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John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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John On Wine – More Mushroom Meals, and a Turkey Meal Nears        

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, November 14, 2014

Thanks to the good efforts of Visit Mendocino, the local tourism group that brings visitors to Mendocino County for events, who then stay in our inns and hotels, their Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest continues through this weekend.

Last week, I wrote that one of the best ways to experience the magic of wine was through great wine dinners, and I wrote that Crush has the edge in putting on Chef’s Wine Dinners, like last night’s dinner, pairing the wines of Cesar Toxqui Cellars with mushroom dishes (for a recap of that dinner, visit JohnOnWine.com online where I’ll be posting an online exclusive within the week), or the next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush, on Wednesday, January 21, 2015, when Chef Jesse pairs crab dishes (thanks again Visit Mendocino for your Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest!) with highly rated and multiple Double Gold medal wines from McFadden Farm. Well, I should have made clear that Crush, by virtue of the restaurant’s layout has an edge, but there is one winery with a similar advantage: Barra of Mendocino.

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Barra of Mendocino can host an event, rain or shine, in their own facility, which is both a tasting room and event center all at once. Barra does so with frequency, and this Saturday, November 15, from 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM, Barra is hosting their Annual Winemaker Dinner which will feature five courses of mushroom dishes paired with delicious wine. Tickets are $80, or $55 for Barra wine club members (707) 485-0322 to get your tickets, tell ‘em I sent you, and I will see you there!

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The evening will be Moulin Rouge themed, think Parisian cabaret with great food and drink.

Here is the menu for Barra’s spectacular mushroom dinner:

L’ Apértif: Mushroom Pate’, Charcuterie, French cheeses, green olives, and baguettes served with Zinfand el, Chardonnay, Sangiovese;

L’ Entrée: Wild mushroom bisque with puff pastry square filled with brie served with Pinot Noir;

Le Plat Principal: Thick brined pork cut with wild mushroom gravy, sugared sweet potato crisps, haricot verts and slivered almonds served with Cabernet Sauvignon;

Le Formage: Wild mushrooms, apples, butternut squash and burrata served with Chardonnay; and

Le Dessert: Ocracote fig preserve cake with candy cap mushroom ice cream served with choice of Port or Muscat Canelli.

I will post a recap of this dinner on an exclusive online post at JohnOnWine.com within the week.

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Another fun mushroom and wine experience will be at Yorkville Cellars on Highway 128 in the Yorkville Highlands. Yorkville Cellars focuses on the wine varieties of Bordeaux, France; Malbec among them. Coming up this Friday, November 14 through Sunday, November 16, from 11-6pm each day, you can experience. “Malbec Four Ways for Four Days”:  an inaugural Malbec Rosé, Malbec table wine, Sweet Malbec and a new release of Sparkling Malbec Brut Rosé. The Malbec grapes come from Yorkville’s own certified organic estate vineyard. Nicely enough, there will be tasty and tantalizing mushroom themed appetizers and desserts to pair with the wines.

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For all of the fun mushroom themed events going on through Sunday, pick up a copy of Visit Mendocino’s 44 page brochure made just for the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest, available at nearly every winery tasting room in the county, or go to http://www.visitmendocino.com/mushroom-wine-and-beer-festival online.
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Looking forward a couple of weeks, to Thanksgiving, I was wondering what you do with wine at the holiday. What wines do you serve? Do you bring wine as a hostess gift to be shared with the meal. I wrote a piece last year about what wines go best with Thanksgiving dinner, and over the years, I have brought, and my family has enjoyed, every possible imaginable wine, from sparkling wines to dessert wines, and rosés to huge reds, with whites from dry to sweet as well.

I think that any wine, if good, makes a dinner better, and I have plenty of very good wine to bring to any dinner; but I also think some wines do better with Thanksgiving fare than others. Personally, I think that lighter, low alcohol red wines are great, because they are less likely to overpower the turkey. Blends are a good choice, because each grape gives up different aromas and flavors and with a basket of notes to pull from, different foods can pull different notes to pair with, each differently, from just one wine. Blends are chameleon-like, going with many things well, and I particularly like Rhone varietal blends, both red and white.

I have had inexpensive blends, Trinchero’s Menage a Trois at $7.99 as an example, that tasted good and went spectacularly well with a holiday dinner. There is nothing wrong with good tasting food wine that is affordable.

Here’s the thing, I know what I like. Let me know what wine you like to share at Thanksgiving. Email me at JohnOnWine@gmail.com and you may find that you help write my next column, or a portion of it, for me.

On Wednesday, November 12, 2014, Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah hosted their sixth in a series of Chef’s Wine Dinners, this time pairing with Cesar Toxqui Cellars and featuring mushrooms from start to finish, celebrating the county’s bounty during the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Festival.

