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Here are the Mendocino County gold medal winning wines from the 2014 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge:

Husch, 2013 Anderson Valley Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley 96 points Gold Medal, and Best of Mendocino County, and Best of Show Dessert/Late Harvest
Handley, 2010 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, 98 points Gold Medal
Handley, 2013 Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley 96 points Gold Medal
Handley, 2012 Chardonnay Estate, Anderson Valley 95 points Gold Medal
Navarro Vineyards, 2012 Chardonnay, Anderson Valley 95 points Gold Medal
Masút, 2012 Pinot Noir, Mendocino County 94 points Gold Medal
Naughty Boy, 2012 Chardonnay-Thornton Ranch, Mendocino County 94 points Gold Medal
Yorkville Cellars, 2013 Rosé of Malbec, Yorkville Highlands 94 points Gold Medal
Bonterra Vineyards, 2012 Chardonnay, Mendocino County 93 points Gold Medal
Paul Dolan Vineyards, 2012 Pinot Noir, Potter Valley 93 points Gold Medal
Philo Ridge Vineyards, 2010 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley 93 points Gold Medal
Bonterra Vineyards, 2012 Merlot, Mendocino County 92 points Gold Medal
Carol Shelton Wines, 2012 Wild Thing Zinfandel, Mendocino County 92 points Gold Medal
Husch, 2012 Heritage, Other Red Blends, Mendocino County 92 Gold Medal
McFadden Vineyard, 2009 Reserve Cuvee Brut, Potter Valley 92 points Gold Medal
Navarro Vineyards, 2012 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley 92 points Gold Medal
Paul Dolan Vineyards, 2012 Chardonnay, Mendocino County 92 points Gold Medal
Campovida, 2013 Campo di Stelle, White Bordeaux Blend, Yorkville Highlands 90 points Gold Medal

 
An invitational tasting will be produced and hosted by The Press Democrat on Sunday, June 15, 2014 at the Culinary Institute of America – Greystone, featuring winners from throughout the North Coast. Enjoy Gold Medal winning wines from Mendocino, Lake, Sonoma, and Napa counties.

There is a special promotional code for my readers—$25 off the all-inclusive price of $125. Use promo code: GOLD when ordering your tickets. Tickets are available at northcoastwineevent.com

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John on Wine – Crush keeps crushing it!

Originally published on October 31, 2013 in the Ukiah Daily Journal by John Cesano

Wine and food. For me wine is food, an ingredient that, when added to a dish, makes a dish taste better. Pair it with the dish and the Heavens open and angels sing.

I have written about the last two Chef’s Wine Dinners at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah. First I wrote a newspaper column about the amazing dinner featuring winemaker Alex MacGregor’s wines from Saracina, and then I wrote an online piece about the spectacular dinner that showcased Charlie and Martha Barra’s wines of both Barra and Girasole.

I eat at other spots, many with terrific wine lists, and I’ll get to them in future columns, but Crush just keeps on, well, crushing it.

Last week, I took the opportunity to attend the third Chef’s Wine Dinner in the ongoing series. The night featured the wines of Bonterra Organic Vineyards. These dinners have grown to become sold out events. You have to call and grab your tickets early. Two long tables in a private dining room, laid out with place settings heavy on the wine glasses, await the night’s patrons. Folks sit together, and courses are served family style, which encourages communication as platters of food from the kitchen are passed and the food and wine combinations elicit at first squeals of delight and then, later in the evening, deeper moans of over full contentment.The evening’s offerings are deceptively described as First Course, Second Course, and Dessert. I say deceptively, because there are so many more items arriving at the table than a mere three dishes.

Each “course” is actually comprised of four or five dishes. Dessert is often three dessert elements fused into one greater whole. There are often bonus tastes of passed appetizers. All told, these three courses yield ten to a dozen food experiences. I’ve described these nights as Chef Jesse off the leash, nights for him to do one thing and one thing only: impress every diner and leave a lasting impression that brings each guest back again and again. Jesse’s team of chefs do a fantastic job, and assemble at each evening’s close to take a well-earned round of applause. Of course, the front of house has to fire on all cylinders for a night like this to work, and from Manager Dave through his entire team of servers, everything on the service end just purrs.

