choose 6 two bottle, 4 three bottle, 3 four bottle, 2 six bottle, or 1 twelve bottle shipment. Drinda Petroni, Peter’s wife, runs the wine club, and if you are going to join the club, let her know you are a JohnOnWine reader to get the 20% discount Lorenzo extended (under $10 for the Rosato di Sonoma). I loved each of the wines, so I am passing the offer on for your consideration.

This month, Napa County vintners began spraying their vineyards with pesticides in an attempt to fight infestation of European grapevine moths.

The half inch insect lays eggs in April, and the larvae starts feeding at bud break on grape flowers, then later generations on young grapes, and a third generation on mature grapes.

Since September 2009, after destroying a nine acre Napa Valley vineyard’s crop, when the culprit moth was identified, nearly 30,000 moths have been trapped in the county, and plans are being made to quarantine over 300 square miles of Napa County.

Although the moth is not a long distance flier, it does seem able to ride on equipment from vineyard to vineyard, vineyard to winery, and winery to winery. Neighboring Sonoma County is gearing up to institute quarantine protocols to help control moth movement.

Mendocino County, known for environmentally friendly farming practices, sustainable and fish friendly agriculture, organic and biodynamic grape growers and wineries, is facing a quarantine of nearly 6,000 vineyard acres after first one moth was found just south of Ukiah on a back yard grape vine, then more recently another 30 have been found north of Ukiah.

Tony Linegar, Mendocino County Agricultural Commissioner, suspected the moths were transported from Napa when fruit was moved from Napa County to a winery near Dunnewood’s now infested Chardonnay vineyard. Roughly 650 traps are being set in Mendocino County. Linegar believes this may be the second year the moths have been in Mendocino County, and the worst may be yet to come.

Mendocino County wineries use pomace, the residue of pressed grapes, for natural fertilizer. Alarmingly, the European grapevine moth larvae, left inside the grapes, can sometimes survive pressing and end up in pomace. Several Mendocino County wineries regularly import Napa and Sonoma County winery pomace. The problem could very well have been laid right at the feet of the vines already.

Linegar is asking all vineyards within a kilometer of Dunnewood’s infested vineyard to spray with a larvicide.

Purportedly organic insecticides do exist, and are hoped to be effective.

Only 3 of 18 Insecticides for Lobesia botrana (European Grape Vine Moth) on grape are approved for use in organic vineyards. I found no information on approved insecticide use in biodynamic vineyards.

Bruce Phillips, a Napa Valley grape grower, worries about “the long term sustainability of organic and biodynamic practices,” in the face of forced spraying to combat the spread of, or damage from, the moth.

Mendocino County bills itself as “America’s Greenest Wine Region,” and the threat posed by the European grapevine moth is not just to the grape crops but to an entire way of growing grapes.

The County of Napa Agricultual Commissioner’s website states, “Studies of the European grapevine moth internationally show that larvae feed primarily on the flowers and fruit of the grape, and that they can also feed on number of other hosts, including olives, blackberries, cherries, nectarines, persimmons and pomegranates. “

There is further concern that after grape harvest, moths may spend the winter cacooned in olive trees on vineyard properties.

Jim Allen, the Solano County Agricultural Commissioner, describes the threat posed by the moth as having “a potential for complete crop loss.”

A Final Report of  an International Technical Working Group brought together to fight the European Grape Vine Moth in California’s north coast, dated February 10, 2010, recommends that suppression measures include ovicides, larvicides, mating disruption, and mechanical control measures. Three generations of the pest impact vineyards; the first from bud break to fruit set, the second from pea sized grapes to ripening, and the third from ripening to harvest. Whether there are any beneficial organisms that might prey on, or control, the moth is unknown at this point.

The second and third generations cause the most damage not just by direct feeding on mature grapes but by predisposing the crop to grey mold, fungus, and rot through webbing and leaving of excrement inside the grapes.

Since their discovery in Napa County; in addition to Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, the moth has been found in Merced, Fresno, and Solano Counties.

Yesterday, I drove two hours south to San Francisco to taste some wines over lunch, and I will be writing about the visit, the restaurant, the food, the wines, all of it, very soon.

Taking things out of chronological order, I have to tell you about what I did in San Francisco following my lunchtime tasting. It helps if you know who Anthony Bourdain is, and how much I revere him.

Anthony Bourdain was the chef at Les Halles in New York City; but became famous after writing the classic, “Kitchen Confidential.” Bourdain is an amazing writer, an experienced cook, knowledgeable, opinionated, passionate, entertaining. With a past that includes being a Culinary Institute of America graduate and a junkie, Bourdain’s prose is infused with a dark undercurrent of cynicism, yet he remains open to the possibility of beauty, happiness, magic, love. After a short lived stint on the Food Network, Bourdain’s television show, “No Reservations,” has become the most watched show on the Travel Channel.

Recently an episode of Bourdain’s “No Reservations” featured his explorations of San Francisco food experiences, focusing on meaty options during what he described as a visit to the land of vegetarians, locavores, and the politically correct. The San Francisco episode featured a visit to the Pirate Cat Radio Cafe for a Bacon Maple Latte. I am not a believer in bucket lists, things to to before you kick the bucket, but after seeing Bourdain’s segment, I have anticipated visiting Pirate Cat Radio Cafe myself for a taste of the house special.

With my iPhone set to GPS direction mode, I was able to travel from North Beach to the Mission/Potrero bordering neighborhoods area in about 15 minutes. The area around the Pirate Cat Radio Cafe, located at 2781 21st Street, is eclectic, funky, energetic, hip. I was drawn to the expressive exterior paint jobs of some of the neighboring buildings.

The “Swoosh” is either a comet, or this building is owned by a Minnesota Viking fan

The paint job for this cleaner is inspired by Disney’s The Little Mermaid

Cutest house on the block

A combination coffee house and radio station, Pirate Cat Radio Cafe sports an edgy, dangerous vibe, painted red and black like a bleeding wound and necrosis. Inside, I found Phia behind the counter, Shantai reclined on a couch, and Wilson in the radio booth.

