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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.

 

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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John On Wine – Spotlight Winery: Cesar Toxqui Cellars

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 16, 2014

The only constant is change, and owners Cesar and Ruth Toxqui have changed addresses, moving their Cesar Toxqui Cellars tasting room to a new location in the Hopland Schoolhouse Plaza complex, in the building next to Brutocao Cellars, at 13500 South Highway 101, Hopland, CA 95449.

With about 1,000 folks descending on Hopland this weekend, for the 23rd annual Fall Hopland Passport wine and food weekend festival, Cesar and Ruth are hopeful attendees will find their way to their beautiful new tasting room.

I visited and tasted the open wines being poured as part of the day’s Tasting Flight on a Saturday when last minute painting details were being finished and pictures hung on walls.

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2010 Chardonnay, $18, 13.8% alc. Made using Jeriko’s Dijon clone Chardonnay grapes, there are notes of oak, butter, apple and lemon, in balance, in this wine. After time in tank to allow greater fruit expression, this Chardonnay spent 10 months in three year old – semi neutral – French oak. Think of a fruit forward, butter scotch loaded Chablis on steroids.

2011 Zinfandel, Immigrant, Russian River, $24, 14.3% alc. There is a lot going on in this wine. Bright strawberry and cherry fruit meet dusty cocoa, rose petal, and brambly raspberry. This wine has many flavors and enough of each to allow it to pair with a wide variety of foods.

MV Ruthless Red, $18, 14.5% alc. The MV stands for multiple vintages, instead of the regular NV for non vintage; this is a new Cesar Toxqui unofficial but more descriptive designation. There may be a percentage or two of this or that in the blend, but roughly speaking this wine is 50% Zinfandel. 25% Syrah, and 25% Sangiovese. “This wine makes you want to sit outside on your porch and contemplate the meaning of life,” is how Cesar described the wine that features a fiery portrait of his wife Ruth on the label. In addition to the abundant fruit notes that this medley of grapes offer up, I picked up undertones of cola and a sinuous vinous character with enough acid to provide both structure and balance for the flavors.

2012 Zinfandel, Split Rock Ranch, $32, 14.3% alc. Cesar told me that, “this label celebrates our 10th anniversary in business,” and that he may make another special label Zinfandel ten more years from now, to celebrate 20 years in business. With grapes sourced from John Mattern’s Split Rock Ranch, this Zinfandel shows depth, structure, with soft but noticeable tannin, and a lot of flavors, almost drinking more like an Alicante Bouchet, Petite Sirah, and Carignane blend, with a little bite on the end. Blackberry, mocha, raspberry, black pepper, fennel bulb, cherry, minerality, and oak are all on display. Tasting with me, Cesar shared as he tasted this wine, “this is a really big Zin, this is the one I’m really proud of…(tasting) oh yeah!”

MV Paloma Dulce Port, $18/375ml or $32/750ml, 19% alc. Another multiple vintage release, this is a solera style port, meaning that a little from each release is held and blended into the next release, which has a little held and blended into the release after that, and so on, with the resulting port being something tied to all previous and future vintages. Wine, flavored with a bit of brandy from Germain Robin, this is a richer, sweeter, more intense wine, a port, and lovely, nicely balanced between aromatic cedar, cherry, tobacco, and apple.

In addition to the wines tasted, Cesar also produces and sells Muscat Canelli, Viognier, Chard Vino Vianco, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Grenache wines through his tasting room.

One of my favorite wine events is the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) Zinfandel Festival held each January in San Francisco. Every producer shows up to pour their Zinfandel, and crowds of thousands descend upon the offerings at a Grand Tasting. I have been fortunate, and attended seated panel wine tastings, wine and food pairing tastings, and sadly had to turn down an invite to the big dress up meal because of a conflict, but attend every ZAP event I can. ZAP honored Cesar Toxqui’s Zinfandel at the 2010 Zinfandel Festival, calling it the Year’s Best Zinfandel out of many hundreds being poured. Cesar knows how to make great wine.

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I have tasted many wines, different varieties, different vintages, different vineyard areas, from Cesar Toxqui Cellars, and Cesar makes interesting wines, never boring, unique, not cookie cutter, by exercising choices during winemaking. I like most of Cesar’s wines, dearly love some, and there are a rare few that I do not like – although someone else certainly will; in all cases, Cesar makes wines I respect. I respect the choice he often makes to allow a wine to display more character, rather than smooth that character into a more approachable or drinkable edge. Tasting wines at Cesar Toxqui Cellars is exciting, and I am happily surprised, as Cesar’s winemaking choices are less predictable than ordinary.

