2015 SFCWC Logo

For my 300th post to John on Wine, I find it fitting that I am posting a list of the medal winning wines, each proudly sporting a Mendocino County AVA on the label, recently earning honors at the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the largest judging of American wines in the world with 6,417 entries this year.

While you might be tempted to print this list and taste the top awarded, Best of Class and Double Gold, then Gold medal winning wines, there are several wines that took Bronze medals that are delicious enough that I have purchased them. What may drink like a Bronze on one day, may show Gold quality on another. Pretty much, just about every wine on this list merits a taste.

I have written for years about the quality of Mendocino County winegrapes, and the delicious wines they make. This list is filled with example after example of what I have written about, in newspaper column after newspaper column, and the additional posts that find their way online.

All of the Gold medal winning wines will be poured at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Public Tasting on Valentine’s Day, Saturday, February 14, 2015 from 1:30pm-5:00pm at the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason Center in san Francisco. Advance tickets are $65, and available online now. Tickets at the door are $80, but will probably be unavailable…get your tickets now.

2014 SFCWC Public Tasting Guinness some more

I’m posting this list while it is still news, although a version will also run in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, January 22, 2015, but may have the Bronze medal winners edited out due to space restrictions. Fortunately, online, no such restrictions exist.

Congratulations to all of the wineries, winemakers, and grape growers responsible for these excellent Mendocino County wines:

BEST OF CLASS
2013 Balo Vineyards Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley, $24.00; and
2013 Castello di Amorosa Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley, $39.00.

DOUBLE GOLD MEDAL
NV McFadden Farm Sparkling Cuvee Brut Rose, Potter Valley, $32.00;
2012 Seebass Family Wines Grand Reserve Chardonnay, Mendocino, $34.00;
2013 Angeline Winery Reserve Pinot Noir, Sonoma-Mendocino, $18.00;
2013 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir, Mendocino Ridge, $30.00;
2012 Campovida Pinot Noir, Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County, $45.00;
2012 Roadhouse Winery Platinum Label Pinot Noir, Weir Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, $79.00;
2010 Ledson Winery & Vineyards Estate Petite Sirah, Redwood Valley, $42.00; and
2012 Navarro Vineyards Mourvedre, Mendocino, $20.00.

GOLD MEDAL
2013 Bink Wines Randle Hill Sauvignon Blanc, Yorkville Highlands, $22.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Chardonnay, Mendocino, $19.00;
2012 Husch Vineyards Special Reserve Chardonnay, Mendocino, $26.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Premiere Reserve Chardonnay, Anderson Valley, $25.00;
2013 Seebass Family Wines Family Chardonnay, Mendocino, $30.00;
2012 Artevino Chardonnay, Maple Creek Estate, Yorkville Highlands, $36.00;
2013 V. Sattui Winery Riesling, Anderson Valley, $25.00;
2013 Rivino Winery Estate Viognier, Mendocino, $25.00;
2013 Handley Cellars Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley, $20.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley, $19.50;
2011 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $32.00;
2013 Paul Dolan Pinot Noir, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $30.00;
2012 Balo Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $45.00;
2012 Bink Wines Pinot Noir, Thomas Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $45.00;
2012 McNab Ridge Winery Zinfandel, B Var X Talmage, Mendocino County, $26.00;
2012 St. Anne’s Crossing, Zinfandel, Mendocino, $28.00;
2012 Trinitas Cellars Zinfandel, Mendocino, $28.00;
2011 Sanctuary Wines Zinfandel, Butler Ranch, Mendocino, $39.99;
2012 Graft Wines Conviction, Mendocino, $36.00;
2012 Bonterra Vineyards, Merlot, Mendocino County, $13.99;
2012 McNab Ridge Winery, Merlot, Mendocino County, $16.00;
2012 Seebass Family Wines Grand Reserve Merlot, Mendocino, $38.00;
2013 Kimmel Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Potter Valley, $13.99;
2013 Lucinda & Millie Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County, $14.99;
2012 Brutocao Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Hopland Contento Estate, $19.99;
2012 Urban Legend Cabernet Sauvignon, Gusto Vineyard, Mendocino, $34.00;
2012 Topel Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino, $38.00;
2012 Sunce Winery & Vineyard Alicante Bouschet, Dempel Vineyard, Mendocino County, $28.00; and
2013 Husch Vineyards Old Vines Heritage, Mendocino, $30.00.

