July 2013


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John on Wine – Flotsam and Jetsam

By John Cesano

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on July 25, 2013

Flotsam and Jetsam refers to a ship’s wreckage and parts thrown overboard, and as today’s column deals with some instances where I have run aground or left pieces out of past columns, the title seems apt.

First, a couple of weeks ago, I wrote that Guinness McFadden planted the first grapes in Potter Valley at his McFadden Farm, about 43 years ago.

Iceberg ahead, and…crash! The day the piece ran, Guinness called me to tell me I was incorrect and that a couple of folks had planted grapevines in Potter Valley before he showed up on the scene.

I had read about McFadden Farm when I came on board as Guinness’ tasting room manager in Hopland and a wine writer with decades of experience wrote about Guinness planting the first grapes in Potter Valley, even adding that others thought he would fail because Potter Valley was too cold for grape vines.

At a wine event later that evening, Barra winemaker Owen Smith, after I shared my chagrin at having perpetuated an inaccuracy, told me that “when faced with fact and legend, print the legend,” paraphrasing the movie quote from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Turns out I did, but I really try to get it right each week.

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Last week, I wrote about Seebass Family Wines, “Seebass is open by appointment, please call (707) 467-9463 to arrange a visit,” but since my visit they have changed things a bit and, at least through July, the Seebass tasting room and organic produce stand is now open daily from 11 a.m. 5 p.m., no appointment needed.

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I wrote about the first Chef’s Wine Dinner Club event at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah held back in May. More recently, the second Chef’s Brewmaster Dinner Club event, pairing food with brew was held last week and next on the list is a Chef’s Wine Dinner Club featuring Italian varietals produced by some local wineries. So many possibilities come to mind: Barra, Testa, Chiarito, Graziano, and more; I’ve got to get my ticket. To get on the Chef’s Wine Dinner Club list with Crush, call (707) 463-0700.

EDITED TO ADD: A change since I first wrote the preceding bit, the next Chef’s Winemaster Dinner Club event will be August 21 and feature the Wines of Barra of Mendocino. I’ll be buying my ticket as soon as they become available. – JC 7/25

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I’m going to my second Testa Wine Club Dinner this year, missing last year’s only because of a calendar conflict. Like more than half of the attendees, I am going because I adore Maria; that Maria’s wines are so good makes the night all the better. Officially called the 3rd annual Barn Blending BBQ, it will take place on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 from 5 to 10 p.m.

From TestaWines.com: “This is a fun event! Your table works together, blending our three varietal components of our Black “Cinque” ­ To find your tables favorite blend percentages. Then, for the first time, we will then offer for your table to enter your blend in a blind tasting by our wine judges to have a winner!”

Last year, while blending the Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Carignane that goes into the Black blend, a few folks took some of the Zinfandel provided to drink while blending ­- blending is hard work ­- and used it as a fourth component in their blends. Maria was so impressed with the result of some of the blends using Zinfandel that she may add it as a blending component at this year’s event.

Two years ago, when I last blended, at Maria’s first barn party, I was at a table with Kelly Lentz and we found it impossible to make a bad blend with Maria’s wines.

Maria is also talking about letting folks choose whether they want to blend a Black (red) or White wine. Grapes available for white wine blending would include Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, Muscat Canelli, and Viognier.

Maria got two great judges, John Buechsenstein and Rosemary Eddy, and one okay judge, me. We’ll taste the blends each table decides upon and choose our favorites. Maria will use the winning blends for guidance as to what people like when making her next Black and White wines.

Appetizers will be served -­ my fingers are crossed for some of Rusty’s barbecued oysters, then a barbecue dinner with Italian pasta, followed by dessert and dancing. Ukiah’s own Nashville recording artist McKenna Faith will be performing.

Tickets are $55 for Testa wine club members, $70 for the public, and you can call (707) 391-7273 to get yours.

Gold medals are rare, and are rarely repeated in back to back wine competitions. Double Golds, unanimous agreement for Gold by a competition’s judges is rarer still. Maria’s 2010 Testa Carignane has taken Consecutive Double Gold Medals! You might like this wine. Visit Testa at 6400 North State Street in Calpella.

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Martha Barra dropped off a couple of bottles for me to taste, including the 2010 Girasole Vineyards Hybrid Red Wine, Mendocino, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot blend that just took a Gold Medal after the previous vintage took back to back Gold Medals. Two vintages of the same wine, rolling up three consecutive Gold Medals suggests this just might please your palate as well. Visit Barra/Girasole at 7051 North State Street in Redwood Valley.

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John Cesano writes about wine and reposts his weekly wine column at JohnOnWine.com

I have neglected my wine blog because I often simply repost a piece written for the Ukiah Daily Journal weekly wine column I write, and because I had a big work event – the McFadden Wine Club Dinner at the Farm – on my plate.