Pirate Cat Radio Cafe, the open door, like a maw, waits to swallow you whole

Phia, probably short for Sophia but it took me a couple of hours to figure that out, is a young white girl with mad latte skills. She is interested in a possible future in media and that is what brought her to Pirate Cat two months ago.

Shantai is a young black girl who is enjoying some time spent with a hot coffee beverage while listening to cool music. She was surprised when I knew her name, but she had referred to herself in the third person in a conversation with Phia, and I’m a decent listener.

Wilson is the young Disc Jockey, On Air Personality, or whatever they are called these days.

I worked at a nighclub bar restaurant radio station over 20 years ago, and we talked about the changes. Wilson isn’t so young that he doesn’t remember vinyl and how digital music was considered cold while the pop and hiss of  LPs was once cherished. Wilson actually heard and remembered my radio show, Dead Air, from all those years ago, although he must have been quite young at the time.

I’ll see your sandwich board, and raise you a caffeinated bacon maple latte board

The Bacon Maple Latte is made by cooking down 10 pounds of bacon into 4 ounces of concentrated goodness, bacon essence, refined bacon fat. A heaping serving of bacon and a tablespoon of real maple syrup are melted into espresso and frothed Clover milk foam tops that. Like sprinkles on a Sundae, real bits of bacon are sprinkled on top of the foam.

Pork Maple Latte on a Vegan Menu Board

Straight up, it all works together and is quite good; which really shouldn’t be a surprise as bacon, syrup, and coffee might easily be part of any ordinary breakfast. The bacon makes the drink more round, more fatty, and the maple provides the bridging link between bacon and coffee flavors. Chewing a sipped bacon bit as the bacon and and maple flavored latte slides down your throat, releases more bacon flavor.

Bacon Maple Latte with Bacon Bits for Sprinkles

Wilson, using a mac instead of turntables, put a song on for me, which I named before the first note was finished, Bob Weir’s Looks Like Rain.

We compared some experiences, and I told old war stories; how Primus played our Cafe because we could simulcast their show and give them a taped copy of it at night’s end, how we had a blender in the booth for Margaritas on some shifts. Where I was paid, Pirate Cat Radio Cafe DJs are unpaid interns, and often actually pay for the experience.

The caffeine rush you feel from a Bacon Maple Latte is enhanced as your blood, pulse quickened, is forced though narrowing vessels, arteries hardened.

The experience has marked me; this morning, I visited Starbucks, and nothing looked quite the same.

I posted briefly on a forum last night about the magically porklicious latte that I had, which started a conversation about bacon and the trend toward using it in everything (thanks to Guy Fieri and every Top Chef contestant ever). With space on my non existent bucket list, with the Pirate Cat Radio Cafe beverage down, a forum friend introduced me to a new vehicle for bacon delivery: the meat baby!

Bacon is the meat baby’s diaper

I am so making a meat baby. Soon.

On Thursday, May 6, 2010, I got to be the guest chef at the Chardonnay tasting and TweetUp at Parducci Wine Cellars in Ukiah.

I cooked for three days, and am pleased with how my food turned out.

At the actual event, I chose to go outside and enjoy the company of friends rather than remain inside, near the food, so people would feel more free to talk abut the food and so I would not have to hear anyone opine that they make a superior risotto.

I spent the majority of the event on the back patio of Parducci, near the vineyards, and was joined by two classmates, two newly met Hopland winery employees (wineries are cooperative, I thank Jeriko Estates and Milano Family Winery for mixing with me at Parducci), the mother of my son, four friends from Santa Rosa, and another friend who flew in from Florida to attend.

One of my friends did report that someone inside did indeed boast to making a better risotto, which may have inspired some discreet finger flying on the patio, along with laughter.

After the event, I went back to the Cellar (guest) House at Parducci, where I had done the cooking, with some friends where we had some more wine, more conversation, more laughter. I wish I had thought to invite Cindy up to join us when she stopped by to say thank you, and all of the folks from Parducci for that matter. Cindy and Rochelle, and everyone else at Parducci were great to work together with.

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CESANO-DOLAN APPLE MUSHROOM RISOTTO

Ingredients:

Chicken broth – 6 cups

Olive oil – 3 tablespoons

Portobello mushrooms (thinly sliced) – 1 pound

White mushrooms (thinly sliced) – 1 pound

Saffron threads – .02 ounces

Shallots (diced) – 1 whole

Apple (fine dice) – 2/3 of a large apple

Arborio rice – 1 1/2 cups

2008 Paul Dolan Vineyards Chardonnay – 1/2 cup

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Sea salt to taste

Chives (finely chopped) – 3 tablespoons

Butter – 4 tablespoons

Parmesan cheese (freshly grated) – 1/3 cup

Directions:

1. At least two hours prior to cooking, soak the saffron threads in 2 TBS of the chicken broth to allow the full color and flavor to be released.

2. Warm the chicken broth, with saffron thread infusion in a sauce pan over low heat.

3. In a small pan, over medium heat, saute the apple in 1 TBS olive oil, about 2 minutes. Reserve the apple and liquid.

4. In a large saucepan, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium fire. Add the mushrooms and stir. Cook the mushroom for 5 minutes or until tender. Then remove the mushrooms including the liquid. Add the reserved apple to the mushrooms. Set it aside.

5. In a frying pan, add one tablespoon of olive oil. Stir the shallots and cook for at least 1 minute. Add the Arborio rice and stir continuously for about 2 minutes to coat with oil. Pour the wine when the rice changed its color to pale gold. Stir continuously until the wine has been fully absorbed by the rice. Then add half a cup of broth to the rice and stir continuously until the broth is absorbed. Continue introducing half a cup of broth while stirring the rice. Make sure the liquid is well absorbed.