SILVER MEDAL
NV McFadden Farm Sparkling Cuvee Brut, Potter Valley, Mendocino, $40.00;
2013 Yorkville Cellars Sparkling Malbec Brut Rose, Rennie Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, $36.00;
2013 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino, $18.00;
2013 McFadden Farm Sauvignon Blanc, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $16.00;
2013 Paul Dolan, Sauvignon Blanc, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $18.00;
2013 Campovida Reserva Campo di Stelle, Mendocino County, $36.00;
2013 Yorkville Cellars Eleanor of Aquitaine, Randle Hill Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, $28.00;
2013 Kimmel Vineyards Illuminate Chardonnay, Potter Valley, $9.99;
2013 Girasole Vineyards Estate Grown Chardonnay, Mendocino, $13.00;
2013 Toad Hollow Francines’s Selection Unoaked Chardonnay, Mendocino, $14.99;
2013 Brutocao Cellars Chardonnay, Hopland Estate, $17.00;
2013 McFadden Farm Chardonnay, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $16.00;
2013 Rivino Winery Estate Chardonnay, Mendocino, $22.00;
2013 Handley Cellars Estate Chardonnay, Anderson Valley, $25.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Estate Bottled Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley, $19.50;
2013 Handley Cellars Riesling, Anderson Valley, $22.00;
2013 V. Sattui Winery Dancing Egg Riesling, Anderson Valley, $24.00;
2013 Bonterra Vineyards, Viognier, Mendocino County, $12.99;
2013 Campovida Campo Dos Roble Viognier, Mendocino County, $34.00;
2013 McFadden Farm Pinot Gris, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $16.00;
2013 Philo Ridge Vineyards Pinot Gris, Nelson Ranch, Mendocino, $20.00;
2013 Campovida Rose di Grenache, Trails End Vineyard, Mendocino County, $34.00;
2012 Brutocao Cellars Estate Slow Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $28.00;
2012 Husch Vineyards Estate Bottled Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $25.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Methode a’l Anciene Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $29.00;
2010 Panthea Winery & Vineyard Siren Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $32.00;
2012 Calista Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $40.00;
2013 Castello di Amorosa Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $49.00;
2012 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, Hellava Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $42.00;
2012 Handley Cellars Reserve Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $42.00;
2011 Husch Vineyards Knoll Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $40.00;
2010 Nelson Hill Pinot Noir, Deep End Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $42.00;
2010 Panthea Winery & Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $42.00;
2013 V. Sattui Winery Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $42.00;
2010 Woodenhead Pinot Noir, Wiley Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $60.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Zinfandel, Mendocino, $19.50;
2013 The Organic Wine Works Zenful Zin Zinfandel, Mendocino, $14.95;
2012 Paul Dolan Zinfandel, Mendocino County, $25.00;
2012 Cesar Toxqui Cellars Split Rock Zinfandel, Mendocino, $30.00;
2011 Seebass Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel, Mendocino, $37.00;
2012 Campovida Primitivo, Dark Horse Vineyard, Mendocino County, $36.00;
2012 Wattle Creek Winery, Primitivo, Yorkville Highlands, $30.00;
2012 BARRA of Mendocino Estate Grown Sangiovese, Mendocino, $18.00;
2013 Sottomarino Winery Sangiovese, Mendocino County, $28.00;
2012 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Anna Mac Syrah, Mendocino, $19.99;
2009 Bink Wines Hawks Butte Syrah, Bink Estate Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, $30.00;
2012 Seebass Family Wines Grand Reserve Syrah, Mendocino, $38.00;
2011 Seebass Family Wines Syrah, Mendocino; $43.00;
2012 McNab Ridge Winery Petite Sirah, Mendocino County, $18.00;
2012 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Jon Vincent Grenache, Mendocino, $22.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Grenache, Mendocino, $27.00;
2012 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Estate Merlot, Mendocino Ridge, $27.00;
2011 Albertina Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Zmarzly Vineyards, Mendocino, $28.00;
2010 Rivino Winery Estate Cabernet Franc, Mendocino, $36.00;
2009 Terra Savia Meritage, Sanel Valley Vineyards, $22.00;
NV Bliss Family Vineyards Estate Blissful Red, Mendocino, $9.99;
2012 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Farmhouse Red, Mendocino, $14.99;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Navarrouge, Mendocino, $16.00;
2012 Post & Vine Old Vine Field Blend, Testa Vineyards, Mendocino, $28.00;
2011 Soda Rock Winery Entourage Red Blend, Mendocino County, $26.00;
2009 Bonterra Vineyards The McNabb, McNabb Ranch, Mendocino County, $49.99;
NV Cesar Toxqui Cellars Multiple Vintages Heirloom Cinco, Mendocino, $35.00;
2011 McFadden Farm Coro Mendocino  Mendocino, $37.00;
2012 Topel Estate Blend, Mendocino, $38.00;
2012 Stephen & Walker , Chardonnay Botrytis, Mendocino Ridge, $65.00; and
2013 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Elle Port, Mendocino, $35.00.