Last week, Chef Jesse delivered braised pork belly, with a perched and poached quail egg, buerre monte, and chive sticks; a beets salad, with roasted red, golden & striped beets, goat cheese, citrus, and hazelnut champagne vinaigrette; Devils on horseback: Nueske bacon wrapping Point Reyes bleu cheese stuffed Medjool dates; and crab stuffed piquillo poppers, with Dungeness crab, avocado mousse, tomato, esplette, olive oil, and micro greens.

That was just the first course, and it was paired with the 2012 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc, my favorite wine of the night, with sweet green fresh mown hay, light herb, candied lemon mint sweetness, lime and bright grapefruit notes. A 50/50 Lake/Mendocino County wine, it showed lovely balance, at once both lush and showing crisp acidity. It was a treat tasting pork belly and quail egg ­- don’t you love cutting into a perfectly cooked egg and having the yolk released to form a bonus sauce – yum. Anyway, it was a treat tasting this dish with a Sauvignon Blanc instead of a red wine. Great confidence in pairing on display. The beets salad and crab poppers were also tremendously delicious.

The Second Course featured both a 2011 Bonterra Pinot Noir, just rated 90 points by Wine Enthusaiast, and a 2010 Bonterra Zinfandel. The Pinot Noir was meaty, with strawberry, cherry, and dark rich rhubarb; really drinkable, just lovely, supple yet delicate. The Zinfandel was soft yet bold, spicy with raspberry and strawberry, vinuous anise herb, and a touch of pepper spice.The big treat came pairing these two wines with Chef Jesse’s dishes for the second course: local J-bar-S bison 8 hour (tasted like 48) ragu, with pancetta, tomato, (phenomenal) handmade herbed gnocchi, basil, ricotta, and Reggiano; cracked pepper seared Ahi tuna with chanterelle mushrooms and a Bonterra Pinot Noir reduction; potatoes au gratin, Yukon golds with saffron cream, gruyere, and fresh herbs; and roasted delicate squash with creamed Swiss chard, celery root, and caramelized shallot salt.

Holy foodgasm! The bison gnocchi rigotta ragu dish with Zinfandel was stunningly perfect. The Ahi and chanterelles was gorgeous. The veggie dish with creamed swiss chard was divine.

Dessert was a (local) apple strudel of filo, toasted walnuts, cinnamon, Chantilly crème, and homemade ice cream, paired with the Bonterra Muscat which featured aromatic honeysuckle, floral and sweet-tart pear and mandarin notes, finishing with a zing.

As I have attended each of the Chef’s wine dinners at Crush, I had more than one diner ask if there was always this much food, as numerous a selection of excellent tastes, or whether this was a unique abundance. I am happy to say that for $50-$65 per person, depending on the wines being featured, the Chef’s wine dinners at crush in Ukiah are always the best wine dinner experience and a bargain as well.

Up next: On December 11, 2013, Chef Jesse and the entire Crush Ukiah team will deliver another breathtaking multi dish, multi course, meal and the wines featured will be the 2011 Coro Mendocino wines, Mendocino County’s celebration of grapes and winemaking, heritage Zinfandel blends, from Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, Mendocino Vineyards, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Parducci, Philo Ridge, and Ray’s Station. With so many powerhouse wineries involved, and the other dinner these wines are poured at going for $500 per couple, the $65 per person tickets – to taste the entire line up of Coro Mendocino wines with the consistently breathtaking food creations of Chef Jesse – will sell out faster than any previous Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush. Secure your spot today by calling (707) 463-0700 and I’ll see you there!

I come from an organic tasting room, I understand organics. Biodynamic is good, but for me, ventures into practices of questionable value. Animals and a variety of plants on vineyard property is great for me, it provides a richer experience for me as a visitor. I don’t know if baby goats headbutting each other makes a better wine, but it is entertaining. Where biodynamics loses me is the whole cow horn thing. Cow horns are crammed full of cow manure, then planted on a full moon on an equinox, dug up six lunar months later on another equinox, added to a container of liquid made up of virgin’s tears, allowed to steep like a witch’s brew over another period of lunar cycles, and spread by a Catholic priest’s aspergillum throughout the vineyard in a rite reminiscent of the ritual sprinkling of Holy water. Poo-in-the-horn tea is just one of several preparations that are created to fortify the vineyard, strengthen the ecosystem, and produce wines more naturally.