6. Remove the rice from the heat and add apple and mushrooms with liquid, Parmesan, Butter and chives. Stir continuously then season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

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DOUBLE PIE CRUST

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup shortening

1/2 cup water

1 egg

Directions:

1. In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in water until mixture forms a ball. Divide dough in half, and shape into balls. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

2. Roll out dough on a floured counter. Don’t over work it. Use as directed in pie recipe.

3. Brush both the bottom crust and top crust with a little beaten egg

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APPLE PIE FILLING

Ingredients:

9 cups (about 2 1/2 pounds) – Granny Smith apple

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons tapioca flour

1 1/3 tablespoon butter

Pie Crust Topping:

2 tablespoons milk

1/8 cup white sugar

Directions:

1. Peel and thinly slice the apples.

2. Combine apple and lemon juice in a large bowl.

3. Combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, salt, and tapioca flour in a small bowl, mix well.

4. Sprinkle combined dry ingredients over apples and toss well to evenly coat the apples.

5. Preheat oven to 425° F.

6. Put mixture in a strainer over a large bowl, let sit 30 minutes until juices collect in bottom of bowl, drain juices, boil juices with a teaspoon of butter until reduced, and pour back over the apple mixture.

7. Spoon the mixture into an unbaked pie shell. Dot 1 tablespoon butter on top of the fruit. Cover with the top crust. Seal and crimp the edges. Brush the top with milk and sprinkle with 1/8 cup sugar. Make 5 two inch slits in the top pie crust.

8. Cook on lowest oven rack level, on a baking sheet at 425° for 15 minutes, then turn down heat to 375° and cook for another 20 – 25 minutes , or until golden brown.

9. Let cool for 4 hours on a wire rack.

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CESANO-PARDUCCI CHARDONNAY APPLE ICE CREAM

Ingredients:

5 cups whipping cream

2 1/2 cups half and half

2 1/2 cups whole milk

2 1/2 cups plus 6 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 cups apple

1/4 cup apple butter

1/4 cup 2008 Parducci Chardonnay

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Directions:

1. Peel, core, and dice the apples; saute the apples with lemon juice, Parducci Chardonnay, apple butter, and 6 tablespoons sugar, about 5 – 6 minutes, until soft. Refrigerate mixture.

2. Scald milk until bubbles form at edge of pan, remove from heat. Add sugar and salt. Stir until dissolved.

3. Stir in half and half, vanilla extract, and whipping cream. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.

4. Combine refrigerated apple and cream mixtures.

5. Place refrigerated mixture into cooled 6 quart ice cream can, filling ice cream can no more than 3/4 full as it will expand during freezing.

6. Following the directions on your 6 quart ice cream maker, mix for 20-40 minutes until smooth and mixture approaches a solid soft serve consistency.

7. Pack ice cream into containers, allowing 1/2 inch for expansion, and freeze several hours to ripen and harden home made ice cream.

_____

I don’t normally cook using recipes at home, but I had to create recipes, then multiply the ingredients by a factor of 2 for the ice cream, 3 for the risotto, and 4 for the pies, so I could put together a shopping list and submit a budget for the event.

I was trying to bring out, or tie to, the flavors of apple in the Chardonnays my food would be paired with; I added apple to a perfected mushroom risotto recipe. The risotto was delicious, but the apple flavor was completely hidden by the mushroom flavor. In the future, I would either eliminate the apple and go back to a perfect, and easier, recipe, or I would triple the apple called for. The only result of using 1 diced apple to 2 pounds of mushroom was to make the dish seem a little brighter.

I loved the apple caramel that formed when I reduced the juices from the apple pie mixture so much that I did the same thing with the ice cream apple mixture. It isn’t on the recipe, but I am prone to make adjustments on the fly.

The ice cream, on first taste, makes me shudder each time. The longer it can ripen in the freezer, the better the overall flavor as the apple flavor spreads through the frozen vanilla cream.

I will say that the risotto was the bomb, the apple pie was perfectly firm (I hate mushy apple pie), and the ice cream was so very delicious.

I made the ice cream on Tuesday. I made the apple pies on Wednesday, and I made the risotto on Thursday, finishing four minutes before the event start time.

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I did not set out to make a meatless menu. If I had been tasked to cook to pair with a red wine, I would have started with a meat protein. To make up for the lacking, here’s a bonus recipe that I cooked last night, full of meaty goodness:

I had my butcher slice 1 1/4″ steaks from a large tri tip roast.

Season both sides of the steaks with salt, pepper, fried Italian herbs, lemon pepper, garlic salt, and/or any other dry spice ingredients you regularly enjoy.

I fired up the Weber, using a Jack Daniel’s briquet and whisky barrel wood mix, let the briquets fully ash, got the wood smoking, and then spread it all evenly.

Rather than direct grilling; I bought a two layer rack with offset holes that sits on top of the grill, and I placed the meat on the rack. Flame ups are eliminated, smoke gets up to the meat, and the meat cooks slower, allowing a more true BBQ flavor to be imparted to the meat. The meat spent over an hour (indirect BBQ is MUCH slower than direct grilling) under the hood, turned, and butter was placed on the steaks to melt just before the meat was pulled to rest.

While resting inside on my cutting board, I spread each steak with some Cambozola cheese, and that melted over each steak as well.

So incredibly good.

There is a global Chardonnay tasting, linked through Twitter, happening this Thursday, May 6, 2010 from 5:00 pm -7:00 pm. Wine lovers will gather at participating winery tasting rooms, wine bars, wine shops, restaurants, and private residences; open a bottle of Chardonnay, taste it, and twitter about it using the hashtag #Chardonnay.