BRONZE MEDAL                                                        
2013 Bonterra Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino/Lake, $12.99;
2013 Husch Vineyards Renegade Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino, $18.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards, Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino, $18.00;
2013 Bliss Family Vineyards Chardonnay, Hopland Estate, $9.99;
2013 Bonterra Vineyards Chardonnay, Mendocino County, $12.99;
2013 Naughty Boy Vineyards Chardonnay, Thorton Ranch, Potter Valley, $14.00;
2013 Parducci Wine Cellars Small Lot Blend Chardonnay, Mendocino County, $13.00;
2012 Shooting Star Chardonnay, Mendocino County, $13.00;
2013 Husch Vineyards Estate Bottled Chardonnay, Mendocino, $15.00;
2013 Husch Vineyards Vine One Chardonnay, Anderson Valley, $18.00;
2013 Seebass Family Wines, Grand Reserve Chardonnay, Mendocino, $32.00;
2013 Jim Ball Vineyards Chardonnay; Mendocino Ridge, $35.00;
2012 Bonterra Vineyards Chardonnay, Blue Herron Vineyard, Mendocino County, $49.99;
2012 La Follette Wines Chardonnay, Manchester Ridge Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge, $47.99;
2013 Castello di Amorosa Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley, $25.00;
2013 Handley Cellars Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley, $20.00;
2013 McFadden Farm Gewurztraminer, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $16.00;
2013 Philo Ridge Vineyards Gewurztraminer, Ferrington Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $20.00;
2013 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Estate Riesling, Mendocino Ridge, $18.00;
2013 McFadden Farm Riesling, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $18.00;
2013 Route 128 Winery  , Viognier, Opatz Family Vineyards, Yorkville Cellars, $19.00;
2013 Philo Ridge Vineyards Viognier, Nelson Ranch, Mendocino, $20.00;
2013 Campovida Marsanne, Bonofiglio Vineyard, Mendocino County, $32.00;
2013 Via Cellars Tocai Friulano, Fox Hill Vineyard, Mendocino County, $25.00;
2013 Seebass Family Wines Fantasi Rose of Grenache, Mendocino, $16.00;
2013 Bonterra Vineyards Pinot Noir, Mendocino County, $13.99;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $19.50;
2012 Parducci Wine Cellars Small Lot Blend Pinot Noir, Mendocino, $14.00;
2011 Naughty Boy Vineyards Organic Grown Pinot Noir, Potter Valley, $23.00;
2010 Naughty Boy Vineyards Organic Grown Pinot Noir, Potter Valley, $23.00;
2013 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, $34.00;
2012 Balo Vineyards Suitcase 828 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $38.00;
2009 Harmonique The Noble One Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $39.00;
2009 Nelson Hill Pinot Noir, Deep End Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $36.00;
2011 Philo Ridge Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $36.00;
2012 Artevino Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $40.00;
2010 Panthea Winery & Vineyard Pinot Noir, Londer Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $42.00;
2011 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, RSM Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $52.00;
2010 Philo Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir, Marguerite Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $50.00;
2012 Bliss Family Vineyards Estate Zinfandel, Mendocino, $9.99;
2012 Bonterra Vineyards Zinfandel, Mendocino County, $13.99;
2011 Brutocao Cellars Zinfandel , Hopland Estate, $19.99;
2012 Carol Shelton Wines Old Vines Wild Thing Zinfandel, Mendocino County, $19.00;
2012 Weibel Family Vineyards & Winery Zinfandel, Mendocino County, $16.95;
2012 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Mae’s Block  Zinfandel, Mendocino, $24.00;
2012 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Etta’s Block Zinfandel, Mendocino, $22.00;
2013 Husch Vineyards Old Vines Zinfandel, Mendocino, $25.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel, Mendocino, $27.00;
2012 Philo Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel, Firebrick Vineyard, Mendocino, $26.00;
2012 Oak Cliff Cellars Zinfandel, Firebrick Hill, Redwood Valley, $35.00;
2012 Woodenhead Zinfandel, Mariah Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge, $46.00;
2011 Brutocao Cellars Primitivo, Hopland Contento Estate, $19.99;
2013 Sottomarino Winery Primitivo, Mendocino County, $32.00;
2011 Muscardini Cellars Barbera, Pauli Ranch, Mendocino County, $38.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Barbera, Mendocino, $27.00;
2011 Brutocao Cellars Quadriga, Hopland Estate, $19.99;
2012 Route 128 Winery  Syrah, Opatz Family Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, $24.00;
2012 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Estate Syrah, Mendocino Ridge, $27.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Syrah, Mendocino, $27.00;
2010 Simaine Cellars Syrah, Venturi Vineyards, Mendocino, $25.00;
2009 BARRA of Mendocino Estate Grown Petite Sirah, Mendocino, $22.00;
2012 Navarro Vineyards Petite Sirah, Mendocino, $27.00;
2010 Notarius Petite Sirah, Heart Arrow Ranch, Mendocino, $24.00;
2012 Parducci Wine Cellars True Grit Reserve Petite Sirah, Mendocino County, $29.00;
2012 Theopolis Vineyards Petite Sirah, Yorkville Highlands, $36.00;
2012 Graft Wines Grenache, Dark Horse Vineyard, Mendocino County, $32.00;
2012 Bliss Family Vineyards Estate Merlot $9.99;
2012 Brutocao Cellars Merlot, Hopland Bliss Estate, $19.99;
2011 Terra Savia Merlot , Sanel Valley Vineyards, Mendocino County, $15.00;
2012 Weibel Family Vineyards & Winery Merlot, Mendocino County, $16.95;
2009 Artevino Merlot, Maple Creek Estate, Yorkville Highlands, $40.00;
2013 Bliss Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Hopland Estate, $9.99;
2012 Bonterra Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino/Lake, $13.99;
2012 Husch Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino, $23.00;
2010 Terra Savia Cabernet Sauvignon, Sanel Valley Vineyards, Mendocino County, $22.00;
2012 Navarro Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino, $29.00;
2011 Paul Dolan Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County, $25.00;
2012 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino Ridge, $35.00;
2013 The Organic Wine Works Organic A’Notre Terre, Mendocino, $14.95;
2012 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Assemblage, Mendocino, $24.00;
2012 Yorkville Cellars HI-Roller Red, Mendocino, $19.00; and
2011 McFadden Farm Late Harvest Riesling, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $18.00.

