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Thirsty Thursdays SIP! Mendocino Thirsty Thursdays

Sake & Sushi Tasting

Thursday, March 26th  |  5:00 – 7:00pm  |  SIP! Mendocino

To celebrate the arrival of spring and the local cherry tree blossoms, SIP is hosting a sake & sushi tasting on Thursday, March 26th from 5-7pm. SIP will also have an assortment of local wines open and available for purchase by the glass.

I’m going; join me for an evening of good taste: a chance to educate your palate and deepen your understanding of sake paired with an assortment of sushi from Oco Time.

Cover charge is $20 for non-wine club members and free for one person per each SIP! Mendocino wine club membership.

SIP! Mendocino is located in downtown Hopland at 13420 S. Hwy 101. For more information, call (707) 744-8375 or visit the shop’s online page for the event.

 

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John on Wine: The first meeting of the Mendocino Bourbon Group

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, March 19, 2015

On a lovely Saturday in March, the first gathering of the Mendocino Bourbon Group was held at American Craft Whiskey Distillery in Redwood Valley for a tasting of four whiskeys and a barrel tasting of a new bourbon to be released in October, put on by Jack Crispin Cain and Tamar Kaye.

The Mendocino Bourbon Group was created by Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman, who is interested in the art and science of fermentation and distillation, and is a loose assemblage of Tom’s friends and family who share his interest.

A whiskey tasting is different than a wine tasting, because of the alcohol potency of spirits. Crispin and Tamar planned ahead and poured the five samples over two full hours, with breaks for food, distillation room tours, barrel room tours, and lots of time for questions and answers. Pours were just the right size; large enough to appreciate the aromatics and flavor, but small enough to prevent inebriation.

The food was delicious; I enjoyed cheeses, salmon, and a terrific vegetable soup that had Tamar telling us, “if the carnivores among you knew what was in it, you probably wouldn’t try it, but I’m glad you like it, so I’m not telling.”

All of the whiskeys tasted were hand crafted antique double distillation spirits using a copper potstill, following Cognac traditions dating back to the Bronze Age, written down in 1510, and learned by Crispin from working with Hubert Germain-Robin over many years.

Low Gap California Whiskey 2011 Malted Corn & Malted Barley Blended Whiskey, 46 percent alc/vol, distilled Dec. 28, 2011, bottled June 9, 2014 – bright, multi-noted, layered at a very subtle level, with a little bite on the end; the straightforward classic corn whiskey flavor definitely comes through.

Low Gap California Whiskey 2011 Malted Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey, 44 percent alc/vol, distilled Sept. 20, 2011, bottled March 17, 2014 – more focused, a little deeper, butterscotch and cereal grain, candied wheat, and is incredibly smooth.

Low Gap California Whiskey 100 Proof Malted Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey, 50 percent alc/vol, distilled Sept. 30, 2012, bottled Nov. 20, 2014 – sweet notes on an absolutely dry spirit. Crispin noted a, “sunshiny butterscotch finish.”

Low Gap California Whiskey 2 Year Malted Rye Whiskey, 42.2 percent alc/volume, distilled Oct. 26, 2012, bottled Nov. 20, 2014 – the rye flavors were almost like candy.

To be labeled “bourbon” a spirit must use three of four grains: corn, barley, rye and wheat; one of the grains must account for at least 51 percent of the blend, and it must spend two years at 60 percent alcohol in a standard new oak barrel.

Crispin’s bourbon is malted corn, malted barley and malted rye.

Low Gap Bourbon, barrel sample, 60 percent alc/vol – This was knocked down with rainwater from 70 percent alc/vol to 60 percent, and will be further knocked down with rainwater again to 50 percent, it will sit for a couple of weeks, then be brought down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit for another couple of weeks to cold stabilize, and then it will be bottled for release in October. With more time, this will become mellower, and additional notes will show. Currently, the bourbon is not as aromatic as the finished and bottled whiskeys we sampled, and I am looking forward to revisiting this bourbon after it has had the opportunity to become what it will become.

Jack Crispin Cain pours a barrel sample of his upcoming bourbon for Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman. (John Cesano photos)

Jack Crispin Cain pours a barrel sample of his upcoming bourbon for Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman. (John Cesano photos)

“I’ve been making whiskey for five years; I consider myself lucky,” Crispin told the group. On a tour of his barrel room, he shared with us, “Our spirits have no methanol, and that is why it tastes so good, medically pure ethanol; no one is looking over the shoulders of the cheap spirits makers, and methanol is why it tastes bad.”