Cesar Toxqui

Cesar Toxqui

Cesar Toxqui, owner and winemaker at Cesar Toxqui Cellars, described each wine during the evening, and offered insight into some choices that go into winemaking…and selecting the right wines to pair with a multi-course mushroom dinner.

Ruth Toxqui and Lynn Elhardt

Ruth Toxqui and Lynn Elhardt

Cesar’s wife (and co-owner of Cesar Toxqui Cellars) Ruth Toxqui chatted with Lynn Elhardt (mother of the dinner’s Chef, Jesse Elhardt). Lynn kindly shared that Jesse’s path to Chefdom was as direct as computer science to mechanical engineering to the kitchen. While the path was meandering, the journey led to the right place.

Porcini Bruschetta Bites

Porcini Bruschetta Bites

The Porcini Bruschetta Bites during the meet & greet reception were paired with the 2012 Cesar Toxqui Pinot Gris, which provided a terrific pairing. Made from a toasted baguette, a concentrated tomato jam, herbed ricotta, olive oil, balsamic, micro intensity, and porcini mushrooms, one of the best pairings of the night was the single one of these I brought to the table and paired with Cesar’s Pinot Noir.

Crush General Manager Kevin serving up 2012 CTC Pinot Gris and Porcini Bruschetta Bites

Crush General Manager Kevin serving up 2012 CTC Pinot Gris and Porcini Bruschetta Bites

Kevin was a terrific host for the evening’s dinner, every want was met all night.

Dinner Meet & Greet

Dinner Meet & Greet

Typically folks spend fifteen minutes in the comfortable bar area, allowing late stragglers to arrive, before heading into the special event dining room.

Meet & Greet at the bar

Meet & Greet at the bar

Quite comfortable at the bar, I usually find myself enjoying the first food and wine pairings of the night here at these Crush Chef’s Wine Dinners.

Chef Jesse Elhardt describing the night's dishes

Chef Jesse Elhardt describing the night’s dishes

Chef Jesse’s menus look good, but his verbal descriptions, when he paints pictures with words, well, this is a huge part of the night.

Crush Beverage Manager Nick pouring wines

Crush Beverage Manager Nick pouring wines

It is always great to see Nick, and together with the rest of the Crush team, gave guests a perfect service experience.


Polpette al Vino Bianco

Polpette al Vino Bianco

Veal, parmesan reggiano, brown butter parsnip puree, caramelized onion jus, chive stick. Sound good? It was better. These veal meat balls, this sauce, paired with the 2012 Cesar Toxqui Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, were beyond mere deliciousness. If God is missing his balls, these might be them. They are Heavenly.

Clams Casino

Clams Casino

Shiitake mushrooms, diced, then combined with pancetta, green bell pepper, shallot, house made bread crumbs, asiago, compound butter, and smoked chanterelle mushrooms. Again, paired beautifully with the 2012 CTC RRV Pinot Noir.

A full table of happy dinner guests

A full table of happy dinner guests

Sure, these folks could have eaten food off a pizza truck, outside, in the rain, but why would anyone do that? Chef Jesse Elhardt of Crush and Cesar and Ruth Toxqui of Cesar Toxqui Cellars were the evening’s perfect team, offering up taste sensation after taste sensation to a very appreciative group of dinner patrons.

Broccolini Salad

Broccolini Salad

Broccolini, shaved crimini mushrooms, red onion, fried bread, fresh burrata, pickled mushroom relish, sherry vinaigrette, olive oil, and micro intensity. You know the dinner is great when the vegetable dishes are great. This reminded me of a great broccoli rabe, a perfect vegetable dish to pair against veal, with wine.

 Cesar Toxqui Pinot Noir almost gone, Second course Cesar Toxqui Zinfandel just poured

Cesar Toxqui Pinot Noir almost gone, Second course Cesar Toxqui Zinfandel just poured

Cesar talked about his winemaking, saying, “we’re very small, handmade wines, I’m a hands on winemaker,” and explained that with his wines he, “tries to highlight the year, the varietal, and appelation,” using, “biodynamic, organic, and conventional,” winemaking choices, in that order.

The night's main wines paired perfectly with the rich and flavorful mushroom dishes

The night’s main wines paired perfectly with the rich and flavorful mushroom dishes

2012 Cesar Toxqui Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and 2012 Cesar Toxqui Cellars Split Rock Zinfandel (certified organic).

Brussels & Cauliflower Gratin

Brussels & Cauliflower Gratin

Brussel sprouts and cauliflower gratin with housemade bread crumbs, toasted pine nut, and gruyere,

Yukon Potato Puree

Yukon Potato Puree

Yukon potatoes and roasted mushrooms.