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John On Wine – Nodding to Cliché

Originally published on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2014, in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper.

New Year’s Eve. Which cliché should I bow to? Should I write about sparkling wines to enjoy tonight? Should I offer up a list of New Year’s resolutions? Why choose? I’ll touch on both, and more, this week.

Graziano, Handley, McFadden, Nelson, Paul Dolan, Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger, Signal Ridge, Terra Savia, and Yorkville Cellars all poured bubblies at last year’s Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines.

Opening a bottle from any of these producers should be a cause for celebration, rather than a response to a celebration, as they are delightful sparkling wines and merit being opened and enjoyed on a more regular basis than only for special occasions.

I believe that it is better to open a bottle of sparkling wine to make an occasion special than to wait for a special occasion to open a bottle of sparkling wine. Make your days better; drink wine with meals, celebrate the ordinary, create your own extraordinary reality.

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I reviewed many of the county’s sparkling wines here: http://johnonwine.com/2014/04/10/a-mendo-bubbly-fest-recap/ and I would encourage you to read those reviews online, or simply visit a winery tasting room to taste bubblies for yourself.

Many of the county’s best sparkling wines are also available at the Ukiah Co-op.

Two small updates on the county’s sparkling wines since I wrote the reviews in April: Graziano’s 2010 Cuvee #10 Sparkling Brut was judged Best of Show at the 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition and McFadden’s NV Sparkling Cuvee Brut was judged Best of Show at the 2014 California State Fair Wine Competition. Conveniently, Graziano and McFadden are open daily for tasting, and have neighboring tasting rooms less than ten steps apart in downtown Hopland.

This year’s Mendo Bubbly Fest event will return to Terra Savia on Saturday, April 11, 2015; look to this column for more news, including where to get tickets, as the event nears.

Resolutions. Ugh. Does anyone really stick to these things?