The Mendocino Bourbon Group listens raptly as Jack Crispin Cain talks about the past, present and future of his American Craft Whiskey Distillery during a barrel room visit. (John Cesano)

The Mendocino Bourbon Group listens raptly as Jack Crispin Cain talks about the past, present and future of his American Craft Whiskey Distillery during a barrel room visit. (John Cesano)

The barrel room is well packed with future spirits, and there are plans to increase the size of the barrel room 400 to 500 percent. “More stills, more barrels, more cases,” promised Crispin.

My favorite tastes of the day were the 2011 Bavarian Wheat and the Rye Whiskeys. When the store opened up, I bought a bottle of the Russell Henry barrel aged dark Gin – which I haven’t yet tasted, and a bottle of Crispin’s Rose Liqueur– which I have, often.

The new Ukiah restaurant Ritual features several of Crispin’s spirits on their cocktail menu, so tasting his whiskeys, vodkas, gins, and (later this year) his bourbon is as easy as finding parking downtown. I would recommend sampling his spirits straight, before allowing them to be blended with other ingredients for a cocktail, to appreciate how clean the spirits are. Handcrafted, artisanal, attention to the minutest detail, beverages; each has clean discernable aroma and flavor notes typically lacking in larger mass-produced alcohol endeavors. With an appreciation for how great the spirits are, your cocktails will be ever so much yummier.

Crispin and Tamar will also be pouring their line up Father’s Day weekend, and serving up homemade ice cream flavored with Crispin’s Absinthe, and early bird $30 tickets to visit and taste at American Craft Whiskey Distillery, Germain-Robin Brandy (it is Cognac in all but where it is made) Distillery, Barra of Mendocino, Girasole Vineyards, Testa Vineyards, Graziano Family of Wines, Frey Vineyards, Silversmith Vineyards, Brown Family Vineyards, Giuseppe Wines, and Neese Vineyards are available online through http://www.ATasteOfRedwoodValley.com – there will also be a winemaker dinner at Barra of Mendocino on Friday, June 19 with all of Redwood Valley’s wine and spirits producers, including Crispin and Tamar’s American Craft Whiskey Distillery, pouring at the evening event.

I came to work earlier this week to find a message from a wine club member:

“Given the morning news and arsenic in wine, could you report out on that? I would assume that organic grapes would yield healthier wines. But the morning news does make one curious. -JeanineA quick Google search of “Arsenic and Wine” led me to this: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/lawsuit-claims-high-levels-arsenic-found-some-california-made-wines/In the report, out of over 1,300 wines tested, higher levels of Arsenic than allowed in California’s water showed up in about a quarter of the wines, with cheaper (less expensive) wines disproportionately being those testing highest for Arsenic.Alder Yarrow posted a piece on Vinography today, and in it he noted that Arsenic is naturally occurring in soils, and that water contains Arsenic, and that bentonite, a clay sometimes used for fining, may likely contain Arsenic. Yarrow, also correctly pointed out that this story may be much ado about nothing, or unnecessary scaremongering, or a horribly self-serving manufactured ‘crisis.’

The folks doing the testing also filed a class action suit and may materially benefit from their findings.

Yarrow also correctly stated that water consumption is (hopefully) much greater than wine consumption, and that even taking the test results at face value, the results mean very little, with negligible – or no – real health risk posed to consumers.

Yarrow also shared that apple juice contains far higher level of Arsenic than wine or water, with no genuine concerns raised.

A commenter to Yarrow’s post also suggested that the correlation between cheap wine and higher tested levels of Arsenic may owe to second and third pressings of grape skins and seeds, in an effort to squeeze every last drop of juice, leading to the higher Arsenic concentrations; and pointed to a similar ‘get it all’ link between apple juice production and high levels of Arsenic in that juice.

Pan Strayer also weighed in with a post on Organic Wines Uncorked. Strayer provided a link to a list of the 78 wines with the highest concentrations of Arsenic.

The list, from the original story’s souce, is located on a site called TaintedWine.com, whose very name suggests an axe to grind. That said, as Strayer correctly points out in her excellent post, NONE of the wines listed was grown certified organically or certified biodynamically.