Drawing to a winning pair

Drawing to a winning pair

2012 CTC Split Rock Zin and Jesse’s Ragu of Mushrooms

Ragu of Mushrooms

Ragu of Mushrooms

I have written before that Jesse’s 8 hour ragu tastes like 48 hours, with rich deep intense flavors. I’ve enjoyed lamb ragu, beef ragu, and bison ragu from Jesse, but this vegetarian dish, this mushroom ragu is at least as good, if not better than any previous offering. Served with one of the best pastas ever made, a handmade orecchiette pasta, ricotta, basil pesto, and parmesan regianno, this was a show off dish. Cesar’s Zin was also rich, deep, and dark, almost more like a Cabernet Sauvignon, and paired beautifully with the mushroom ragu.

Grilled Certified Angus Beef Skirt Steak

Grilled Certified Angus Beef Skirt Steak

My iPad camera makes this meaty look rare red, but it was perfectly medium rare, and served with a red wine and crimini demi glace, and little crumbles of soft gorgonzola. Another dish created to pair perfectly with Cesar Toxqui’s Split Rock Zinfandel.

My Second Course Plate. I exercised portion control, not my strong suit, especially with food this delicious.

My Second Course Plate. I exercised portion control, not my strong suit, especially with food this delicious.

I am on a diet, I’ve lost 35 pounds, with many to go. At past dinners, you would not see my plate for all the food piled on it. The quality, brilliantly defined flavors, of the night’s dishes made portion control acceptable…if not desirable. I did have three veal meatballs and a second small helping of the mushroom ragu.

Crush Wine Dinner Series devotees

Crush Wine Dinner Series devotees

My dinner mates inspected a bottle of Cesar’s Zinfandel, an organic offering full of flavor.

Dulce Paloma

Dulce Paloma

For dessert, Cesar and Ruth brought their Dulce Paloma, a port like, rich wine, fortified with a little extra goodness from Germain-Robin, the world’s best brandy maker.

Candy Cap Mousse

Candy Cap Mousse

Mushroom dessert? Yep. Candy cap mushrooms throw caramel flavors, and if no one told you, then you would never guess you are eating a mushroom dessert. This was a dual layer mousse, with candy cap, vanilla bean, blue berry, marscapone, fried quinoa, and mint.

Chef Jesse introduces his kitchen team, to a rousing ovation.

Chef Jesse introduces his kitchen team, to a rousing ovation.

At evening’s end, Chef Jesse brought his crew out from the kitchen and individually introduced each team member, and a round of applause, well earned, was given by the night’s diners.

I was asked to introduce the next Chef’s wine dinner at Crush, and tickets began selling immediately after this night’s mushroom dinner for the Wednesday, January 21, 2015 Chef’s Wine Dinner featuring Dungeness Crab dishes during the Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Food Fest with the wines coming from McFadden Farm. California’s best sparkling wine, the Wine Enthusiast magazine 90 point rated white wines, a 95 point Wine X/Just Wine Points Old Vine Zinfandel, and a three time Double Gold or better Late Harvest Riesling…with a bunch of Dungeness crab dishes created by Chef Jesse. $75, food, wine, tax, tip included, get your ticket NOW; they will sell out!

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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John On Wine – Wine Tasting 101

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, November 6, 2014; written by John Cesano

Wine tasting is daunting for some folks. If you have never gone to a winery tasting room, for a wine tasting, the uncertainty of what to expect, can be a little scary, even intimidating.

Beer is simple, you go to the corner store, grab an ice cold six-pack out of the cooler, pay for it, take it home, open a bottle, and drink it. No one is judging you. It is just beer in a bottle, and then in your belly. Food pairings are not much of a concern with beer; chips, nuts, pretzels will all do just fine.

If you watch Frasier and his brother Niles in reruns, then you might think wine is pretentious and that the little rituals might trip you up and make you look foolish. Put any such concerns out of your mind.

For the most part, wine – to me, and to many Italian Americans in northern California – is food. Wine is just one more ingredient, or dish, among many, in a larger meal, and wine should complement your food and make it taste better.

One of my favorite things about a Chef’s Wine Dinner at a good restaurant, like Crush or Patrona here in Ukiah, is that perhaps six wines will be poured and perhaps ten food dishes will be served, and you are afforded the opportunity to try sips of different wines with different foods to see what pairings work for you, a wonderfully playful experiment of trial and error, or better yet trial and delicious success, over an entire evening…well, that is a great way to be awakened to the wonder of food and wine pairings, surrounded by 70 other people having the same sensory overloading experience, oohs and ahhs, and, as the evening goes on, groans of delighted contentment, everywhere.