Each year, I promise to get out and taste more wine, and farther afield, but work and home conspire to keep me from traveling far or often, at least as far or often as I would like.

I did make a couple of trips over the hill to visit the wineries of Hwy 128 here in Mendocino County, largely in response to invitations by the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association to their Pinot Noir Festival and Barrel Tasting Weekends. This year, I would like to return for those events, for the Alsace festival, and for visits to individual wineries for spotlight winery pieces. Let’s see how we do with that desire.

I’ve lost some weight, over a case of sparkling wine worth of weight, and I will lose more weight this year. This has meant more cooking at home, where I control the calories going into the food I consume. I resolve to continue to find wine friendly recipes that pack a ton of flavor into as few calories as possible.

When I attended the mushroom dinners at Crush Italian Steakhouse and Barra of Mendocino last month during the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest, I was dieting. I will continue to attend the best wine dinners that I am invited to, and write them up here for you, this year. Not diet friendly, I’ve learned a little portion control, so these dinners are both deliciously wonderful and not disastrously destructive to my dietary goal of continued weight loss.

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For me, wine is food, one more dish among many in a larger meal, and makes that meal better. I often exhort or encourage you, my readers, to try a particular wine with food, because I believe that sublime wine and food pairings are the path to greater wine enjoyment (and consumption).

I also think that these special food and wine dinners are the best opportunity for you to get out and experience several wines and several dishes to find out for yourself what pairing is all about, and hopefully inspire you to do more at home for yourself, your friends, and your family.

That possibility means that I will try to attend a few extra wine dinners, and at more restaurants, in 2015.

Anyway, I would like you to make a resolution for me, if you can. Please resolve to enjoy at least one more bottle of Mendocino County wine in 2015 than you did in 2014. Thanks and cheers!
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One more thing: Thank you to the many people who donated new unwrapped toys or cash – which I bought more toys with – in support of the Toys For Tots efforts at McFadden. After a storm impacted kick off, you stepped up and brought more toys than we had previously collected. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
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Edited to add for online archived version of column:

On New Year’s Eve, I joined Leo Laporte, Mike Elgan, and Tonya Hall in Petaluma at TWiT.tv’s Brick House for an online streaming 24 hour charity fundraiser for UNICEF, and I poured some sparkling wines and mentioned both JohnOnWine.com and McFaddenFarm.com during the segment.

Most people watching do not then go to a website when it is mentioned, so the numbers watching must be incredible, because within an hour I had 800 folks visit here and 32 orders for sparkling wine were placed through McFaddenFarm.com or Amazon.com.

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I had a great time, and was even segment-crashed by Marilyn Monroe, so the event was a touch disjointed but fun nonetheless.

Here’s a link to view an archived copy of the segment: http://youtu.be/VG9nhLiTT30?t=11m55s

Enjoy!

Ingredients:

16 ounces Strawberries
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/8 cup honey
5 medium size fresh basil leaves
1/8 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Directions:

Blend ingredients until liquified.

Mix 2 parts sparkling wine to 1 part strawberry blend and stir.

More exciting than orange juice, more delicious than anything else you are likely to drink New Year’s Day morning, or any morning really.

I will be blending with McFadden Sparkling Brut Rose, available online at McFaddenFarm.com

Cheers!

Tune in, using your computer, tablet, or phone to live.twit.tv today, New Year’s Eve, at 6 pm, when I join The Tech Guy Leo Laporte and news director and anchor of The Tech Show Mike Elgan for a New Year’s Eve chat about sparkling wine and champagne.

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John On Wine – The Spirits of Christmas

This piece was originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2014

If Santa needed any additional Christmas cheer this Christmas Eve, he would have to look no farther than Redwood Valley.

Here in Mendocino County’s Redwood Valley, Jack Crispin Cain is distilling some of the best spirits I have ever tasted, with his wife and partner Tamar Kaye. and sons, Devin Cain and Crispin D. Cain, under a variety of names for their various products; Greenway Distillers, American Craft Whiskey Distillers, and Tamar Distillery.

Founders of Greenway Distillery, Crispin Cain and Tamar Kaye. (Photo courtesy of Greenway Distillery)

Founders of Greenway Distillery, Crispin Cain and Tamar Kaye. (Photo courtesy of Greenway Distillery)

F. Paul Pacult’s Spirits Journal Magazine came out with their “Top 75 5-Star Spirits” list, and Jack Crispin Cain’s Absinthe made the list.