Mendocino Wine Company presents

a Chardonnay Tasting Event

(this is a free event)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

5:00 pm – 7:00 pm

2008 Parducci Chardonnay, Mendocino County

2008 Paul Dolan Vineyards Chardonnay, Mendocino County

Apple Mushroom Risotto

Apple Pie a la mode

Chardonnay Apple Ice Cream

Parducci Wine Cellars

501 Parducci Road

Ukiah, CA 95482

(800) 362-9463

guest chef: John Cesano (yeah, me)

I will be attending the third monthly wine TweetUp held at Parducci Wine Cellars in Ukiah; they are pouring two Chardonnays, the 2008 Parducci Chardonnay, Mendocino County and the 2008 Paul Dolan Vineyards Chardonnay, Mendocino County. Each month, the folks at Parducci have delicious food available to pair with the wines being poured; I have secured a recipe from their first tasting, and visited the food provider from the last one.

Thursday’s food will be prepared by me. The folks at Parducci have invited me to be this event’s guest chef, and I am preparing food that will match with the specific wines being poured.

I am cooking an apple mushroom risotto to pair with the the Paul Dolan Vineyard Chardonnay; I’m using the wine in the food to tie it more firmly together.

To contrast with the grown up-ness of a risotto, I am making apple pies from scratch, and serving them with a scoop of Parducci Chardonnay apple ice cream. Apple pie a la mode to pair with the Parducci Chardonnay.

Come to Ukiah this Thursday, anytime between 5:00pm and 7:00 pm, taste some wines, have a snack; it is free, and a great way to break away for an early evening midweek escape from routine. I have seen many people over the last couple of months use the events as a nice afterwork treat.

Started by Rick Bakas, Director of Social Media for St. Supery, the monthly wine TweetUps have grown month by month, and Thursday’s event is expected to be the largest yet.

Here’s a top 10 list from Rick Bakas:

Top 10 Reasons You Want To Be Part of #Chardonnay May 6th

10. How often do you get to share a glass of wine with people around the globe at the same time?

9.  Wineries will meet new wine tweeters, wine tweeters will discover new wineries

8. It’s truly a community owned by no one
7. It’s a 24-hour event to make it easy for all time zones around the world
8. Online wine tastings are growing in popularity
7. It’s easier than you think. All you need is wine and Twitter (and the #Chardonnay hash tag)
6. There will be a few surprise guests and celebrities
5. You can participate from anywhere virtually
4. It’s a chance to follow and be followed by tweeters with a shared interest
3. Chardonnay is good!
2. Chances are, you’ll know someone who’s joining in
1. This will be the largest online wine tasting in Twitter’s history
I hope to see you at Parducci on Thursday between 5:00 and 7:00 pm,; 501 Parducci Road, Ukiah, CA 95482, (800) 362-9463.

Earlier this year, I was asked how long I have lived in the Mendocino County town of Ukiah and I answered that I had lived here just a couple of years. In my head, I was a temporarily displaced Sonoma County resident.

Shortly after, talking with my brother, I again said that I had been in Ukiah a couple of years. My brother laughed and said I had been in Ukiah closer to five years.

I was surprised, but he was right; I moved to Ukiah five years ago, but traveled for work, sleeping more nights in hotels than my own bed each year. This year, I eliminated the travel, and took the time to breathe, to look around, to relax. I have begun to think of myself as someone from Ukiah for the first time.

Last weekend was Passport Weekend in Wine Country. I could taste wines in Napa’s Rutherford Appelation or San Luis Obispo, Dry Creek just finished ther Passport Weekend, and the Sonoma Valley is still to come; but I made a decision to taste the wines from my home and attended the Hopland Passport Spring 2010 wine tasting event.

Hopland is a small town in Mendocino County, choking Highway 101 down to one lane each direction, the first town in Mendocino County driving north up 101, and about 15 minutes south of Ukiah, the county seat. Green mountains on the west side of town stretching north and south, and valley spreading to the east. Vineyards sprouting green with new growth, lavender, poppies, floral explosion of perfume and color. I’m not gifted describing beauty, but the weekend was knockout gorgeous, a feast for all the senses.

I visited over a dozen locations, experienced almost twice as many wine brand labels, and tasted just over 100 wines. The weekend was about much more than just the wines tasted; it was about the beauty of our county, the overarching commitment to green practices, change and hope as well. I came away from the two days more than a little more in love with where I live. I didn’t love every wine I tasted, but I can easily say that every winery had something positive for me to write about, and at least one wine I enjoyed without qualification.

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My first stop, coming south from Ukiah, was at Nelson Family Vineyards. Located down Nelson Ranch Road, on the west side of Hwy 101 (look for the strawberry farm of Saecho, and head west), the winery is reached by walking up a winding garden path from the parking area below. Floral growth adding color and scent to the day, did make taking nosing notes on the wines a touch more difficult, but their beauty made the challenge worthwhile.

2008 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Pinot Grigio $16 – Clear, steely mineral, floral honeysuckle, apple. Nice fruit.

2008 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Viognier $21 – Clear. Citrus, Orange blossom, apricot, apple.

2008 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Zinfandel Rose $16 - ¾  Zin, ¼ Pinot. Lightly rose colored. Nice acid. Juicy strawberry.

2008 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Riesling $16 – sweet honeyed apricot, peach, pear. Honey (yes, I know I mentioned it twice).

2009 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Orange Muscat $21 – Mineral, sweet peach, lemon citrus, floral honey. The mouth delivers more sweetness than the nose suggests.

2009 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Barn Blend $23 – I was told the blend is a majority Zin, with about 10% each of Cab and Merlot, and 5% Viognier. I thought it a little young, but rich, with a dusty chocolate nose; easily quaffable with lots of mixed berry and cherry fruit notes.

2007 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Zinfandel $23 – Nicely soft, lighter bodied, but full flavors, this Zin has enough acid to make your mouth want that next mouthful of raspberry jam and boyesnberry pie flavor. Spice and fruit.

2007 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon $23 – “Oh yeah,” is what I thought to myself. Love at first sniff. Black plum, dark fruit notes, delicious jammy blackberry and cassis notes.