The next of these opportunities is next Wednesday, November 12, 2014, when Chef Jesse Elhardt and his team at Crush pair mushroom dishes with the wines of Cesar Toxqui Cellars, at what I consider the premier event of the entire 2014 Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Festival. Surprising no one, I have my ticket already. Tickets are $65 in advance, or $75 at the door, and include food, wine, tax & tip.

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Cesar Toxqui will have his Cesar Toxqui Cellars wines featured at the Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah on Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Similarly, the premier event of the 2015 Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Festival will be the McFadden Farm Winemaker Dinner at Crush on Wednesday, January 21, 2015. This dinner will be a crabapalooza, and as crab costs more than mushrooms, tickets are $75 in advance, and also includes food, wine, tax & tip. There will be no tickets at the door, as this event will sell out.

Contact Crush by calling (707) 463-0700 to make reservations for either of these two great opportunities to play with food and wine!

Visits to winery tasting rooms should be as much fun, or certainly more fun than they too often are, I’ll admit. If you are a novice, and want to feel comfortable, come and visit me at the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland. I’m in most every Tuesday through Friday from 10-5 each day, and my incredible team handles most of the other days. We’re the top rated tasting room in California by the San Francisco Chronicle, because we want you to enjoy yourself, because we give you an experience, and because we treat you with respect.

First things first, wine tasting should be complimentary. This isn’t liquid gold and rubies, it is fermented grape juice, and I am thrilled to do away with the pretension of Napa County for visitors to our humble tasting room. If you value your juice too greatly to pour a taste of it, or don’t know how to add the cost of samples to your cost of goods when setting prices, then Napa County is one county south, then another east. That said, while wine tasting is complimentary, tossing a bill or two in the jar is never frowned upon.

Next thing, and perhaps the most important thing to know: the dump bucket is your friend. I like to pour through all available wines, usually about a dozen, give or take, and if you try to drink a dozen pours then you will be drunk. I pour an ounce of wine in a nice big glass, and if you swirl the wine then you can break free some of the aroma molecules, and put your nose into the glass, and slowly sniff in all the smells. Then take a little sip, and see what flavors the wine has. The wine flavor will taper away, sometimes slowly, sometimes abruptly, and more flavor notes may be found here on the finish. Finally, dump the remaining wine from the glass into the bucket.

I let people experience the wine before I share the notes that the wines present to me. I also tell a little story about each wine, and put our wines in context by describing our farm, our growing choices, the winemaking styles, and much more. A visit with me can often last an hour, and involve a dozen wines, but a mere sip of each wine means less than an ounce consumed and critical judgment is still intact, so wine buying or wine club joining decisions are about the wine and not the result of alcohol making your decisions for you.

Here’s another thing that is important to own: you are the boss of you, you are the ultimate judge of what you like and do not like. I pour Gold medal, Double Gold medal, Best of Class and Best of Show wines. I have wines that professional judges unanimously voted Gold, in competition after competition after competition. I pour great wines, AND YOU ARE FREE TO NOT LIKE THEM. Not everyone likes everything, and with 12 wines to pour, there is a great chance you’ll find one or two, or all 12, to like or not like.

As I pour, I do mention foods that each of the wines I pour pair well with, often sharing recipes, because a wine at first taste that was just good can be the best wine you’ve ever tasted when it accompanies   the right dish.

After running through all of my wines, with the nosing, sipping, and dumping, I always ask visitors if they would like to revisit any wines, because sometimes one sip just isn’t enough. I also like to recommend other wineries to visit based on what my visitors liked most, and perhaps a local place to eat between wine tasting visits.

I write about wine because I do not want anyone to be intimidated by it. I pour wine in much the same way. Nicely enough, there are many other incredibly friendly and fun folks pouring wine throughout Mendocino County, and every one of us would love to pour wine for you. We’re gentle with first-timers; if you haven’t been wine tasting yet, give it a try.

Cue the banjos.

I wrote in the newspaper, and online, and spread the word about a dinner that will not be happening…sort of. Rivino was to be the featured winery at next Wednesday’s premier event, for me, of the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest, a Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah featuring mushrooms, of course, and the estate wines of Rivino.

I love Crush’s Chef’s Wine Dinner series, have attended them all (Saracina, Barra of Mendocino/Girasole, Bonterra, Coro Mendocino, and Yorkville Cellars). I think Jason and Suzanne at Rivino make enjoyable wines, and they have a large and loyal following. After the dinner was announced, the folks who put on both the Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest every November and the Crab, Wine & Beer Fest every January, Visit Mendocino, arranged for McFadden Farm to be the featured winery at Crush’s Crab themed dinner in January. Of course, I was going; of course, I was writing about it; and, of course, I was spreading the word.