To taste the full range of Cesar and Ruth Toxqui’s hospitality, pick up a ticket to Hopland Passport this weekend, then taste an array of delectable fruit infused cheeses paired with our new Orange Muscat , Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay, before the new release of 2012 Zinfandel, new Heirloom V, and of full line up of other red wines with a mixed meat BBQ grill trip, wild boar sausage, and chicken. Be sure to enjoy the chocolate ganache and Paloma Dulce Port for dessert.

Hopland Passport tickets can be purchased during this weekend at any of the 14 participating wineries for $55; for more information, visit http://www.DestinationHopland.com/Hopland-Passport ; and for more information about Cesar Toxqui Cellars, call the tasting room at (707) 744-1071, Thursday through Sunday between 11:00 and 5:30, winter hours.

 

 

 

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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John On Wine – 23rd annual Fall Hopland Passport is coming, Oct 18 & 19, 2014

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 9, 2014

We are just nine days out from the 23rd annual Fall Hopland Passport, coming up on Saturday, October 18, 2014 and Sunday, October 19, 2014, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. each day.

Like Napa in the 60’s or Healdsburg in the 70’s, Hopland today is a place where there are more grape growers than wineries, where organic is normal, and where amazing wines remain largely undiscovered.

Affordable, relaxed, enjoyable. Hopland is rural yet close to everywhere in the bay area; a getaway destination, a place to taste wine, and a gorgeously magical spot where cares and stress just melt away.

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Come to Passport, but don’t rush. Relax, take a deep breath. With 14 participating Passport winery tasting rooms to visit over two days for your $45 ticket – or $55 if you are procrastinator – you’ll have over 50 minutes to devote to each spot, with some tasting rooms just 20 mere feet from door to door!

Hopland is where the Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition’s Double Gold medal winning Cabernet Sauvignon and Best of Show white wine, and the California State Fair Wine Competition’s Best of Show sparkling wine can be tasted, and without any tasting fee when you buy a ticket.

There is food, real food, good food to taste at each stop on your Passport tour. The mouthwatering savory scent of BBQ grills cooking meat throughout the Hopland area will have you at peak readiness for wine and food pairings all weekend long.

Receive a Passport logo glass, entry to all wine tastings, food pairings and entertainment at all 14 wineries. Collect stamps in your actual Passport to enter the Passport Prize Giveaway…. over thirty fabulous prizes will be given away! Tickets can be purchased online at DestinationHopland.com/store for $45 or at any of the participating wineries during the event for $55.

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Get your ticket, raise your glass, and celebrate the A-Z variety of wines poured by the participating winery tasting rooms in the Hopland area: Aglianico, Arneis, Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane, Charbobo, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Cortese, Dolcetto, French Colombard, Gewurztraminer, Grenache, Marsanne, Merlot, Mosacato/Muscat, Negroamaro, Nero D’Avola, Orange Muscat, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Pinotage, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris/Grigio, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Primitivo, Riesling, Roussanne, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Syrah Noir, Tannat, Tocai Friulano, Valdiguie, Viognier, and Zinfandel.

There will also be blends; the county’s flagship Coro wines, rosés, late harvest and ice wine, port, sparkling, and Meritage wines to delight.

Here is a short description of what each winery promises visitors during the Hopland Passport wine weekend:

BRUTOCAO CELLARS •Award winning Estate wines from both bottle and barrel •Tasty delectables  •Annual grape stomp!

CAMPOVIDA •Wine tasting •Olive oil tasting •Live music •Food pairings from our restaurant the Piazza de Campovida •Garden tour with our master gardener, Ken Boek

CESAR TOXQUI CELLARS •Fruit infused cheeses paired with a new Orange Muscat, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay •New release full bodied 2012 Organic Zinfandel and our new Heirloom V with a mixed meat BBQ grill of wild boar sausage, and chicken •Ganache chocolate and port.

FREY VINEYARDS •Award-winning, Organic and Biodynamic wines (with no added sulfites) •Organic Autumn-inspired, colorful fresh foods.

GRAZIANO FAMILY OF WINES •Aglianico to Zinfandel we have as many as 30 different wines •Marinated tri-tip in the crock pot, imported aged cheeses, homemade dips and spreads, and more.

JAXON KEYS WINERY & DISTILLERY •Spaghetti western themed hospitality •Fresh spaghetti done three ways: red, white and green •Farmhouse

JERIKO ESTATE •Upper Russian River Grilling of mixed meats •Cheeses and condiments •Anima Mundi Pinot Noir and Reserve Pinot Noir, Sangiovese. •Barrel sampling •Music •Special wine prices that are discounted for passport weekend only

MCFADDEN FARM STAND & TASTING ROOM •Highly rated, top award winning wines •McFadden Farm Organic Grass Fed Beef, and Wild Rice and artichoke heart salad; both seasoned with Herbs and Herb Blends – family farmed and organically grown •Beef, Wild Rice, and Herbs available for purchase at special Passport discounts •McFadden Wine Members get 40% off cases of wine during Passport •Guinness McFadden will sign purchased bottles