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Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery is Ken & Diane Wilson’s first winery in Mendocino County. The Wilsons are known for making premium wines at a number of Sonoma County wineries, and bought what had been known as Jepsen Winery & Distillery, changing the name to honor Wilson’s grandfathers Jack Wilson and Cecile Keys.

Two huge changes, both for the better: the Wilsons have restored the historic hilltop on-property farmhouse and moved the tasting operations to the picturesque farmhouse, and the Wilsons brought winemaker Fred Nickel to Jaxon Keys.

Jaxon Keys’ hilltop farmhouse tasting room

The tasting room has a refrigerator with meats, salami, coppa, prosciutto, and mortadella at $4.95, and cheeses, white cheddar, sharp cheddar, plain jack, garlic jack, and Sicilian jack at $5.95 available to purchase. I can picture buying a little meat and cheese, sitting in a chair on the wraparound farmhouse porch, looking out over the valley vineyards, and sipping wine with meats and cheeses.

The wines, for the most part, are made from Estate grown grapes. One of my favorite wines, the 2007 Jaxon Keys Zinfandel Mae’s Block, had a great nose for a wine available at $6/bottle when purchased in a case. Pepper spice, berry fruit and herb. Solid Zin, not big, but good.

I did not love all of the wines, but the Wilsons are known for quality, and Fred Nickel who took over the winemaking duties only late August last year is a Mendocino County winemaking institution. Nickel knows the area’s fruit and how to make wines with soul from those grapes. I look forward to what will happen at Jaxon Keys moving forward. I think it safe to say that great grapes, great facility, great winemaker, and great owners will lead to a complete portfolio of first class wines.

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Saracina Vineyards starts with a visually striking architectural aesthetic. A lake, olive trees, circles of lawn, the wine cave ( a real one, dug into a hillside over two years), tree trunk tables, groovy designer chairs as (surprisingly) comfortable as they are cool looking, all lead to zen calm in which to perceive the land’s bounty.

The cave at Saracina Vineyards

The 2007 Saracina Sauvignon Blanc is an unapologetically layered white. About a liter of aroma and flavor shoehorned into a 750 ml bottle. Mineral, lemon, citrus, crisp peachy pear and melon. Round and full mouth, crisp acid without tartness, bank, complexity, a showy white. $15

I tasted the Sauvignon Blanc with a creamy goat cheese spread on a cracker, the goat cheese really pulled out steely lemon and pear notes.

Olive Oil – “OMG,” was my first thought and became my first note upon tasting the Hopland made oil pressed from the olive trees of Saracina. 4 varietals, estate grown, from 700 trees, blended together, make a deliciously flavorful olive oil, nothing like the bargain priced supermarket olive oil you’ve tasted before. $12

2006 Saracina Atrea Old Soul Red – A Zin, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Malbec blend. Saracina got the “soul” part of the name right, this wine has soul. Red & Black fruit blend, blackberry, cherry, raspberry, nice tannin and oak. Well balanced. Delicious. I asked why blend these grapes, was it a field blend, a barrel blend, why this blend? I was told that this “Mendo blend” was by design a blend of the county’s most iconic grapes. $25

Estate Bee Honey – Again, simply delicious. $12

2003 Saracina Syrah – Hillside fruit, a gorgeous Syrah, the kind that if people tasted they would buy. Lush, full dark juicy fruit, herb, spice, and a floral perfume. $18

2005 Saracina Syrah – Eagle Point (1,500 feet above sea level) and Potato Patch (2,200 feet above sea level) vineyards are the source of this rich intensely pub, blackberry, boysenberry noted wine. Leathery, supple, nice tannin and oak. – $32

I tasted the 2007 Saracina Petite Sirah, but I paired it with a chicken teriyaki falafel. I don’t know what this food treat was meant to pair with but it bulldozed the flavors of the Petite Sirah. I want to taste this wine again by itself. The falafel did remind me, fondly, of some of the food I tasted in the parking lots outside Grateful dead shows long past. – $38

The chairs in the shade, with a lake view, are prime real estate at Saracina Vineyards

Overall, a wonderful experience.

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Jeriko Estate is a popular site with a sprawling Tuscan style building with lovely landscaped garden. When I arrived on Saturday, the crowd was so large, and enthusiastic, that I nearly gave up, preparing to leave, planning to come back on a calmer day.

The landscaped garden at Jeriko Estate

Then a spot in a quiet corner of the tasting bar opened, with a dump bucket in front of the empty stool, and I swooped.

2008 Jeriko Estate Sauvignon Blanc $19.50 – Varietally correct. Mown hay, grass, floral, pear nose. Bright mineral pear and apple with light citrus flavors.

Natural Blonde Chardonnay $12.95 – Tart, yet round. Tart apple. Striking crispness and acidity. This is a Chardonnay to pair with bi-valve shell fish in place of a steely mineral Sauvignon Blanc.

2006 Strawberry Blonde Rose $12.95 – Light salmon color. Nice strawberry, raspberry, and kiwi fruit notes.

2006 Jeriko Estate Pinot Noir $38 – Smoke, oak, dried cherry flavors follow a nose of the same. Very direct. Spice, herb, and oaky vanilla add texture, rounding edge.This represents a lull in the crowds at Jeriko Estate on Santurday

Outside, in a round tent in the front gardens, bubblies were being poured. The tent smelled of must, perhaps having not fully dried after recent rains, or perhaps from a recent storage, but the subtle bright crisp apple fruit and citrus notes, toasty, floral, and slight mineral quality of the 2005 Jeriko Estate Brut Rose $48.95 were impossible to appreciate until I took my glass out and away from the tent.

It was nice to see goats scampering on the other side of a vineyard fence.

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One mile east of Hopland, on Hwy 175, Gary Breen and his wife Anna Beuselinck have purchased and are restoring the 5 year closed former Fetzer Wine & Food Center, newly christened Campovida (Field of life).