I would love to see a vineyard test block where half the rows are grown organically, and the other half are grown biodynamically. I would like someone to show me empirical evidence of the superiority of biodynamics over mere organics; until then, I will look upon biodynamics with some skepticism, as some sort of ritualistic magic ju-ju voodoo.

I posed the question of measurable efficacy supporting biodynamic growing practices to Ann Thrupp, Director of Sustainability at Fetzer, and she responded, “I am aware of only a few scientific studies that have been done to compare biodynamic and organic vineyards (see literature by Professor john Reganold, for example). It is difficult to prove scientifically that there are improvements in quality, based on such studies…However, in blind tastings, many biodynamic wines score high.”

Cesar Toxqui makes great wine for Cesar Toxqui Cellars and is working to improve the biodynamic wines of Jeriko, which I am confident he will be able to do. Cesar knows of my skepticism, but will be trying to educate me regarding biodynamics in the near(ish) future, touring me from vineyard to winemaking at Jeriko.

Nance Billman, during my recent visit to Saracina, while acknowledging the over the top ritualism in some of the preparations involved in biodynamic farming, described a near miraculous almost immediate increase in vine vitality when those preparations are administered.

I have tasted many biodynamic wines, and they are almost universally good. I don’t think they are good because they are biodynamic per se; instead I think that the attention to detail, the commitment that goes with biodynamic farming leads a winery to make good wine. I have no proof that a biodynamic wine is any better than an organic wine, but I am confident that biodynamics don’t make a wine worse.

Paul Dolan, Bonterra, Mendocino Farms, Jeriko, Saracina, there are plenty of folks making great wine with biodynamic grapes. Everyone of them is earnest in their belief, their dedication; you can feel the passion for biodynamic farming. I would like to know what they know, because all I hear are anecdotal tales of magic, and it may just be me, but I can’t take the leap and need more science based evidence before I am buying that biodynamic farming is anything but effectless ritual.

I’m not ready yet to drink the poo-in-the-horn tea biodynamic kool-aid.

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I was approached a few months ago to answer some questions about sustainability for my winery that could appear on a website, and the piece was published yesterday.

I forwarded the questions to my boss who kicked them back to me to answer. I forwarded my answers to him for review, and while observing some of the answers were “over the top,” he suggested only one edit to correct a mistake.

I did not know it at the time, but my boss, an organic farmer for over 40 years, abhors the word “sustainable.” Guinness runs a CCOF certified organic farm and vineyard. CCOF organic means something. Demeter Biodynamic means something. Sustainable isn’t measured, it isn’t certified, and lots of wineries use the term to cloak themselves in a green-ness that they haven’t earned, cheapening the efforts of real organic and biodynamic growers.

In my naiveté, not yet knowing that perhaps I too am supposed to hate the word, I completed the sustainability survey.

Naive, well, not entirely. I researched the folks who were asking for the survey answers, and found the monthly Lempert Report Newsletter where the piece would be published was sponsored by Monsanto imagine.

A Google search of “Monsanto imagine” led me to several pages suggesting that Monsanto imagine is a greenwashing public relations effort on the part of Monsanto, an effort to blur the line obscure the chasm between themselves and responsible Earth friendly organic family farmers.

The answers Guinness found “over the top” were not included in the piece linked above. The following passages were edited out of the piece appearing on the site paid for sponsored by Monsanto imagine:

“At McFadden Vineyard, it is unthinkable that people would choose wines and foods made with synthetic chemical fertilizers, poisonous pesticides and herbicides, from bio-engineered Frankenfood seed over delicious, healthy, natural, organic, sustainable wines and foods.”

“Right is right, doing things right, the right way, doesn’t need to be measured. The thought of dumping poison on our food or using genetically engineered crop seed is unthinkable. At the end of the day, are you proud of yourself? Does your wine and food make people happier? We notice something that can be improved, and we get around to making those improvements; that the greener, more sustainable, or organic choice sometimes is the less expensive choice, or sells better, is just a bonus.”

“Let’s have a cooking contest. We’ll make a fruit ice cream. I’ll use organically grown fruit from Mendocino County, and organic dairy products from Clover in Sonoma County. My competition has to use FrankenFruit, fruit from biogenetically engineered seed, grown with poisons, and cheap milk products loaded with Bovine growth Hormones. We’ll ask consumers which ice cream tastes better. I will win. Things that taste good always win out over things that don’t taste good. Growing organic, growing sustainably, is better for the environment, society, and the economy than the alternatives. Tastier too.”