I’ve got some good news and some bad news, which do you want first?

Umm, the bad news.

Okay, the bad news is that there will be no Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush featuring the wines of Rivino next Wednesday.

Okay, what’s the good news then?

The good news is there are two dinners next Wednesday. Crush will be having a Chef’s Wine Dinner, but the winery being featured will be Cesar Toxqui Cellars. I recently wrote a piece about Cesar and Ruth Toxqui, and their wines and new tasting room location in Hopland, and I am equally thrilled to be attending and tasting their wines at the dinner I have a ticket for.

Jason and Suzanne will also be having a mushroom themed dinner, cooked by the team from Pagan Fire Pizza, and will host it at their winery.

I wish they were on different nights, so I could possibly attend both, like Barra of Mendocino’s mushroom themed dinner to be held at 6:00 pm on Saturday, November, November 15 – which I am gleefully attending.

Menus change, pairings change; there are often additions or other edits made at the last minute, I guess incorrectly at vintages based on what is on a website, so consider what follows to be working menus, and possibly incomplete. For your consideration, please find both of the Wednesday, November 12 menus from Crush/Cesar Toxqui Cellars and Rivino/Pagan Fire Pizza, and the Saturday, November 15 menu from Barra of Mendocino:

CHEF’S WINE DINNER Featuring CESAR TOXQUI CELLARS

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 6:00 pm

MEET AND GREET

Porcini Bruschetta Bites – toasted baguette, tomato, herbed ricotta, olive oil, balsamic, micro intensity
Featuring 2012 Immigrant Chard and Pinot Gris

FIRST COURSE

Clams Casino – shiitake mushroom, pancetta, green bell pepper, shallot, house made bread crumbs, asiago, parsley
Polpette al Vino Bianco – veal parmesan reggiano, brown butter parsnip purée, caramelized onion jus, chive stick
Broccolini Salad – shaved crimini mushrooms, red onion, fried bread, fresh burrata, pickled mushroom relish, sherry vinaigrette, olive oil, micro intensity
Featuring 2011 Pinot Noir and 2010 Grenache

SECOND COURSE

Grilled C.A.B. Skirt Steak – roasted oyster mushroom & yukon potato purée, red wine & crimini demi glacé, chive
Ragu of Mushrooms – handmade orecchiette pasta, ricotta, basil pesto, parmesan reggiano
Brussels & Cauliflower Gratin – house made bread crumb, toasted pine nut, gruyere
Featuring 2012 Split Rock Zin and Heirloom Cinco

DESSERT

Candy Cap Semifreddo – vanilla, mascarpone, macerated blueberries, fried quinoa, mint
Featuring port-esque Paloma Dulce

Wednesday November 12th @ 6:00 pm
$65 in advance , $85 at the door (includes tax & tip)
Call Crush at (707) 463-0700 for reservations
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Mushroom Winemaker Dinner at Rivino

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 6:00 pm

Come and enjoy an intimate dinner in our Vineyard! We are busily working on winterizing our tasting area so that we will have a beautiful space for this evening. It looks like rain on that night which will create the perfect cozy candle lit ambiance for this event.

Enjoy a mushroom inspired dinner with Suzanne and Jason. The menu will be an artful creation perfected by Mitch of Pagan Fire Pizza! On the night’s menu, expect:

The best Mushroom Risotto you have ever tasted; and
Wood fire roasted, boneless mushroom stuffed quail;
Featuring Rivino’s Estate Wines

Candy Cap Creme Brulee
Featuring shared samples a soon to be bottled White Port; a Viognier fortified with Germain Robin Brandy, the Brandy created from Rivino Viognier grapes as well!

Wednesday November 12th @ 6:00 pm
$75 each, $65 for Wine club members (limit two each)
Call the winery at (707) 293-4262 for reservations

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Barra of Mendocino can host an event in their own facility, which is both a tasting room and event center all at once. Barra does so with frequency, and on  Saturday, November 15, from 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM, Barra is hosting their Annual Winemaker Dinner which will feature five courses of mushroom dishes paired with delicious wine.

The evening will be Moulin Rouge themed, think Parisian cabaret with great food and drink. I will wear a suit, with tie. You don’t have to, but dress up is fun sometimes.