Magnamimus Wine Group, headed by Owsley Brown III, will be offering a full range of wines, tours of the property’s abundant gardens, and hosting wine and food events.

Magnanimus Wine Group at Campovida

I can say that a buzz running throughout the weekend, underneath the immediacy of the festivities and fun, wine and wonder, was a hope that Campovida and Magnanimus succeed, and that the property never close again.

Magnanimus offers wines on four labels; Mendocino Farms, Old River Cellars, Talmage Collection, and Ukiah Cellars.

2008 Ukiah Cellars Chardonnay, Beckstoffer and McDowell Vineyards, $16 – Clear, brilliant, pale gold. Apple & pear nose, tart fruit, but not aggressively tart. Light cream and vanilla apple flavors.

2006 Old River Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Ponderosa Vineyard (near Grass Valley in the Sierra Foothills), $19 – Nice, lush fruit. Supple and complex, approachable black berry fruit.

2006 Talmage Collection Pija Blend, Mattern Ranch, $25 – A field blend, roughly 50% Zin and 45% Petite Sirah (with a smudge, about 5% Charbono from Venturi Vineyards). Bright, lush, bursting fruit of cherry and berry, with integrated acid, oak, and tannin.

2006 Talmage Collection Syrah, Maria Vineyard, $32 – Dark purple, chewy cherry nose gives way to more full flavors of cocoa, black berry and currant.

2005 Mendocino Farms Redvine Series, Heart Arrow and fairbairn Ranches, $25 - 75% Cab, 13% Petite Syrah, and 12 % Syrah. Cab fruit is obvious. Blackberry rich. lush, juicy, soft, and delicious.

2005 Mendocino Farms Syrah, Fairbairn Ranch, $32 – Delicious burst of fruit, black berry and raspberry mix. Berry fruit medley. Lush, more than the typical Syrah.

2008 Mendocino Farms Zinfandel (Barrel Sample), Dark Horse Vineyard. – Really nice round fruit, accessible dark berry fruit. Incredible potential.

I toured the gardens with Ken Boek, and if you visit Campvida and Magnanimus you need to set at least an hour aside to walk with Ken. Part gardener, part historian, Ken is an invaluable asset. Hearing Ken tell about he and Julia Child traveling into Ukiah to buy comfortable shoes (they both wore 10 1/2 Men’s size sneakers) brings the food center back to life.

The gardens at Campovida

Ken’s brother played at the outdoor covered patio as part of a three piece acoustic group.

This seemed, to me at least, to be a very successful “soft” opening for Magnanimus and Campovida, and another grand opening celebration is being planned for June.

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Weibel Family Winery and Vineyards is out Hwy 175, past Campovida, past Hopland’s Indian casino, halfway to nowhere. Rural, centered in a valley, the winery’s tasting room is on the upper level of a two story building, and has a deck overlooking half of creation. An absolutely inspiring view.

Weibel Family and Winery

Road I Red - 75% Merlot, 25% Syrah. Easily drinkable red, soft tannins, cherry, oak, round, light. $10

Road I White – 50% Chardonnay, 50% Sauvignon Blanc. An interesting blend with apple, hay, grass, citrus, pear, floral honeysuckle. $10

2008 Weibel Estate Sauvignon Blanc $14.95 – Mown hay, melon, citrus, pear nose. Drinkable lemony apple pear fruit mouth. easy.

2006 Weibel Estate Zinfandel $16.95 – Zin nose of dark wild raspberry. Drinkable. Acid, balanced by tannin. Raspberry rut. Not overly peppery or spicy.

Looking at the view from the deck is your payment for the drive out to Weibel, finding enjoyable wines puts you squarely in the plus column for the trip.

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Milano Family Winery is located in an old Hop Kiln just south of Hopland on Hwy 101.

The historic Hop Kiln location of Milano Family Winery

Rewarding visitors, Milano played host to several local artists including Tres Classique, Ukiah’s specialty flavored oil and vinegar producer.

Milano Family Winery Big Ass Red is a Cabernet based blend of 12 varietals. Owner and winemaker Deanna Starr’s intent was to create a wine that can be brought to any dinner, that can pair with as many dishes possible, that would please the broadest range of palates. Light, lush, not tannic, very accessible, mixed fruit basket. $16

Milano Family Winery Big Ass Blond, a Chardonnay and Viognier blend, is made with the same intent, broad appeal. Lush fruit, apple pie and fig. $16.

2006 Milano Family Winery Malbec $29 - Nice nose of blackberry. Dark of color. Lush, fruit forward. Plum, blackberry and cassis. Really nice wine.

A potato bar, baked potatoes and a variety of possible toppings, made for a fun interactive food pairing option.

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Just southwest of town, Terra Sávia (Wise Earth) is home to Olivino, a state of the art, organic certified, custom press to make olives into olive oil.

The Terra Sávia Olive Oil facility and winery

Earlier, I wrote that I was wowed by the olive oil made from the olives of Saracina. This is where the olives were transformed into olive oil.

Ordinarily, a sizable number of wineries make olive oil because the seasons for grapes and olives are complimentary and allow year round activity.

In Terra Sávia, when olive season is finished, grapes grown around the property are made into wine by Jim Milone, longtime Hopland grapegrower and winemaker.

2006 Terra Sávia Blanc de Blancs $25 – Bright and yeasty granny smith apple flavors with bubbles.

2008 Terra Sávia Chardonnay $15 – Stainless steel held. Bright, crisp, but not tart, expressive apple.

NV Terra Sávia Pinot Noir $18 – Delicious warm cherry notes. Balanced, smooth. Paired with sauteed mushrooms valuable to taste: *shudders* “oh, that is it!”

Both the 2006 Terra Sávia Meritage $20 (very nice) and 2007 Terra Sávia Cabernet Sauvignon $18 (umm, yummy) paired well with some delicious meat available for pairing. My notes are sparse; these were wines number 58 and 59 of the day, and I was getting treated to a tour of the facility and explanation of the olive oil making process.