Earlier this year, in Emma Janzen’s piece for Serious Eats, 10 Absinthes You Should Be Drinking, Janzen wrote, “Some scholars say absinthe made with a wine or grape base will taste naturally superior to those made with neutral grains or beets, and … Germain-Robin Absinthe Superieure from Greenway Distillers ($50 for 375 mL) makes a strong case for the argument.

The producers start by making a house wine from honey and apples from an old family recipe, which they then distill into the base for the blanche absinthe. Botanical-wise, they replaced many of the usual woody and earthy herbs with “sweet, friendly flavors” like lavender, lemon verbena, and lemon balm. The final results are outside the box in the best of ways; heavy pear brandy aromas introduce the flavor, which ends up tasting effortlessly light-bodied. An opening of subtle wood and tobacco shift into a breezy, bright smack of mint at mid-palate, then cools off into a clean, fresh finish.”

St. John Frizel wrote up the Low Gap Wheat Whiskey that Crispin crafts at his American Craft Whiskey Distillery for Men’s Journal magazine, describing the flavors as smooth and round, having been crafted using cognac pot stills.

In a tasting of spirits at the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America gathering this year, Double Gold medals were awarded to both Crispin’s Russell Henry London Dry Gin and his DSP CA 162 Straight Vodka.

My friend Margaret Pedroni described Crispin’s Rose Liqueur best, “sex in a glass.” The floral rose aromas and flavors are rich yet lively.

This summer, I enjoyed both the best martinis and the best gin and tonics made with Russell Henry Gin. An exciting new addition to the line-up is Russell Henry Dark Gin, a barrel aged gin that spent its time in two new bourbon barrels and a 350 liter Cognac barrel.

Whiskey, whiskey, whiskey. Low Gap 100 Proof Bavarian Wheat Whiskey, Low Gap Single Barrel #1, and Low Gap Malted Rye (Clear) Whiskey. Knocking back a shot of this would be such a waste, when sipping and savoring each delicious drop of liquid is called for.

Crispin started with DSP CA 162 “Straight” Vodka and it is perfect. Then, when it seemed the last thing the world needed was another flavored vodka, he offered up DSP CA 162 Vodka Citrus Reticulata var. Sunshine (tangerines and tangelos), DSP CA 162 Vodka Citrus Medica var. Sarcodactylis (Buddha’s-hand citrons), and DSP CA 162 Vodka Citrus Hystrix (Malaysian limes and their leaves), and, lo and behold, it turns out that the world is a better place for these three gorgeous flavored vodkas.

Each of Crispin’s spirited offerings is like candy; clean, specific, clear, flavor notes. There is a joy, a delightful happiness, that cuts through the mundane and ordinary, and makes you be still, appreciating the extraordinary brilliance of the art of distillation done spectacularly.

Germain-Robin Brandy is at the heart of Crispin’s spirit distillations. I first tasted Germain-Robin Brandy, which is really a cognac, but has to be called brandy as it is made in Mendocino county and not Cognac, France, in a head to head to head blind taste off with Hennessy XO and Courvoisier XO back in 1997 or so, and was blown away by how much better the Germain-Robin was at $100 than a pair of famous $200 Cognacs.

Hubert Germain-Robin and Ansley Coale started Germain-Robin, crafted and sold several brandies, including their top of the line XO, and were quickly heralded as one of the top cognac producers in the world by several publications. Today, in addition to cognac styled brandy, Germain-Robin produces Grappa, an apple brandy reminiscent of a Calvados, an eau de vie-esque brandy of pears, and a solera blending of infusions and exotica called Crème de Poette.

Crispin worked with Germain-Robin’s brandy makers and benefited from their knowledge. Today, co-located with the Germain-Robin brandy distillery, Crispin has access to the finest cognac pot stills and other craft method tools and takes advantage of the opportunity to use them. The result is sublime.

To purchase the best cognac quality brandy, whiskey, vodka, gin, absinthe, and assorted concoctions, visit the distilleries’ storeroom at 3001 S. State #35 in Ukiah, but be sure to call (707) 486-7899 for a reservation.

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, December 18, 2014 by John Cesano

John On Wine – Five Holiday Gifts for the Wine Lover in your Life

Buying Christmas gifts is fun, but sometimes it can be challenging. Here are some recommendations from a wine lover to you for any wine lovers on your gift list.

5. A book on Sake. Sake Confidential, a beyond-the-basics guide to understanding, tasting, selection & enjoyment, by John Gauntner. Available online at www.amazon.com/Sake-Confidential-Beyond-Basics-Understanding/dp/1611720141.