Strayer also provides a list of inexpensive wines grown organically in her piece today.

Some things to consider:
Arsenic is found in many inorganic fertilzers. Arsenic is also used as an pesticide. Organic herbicides may not contain Arsenic.

It seems possible, to me, that it may be the use, or overuse, of these Arsenic laden chemical processes in conventional agriculture, and run off of those chemicals, that leads to measurable concentrations of Arsenic in stream, river, and lake water; as much or more than a leaching of heavy metals from the soil.

As Mendocino County has the highest concentration of organic and biodynamic grape growers in America, I am pleased that none of the listed offenders was organic. That said, bentonite can be used in organically grown wines, and water polluted by conventional commercial agribusinesses is used by everyone, conventional and organic growers alike, in frost mitigation and irrigation.

It is likely that ALL wine contains trace amounts of Arsenic, but is also likely that the levels are lower in wines made from organically and biodynamically grown grapes.

Even so, there really seems to be very little cause for concern in the reports, it sounds horrible which plays great on television, but is of likely little real health consequence.

If the spectre of danger from Arsenic in wine concerns you, I would suggest that organically or biodynmically grown wines might be the way to go for you.

To be clear, I am neither a doctor nor scientist, and have never played one on TV; and every time I leave the realm of fact, I am involved in conjecture. Educated, informed conjecture; but conjecture, nonetheless.

I’ll come back to add any info of significance, should it become available, but for now I think we can turn the page on this story.

EDITED TO ADD:
Thanks to winemaker Mark Beaman for correcting my spelling of bentonite. I would love to blame autocorrect for the misspelling, but the mistake was surely all mine.

Thanks to Di Davis, who shared the observations of her husband Will, who IS a scientist, and points out that Arsenic is everywhere and in everything, and the real focus should not be on concentrations but on dosage. What dose of Arsenic are you incurring from drinking cheap wine with a higher concentration of Arsenic than is allowed for California’s water? Likely a lot lower than merits your concern or fear.

A look back through the list of the wines with the highest concentrations of Arsenic had me thinking that it wasn’t the Arsenic that would have me avoiding them, but that many of them suck.

In addition to any material gain that may come from the lawsuit filed, the testing company is holding itself out as a solution for the spurious problem they have promoted, offering their testing services to the very wine brands they are suing, it has been reported.

At least one winery has tried to seek benefit from this story, posting on Facebook that their wine has “No Arsenic” which likely violates at least two laws, the first against false advertising and the second against the health claim prohibition all wineries are required to follow.

Jeriko Estate is on Highway 101 just one mile north of Hopland. (John Cesano)

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John On Wine – Spotlight winery: Jeriko Estate

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper

In the year 2000, when I worked for the largest publisher of wine books and distributor of wine accessories in the industry, and visited wineries and winery tasting rooms in 42 California counties, I first visited Jeriko Estate on Highway 101 just one mile north of Hopland and I was impressed by the large, gorgeous, Tuscan styled stunner of a property.

I have visited Jeriko Estate many times in the intervening 15 years, most recently to taste through all of the wines with tasting room manager Adam Spencer, on a spectacular summer-like day offered up a full month before the first day of spring.

The estate vineyards and tasting room grounds were breathtakingly beautiful, blue skies painted with wispy white stratus clouds, colorful cover crops of green favas and yellow mustard growing between rows of perfectly pruned vines, gnarled old olive trees, purple flags moving in the light breeze, immaculately trimmed lawns separated by raked crushed stone earthen pathways, the sound of water dripping from a fountain into a circular pool, birds chirping, the red tile roofed and pale sienna colored building, a large patio available for a picnic with a glass or two of wine; Jeriko Estate exists to engage the senses.

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The Jeriko Estate fountain and vineyard. (John Cesano)

 

The tasting room is large, with a bar and comfortable backed stools, cushy couches, high tables with stools, fireplace, large screen television for sporting events, an enormous glass wall offering a view of the barrel room, and a stone floor laid by owner Danny Fetzer. Adam shared that Danny also did the welding for the glass wall that separates the tasting and barrel rooms.

I took a seat at the bar, pulled out my notebook, and tasted through all of the current releases with Adam, dressed comfortably in the manner of all of the Hopland area male tasting room managers — I met Adam at an event last fall where we wore identical uniforms for pouring; untucked plaid shirt over cargo shorts with tennis shoes and a ball cap.