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General observations from day 1: It didn’t matter whether it was the second or last winery I visited, I always grabbed my notebook and camera and invariable had to return to my car for my tasting glass; I was so intent on notes and pictures that the glass was always an afterthought.

The Zinfandels I tasted were not the high alcohol fruit bombs, buried in pepper, that I have become used to. The Zinfandels of Mendocino County, or the Hopland portion of the county anyway, are more accessible, lighter, wines of a little more restraint.

The move in Chardonnay away from oak and toward stainless steel, and away from malolactic fermentation, has led me to taste some unpleasantly stridently tart apple Chardonnays lately, but the Chardonnays I tasted from Hopland, while crisp, were not overly tart.

Very drinkable wines from really nice fruit.

Another unmistakable mark of Hopland wines is the commitment to green practices, sustainable farming, organic grapes, biodynamic farms, and eco ethic that paints the wine industry locally as “Red, White, and Green.”

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Day 2, Sunday, of Hopland Passport weekend found me sitting outside Rack & Riddle custom wine services, waiting for 11:00 am and the beginning of my tasting day.

Rack & Riddle custom wine services

Rack & Riddle is a custom crush facility with a special emphasis and ability to create sparking wines in the Champagne Method, and is located near Terra Sávia, to the southwest of Hopland.

Bruce Lundquist, formerly of J Champagne, and Rebecca Faust, formerly of Piper Sonoma Champagne, are the co-founders of Rack & Riddle.

Last year, Rack & Riddle crushed 6,000 tons for 4-5 dozen clients, producing 225,000 cases of sparkling and 175,000 cases of still wines.

There is a great view from the bar at Rack & Riddle

With VP of Business Development Mark Garaventa pouring, I tasted some bubblies for breakfast.

2009 Nuestro Vino Sauvignon Blanc $7.99 – Citrus fruit. Bright lemon. Crisp. Clean. Delicious.

NV Rack & Riddle Blanc de Blanc $18 – 100% Chardonnay. Crisp, clean, light zing, lemon, apple – not tart, but crisp. Pale, nice small bubble. Great fruit. Great mousse. Light yeasty yum.

NV Nuestro Vino Brut $10.99 – 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir. yeasty. Pretty apple. Rounder. Floral and pear. Nice mousse.

NV Rack & Riddle Rosé $24.00 – Light berry, cherry, strawberry mix and apple. Light creamy yeast.

2008 Nuestro Vino Meritage $9.99 – 55ish% Cabernet Franc, 22.5ish% each Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Really? $10 Meritage? And it tastes good? Yes it does.

In addition to the Rack & Riddle label, the Nuestro Vino (our wine) label is a unique effort dedicated to make affordable wines, with Spanish language labels, aimed at the hispanic community, a niche currently underserved.

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I parked my car, grabbed my notebook, camera AND my glass. All the rest of the winery tasting rooms were within walking distance in downtown Hopland (only a few blocks long).

McNab Ridge Winery was pouring roughly 18,000 wines, clearly with the intent that tasters never leave the downtown Hopland tasting room location. I might be exaggerating, McNab only poured seventeen wines.

McNab Ridge Winery

The Parducci family is a famous winemaking family in the area, and McNab represents the family’s continuing winemaking presence. McNab Ridge Winery boasts the “Parducci Family’s 4-generation commitment to excellence in Mendocino County Winemaking.”

The first wine poured, a 2009 McNab Ridge Winery Sauvignon Blanc, $12, while clear in the bottle, appeared slightly blush in my glass, but that is only because I am a dumb ass and forgot to rinse my glass after my last wine at Rack & Riddle, a red wine. Glass rinsed, the Sauvignon Blanc was the same color in my glass as the bottle, and was nicely crisply citrusy, with a grassy note, and melon-y pear fruit in the mouth.

Seeing a long list of wines to taste shortened my notetaking, but here’s some more:

2008 McNab Ridge Winery Chardonnay $15 – Light gold. Oak, butter, vanilla and toast. OMG, my first noticeably oak barrel Chardonnay of the weekend. Tropical fruit and apple.

2008 McNab Ridge Winery Rousanne $15 - Pear and apricot, honey, round.

2007 McNab Ridge Winery Carignane $18 – Nice deep unclouded red color. Cherry, tannin. soft, round, and nice all by itself (or with only 3% Zin blended).

McNab Ridge Winery Fred’s Red $10 - Purple color. lighter. Cherry berry juiciness.

2007 McNab Ridge Winery Grenache $20 – Nice light round rhone blender, Smooth, soft, easy cherry fruit burst.

2007 McNab Ridge Winery Zinister $20 – Dark brambly raspberry fruit and deep color.

2006 McNab Ridge Winery Zinfandel $18 - Zin aroma of fruit, oak, spice and pepper. Softer and rounder in mouth than expected. Good fruit, nice aroma, little apiece pepper barrier to enjoyment.

2005 McNab Ridge Winery Coro $37 – I was told this pairs well with the meatballs being served. No, the meatballs overpower the Coro, and it remains untasted for me.

2007 McNab Ridge Winery Cabernet Sauvignon $18 – A really nice Cabernet. Varietally correct and easily drinkable. Blackberry, cassis, cherry, oak, vanilla, tannin.

2006 McNab Ridge Winery Petite Sirah $18 – Black and blue berry fruit bomb. Dense and concentrated.

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It is often said that great wine starts in the vineyard. As much as it is the case with many of the Hopland area wineries, it is safe to say that the grapes of Guinness McFadden, grown organically for 40 years, are the wines being poured – the vineyard is the wine.

It was a treat to see Guinness himself at his McFadden Vineyards tasting room.