Here is the menu for Barra’s spectacular mushroom dinner:

L’ Apértif: Mushroom Pate’, Charcuterie, French cheeses, green olives, and baguettes served with Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Sangiovese;

L’ Entrée: Wild mushroom bisque with puff pastry square filled with brie served with Pinot Noir;

Le Plat Principal: Thick brined pork cut with wild mushroom gravy, sugared sweet potato crisps, haricot verts and slivered almonds served with Cabernet Sauvignon;

Le Formage: Wild mushrooms, apples, butternut squash and burrata served with Chardonnay; and

Le Dessert: Ocracote fig preserve cake with candy cap mushroom ice cream served with choice of Port or Muscat Canelli.

Saturday November 15th @ 6:00 pm
$80, or $55 for Barra wine club members
Call the winery at (707) 485-0322 for reservations
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More recently than my write up of Cesar Toxqui Cellars, in fact it is appearing in today’s weekly wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal – soon to be archived here, I wrote about the spectacular opportunity that these special multi course food and wine dinners present; you get to play with your food and no one will frown. Try a taste of each dish with each of the wines poured, and find what works for you, and what doesn’t, and even try to imagine what foods might pair even better with the wines you are tasting. Grab a ticket to one or two of these great dinners – I’m attending two; sadly, we can’t attend all three.

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

John On Wine – All Treats, No Tricks; or Time to Mark your Calendars

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This column was first published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fall is supposed to be about slowing down and winter about rest, but for wine tasters there is no shortage of events to put on your calendar.

Friday, November 7, 2014 to Sunday, November 16, 2014 brings ten days of Mendocino County’s Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest and there are too many wine tasting opportunities throughout the festival’s ten days to fit in this column, but stop by just about any winery and ask for your own over 40 page festival event brochure.
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On Saturday, November 8, 2014 from 10:00am to 5:00pm, there will be a very mushroomy Second Saturday in Hopland, with many winery tasting rooms offering up complimentary wine tasting and mushroom food pairings for their wines, with terrific sales prices for those wines.
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On Wednesday, November 12, 2014, from 6:00pm-9:00pm, I will be at the Rivino Winemaker Dinner at Crush in Ukiah. I’ve written about the Chef’s Winemaker Dinners at Crush where Chef Jesse Elhardt has prepared dishes to showcase the wines of Saracina, Barra of Mendocino and Girasole Vineyards, Bonterra, Coro Mendocino, and Yorkville Cellars. You want to attend this one, held during Mendocino County’s Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest, when the dishes will be inspired by Chef Jesse’s love for mushrooms. Tickets are $65, in advance, include tax and tip, and are a steal at that price. Look to see a $10 increase if any tickets remain at the door. Call 707.463.0700 for reservations.
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For those on the Mendocino coast, instead of inland, on Thursday, November 13, 2014, you can enjoy the Foursight Winemaker Dinner at Ravens in the Stanford Inn. Organic cuisine will be featured with a menu of Amuse Buche crostini with mushroom pate, Appetizer with mini porcini quiche, Salad Umbrian salad with lentil and oyster mushrooms, Entrée wild mushroom risotto with tempura and grilled mushrooms served with truffled cauliflower, Dessert candy cap crème brule with a huckleberry Pinot Noir reduction and macerated seasonal fruit. Four courses, $85, call 800.331.8884 for reservations.
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Another favorite event of mine is on Saturday, November 22, 2014 and Sunday, November 23, 2014 from 11:00am-5:00pm, the 12th annual A Taste of Redwood Valley Holiday Wine Sale and Artisan Faire. Informal, bring your own glass to participating wineries and distilleries for complimentary tastings and take advantage of huge sale prices, often 40% off regular prices, when purchasing your holiday wine and spirits. Frey Vineyards, Giuseppe Wines / Neese Vineyards, Silversmith Vineyards, Brown Family Wines, Barra of Mendocino / Girasole Vineyards, and Testa Vineyards will pour both days, while Graziano Family of Wines and Germain-Robin/Craft Distillers will only participate on Saturday – which pretty much guarantees I will be in Redwood Valley on Saturday to pick up Cognac quality Alambic Brandy and Brandy Infusions from Germain-Robin, and the highest quality artisan Vodka, Gin, and Whiskey I have ever tasted from Jack Crispin Cain and Tamar Kaye at Craft Distillers, which is co-located with Germain-Robin.
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I have to ask you to circle, and underline, and highlight Friday, December 12, 2014 from 4:00pm-7:00pm on your calendar, enter the date into your phone and set an alarm, do whatever it takes, but please join me for McFadden’s 3rd annual TOYS FOR TOTS Toy Drive & Wine Tasting in Hopland. Together with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, and with the Hopland Volunteer Fire Department helping Santa out, toys are collected and given to local children who need a little Christmas cheer on Christmas eve. Come in after work on Friday, bring a toy or a cash donation – which we’ll use to shop for more toys, and we’ll serve up a special wine tasting, food pairing, enter you in a raffle for a basket with over $200 in McFadden Farm goodies, offer up event exclusive sale prices for December gift and holiday table needs, and even reward each donation with a “thank you” box of McFadden Farm wild rice. Last year, we doubled the number of toys we collected over the first year, and we would like to double our toy haul again this year. Please help us.
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There is a 100% chance I will be at the McFadden Farm Winemaker Dinner at Crush in Ukiah on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 from 6:00pm-9:00pm during the Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest. Care to guess what ingredient will be featured in Chef Jesse’s dishes that night? You can count on more words here about this event as we get closer to the date.
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Finally, the 24th annual Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) Zinfandel Experience Tasting Event will spread over two San Francisco locations, three days, and four events from Thursday, January 29, 2015 through Saturday, January 31, 2015. Thursday is the “Epicuria Food & Zin Pairing” event at the Presidio; Friday features “Flights! Forum of Flavor” a daytime seated panel tasting of exceptional Old Vine Zinfandels, and “Zin State of Mind – a Benefit with Taste” a nighttime Winemaker’s Reception and Dinner with Live Auction, both held at the Four Seasons Hotel; and Saturday is “The Tasting” the grand tasting at the Presidio. For more information, visit www.ZinfandelExperience.com. I have attended numerous ZAP events, love Epicuria, Flights, and the Grand Tasting; I have not attended the big dinner, but am sure it is spectacular – as is everything ZAP does.
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I’m sure I missed some important local wine events, but I will be attending – or would love to attend – each of these and felt comfortable suggesting that you put these on your calendar, each and every one promises an unqualified great time to be had.