Dinner done, and it was a terrific success, owing mostly to people not named John Cesano. Guinness is the perfect host and has the perfect venue for a party. Judith Bailey, who makes Guinness happy, which makes me happy, took on more work than she expected, and my son went from volunteering to help to straight up working, and together they put some finishing touches on what wasn’t getting touched. Fontaine, Guinness’ daughter, an accomplished chef, and a team of chef friends cooked up a storm of yum. Kelly McFarling and her band added the live music polish that put the night over the top. Hal Wagenet kept the music going late for our guests. My tasting room crew opened and delivered bottles for a vertical tasting of 2007-10 Coro wines from McFadden. We threw a party and our guest had a great time, which was their job.

In the next month, columns will run about Brown Family Wines, Albertini Vineyards, Crispin Cain, Nelson Family Vineyard, Coming events: WineSong and the Testa Wine Club Barn Blending BBQ, and Rosati Cabernet Sauvignon.

Every story meant time spent with folks passionate about what they do, so each was a blast to experience so I have words afterward to share.

Saturday, I get to go to Saracina’s Salmon and Pinot Feast. I won a ticket in a haiku contest. I am the Jack Reacher of writing. Not the midget in the movie, but the giant in the books. I may not be graceful, but I can overwhelm with words. I submitted 10 poems a day for four days, 39 haiku and a limerick. Sheer blunt word count will see me spending time with people I enjoy, at a place I cherish, drinking wine I adore, with food I love. Not bad.

Tomorrow, the folks at A Taste of Redwood Valley are giving away an assortment of goodies to the winner of a photo contest. I’m not as good at photography as I am at wordsmithing, but I sent a link to about 100 pictures from their event weekend. There were a handful of good images in the bunch. If I happen to win, I will definitely keep the XO Brandy (Cognac) and Absinthe from Germain-Robin but give the wine bottles away (even though there are some delicious wines in the mix, I get to taste wine freely) in a future newspaper column giveaway of some sort.

Speaking of the future, I have so many unwritten pieces I want to write. There are people, places, and wines I adore that I haven’t visited but dearly want to…and will. Yvonne at Terra Savia for a piece about wine and the best place for olive oil, Victor Simon to enjoy wine and lunch – we did it before but need to do it again for a column, Denise at McNab Ridge to talk about the area’s most successful ongoing monthly wine event and Rich’s wines, Hoss Milone to talk about Brutocao and Bliss wines, Cesar Toxqui about winemaking and biodynamic farmed grapes, the crew at Graziano and their near endless list of affordable and delicious wines.

I want to write about Bernadette at SIP! Mendocino and Mark at the Mendocino Wine Shop, and I want to write a story on the other wine friendly restaurants in the area – the ones not named Crush.

Speaking of Crush, I was in yesterday, and saw they posted a copy of my column about their first Chef’s Winemaker Dinner Club event. That was kind of odd for me. Odd, but nice. The next Winemaker Dinner event will feature Barra wines and is scheduled for August 21. I will be there; I tried to buy a ticket yesterday, but the price has not been set yet. Food was great at the first one – seriously, you want to do this.

Another funny thing: I get to write whatever I want online. Sort of. Fuck. See, I wrote that because I can here but not in the paper. I also have a ton of readers online, but you live all over the place, and even though I just wrote that you want to go to the upcoming Crush dinner, I know most of you can’t. I am also freer in style, more conversational, online, and I can go on – like now – about nothing but spend as many words as I wish doing so.

In the newspaper, what I write has an impact. Not a huge impact, but an impact. I write about wines in a small area, an area roughly the same as the newspaper’s circulation. My words actually reach folks and some of them are inspired to try a wine after I write about it. I sold wine club dinner tickets because I mentioned the event in a column. Wine too. I had readers go next door because I wrote about the neighbor’s shop. In town, at dinner, or at events, people recognize me. For my writing. Thanks to a great picture taken by a friend, Diane Davis, that accompanies my pieces. That is novel for me. I’ve written for years, but the relative anonymity of online blogging – my name’s attached but almost none of my readers know me personally, meant I could mostly write what I wanted. Now, in columns, I have word count limits, so I try to engage in brevity. I also will never write negatively about a wine, or a winery, or a person at a winery, because I learned that lesson a couple of years ago when a thoughtless comment caused a ruckus. I live in a teeny tiny fishbowl where everyone swims in the same small amount of water and so I simply write about places I like. While I live in the area, working in the wine industry, everything will be rainbows and bunnies. And Chardonnay, the wine equivalent of rainbows and bunnies.

After writing a string of columns, it was nice to ramble. Thanks for reading.