I know wine well, generally, but there are huge gaps in my knowledge. I am good with California wines, and obviously know Mendocino County wines well, but I do not know the over 3,000 wine grape varieties of Italy and I am nearly as ignorant about Sake.

Sake is really more like beer than wine, brewed and fermented rice alcohol. I have a friend, Fred Albrecht, who dines out often, and loves Japanese food. Fred is Sake knowledgeable. When out together, Fred orders Sake for both of us or, where wine is the better choice, he usually seeks my input.

John Gauntner’s book on Sake is both informative and entertaining, approachable and useful. No book will turn anyone into an expert, but armed with knowledge of Junmai, Namazake, Ginjo, Nigori and more, the real fun begins: slightly educated tasting leading to experience based learning and genuine knowledge. I own and love this book.

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4. A wine preserver. Savino Wine Preservation Carafe. Available online at www.savinowine.com. I have written about a variety of wine preservation tools. The idea of wine preservation is that rather than have deterioration between glasses because of oxidation after a bottle is opened, the wine can be protected and used the next day, or for a family who finish a bottle perhaps a second bottle may be opened and then protected rather than finished.

Vacuum pumps, using a valved stopper to suck air out of a bottle only create a pressure differential and not a real vacuum – harmful oxygen is still inside the bottle, and the pumping strips wine of aroma and flavor, and should be avoided.

Savino is a simple, elegant, attractive and effective wine preserver; a cylindrical carafe with a floating cap that rests upon the wine, blanketing it from harm at any remaining level. I own a Savino.

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3. A wine aerator. Zazzol is the one I use. Available online at www.zazzol.com. Some folks, rather than trying to maintain a wine between glasses, are more interested in hastening the ‘breathing’ a wine needs, so as to have the wine open more quickly, so the enjoyment can begin sooner. A wine aerator is a device that increases a wine’s exposure to air so it may be thus enjoyed. There are many aerators on the market, but I recommend Zazzol because I own a Zazzol, it works, and it comes attractively packaged.

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2. Wine. Available at winery tasting rooms up and down Hwy 101 inland and along Hwy 128 toward the coast, here in Mendocino County. Please, if you can, visit a winery tasting room and buy your wine gifts, or wine club gift memberships, direct. I have lots of wine, but have found that there is no such thing as owning too much wine.

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1. Tickets to a wine dinner. I have written about the wine pairing Chef’s Dinners at Crush Italian Steakhouse that featured the wines of Saracina, Barra/Girasole, Bonterra, Coro, Yorkville Cellars, and Cesar Toxqui Cellars. Each one was an amazing experience. The next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah will be the feature inland event of the 2015 Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Festival, and showcase the wines of McFadden Farm. The dinner will be Wednesday, January 21, 2015 at 6:00 pm, and tickets run just $75 for food, wine, tax, and tip. Tickets are available online at www.mcfaddenfarm.com/Crush-Winemaker-Dinner_p_102.html.

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Regular readers know that I have gone to every Chef’s Wine Dinner, and I am certainly going to this dinner as well. I love Dungeness crab, and Chef Jesse Elhardt’s menu will be crab-centric with our coast’s bounty featured in reception, first course, and second course dishes. The only course likely to miss the kiss of crab will be dessert.

McFadden, of course, produced the California State Fair Wine Competition’s Best of Show Sparkling Wine, so a McFadden bubbly will start the night off as the reception wine. The first course of food, three or four dishes served family style, will be accompanied by Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer. The second course, with another three or four dishes, will be accompanied by Pinot Gris and Old Vine Zinfandel. Dessert is individually plated and will be accompanied by Late Harvest Riesling. To be clear, that’s a twice Gold Medal winning bubbly, three 90 point Wine Enthusiast magazine rated whites, a 95 point Just Wine points rated red, and a three time Double Gold or higher awarded dessert wine. Oh yeah, and Chef Jesse’s crabtastic menu.

Even though I manage McFadden’s tasting room, all the ticket money goes to Crush Italian Steakhouse to buy fresh crab. We keep nothing, and I have to buy my own ticket…although Guinness will end up covering that one. There is no conflict of interest in this recommendation.

How good a gift do I think this is? I have bought five tickets; four to give to my regular crew at the tasting room for Christmas, and another for my evening’s date, Kim Smith – who used to write for this paper. This may be the best wine dinner I attend in 2015. Over half of the 70 available tickets are already sold, so do not delay. This is my number one recommendation as a gift for wine (or Dungeness crab) lovers.