Where sustainability pushes buttons for Guinness, Monsanto does it for me. I liked the piece I wrote, and the idea of Monsanto publishing a piece critical of their practices tickled me. While the piece didn’t get posted intact, you got to read the juicy parts here.

Genuine Green Revolution!

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I live in Ukiah and work in Hopland. Hopland is truly a small town. Businesses engage in cooperative efforts to help each other. The more we help each other, the more we end up helping ourselves.

I take pictures for Margaret at Weibel, and Margaret tries to save decorative plants at McFadden from being killed by my black thumb.

I want to see the Hopland Inn succeed. A successful Inn is a place late afternoon visitors to Hopland can stay after a more complete wine tasting, to possibly begin anew at another tasting room the following morning. I have knocked out a new marketing piece for Amie that better presents what the Inn offers, and am working on another smaller piece that can be created less expensively than my first.

Gary of Campovida, a local resort, escorts his guests to the Hopland Inn for afternoon cocktails at the Inn bar.

Margaret and I, Amie and Gary, none of us are rivals, competitors, but instead cooperative partners with a shared stake in the success of Hopland.

The people who live and work in Hopland, their love for the town, makes Hopland a place worth visiting. locals love playing bhost, and visitors are charmed by the small town friendliness set in the middle of amazing natural beauty.

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I sought a spot on the Board of Destination Hopland, and on the Hopland Passport working group. I welcome taking the social media marketing reins, and increasing our visibility. On top of my winery job, with uncompensated extra hours spent working at home, I am going to be spending more uncompensated hours doing what I do well for the benefit of others.

I am not a business owner, my extra work will not increase my ownership equity value. I am a wage, not a salary plus benefits, employee. I am taking on the extra work for two reasons; one is to benefit my employer, by helping to increase Hopland tourism, I benefit the person who signs my checks, and the other is because I saw an area where my skill set, my abilities, passion, and experience could improve what is being done for Hopland in a way no one else had done. I really look forward to the next year’s work.

The reward for my volunteer efforts has been increased requests for volunteer work. More business owners would like me to give up my time freely so as to work toward increasing their revenue. I can’t say that I blame them for asking, but today I found myself drawing a very clear line: I have more than enough on my plate. I will meet every commitment I’ve made with professionalism and pride, to the best of my ability; but I am not taking on any more unpaid gigs.

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Next Friday, August 5, 2011, at 7:00pm, the winners of 35th Annual Mendocino County Wine Competition will be announced at a farm to table dinner hosted at Jeriko Estate north of Hopland. The event is open to the public, come and taste Mendocino County’s best wines at the Grand tasting, paired with a locally harvested dinner. Tickets are just $75, or $65 for wine industry members, and the event will sell out, so hit the link above and buy your tickets now.

I’ll be there, representing McFadden Vineyard, hoping for some Gold. While we are cooperative, not competitive, I would gladly lug some bling from Jeriko to McFadden after the event. Just sayin’.


				
		
	

I am leaving home today, traveling to Miami for a weekend gig at an art festival in South Miami.

On my way, I’m picking up a six pack box of wonderful Ultima Burgundy wine glasses won in an internet giveaway promoting the Pinot Noir Summit in San Francisco this Saturday, Feb 26. I figure it is easier, and greener, for me to jump off the freeway and pick up my glasses than to see them packed and shipped.

When I return from Florida next week, I will be picking up two bottles at Hopland to replace two bottles that were broken in shipping from Louisville, Kentucky. Fetzer wines are made nearby, but Fetzer is owned, marketed, and distributed by Brown-Forman in Louisville. Again, rather than repackage and ship two bottles across most of the continent, I offered to stop in and pick up two bottles at the winery.

As a huge bonus, I will also be touring Fetzer in Hopland. I am pretty excited. A goal of my wine blog when I started writing was to illuminate good wines to pair with meals, that are affordable. Wines with a good QPR, or quality/price ratio. A New Year’s writing resolution for 2011, I decided to focus more of my attention on the wines of my home county, Mendocino County.