•2012 Jeriko Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Musque Clone, Mendocino, Made with Biodynamic Grapes, $28 — nose of white peach, pear, apricot, grass, mint and melon lead to flavors of pear, citrusy grapefruit and a touch of herb.

Danny is a biodynamic farmer, growing organically and bio-diversely, in a land friendly fashion. I prefer organic and biodynamic wines, wine quality being equal, over conventionally grown wines with Monsanto Round Up and other poisons involved.

•2012 Jeriko Estate Chardonnay, Upper Russian River, Mendocino, $25 — nose of cream, light oak, and clove spice give way to a mouth of apple and tropical fruit, lemon zest, and shows light, bright, lively acid.

•2013 Jeriko Estate Chardonnay, Anima Mundi, Mendocino, $30 — Clear light oak, lush bright green apple hard candy, with crisp acidity. Anima Mundi translates “soul of the earth” and will replace both Dijon clone and Pommard clone on Jeriko’s labels, due to a French protest of the use of the names Dijon and Pommard on American wine labels, explained Adam — a ridiculous protest as the reference had been to a particular vine and not the wine’s place of origin.

•2013 Jeriko Estate Pinot Noir Rose, Upper Russian River, $20 — strawberry, rose petal, light dried herb blend; delicate, direct, delightful.

•2012 Jeriko Estate Pinot Noir, Upper Russian River, Mendocino, $30 — Brambly briar, rose petal, and cherry.

•2012 Jeriko Estate Pinot Noir, Anima Mundi, Mendocino, $40 — primarily Pommard clone with a little Dijon clone. Bright candied cherry, cocoa. Lush, layered. love it.

•2011 Jeriko Estate Pinot Noir, Pommard Clone, Mendocino, $64 — Really lovely. Light tight tannin, deep layered, multi noted, great mouth feel, warm cherry, dusty cocoa, currant, light spice, integrated, with a long lingering fruit finish.

•2012 Jeriko Estate Sangiovese, Anima Mundi, Mendocino, $32 — chocolate covered cherry and blackberry. The perfect wine to end this tasting on, and absolute ‘must taste,’ a perfect wine, showing great balance between fruit and acid.

The best way to find out more about Jeriko Estate is to bring a picnic lunch, belly up to the bar for a wine tasting, and buy a glass or bottle of your favorite wine and enjoy it at an outside table with a vineyard view; alternately, you can visit http://www.jerikoestate.com or call (707) 744-1140 for more information.
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Coro Dinner at Crush in Ukiah

On Wednesday, March 18 — that’s next Wednesday, the winemakers of the 2011 vintage of Coro Mendocino, the county’s flagship wine, a red blend leaning heavily on Zinfandel, will pour their wines at a Chef’s Wine Dinner prepared by Chef Jesse Elhardt at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah.

Producers of 2011 vintage Coro Mendocino wines include Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Clos du Bois Winery, Fetzer Vineyards, Golden Vineyards, McFadden Farm & Vineyard, Parducci Wine Cellars, and Testa Vineyards.

I have written with great enthusiasm about previous Chef’s Winemaker Dinners at Crush, there may be no better way to taste local wines than with great local foods, surrounded by friends, new and old, at a family style sumptuous feast prepared by Crush.

For more information, or to reserve your seats, contact Crush directly at (707) 463-0700.

ADDED FOR ONLINE VERSION: I have to thank Kevin Kostoff, manager of Crush in Ukiah, who could not have been more gracious in securing a seat for me at next Wednesday’s dinner.

My son Charlie will be turning 18 next Wednesday, his birthday the same day as the Crush Coro Dinner, and I chose my son over continuing my unbroken string of Chef’s Wine Dinners.

Kevin reached out to me as tickets were selling quickly, and asked if I would be attending, letting me know he was holding my spot, assuming correctly that I would want to attend.

While I wanted to attend, I let him know about the conflict and that I couldn’t.

Has anyone else ever experienced the phenomenon where an older teen would rather spend time with friends than parents? Yeah, me too. Told of a birthday party being put together by his friends, I headed to Crush only to find the dinner was sold out, but was offered the first spot on the wait list.

Within two days, Kevin let me know – incredibly kindly – that there is always a spot for me. I went in and and paid for my ticket right away.

While there, I saw Chef Jesse, and he gave me an advance copy of the menu – which looks great!