MCNAB RIDGE WINERY •Rock music themed Passport  •Barrel tasting of our new Cononiah Zin with futures available •Complimentary bottle painting by Leslie Bartolomei •Smokestack BBQ grillmasters smoky chicken, gourmet sausage and grilled veggies. •Popular dips and spreads •Rich Parducci’s award-winning wines

MILANO FAMILY WINERY •Red-wine-infused oak smoked, marinated Tri-Tip, fresh veggies, cheeses and decadent chocolate raspberry brownies •Live music on the lawn with the Rose City Band playing jazz and dance music on Saturday •Contemporary duo of Marilyn DeFrange and Janet Orsi on Sunday.  Join us and eat, •Medal winning wines •Several craft vendors

NELSON FAMILY VINEYARDS •Estate wines •Mendough’s Wood-Fired Pizza, deliciously made with organic, local ingredients including chevre, sun dried tomatoes, prosciutto, arugula, Gorgonzola and artichoke atop the most incredible crust.

RIVINO ESTATE WINERY •“Wines of Anarchy” themed event •Pagan Fire Pizza •Newly released wines

SARACINA •Gourmet harvest fare •Live music by A Band Called Luke •Wine cave tours on Saturday at 1:30, 3:00 and 4pm and on Sunday at 1:00 and 3pm.

TERRA SAVIA •“A Cheesy Affair” is the theme •Greek salad stuffed tomatoes •Macaroni and cheese empanadas •Butternut squash with blue cheese •Frisee and farro salad with warm goat cheese •Accoustic and eclectic band Coffee Zombie Collective will entertain

This will be my eighth consecutive Hopland Passport missed because I work at one of the participating tasting rooms, and an event I sorely miss. I cannot recommend getting a ticket and attending Hopland Passport strongly enough, it is an absolute stand out wine event value – no where else do you get so much for so little!

Jack Crispin Cain and Tamar Kaye make spirits that surprise and delight. I have written with delight about clear whiskeys and barrel colored gins, about sex in a bottle Rose Liqueurs and how it turns out the world does need more flavored vodkas. Every time I taste from a bottle Jack and Tamar produced, my breath is taken away. These are not ordinary spirits, and are substantially superior to those produced by other handcrafters.

I have also written, with obvious love, about special chef’s dinners that feature a particular winery. You can imagine my barely restrained glee at the news that there will be a special multi-course dinner with dishes designed to complement cocktails from my favorite distillery.

Here’s the scoop:

American Craft Whiskey Distillery and The Pacific Plate
94 Main St, Point Arena, California 95468

October 17th 6:00 pm, and October 18th 9:00 pm

Absinthe & Whiskey cocktails will be paired with a 4 course meal

Sat Oct 18th is Full! There is very limited space on Friday Oct 17th. Call (707) 882-1619 to reserve your spot at this very special pairing meal.

PAIRING MENU:
Death in the afternoon

Pumpkin bread pudding with rose cream
Mr. Tiki

Artichoke, fennel and apple salad with arugula and Buddha’s hand vinaigrette … and a few pixies
Pixie Roe (deconstructed molecular Sazerac)

Gumbo pie (chicken & sausage)
Aged Sazerac

Quail confit in duck fat w/ sweet red onion & apple glaze served on celeriac puree & greens
Dark gin martini

Coffee/ chicory/ cacao beverage served w/ coconut milk & simple syrup

Crispin's Cocktail Dinner

For the most enjoyable evening, consider staying nearby. Links to accommodations :
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Coast-Guard-House-Historic-Inn/264627793645068

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Wharf-Masters-Inn/195325000477796

I urge you to grab a seat for what promises to be an amazing dinner.

John On Wine – Wine blends, both European and local

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 2, 2014

Recently, I received an email from David and Merry Jo Velasquez of Cannon Falls, MN; after visiting the tasting room where I work and finding this wine column, they visited France and suggested a column, “outlining the GSM grape varieties that make Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine so popular, and which winemakers are doing similar blends in Northern CA,” as well as exploring the “French law/custom [that] allows 13 grape varieties to be used in CdP wines…[and] other stringent requirements which were fascinating to learn about.” They also mentioned the “terroir” (the land, climate, the environment grape vines grow in) and sent some terrific photos.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard

Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a town in the Rhone wine region of southeastern France. Red varieties allowed are Cinsaut, Counoise, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Muscardin, Piquepoul Noir, Syrah, Terret Noir, and Vaccarèse (Brun Argenté). White and pink varieties are Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanche, Clairette Rose, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Picardan, Piquepoul Blanc, Piquepoul Gris, and Roussanne. The 13 varieties historically mentioned by David and Merry Jo have expanded to 18, as today the Noir (black/red), Gris (grey), and Blanc (white) versions of individual grape varieties are considered separate.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape red grapes reaching maturity - note the rounded stones in the vineyard that the vines fight through