Fetzer is the biggest winery in Mendocino County, and their economy of scale allows them to keep their costs low, which makes for widely available, good tasting, affordable wines – exactly what I want to write about. Touring is great, because the winery has no tasting room, or organized tours, and I am pleased to receive this kind accommodation. I will also post, at a minimum, tasting notes on Fetzer’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewurtztraminer.

I will also be able to visit, tour and taste wines from Bonterra, Fetzer’s sister winery under Brown-Forman, located off Hwy 101 near Hopland.

Home from Florida, when the weather is nice enough to take some outdoor blue sky, green grass pictures, I will also be visiting Kimmel Vineyards in Mendocino County’s Potter Valley. The Kimmel family offered to drop wine samples off at my home for taste and review, but once again I can save them a little gas and hassle by visiting with the intention of writing a winery visit feature piece in the future.

I have a 13 year old son, turning 14 next month, that played on three basketball teams this year. Charlie is just over six feet tall, and was the starting Center for his 8th grade school team, the Pomolita Panthers. Charlie also played as the tallest Center for St. Mary’s of Ukiah 8th grade boy’s CYO team, and a Ukiah City League team. Three teams has meant practices nearly every day, and three to five games most weeks for several months. Many days involved two practices, or a practice and a game. After months of happily being my son’s chauffeur to practices and games – these experiences only come around once – I will soon be free to visit more wineries more often.

Although I wish I could have been more wine busy the last few months, I have to say that watching my son practice, play, and grow has been terrific. His teams were good, but not great. They could have been great, but something got away from them. Charlie’s teammates are incredibly talented, each differently talented, and when they play together at their best they are amazing, unbeatable. Unfortunately, they got off track, not running plays crisply, losing focus, failing to execute in games what they mastered in practices.

I hope we find a good AAU, or other summer basketball program for Charlie, and next year he will try out for the Ukiah High School Freshman Wildcat team where rival middle school basketball team players will compete to make the squad. If Charlie plays for Ukiah High School next year, that will be the only team he plays on during the season.

Okay, I am out of here. I’ll write more when I’m back, early in March.

I woke up looking forward to doing some wine tasting. My plan was to go to Fetzer’s beautiful tasting room and gardens at their hospitality center in Hopland. Well coated against the cold, the day was beautiful, the mountains misty as ribbons of fog bedecked the mountain folds surrounding the Ukiah Valley.

I hadn’t visited the Fetzer tasting room in seven years, it isn’t really conveniently located, but I wanted to taste their dozen wines and find a jewel or two to recommend as a drinking wine, and perhaps a few more that would pair well with foods. I wanted to write about wines that were available in every store, and at prices that are affordable to anyone that can find their way to my blog.

Fifteen minutes south I turned off the 101 and drove down the empty Tuesday morning road to the Fetzer property. I drove over a bridge spanning the Russian River and came upon what had been the hospitality center for Fetzer.

Signs forbidding entry blocked the roads onto the property, previously maintained gardens gone wild, “for sale” signs. I began to suspect that I would not be tasting Fetzer’s wines.

I continued another few miles up the road to Fetzer’s winemaking facility. It is huge, and quiet in the post harvest, between Christmas and New Year’s Day, way that almost all wineries are quiet. I drove to the Administration building, and the receptionist confirmed my suspicion: I would indeed not be tasting Fetzer wines.

Note to Brown-Forman: How about putting a tasting room on 101 in Hopland, where Brutocao, McFadden, McDowell, Dogwood/Three Families, and Graziano all have tasting facilities? You could have one facility for your Fetzer, Bonterra, and Sanctuary brands. Not as grand as your previous Fetzer Hospitality Center, closed about three years, but accessible and economically sustainable. Just asking’.

I woke up prepared to taste wines, and I was not going to be deterred by a mere tasting room closure. I got back on the 101 and headed south another half hour to Healdsburg, where Mendocino County’s Topel Winery has located their tasting room at 125 Matheson across from the Oakville grocery.

Walking in the tasting room door at Topel, I was welcomed almost immediately by Kevin Roach. Kevin asked what types of wines I prefer as he welcomed me to taste. I let him know I prefer Reds, but enjoy whites as well, and asked him to pour me his four favorite wines out of the fourteen available, the ones most likely to knock my socks off.

Kevin first poured me a glass of the 2007 Pinot Noir, Serendipity, Monterey. While I swirled and sniffed the wine, I looked over the tasting room. Attractive, well laid out, lots of dark wood and copper. Wood cabinets for Topel branded clothing, and for literature display. A smaller (VIP?) private tasting room with table is available as well.