I wrote this piece weeks ago, and although it ran in today’s paper, tickets are pretty much sold out now. Still, call and ask, because cancellations happen, and getting on the wait list and crossing your fingers is a good idea.

The other thing I’ll note: the folks at Crush did an amazing job for McFadden when they featured our wines in January during the county’s Crab, Wine & Beer Fest, but this will be so much more enjoyable because there is no real work aspect for this dinner; I just get to show up and enjoy great food and wine with friends.

Thank you to everyone at Crush for being so terrific. Cheers!

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John Cesano of John on Wine

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John On Wine: Spotlight winery – Knez Winery

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, March 5, 2015

ABC television’s ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ taught us that, “three is a magic number.” Knez Winery has the magic three going on three ways.

Three vineyards: Demuth Vineyard, Cerise Vineyard, and Knez Vineyard, all organic and farmed following biodynamic practices.

Three wine grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay.

Three wine shepherds: vineyard manager Ryan McAllister, winemaker Anthony Filiberti and tasting room manager Margaret Pedroni.

To have a glass in hand, swirling free some heady rich aromas, to sip and taste the many layered depth, to experience all that is wonderful about the wines of Knez Winery in the Anderson Valley, you have to visit their beautiful, stylish, tasting room in the Madrones, an upscale collection of winery tasting rooms, restaurant and inn, on Highway 128 in Anderson Valley’s town of Philo.

Knez Tasting Room on Hwy 128 in Philo

Knez Tasting Room on Hwy 128 in Philo

My friend Margaret runs the Knez Vineyard tasting room, and visiting with her last month, and with Jennie Stevens on a previous visit, I tasted through all of the current releases at Knez.

Straight up: Damn, these are some seriously good wines. I am so happy for Margaret that each day at work involves pouring wines that she can be proud of, thrilled to pour and excited to share the story of.

Of course, each wine Margaret pours starts as grapes grown by Ryan on one of the three vineyards, and then is made into a stunning wine by Anthony, before Margaret decides it has matured enough to be poured. Thoughtful decisions naturally arrived at, by skilled managers, make each taste a special moment to experience and savor.

The Demuth Vineyard is 15 acres planted 30 years ago by the Demuth family at 1,400 to 1,700 feet elevation, and dry farmed. There are two blocks of Pinot Noir, planted to Wadenswil and Pommard clones, totaling seven acres, and Chardonnay, planted to old Wente clone, totaling eight acres.

The 2013 Knez Winery Chardonnay, Demuth Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $39, saw a little malolactic, part of it saw new oak, some used oak, and some was held in stainless steel. The result is a multi-noted wine with nuance and complexity; delicate white peach, cream custard, pineapple, citrus. 93 Points from Antonio Galloni.

The 2012 Knez Winery Pinot Noir, Demuth Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $47, shows rose petal, violet, herb, spice, cedar, oak, brambly persimmon, candied cherry, and orange peel. 93 Points from Antonio Galloni.

The Cerise Vineyard was planted in 1995, and grows 10 different clones of Pinot Noir in 15 blocks on 38 acres planted on sloping shallow at 700 to 1,100 feet elevation.

2011 Knez Winery Pinot Noir, Cerise Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $47, was plummy, with sherry pungency, and a steamed artichoke heart earthy vegetal component, supporting the fruit, in a tight band of many flavors. 93 Points from Antonio Galloni.

2011 Knez Pinot Noir, Cerise

2011 Knez Pinot Noir, Cerise

The 2012 Knez Winery Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $34, takes grapes from both vineyards, about two-thirds Cerise and one-third Demuth. One taste and you can hear angels sing! Dark black cherry, balancing green tea and lush fruit, smooth but evident tannins, together provide mouthfeel and promise age worthiness. This wine is an iron fist in a leather glove. 90 Points from Antonio Galloni.

2012 Knez Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley

2012 Knez Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley

The Knez Vineyard is six acres, was planted in 2009, and connects Demuth to Cerise, at 1,200 to 1,600 feet elevation. Four acres of Pinot Noir are planted above two one-acre block, the first planted to Syrah and Viognier and the second planted to Pinot Gris, Friulano and Malvasia.

The 2013 Knez Winery Syrah, Knez Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $39, shows big meaty animal fruit, with white pepper and floral notes. This Syrah has remarkable intensity, like a tightly wound spring, and shows surprising minerality considering the youthfulness of the vineyard. Bright, tight tannins. Will cellar well. 95 Points from Antonio Galloni.