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John On Wine – TOYS FOR TOTS Toy Drive at McFadden tomorrow, Friday, December 12 from 4-7pm

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on December 11, 2014

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It is December and the holidays are coming. Like my friend Chuck, the first person to invite me to a dinner of Jewish food, you may celebrate Hanukah, or like my friend Susan, a Jehovah’s Witness, you may not celebrate the holidays at all, but they are coming just the same.

My last name is Cesano, which is Italian, and it would be a pretty easy pair of guesses to come up with my being raised Catholic and celebrating Christmas.

I love Christmas. I love the decorations. I love the sentimental magic of the best Christmas movies, old and new: It’s a Wonderful Life to Elf and Miracle on 34th Street to The Polar Express, and I often find a tear or stream of tears rolling down my cheeks with the best as the wonderful magical Spirit of Christmas is captured.

As a child, I loved Christmas; the putting out cookies and milk for Santa and celery for his reindeer and, of course, the opening of packages on Christmas morning. Every child should know that joy.

I moved north to Ukiah to be closer to my son, leaving a salaried marketing position in the wine industry only to find that there was no such position waiting for me in this county. I was unemployed for two years before falling into my job as the manager at the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland. While unemployed, things got tighter and tighter financially, as I ran through savings and then survived by going into credit card debt. That last Christmas before starting work was pretty slim for my son.

As dire as my situation was, there are people who have things tougher, and some children do not get to experience the joy of Christmas. Given the opportunity, I decided to do something to help change that in some small measure.

I asked my boss, Guinness McFadden, in 2012 if I could use our tasting room to host a TOYS FOR TOTS event, giving away a bunch of his stuff to get people to bring toy donations; not a giant sales revenue producing event, but more a charitable event, and he gave me permission to do so.

That first year, KOZT mentioned our event many times each day and the Ukiah daily Journal gave it a nice push, and we ended up with a donation box overflowing with new unwrapped toy donations. Last year, I wrote about the event here in my column and we saw a doubling of donations. This year, I would love to double last year’s donations but, really, any number is helpful, welcome, and enormously appreciated.

Tomorrow, Friday, December 12, 2014, after work from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm, you are invited to the 3rd annual McFadden TOYS FOR TOTS Toy Drive and Wine Tasting event at our McFadden Farm Stand & tasting Room, located at 13275 South Highway 101 #5, Hopland, CA 95449.

Bring a new unwrapped toy donation and you’ll receive a drawing entry for an assortment basket (over $200 value) of assorted McFadden Farm retail goods, and raffle win or not everone with a donation will receive a box of McFadden Farm Wild Rice. There will also be a tasting of all our current release wines and we’ll offer up a food pairing taste of a McFadden Wild Rice stuffing. During the event, our California State Fair Wine Competition Best of Show awarded sparkling wine and our almost sold out Pinot Noir, both available only to our wine club members will – with a toy donation – be available to all during the event. We will also discount everything in the tasting room 20%, all wine, all food, all glassware, everything – and wine club members will get 25% off – during this special three hour event.

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We are thrilled to partner with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, even though I was Army and Guinness was Navy, in putting on our 3rd annual McFadden TOYS FOR TOTS Toy Drive and Wine Tasting event, and equally thrilled to bring all of the collected toys to the Hopland Volunteer Fire Department so the men can help Santa bring some very much needed Christmas cheer to some local boys and girls who need your help and charity.

I want to thank KOZT for the many mentions this year, and the Ukiah Daily Journal for allowing me to turn my wine column into a plea for your help once each year, but most of all I want to thank you in advance for the donations of unwrapped toys (or cash which I use to buy shopping carts full of toys with) that you will bring to McFadden tomorrow during our toy drive & wine tasting event, or after if you can’t make it tomorrow.

Everyone from every religion can get behind smiling Children so, wine drinker or not (yes, I’m looking at you, my Adventist neighbors), I hope to see you tomorrow, Friday December 12 between 4 and 7 pm, with a new unwrapped toy or cash (minimum $10 recommended) donation. Our raffle assortment basket has no wine in it, so there is no barrier to charity for anyone.

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Again, thanks in advance for your help bringing Christmas cheer into a needful child’s life, and I hope you can handle the feeling when your heart grows three sizes this holiday season.

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