Kevin told me that the grapes for the 100% Pinot came from the Chalone Vineyard, which is located in the Gabilan Mountain range. The Topel website identifies the grapes as coming from Monterey County’s Serendipity Vineyard. Wherever the grapes came from in Monterey County, 2007 was kind to these grapes, and the wine was luscious, with cherry sweet tart and raisoned cranberry aromas and raspberry and cherry flavors. Round, smooth, and balanced. This wine was wonderful. $28/bottle.

Wine #2 was Topel’s 2005 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. 92% Cab, 4% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot. I was pleased to taste this wine. I am a Sonoma County boy, born and raised. the wines I grew up with, tasted, sold, were Sonoma County wines. I live in Ukiah now, in Mendocino County, and I wanted this wine to taste good, I wanted the grapes from my new home to be good ones.

The 2005 Cab had a really low tannin load, was very approachable, with light herb and dark red cherry and berry fruit on the nose and repeating in the mouth. Velvety, smooth, soft, and balanced, with nice subtle notes. This is not a typical brick bat Cab, but a nicely drinkable Cab. $36/bottle.

Wine # 3 was the one year newer, just released three weeks ago, 2006 Estate Reserve Cabernet. 96% Cab, 2% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot. Same wine, again smooth. A little more tannin evident, but soft. Similar nose and flavor profile to the 2005 Cab; with chocolate and black cherry. Definitely younger, a little edgy. I would let it lay down a while longer. $36/bottle.

The final wine I tasted was the 2006 Topel Estate Blend. 45% Cabernet. 45% Syrah Noir, 5% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot. I have never heard of Syrah Noir, Kevin explained that it was a clone of Syrah. The grapes for this unique blend come from Topel’s vineyards on Duncan Peak, west of Hopland in Mendocino County.

Kevin told me that this wine is owner Mark Topel’s favorite wine, I found it unusual. with notes of plum, prune, and fig newton. Again, virtually no tannin load, another incredibly soft wine. I want to retaste this wine the most. The unusual blend led to unusual flavors, and this might be the best, most versatile food pairing wine I tasted at Topel. $36/bottle.

All four wines were soft, supple, balanced, approachable, very drinkable. Tannin providing structure to hand fruit on, but staying out of the way of enjoying the wines. Well oaken, but not oaky. In a word: smooth.

I want the Pinot to drink, the Cabs to have with grilled tri tip, and the Estate blend to get to know better.

I set out to taste affordable wines, under $20, and ended up tasting wines in the $20-$40 range instead. My mission to taste and recommend inexpensive, available, good wines has not been forgotten; but I am really glad I stopped in to taste these four wines from Topel Winery.

I have a friend named Rob who isn’t really a wine guy. Rob isn’t alone, many people aren’t into wine.

The wine industry has allowed a perception that wine is more special than beer to permeate society. Working guys drink beer. Fancy pant elites drink wine.

I don’t know of any other industry that would purposely allow barriers to purchase to exist like this.

With wine, we’re not talking about unattainably expensive status symbol luxury items like Rolex watches, but there are many people who would more willingly buy a Rolex watch than a bottle of wine. With the Rolex, you know what you bought, an expensive, investment grade, time piece.

People just don’t know about wine, and not knowing are afraid to order it.

By allowing wine to be perceived as complex, a beverage for learned experts, the industry has fostered a fear in consumers. “I’m not James Bond, I don’t know a good vintage, or even a wine type; I’ll just have a beer, or a shot of tequila, or a Mojito, or a coke, or iced tea…anything but wine. I don’t want to look stupid in front of my friends or the waiter or the shop keeper.”

At the same time that Bacardi was marketing their rum through aggressive Mojito promotion, and selling more rum than ever, the wine industry was allowing fear to continue to be a wall most people won’t climb to try their product.

I could scream.

I read the blogs of many wine writers, pick up the wine magazines, keep up on marketing trends. 100 point wine ratings, 5 star ratings, indecipherable wine speak, Frasier Crane-esque reverence paid to a handful of producers of wines not available to the general public or too expensive to justify buying. Open a door or window and let’s get some air in here; most of what you’ll read about wine is from writers who have bought into the failed marketing of the industry – of absolutely no interest to anyone outside of the community of wine cognoscenti. Yawn.