Winemaker Anthony Filiburti has crafted some real gems for Knez Winery.

Antonio Galloni was noted wine critic Robert Parker’s man for California wine reviews in the Wine Advocate, before striking out on his own, then buying Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar review guide, and creating his own subscription wine review platform, Vinous. The consistently high scores for these wines from Galloni are merited, and validate the program at Knez Winery.

Knez has also found their way onto San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonne’s current (and previous) ‘Top 100 Wines of the Year’ list.

Do yourself a huge favor, visit Margaret at her tasting room, Thursday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at The Madrones, 9000 Highway 128, Philo CA 95466, or call (707) 895-3365 for information about joining a wine club.

WHISKEY, WHISKEY, WHISKEY

My favorite distillery, the American Craft Whiskey Distillery, will host their first Grand Whiskey Tasting event this Saturday, March 7, 2015, 1 p.m. at the distillery in Redwood Valley.

Jack Crispin Cain tasted through his array of liquid treats with me for a previous piece.

Jack Crispin Cain tasted through his array of liquid treats with me for a previous piece.

Distiller extraordinaire Jack Crispin Cain will pour a variety of Low Gap treats, including the 2-year-old Malted Wheat whiskey, Corn Barley Blended whiskey, Malted Rye Whiskey, barrel tastings of the Bourbon to be released October 2015, and more.

Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman’s Facebook group, Mendocino Bourbon Group, has grabbed up all of the spots. Happily, I am in the group, am pleased to purchase a ticket, and I’ll be attending with notebook so I can recap the event here in a future post.

The next chance for the general public to taste and purchase many of the whiskeys directly will be during A Taste of Redwood Valley, on Father’s Day weekend, Saturday, June 20 and Sunday, June 21, 2015.

Easier might be stepping up to the bar at Ukiah’s newest restaurant, Ritual, where Low Gap Whiskey is served.

One of the genuine perquisites of writing a wine column is receiving invitations to organized wine tasting events. Today, I’m going to recap my last four weekends of wine tastings.

Barrel Tasting 101 in Hopland coincided with the last weekend of the Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest and featured winery tasting rooms along Highway 101 from Hopland to Calpella and Ukiah to Redwood Valley pouring barrel samples of wines not yet bottled, providing an opportunity to taste the future, and purchase futures of these wines, while offering up delicious food pairing treats created around Dungeness crab.

Barrel Tasting 101, BARRA of Mendocino (Photo by John Cesano)

This was a joyful weekend for me, as I was able to visit all of my neighbors, and taste many delicious crab treats, as well as get a glimpse of what is coming wine-wise in the future.

Best food spread goes to the team at Testa, with terrific tastes at Barra, Simaine, Seebass, Milano, Cesar Toxqui, and Terra Savia, as well.

This was the second annual Barrel Tasting 101, a great addition to the two Passport events put on by Destination Hopland each year, and saw attendance triple over the previous inaugural event. There will certainly be a third annual Barrel Tasting 101 event in January next year.

Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, ZAP, made San Francisco the epicenter of Zinfandel love, with their multi-day Zinfandel Experience. On Wednesday, I attended Epicuria, a food and wine pairing tasting, featuring over 30 top Zinfandel producers, each sharing a table with chefs from bay area kitchens.

On Thursday, I attended Flights, a seated tasting of three flights of five wines each, moderated by Joel Peterson, featuring winemakers from three distinctly different growing areas in California, Contra Costa County, Amador County, and the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County.

On Saturday, I attended The Tasting, with over 100 producers pouring their Zinfandel, and the folks from the SOMM Journal leading panel workshops exploring lesser known Zinfandel growing areas of California. These workshops included a look at Lake and Mendocino County by Sommelier Chris Sawyer and featuring Lake County’s Jelly Jar Wine Zinfandel and Mendocino County’s Rich Parducci pouring two McNab Ridge Winery Zinfandels. I wrote a piece, running over 4,400 words, with pictures, that you can find archived on johnonwine.com about my three days in Zin-bliss.

Zinfandel Experience, Rich Parducci and Chris Sawyer (Photo by John Cesano)

The 10th annual International Alsace Varietals Festival in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley was held right in the middle of the deluge that saw 3-11” of rain fall, depending on where you were in the county, in just a week. Bacchus, the God of wine, smiled and provided a window of warm weather and sun for the festival.