Dee Egbert was born January 20, 1930 and he died at 3:00 AM this morning, October 28, 2014. I met Dee in 1995, when I was dating his daughter Lisa and she brought me to meet her family for a Thanksgiving dinner gathering.

Both Dee and his wife Joan, as well as Lisa’s brother Mark and sister Deann, always treated me kindly, and by the time Lisa and I had our son Charlie in 1997 I was family. Although my marriage to Lisa did not last, being treated as family never ended.

Dee grew up in Kansas, in a plain and hardworking time. Dee lived in Las Vegas and throughout California. Among Dee’s jobs, his decades selling cars, encyclopedic knowledge of Kelley Blue Book values, and his “aw shucks” sales style, allowed him to provide well for his family.

In semi-retirement, Dee would attend auto auctions, buying low and selling fair, supplementing his retirement income, but also keeping him busy, active. Dee could golf, but would rather get a good deal on a car and then pocket $1,000 after a quick sale than drive or putt a ball in retirement.

All three of Dee’s children ended up driving cars that Dee bought at auction. Dee’s older grandchildren benefitted from Dee’s auto auction acumen. I have owned three or four cars that either I or Dee bought at auction.

Dee loved sports. He enjoyed watching televised games. He religiously followed the Giants, the Warriors, and loved Tiger Woods.

Dee was incredibly loyal to friends and family, and would be the last to believe something bad about someone he cared about, and easily overlooked if not forgot transgressions.

Dee may have had the worst palate of anyone I knew. He often told, and retold, stories and one was about being knocked unconscious while playing football. I know he blamed, in part, his memory deterioration in his later years on concussion, and perhaps one of those epic hits in his youth knocked the taste buds out of his mouth as well. For Dee, there was no difference in flavor, or any flavor at all to speak of, between $3 jug red and $40 premium wine. That said, Dee’s wife Joan is a spectacular cook, and we have always cooked together or for each other with pleasure.

Dee and I did not bond over a love of wine, but over a love of my son Charlie. Both my mom and dad were ill, weak, and died too early in my son’s life, but Dee was always hale and fit. Dee would pick up my son, and swing him, carry him, toss him, play with him. Charlie thought his grandpa was Superman, literally and not just superhero figuratively. Dee was there when Charlie drove his first green, when he won his first Pokemon trophy and scholarship, for Charlie’s first score in a basketball game, throughout his life Dee was there for Charlie, for Charlie’s mom Lisa, for his wife Joan, son Mark, daughter Deann, grandchildren Jennifer, Sarah, Amy, Travis, and his great-grandchildren from Jenny and Sarah, and for me too.

When my grandfather passed – and I knew it was coming as surely as Dee’s family knew Dee’s passing was coming – the intense sense of loss, combined with the flood of memories, left me incredibly sad. I took a break from work, walked, remembered, prayed, cried. When I thought I was better, I returned to work but was sent home by compassionate employers. Today, my son must be feeling some of what I once felt, but he is at school, and works tonight. Life rolls inexorably onward.