Châteauneuf-du-Pape red grapes reaching maturity – note the rounded stones in the vineyard that the vines fight through

Famed for GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) Rhone blends, some of my favorite wines tasted have come from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. By far, most of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are red, and most use Grenache as the base, or largest element, of their blends. Lighter in body, two things allow for wines of greater intensity:

First, yields are reduced with local laws prohibiting greater than 368 gallons to be produced per acre of fruit. By dropping fruit during the growing season, the remaining fruit receives greater vitality from the vine, and the result is greater flavor. Second, instead of holding the wines in oak barrels, and having the oak overpower the flavors of the grape, much of the wine is held in concrete containers, a neutral container that better protects against oxidation than oak during winemaking. Here, in northern California, there are a number of wineries using Rhone varietals who have purchased concrete ‘eggs’ to make their wine in.

Richly ripe white grapes from Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Richly ripe white grapes from Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Blends done right are wines greater than the sum of their parts. Often Cabernet Sauvignon, a big firm wine, will have some Merlot blended in as the Merlot will soften the wine; and the reverse is true, an overly soft Merlot can benefit from the backbone a little Cabernet Sauvignon can offer to the blended wine’s structure.

Just as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are often blended together, so too are Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, and Zinfandel and Carignane. There are many ‘classic’ blends, and they are classics because they work, the wines blended are often better than the wines held separate.

In California, as long as there is 75% or more of any single wine grape variety in the wine then that grape variety can be used on the label; in other words, the Zinfandel you buy at the store has at least 75% and up to a full 100% of Zinfandel in the bottle, but might contain some other wine grape varieties – up to 25% in total. There are many local wineries that make stellar blend wines, and do not bother with hitting 75% of any varietal, instead giving their blend wine a fanciful proprietary name like Black Quarto, Atrea Old Soul Red, or Campo de Stella.

In Europe, wines are named for the areas they come from, and a Châteauneuf-du-Pape red wine can be made from any of nine grape varieties and is most often a blend, while a red wine from Bordeaux will be made from a shorter list of grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère. Just as Châteauneuf-du-Pape has a protocol, part law and part tradition, for making wine, so too does Bordeaux, and nearly every other geographically identifiable wine area in Europe.

Meritage (rhymes with heritage, it is an American wine, not French, so please do not force a French mispronunciation) is a wine made outside of Bordeaux using the grapes used in Bordeaux, where an individual grape variety does not meet the minimum percentage threshold allowing the wine to receive a grape variety name. Starting as a California only association of blended wines, Meritage wines expanded first to the United States, and then internationally.

In all of the United States, there is only one geographically identifiable area that makes wines from an agreed upon list of grapes, and following an agreed upon production protocol, following the European model, but is by agreement among the participating wineries and not under force of law, and that unique in America area is Mendocino County, and the wines are Coro Mendocino.

A Quintet of Coro Mendocino Wines

A Quintet of Coro Mendocino Wines

Coro is Italian for Chorus and, just as a chorus should be a harmonious blending of voices, Coro wines should be a harmonious blending of grape varieties. Every Coro Mendocino starts with Zinfandel, Mendocino County’s most planted grape, and must contain no less than 40% and no more than 70% Zinfandel. Of note is that there is not enough Zinfandel, 75% minimum, to label the wine as a Zinfandel. The supporting ‘blend’ grapes include Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Sangiovese, Grenache, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, Primitivo, plus up to 10% “free play” where an individual participating Coro Mendocino winery can allow their signature style to shine through, with an Anderson Valley winery blending in some Pinot Noir or inland Mendocino winery blending in some Cabernet Sauvignon as an example. None of the supporting blend grapes is to exceed the percentage of Zinfandel in the finished wine.

Coro Mendocino wines also adhere to winemaking protocols, with wine chemistry limits and oak and bottle aging spelled out for participants. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Coro Mendocino program is that each winery puts their wines through a rigorous quality assurance regimen; first the wines are blind tasted several times as barrel samples by all the participating wineries with constructive criticism offered up for each wine in an effort to produce the very best wines possible, and then the wines go through a pass/fail, Coro/No-Coro, blind tasting before they may carry the Coro Mendocino label.

Each Coro within a vintage, winery to winery, is different, just as each Coro within a winery, vintage to vintage, is different, and yet there is a thread that ties all Coro Mendocino wines together, in much the same way that all wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Bordeaux are tied together, but with an assurance of quality.

Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, Parducci, and Testa each made a Coro in the most recently released vintage, 2011, and the wines can be tasted and purchased at each individual winery’s tasting room, or all can be purchased at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland. The best of the Coro from each vintage, produced from organically grown grapes, is also available at the Ukiah co-op and on Patrona restaurant’s wine list in Ukiah.

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