The main grape varieties of Alsace include Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Gris, with (unoaked) Pinot Noir, Sylvaner, and Muscat also represented.

At 8:30 a.m., the Alsace Fest kicked off with educational sessions, with Glenn McGourty moderating the sessions, including panel tastings of white wines featuring different periods of skin contact and examples of winemaking protocols at Campovida by winemaker Sebastian Donoso; an exploration of single vineyard Pinot Blanc by sommelier Chris Sawyer (this guy is everywhere!) with Randy Schock of Handley Cellars, Jason McConnell of Rivino, and James Wasson of Rein each pouring wine made from Shrader Ranch Pinot Blanc grapes; Christie Dufault leading a food and wine pairing featuring food prepared by her Culinary Institute of America at Greystone team and four very different, but delicious Gewurztraminer from Brooks, Navarro Vineyards, Pierre Sparr, and Husch; Thomas Schlumberger’s tasting of eight Grand Cru wines from his Domaines Schlumberger estate in Alsace, France; and a steelhead trout on cauliflower puree cooking demonstration by Francois de Melogue.

After the educational sessions came the big public tasting, with Alsace variety wines from around the world, but concentrated heavily on the Anderson Valley and Alsace, France.

Thomas Schlumberger poured three additional Grand Cru wines from his Alsace estate, originally planted in 1810; the 11 wines Schlumberger poured that day were the best 11 wines I tasted that day, were revelatory for me, and set a new high bar for tasting of Alsace varietal wines that I will measure all other tastes against.

Another huge treat for me was talking with Master Sommelier Ian Cauble, who I recognized from the movie SOMM — find it on Netflix and watch it — who was pouring at the Wines of Alsace USA table.

I did taste our local Alsace variety wines too, and enjoyed offerings from Handley, Graziano, Navarro, and Lichen very much.

Too many associate these Alsace variety wines with sickly, cloyingly sweet, wines; but the wines I tasted on this Saturday were uniformly drier and more concentrated in depth and character, multi-noted, layered wines, that I will reach for again and again this summer.

Lastly, on Valentine’s Day Saturday, I attended the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition’s public tasting of Gold, Double Gold, and Best of Show awarded wines from January’s competition.

Rather than treat the day, and the tasting, like a press opportunity, I decided to just relax and have fun. Juanita Plaza works with me at McFadden’s tasting room in Hopland, and neither of us had a Valentine, so we decided to go together for a San Francisco getaway, built around the wine tasting and an Italian dinner in North Beach.

The weather was unbeatable, blue sky and warm sun, and the tasting was a treat. We tasted several terrific wines, and even a beer and a cidre (really, that’s how they spell it) from Stella Artois. It was nice to see our friends from Campovida, Rivino, Handley, and Simaine pouring.

Dinner didn’t work out. My brother Tom, by fortuitous coincidence, pulled into town across the bay and arranged great tickets and working passes for the Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull concert that evening at Oracle Arena in Oakland, and we had a blast, up and dancing for most of the show. Thanks Tom, we really appreciated you hooking us up, sorry you were working and we didn’t get to see you. Thanks Juanita for joining me for a fun weekend getaway.

That’s it, four weekends of wine tastings. I have to give thanks to Destination Hopland, Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, and the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for comp tickets. I write about events, encourage you to get out there and attend some, and I’ll continue to do so. I attend as many events as I can, because I consider it continuing education, it helps to taste broadly and refine or renew perceptions about wines and wineries, and sometimes it can just be a great getaway.

I hope to see you at future wine events…like the Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines at Terra Savia in Hopland on April 11, the Passport to Dry Creek Valley on April 25 and 26, or Hopland Passport on May 2 and 3.

John on Wine: Carmenère is the Slash of winegrapes


Carmenère tasted for this piece…thanks!

Guns N’ Roses was the biggest draw in rock music in the 80’s and early 90’s, owing largely to the talent of the individual members of the band. After their last concert, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on July 17, 1993, Axl Rose continued to tour with new band members as Guns N’ Roses, but Slash has not performed with Axl since then. Slash, of course, has continued to play guitar, notably with Slash’s Snakepit and Velvet Revolver.