John On Wine – Crush Italian Steakhouse kicks off special dinner series

By John Cesano

I received a media invite to the first Chef’s Wine Dinner Club event at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah at the end of May. I shared with Jen Dalton, who invited me, that I would use the experience to help me write the section on Crush in a larger column on wine-friendly restaurants I had planned to write.

That column on wine-friendly restaurants will have to wait until another day. The dinner experience at Crush was so outstanding that sharing the night’s food and wine offerings, and letting you know about future wine dinners at Crush is more than merited.

For this first Crush wine dinner, owners Doug and Debbie Guillon couldn’t have provided a better exhibition of how to put on a special wine dinner if they had planned for years.

The evening’s food was paired with three wines from Saracina, with winemaker Alex MacGregor and tasting room manager Cassandra Mortier doing the pouring.

Limited to 46 diners – the number of folks that can fit comfortably at one long table in the private dining room at Crush – the cost of $50 was a spectacular value.

It seemed like a chef’s dream night, almost as if Crush Chef Jesse had been told he had free rein with only one goal: impress.

Dinner started with two passed appetizers; giant cocktail shrimp and oysters on the half shell. I love oysters when they are good, and these were great, made even more delicious by a classic and perfect wine pairing, the 2011 Saracina Sauvignon Blanc made from old vine grapes off a 55-year-old vineyard. The bright minerally lemon-lime citrus zest notes of the Sauvignon Blanc made me want to come back to Crush and get a dozen of these oysters just for myself, they were just so good together. As it was, I skipped a taste of the shrimp for a second oyster.

Dinner was served Italian family style, with large plates of food brought out for guests to serve themselves. Each of the two courses had four different dishes. Over the next two hours there were many “oohs” and “aahs” of happy eating enjoyment as each dish hit the mark.

The first course featured Lamb Tartare, Stuffed Arancini, Lambs Leaf Salad, and Roasted Lamb Meatballs.

Years ago, I ordered the Omakase menu at Morimoto in Philadelphia and it began with Toro Tartare with crispy shallots, caviar, and dashi; melt in your mouth amazing. Chef Jesse’s Lamb Tartare with Meyer lemon aioli, feta, olive infused oil, shallot, and micro green was so good that it tied this dinner to the best I’ve ever had.

The Arancini, or risotto balls, were stuffed with lamb Bolognese, and developed a perfect shell through deep frying. Best Arancini execution ever.

The salad was very good, but it was a salad – so moving on – the Roasted Lamb Meatballs were fantastic, but the real star of this dish was the pomodoro sauce. More than one diner commented that they wanted to scrape any remaining sauce off the plates and take it home.

I enjoyed my first course quartet of dishes with a glass of 2010 Saracina Pinot Noir, Klindt Vineyard. My May 30, 2013 column was all about Saracina, and I loved all three of the Saracina wines poured at Crush as much with dinner as when I tasted them for my column. Gorgeously feminine, dry cherry noted, with soft earthy herb, this wine goes with almost anything – or I can make it go with almost anything by choice.

The second course featured Roasted Rack of Lamb, Lamb Shank “handmade” Ravioli, Creamy Mushroom polenta, and Roasted Root Vegetables.

The stars here for me were the Rack of Lamb with a sage apple gastrique and the polenta with truffle roasted mushrooms, balsamic, and chive. My wine for this course was the 2009 Saracina Old Soul Red, a blend with Zinfandel off 74-year-old vines, Petite Sirah off 75-year-old vines, and Syrah off 114-year-old vines. The lamb was delicious – exactly as it should be – simple and perfect. The polenta was so good, the earthy mushroom providing the night’s strong not-lamb note. Saracina’s Old Soul Red stood up to the big flavors, with big rich berry and cherry notes of its own.

Alex MacGregor dubbed the evening “Lambapalooza.” It certainly was a celebration of lamb.

The evening’s final course, dessert, was a Passion Fruit Panna Cotta with coconut, strawberry, and raspberry. This was a brilliant dessert, not overly sweet, with some actual tart notes to cleanse the palate after a rich and full meal.

Chef Jesse plans to “explore four to five regions of Italy” with his next Chef’s Wine Dinner Club meal, and introduce Brewmaster Dinners as well.

Doug Guillon believes “there is great opportunity (for Crush) in the Ukiah area.” He sees “a great business crowd during the week,” and evening traffic as he is “fortunate being next to two hotels”.

Crush Italian Steakhouse is located at 1180 Airport Park Blvd in Ukiah. To receive notices of future Chef’s Wine Club Dinners, call (707) 463-0700 and tell the hostess that you want to join the Chef’s Wine Dinner Club, then give her your name and email address

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John Cesano has heard that there is no such thing as a free lunch, so he feels very fortunate to have enjoyed a free wine dinner.

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