Wine is so much better with most meals than beer, or iced tea, or coke, or just about any other beverage, but the industry is not getting that message across; it also hurts that restaurant wines cost triple what they would in a store and wine service is generally poor.

The next time you are in a nice restaurant, you will see many if not most people drinking beer or iced tea instead of wine. I can assure you that given a wine recommendation that would suit their meal better, and offered a glass of that wine at a reasonable price, most everyone would be drinking and enjoying both their wine and their meal more. I blame the wine industry for poor marketing.

Rather than be one of thousands of other wine writers bleating about the same unattainable cult wines, effectively bragging to my fellow wine writers about the wines I am drinking, I want to write about wine for the guy that would rather have wine with his meal but doesn’t want to feel like an ass.

Although wine knowledge is never ending, wine is simple. Let me say that again; Wine Is Simple.

Take the wine I drank my Christmas meal with, a 2008 Menage a Trois from Folie a Deux winery in Napa County’s St. Helena; while the wine goes for $12 a bottle, I just found the same wine on sale at Lucky’s supermarket for $8.99, so price needn’t be an obstacle to having good wine with food.

I appreciate that there are a wealth of wines in supermarkets that run from $8 – $20 per bottle, and some are good and some aren’t. I’ll try to taste a number of them and give you my recommendations.

Menage a Trois is a playful way of saying that the wine is a blend of three grape varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, the king of reds, big, structured, dense, with black berry and currant notes, Merlot, Cab’s softer sister red, rounder, fleshier, with cherry notes, and Zinfandel, a brash, in your face red, with raspberry notes.

You have heard, “red wine with meat.” With three red wines in one bottle, this wine is a great wine for pairing with a host of meat dishes from hamburgers and hotdogs to pork shoulder and flank steak. Pasta in an Italian red sauce, Caesar salad; heck, I could drink this wine with just about anything and be happy.

Wine shouldn’t be about inviolable rules, but I will share a few “wouldn’t be a bad idea”s with you along the way.

The “wouldn’t be a bad idea” for today is not overfilling your wine glass just because you have the room to do so. My wine glasses are large, either 16 or 20 ounces, and I pour no more than 4 ounces in my glass. I get to swirl the wine, let it breathe, let the bowl of the wine glass collect wonderful scents, bury my nose in the glass, and inhale all the aroma and bouquet the wine has to give. A sniff and a sip, can change a bite of already good food into something almost transcendent. Doesn’t always, but, oh is it nice when it does!

I can get about six glasses of wine from a bottle at 4 ounces per glass. That means my $8.99 sale bottle of 2008 Menage a Trois is costing me about a buck and a half per glass.

The wine industry should be telling you that you can get a great wine to pair with food at home for about a buck and a half a glass.

That’s a lot more valuable information to most consumers than knowing about another garage winery whose entire release is sold out but just got a 10 page write up in a major wine publication after scoring a perfect 100 points in a possibly not blind tasting.

I’ll be visiting Fetzer and Bonterra in Mendocino County, doing some wine tasting close to home this week, hopefully I will be able to make some more recommendations. I also want to taste some of Topel Winery’s wines, they are also from nearby, but their tasting room is in Healdsburg, so tasting for me will have to wait a bit. I also should be seeing some wine accessory samples arrive this week that a distributer said they would send; I’ll try those out and let you know what I think. I’m also going to try cooking polenta a different way, and I’m going to make another batch of involtini this week. Lots of things to write about, I hope you’ll keep checking in.

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If you do have the time, and are near Healdsburg, CA stop into the Topel Winery tasting room and taste some wines before year’s end. They have a 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Grace at $130/case ($1.80/glass) , 2004 Hidden Vineyard Cabernet at $190/case ($2.64/glass), and 2005 Cuvee Donnis Syrah at $150/case ($2.08/glass). These prices are discounted 43 – 51% per case, promo codes are “Grace”, “Hidden”, and “Donnis”, and the sale only runs through the end of December.

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Edited to add: A friend, and reader of my blog, Shannon let me know that the 2008 Menage a Trois was $6.99 at Costco. Seriously, at $1.16 a glass, this wine costs less per ounce than the bottled water I bought at the Fairplex in Pomona, CA at the beginning of this month. Buy it, pair it with meat. Thank me later.

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