In Bordeaux, France, red wines are made from a handful of grape varieties, which historically included Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Pinot Verdot, and Carmenère. Like Slash, leaving Guns N’ Roses, Carmenère has largely left France, but has gone on to great things in South America, growing widely in Chile’s Central Valley.

Recently I was sent a review sample of the 2011 Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenère, to mark the 20th anniversary of the rediscovery of Carmenère in Carmen’s estate Vineyards in Chile. Thought to be extinct, the treasured grape was rediscovered on Nov. 24, 1994, and has helped to define Chile’s reputation around the world for distinctive wines.

While Carmenère is wildly popular in Chile, it is still relatively undiscovered in the United States.  Similar to Cabernet Sauvignon in structure, but with the soft roundness of a Merlot, Carmenère is often enjoyed at festive Chilean dinners with steak and other grilled meats.

As Chile’s oldest winery and the place of Carmenère’s rediscovery, Carmen has taken a leadership role within the Chilean wine industry in maximizing the varietal’s nuanced qualities through innovative winemaking techniques. Carmen winemaker Sebastián Labbé notes, “The structure and acidity of our Carmenère stands up to traditionally rich dishes and bold flavors.”

In the U.S., Carmen wines are part of the Trinchero Family Estates portfolio. 2011 Gran Reserva Carmenère is readily available at most shops across the country and retails for less than $20.

Closer to home, Mendocino County’s Yorkville Cellars in the Yorkville Highlands on Highway 128, grows Carmenère grapes and bottles it, as one of their complete line up of Bordeaux variety wines. The good folks at Yorkville Cellars, Deborah and Edward Wallo, and tasting room host extraordinaire Gary Krimont, delivered a bottle of their 2012 Yorkville Cellars Carmenère, Rennie Vineyard, made with organic grapes to me for this piece as well.

From Yorkville Cellars, a primer on Carmenère:

“Before the 19th century’s ravages of phylloxera, Carmenère was a very important grape in the Bordeaux region, especially in the Médoc. During the era of replanting, it was the odd grape out, as it did not take well to being grafted, so much of its former territory was replanted to Cabernet Sauvignon. Before that happened, vine cuttings had traveled across the ocean, as the South American vineyards were rapidly expanding in the 1850s.

Fast-forward to 1994 in Chile, where ampelographer Jean Michel Bourisiquot discovered the truth: Most of Chile’s Merlot vineyards were a mix of Merlot and Carmenère, and usually 60- to 90 percent Carmenère! For nearly 150 years Chilean viticulturists struggled with vineyards that had two distinct grapes interplanted, ones that often ripened three weeks apart! They had assumed that their clone, nicknamed ‘Chilean Merlot,’ was just a difficult grape to work with. Outside of Chile, Carmenère is nearly extinct, with a mere 59 bearing acres (out of nearly 500,000 acres) in California, for example.

Carmenère requires more heat to ripen than the other varietals planted in Bordeaux. It is still in the process of being examined using the tools of modern viticulture, but this much seems clear: It can produce outstanding grapes given eight to nine months of sun, but not too much daily heat, if it gets some rain, but not during ripening, and if the vines are well established in soils that have an even balance of clay, loam and sand. Whew! Oh, and it is particular about what rootstock it’s grafted to. Other than that, no problem!

Wines made from Carmenère show a depth of color, and complexity of flavor that can range from herbal to gamey and show elegance and balance. In the best conditions it is said to produce wines that resemble the blends of Bordeaux, all from a single grape. Lower acid and rounder fruit than Cabernet, more structured and exotic than Merlot, often showing hints of roses and smoky, even tarry notes.”

2011 Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenère, Apalta Vineyard — 94% Carmenere, 4% Carignane, 2 % Temranillo. Inky purple color. Berry, spice, earth, cherry, toast oak. Roand and drinkable. Nice acid.

2012 Yorkville Cellars Carmenère, Rennie Vineyard, $36 — 75% Carmenère, 25% Malbec. Inky dark purple black in the glass. Woody berry, floral, spice, earth, cranberry, vanilla cream. Lush and delicious, great finish.

Different wines to be sure, but both were marked by earthy spicy oaky berry fruit, and both cried for a flavorful zesty herbed meat dish.

Rumor is that Slash may rejoin Axl for a Guns N’ Roses reunion tour. Fact is that Carmenère has found two wonderful homes, in Chile and California, and is doing great away from Bordeaux.

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