Guinness McFadden at his winery’s tasting room

2006 McFadden Vineyard Chardonnay $13.25 - Round, not tart, apple fruit. Pear.

2006 McFadden Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc $13.25 – Wow. Forward nose. Mown hay, muted catp, citrus, lemon, pear, apple, tart, crisp, but not too much so.

2008 McFadden Vineyard Sparkling $25 – 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir. Brut. Crisp apple. deliciously spritely.

2008 McFadden Vineyard Pinot Gris $16 – Soft accessible. Nice hit of sweet honey. Clean. Pear and floral.

2006 McFadden Vineyard Riesling $18 - Interesting hay (S.B. like) note. Light sweetness, honey, pear, orange blossom.

2006 McFadden Vineyard Pinot Noir $10 (blowing out the last 100 cases, and it is great!) – “ooh!” Makes me yearn for mushroom to pair it with. Cherry, oak, earth, herb, round.

2007 McFadden Vineyard Zinfandel $19 – Dusty raspberry fruit. Incredibly approachable.

Out behind McFadden, I enjoyed a little BBQ tri tip; a wild rice, pea, artichoke, tomato and feta salad; and a raspberry vinaigrette feta spring leaf lettuce mix salad.

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Grazinno Family of Wines is right next door to McFadden in downtown Hopland. The family of wineries include Graziano, St Gregory, Enotria, and Monte Volpe.

Whites were being poured at a table in the rear of the tasting room, and reds at the bar.

I’m still waiting to hear that my card was pulled for the mixed case of Graziano wine.

The whites were all on ice, and although I tried, it just isn’t worth the effort to try to taste frozen wines for notes. Chardonnay and Riesling, near freezing, differ little; but bring up in temperature and differences abound. I will come back, taste the whites, and get nose and flavor notes on the wines poured on a future visit.

2006 St Gregory Pinot Noir Reserve $25 - Soft, muted fruit of cherry, and oak.

2007 St Gregory Pinotage $17 – Smoky, brambly fruit. smooth.

2006 Monte Volpe Sangiovese $17 – Nice dark color. Accessible fruit and dusty herb spice.

2006 Graziano Zinfandel $17 – Perfumed cherry(?!) note. Round. Soft.

2007 Enotria Dolcetta $17 – Mice dark purple fruit. Blackberry, boysenberry. Easy to drink.

2006 Enotria Barbera $17 – Raspberry herb. Soft, round, and jammy.

Paired with a Brie Blue blend cheese, similar to a Cambozola, the 2005 Graziano Petite Sirah $17 was positively sublime. I’ll be honest, I thought the Petite Sirah was shy (?!), until paired with the cheese, and then it exploded. Rich, dark, plummy fruit on nose; raison notes on berry explosion.

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McDowell Valley Vineyards

McDowell Valley Vineyards had some incredible sales, but as the wines would be sold out soon, I didn’t taste them. These are the wines I did taste:

2008 McDowell Valley Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc $15 – Baked pear and apple fruit pie.

2008 McDowell Valley Vineyards Grenache Rose $15 -  Dry, crisp, cranberry, raspberry, strawberry over ice.

2008 McDowell Valley Vineyards Viognier/Rousanne $22 – 64% Viognier, 36% Rousanne. A real treat. Light cream and fruit, like a handmade ice crierm. Vanilla, floral, citrus, orange; round pear, apple. Herb. Complex. Layered.

2005 McDowell Valley Vineyards Coro $37 – 52% Zin, 48% Old Vine Syrah. Cocoa chocolate dust. oak. Round. Accessible. Full flavored, but all the sharp edges smoothed. Wild black raspberry, cherry.

2006 McDowell Valley Vineyards Coro $37 – 55% Zin, 35% Syrah, 8% Petite Sirah, 2 Grenache Noir. Blackberry, strawberry, cherry, blueberry. Fruit basket.

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The last Hopland winery left on my passport for me to visit was Brutocao Cellars. Most of the wines I would taste were made by Fred Nickels (now with Jaxon Keys), but Brutocao is in good hands with David Brutocao taking over as winemaker, assisted by Paul Zellman and Hoss Milone.

Paul did the pouring of the wines and it was a treat to benefit from his experience.

Bocce courts at Brutocao Cellars

Brutocao has bocce courts, where the Italian bowling game bocce can be played while sipping wines and enjoying food.

2009 Brutocao Cellars Rosé Estate Bottled Hopland Ranches $14 – Strawberry over ice.

2008 Brutocao Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Estate Bottled Feliz Vineyard $14 - Crisp lemony citrus. Pear and melon.

2007 Brutocao Cellars Reserve Chardonnay Estate Bottled $25 – Great fruit, nice balance  of oak. Not too manipulated. Nice and drinkable.

2009 Brutocao Cellars Gewurtztraminer Alexander Valley $15 - Sweet light honey. Apricot nectar, spice, pie notes.

2007 Brutocao Cellars Pinot Noir Estate Bottled Anderson Valley $28 – Dried cherry, earth, mushroom. Beautiful burgundy. Lush, drinkable, nice buy itself, but what a food wine!

2007 Brutocao Cellars Zinfandel Estate Bottled Hopland Ranches $22 - Rich raspberry, blackberry earthy spice. Chocolate leather.

2007 Brutocao Cellars Primitivo $22 – Really lush, dense, and delicious.

2005 Brutocao Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Bottled Contento Vineyard $25 – Dark dark purple. Dusty cocoa, blackberry. Lush, supple, slightly vinous, cassis.

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Well, that’s it. I had a great time, tasted a lot of great wines, came to understand better the flavor profiles of the varietals planted around my new home. A terroir that lends to more accessible wines, fewer monster fruit bombs, a lot more subtlety and varietally correct flavors coming through from vineyard to glass.

I plan to stop in to “Sip! Mendocino” in downtown Hopland, a one stop tasting room for numerous wineries who don’t have their own tasting room in the are.

Sip! Mendocino in downtown Hopland

DISCLOSURE: I was the guest of the Hopland Passport Association. Thank you for your hospitality.

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