Yesterday, Charlie and I visited Dee in a hospice bed and although he wasn’t really hearing it, we said goodbye. I gave my son some time alone with his grandfather. Last night I lay in bed and prayed for God to take care of Dee, which is funny in a way as Dee was one of the most rational and least religious people I have met, and to say my Catholicism is lapsed is soft selling reality. Nonetheless, this morning, I visited a Catholic church to light a candle but, unlike the days of my youth, the church was locked, so I said another prayer for Dee on the steps of the church.

Dee’s passing is a release and a blessing for him, but Dee touched many who will remember him fondly and feel the pain of loss from his passing.

This piece isn’t about wine, obviously, but a poor eulogy for a kind, caring, and good man, my father in law Dee Egbert.

Requiescat in pace.

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John On Wine – Age vs. Vintage

By John Cesano

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 23, 2014

“I don’t drink young wines, I only drink older wines, and I always decant them,” is what someone told Eugene Gonsalves when Eugene tried to gift him a bottle of local Mendocino County wine while on a European vacation.

First things first: if someone tries to gift a bottle of wine to you, then turning your nose up, untasted, is boorish at least.

Age is not as important as vintage; 2008 is older than 2012, but few in Mendocino County would choose a local 2008 wine over a wine from 2012. 2008 was the year of fires when ash and smoke sat on top of grapes in the vineyard and yielded horribly flawed wines. 2011 is older than 2012, but 2011 was a very cool year, and some wine magazine writers cried about what a horrible vintage it was for California wine, when really it was Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that took the biggest hit, while 2012 has been heralded as a stellar vintage.

Age does some things to all wines, but age is not always beneficial for all wines.

Red wines are wines that have juice in contact with skins after press, and the skins impart tannins along with color. Tannins give wine firmness, and react with flavors – at first masking them and later joining with them to produce a supple leathery quality.

Red wines are typically sealed with a cork, a semi-permeable closure that allows incredibly small amounts of oxygen to pass through itself and allow the tannins to soften and mellow over time, usually years.

Of course, the reality is that Americans are impatient and do not – for the most part – lay any wine, red or white, down for any appreciable amount of time. I think the average cellaring time for a wine purchased in California is the time it takes to get it home from the store.

Our winemakers know this and make wines to be enjoyed young, decreasing tannins where possible. I will often open a young bottle of bottle, pour a half a glass, and swirl the wine and niff, put it down, then after a little time I will swirl and sniff again, and continue to do this until the alcohol flush blows off, the tannins dissipate, and the fruit comes forward. Too soon, and the fruit is either masked or too tart, but with a little air contact the wine opens up and becomes more enjoyable than when first opened.

Some winemakers, wanting their wines to be aged, will hold on to them and release them later than other wineries. Locally, Rosati Family Winery and Milano Family Winery both recently released their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, while other wineries are pushing their 2012 Cabernets out the door. I actually go through the same open, pour, swirl, and sip ritual with an older wine, and for the same reasons, so the wine shows better, is more enjoyable.

White wines do not spend time with skins and do not have the same tannin load. These wines are fruitier when held in stainless steel, although that may be muted by oak or other winemaking choices. You will see many white wines sealed with screw caps instead of corks because there is no need to soften or change the largely nonexistent tannins, and white wines are generally consumed at a younger age than red wines. Of course, there are exceptions and several white wines that can benefit from age and are sealed with a cork, like Chateau d’Yquem and other late harvest botrytised dessert wines.

I am a patient man, about wine anyway. I love the swirl and sniff ritual. Decanters allow a wine to aerate more quickly, as the entire bottle is upended and poured into the decanter, falling through air and splashing, which is great if you are going to finish the entire bottle but not great if you only want a glass or two.

Decanters also allowed wines to be poured slowly and sediment to be collected in the shoulder of Bordeaux bottles, but with most California wines being fined and filtered they are pretty much sediment free,

I will admit to being a fan of Vinturi and other glass specific aerators. Pouring a wine through these devices, it burbles, and air is force blended with the wine, causing it to taste like it has been breathing for a significant amount of time.

White wines, largely, do not need to be decanted, or run through an aerator, and tend to be better in youth. For me, open, pour, swirl, sniff, swirl and sniff again, taste, taste again – that works pretty well.

After opening a bottle, red or white, and enjoying a bottle or two, I like to spray some argon gas into the bottle to prevent the wine from additional oxidation, to stop it from breathing, so I can enjoy it again the next day, or later that week.

So, here’s my take: find a wine variety you like, from a producer you trust, and of a vintage that is good, try it, and if you like it then go back and buy some more because vintage is more important than age, and when the wine you love is gone then you’ll have to begin your search anew…but that’s not really a bad thing, that’s part of the magic of wine.

 

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