John on Wine – Mendocino County’s best wine party is this Saturday!

This piece was originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, July 9, 2015.

In two days, on Saturday, July 11, 2015, my favorite winery party is happening again; once again, it is time for the Annual BBQ Dance Party at McFadden Farm, and yes it is open to the public, not a wine club member exclusive event. Before reading too much farther, pull out your cell phone and call the Hopland tasting room at (707) 744-8463 to get your tickets.

Yes, I work at McFadden, and touting our own event in the column may seem self-serving, but if I didn’t work for Guinness then I would still attend every year, happily buying my tickets to attend; the party is just that good.

Held the second Saturday of July every year, the party is at McFadden Farm, at the very north end of Potter Valley, and officially runs from 5:00 pm until 11:00 pm, but the reality is that folks show up as early as 10:00 am and set up tents or park a camper and then either swim in the Russian River, where it starts, on McFadden Farm, or head out and explore Potter Valley, Redwood Valley, and Ukiah, before returning to check in at 5:00 pm and enjoy the wine and appetizer reception or tour the farm and vineyards with Guinness McFadden himself.

Guinness’ daughter Anne-Fontaine McFadden is a California Culinary Academy graduated chef, and brings a team of San Francisco chef friends to the farm to prepare farm fresh vegetable dishes, salads, and desserts. I never get an advance menu, because each year, they decide what to make after checking what is tasting best, and the farm to table freshness is only matched by the deliciousness of each dish.

The sit down dinner is Mendo simple, but extraordinary. Mendocino Organics is providing the pigs this year, and Mac Magruder is supplying the lamb. Wach year, for the best barbecue you’ve ever tasted, Mac opens up a couple of whole pigs, takes the bones out, and stuffs them full of fresh organic McFadden herbs, sews them shut, and cooks them whole; the result being deliciously flavored meat and herbs, nose to tail. Mac also places a couple of lambs in huge buckets with McFadden red wine and dried McFadden herbs, to infuse delicious flavor into the meat before grilling it.


Of course, no McFadden BBQ dinner would be complete without McFadden wine on the table. Each table gets an assortment of bottles, and there is plenty of trading table to table, which just increases the sense of party and community. This year, among the handful of new wines that will be poured first at the party, count on enjoying both the new 2012 McFadden Coro Mendocino release and our new dry (0.4 residual sugar) 2014 McFadden Riesling. As always, McFadden bubbly will flow, no party should ever be held without the top awarded sparkling wine available anywhere.

The Kelly McFarling Band will perform live, with a dance floor set up, and after dinner folks definitely take to the dance floor. Does wine make people dance better? You be the judge, but I can assure you that there is wine, and a little sugar boost from dessert, to get folks moving and grooving.

Each attendee has the opportunity to take advantage of special dinner exclusive wine prices, with order sheets available, and there is a raffle drawing of McFadden Farm goods and treats from the tasting room that folks can win.

Every year, after the band stops for the night, someone jacks an iPod full of music into the sound system, and the fun continues, usually well beyond the official 11:00 pm end time, and into the early morning hours, before the last folks call it a night (or morning) and head for their tents and overnight camping. With the music going late, if you are camping overnight and want to get to sleep early, set your tent up somewhere on the 500 acre farm that is away from the party.

Tickets are $85 each for the general public; McFadden Wine Club members can pick up two tickets per membership at $70 each; and children, 12 and under, are just $20 each.

I’ve attended wine club dinners that cost as much, but charge for each glass of wine after the first, or don’t have a live band, and none I’ve been to offer overnight camping. One price, and everything is included; we want you to fall in love with McFadden Farm, and you will if you come to our party,

Again, the party is this Saturday, so call today or tomorrow, between 10:00 am and 5:00 pm, to get your tickets through the tasting room. The phone number is (707) 744-8463. Cheers, and see you there!

I attended the Taste of Downtown in Ukiah, as a guest of the folks who put it on, and I wanted to report that the event was fantastic. Always an opportunity to taste wine and beer for three hours, after work, on a Friday, this year there was food bites offered by several local restaurants and food purveyors. The day was over 100 degrees, so my tastes were white and light.

I started at KA Salon, where owner Karina Andrade put out a table of food treats from chocolate covered strawberries to crudités and watermelon to charcuterie, all to pair with the offerings of her winery partner, Jason from Rivino. I’ve been on a Viognier kick lately, and Rivino’s Viognier is a pleaser; tasty, layered, flavorful.

In front of Schat’s Bakery, I tasted the 2013 McNab Ridge Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County; aromatic, with grassy juniper met by melon, pear, and peach notes.

Chop Chop had a booth on the street and was serving up hoison chicken bao sandwiches with a wild green salad and herb mix, and the bite was so tasty that I went into the new restaurant to get some food to take home after the festival. Pho has come to Ukiah! Oh, by far, the presentation on the bao was the best at the event, tasty and beautiful!

Jim poured me a taste of his dry Naughty Boy rose, it tasted like crushed strawberries over ice, and tasted great paired with the June harvest vegetable tapenade of squash, carrots, onion, and garlic with electric lemon vinaigrette and goat cheese on a potato crostini from Saucy’s booth.

The folks from the Hopland Sho-Ka-Wah casino couldn’t have been nicer, giving away free chicken wings and fun prizes. I got a free dinner for two. Thanks!

Tahto served up a Sauvignon Blanc, made more complex with a little Semillon and Grenache Blanc blended in; rounded, nice weight, and a perfect summer sipper. Bonterra’s Sauvignon Blanc was lush, yet restrained, with a brightness on the finish.

There were panko crusted potato spinach garlic croquettes served up at the Ocotime booth, the sauce is the bomb, but might have overpowered the more subtle flavors of the croquet, not that it mattered much as I paired it with one of my new recent favorite wines, the 2014 Jaxon Keys Viognier.

I got a pretty decent pour of the Jaxon Keys Viognier and also tasted it with the lamb stuffed mushroom caps with onion, garlic, parmesan and cream cheese, topped with bread crumbs from Stan’s Maple Café booth, and the fresh June harvest empanada with parsley chimichurri from the Tango Foods booth, and the wine worked with everything.

Involving the local restaurants in this year’s Taste of Downtown, and tasting instead of pouring, made this the best one I’ve been to. Kudos to the entire team that put on this fun and tasty event.

John on Wine – The Last Supper

This piece ran today, in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper, but likely with a few selected photographs. This online archive is richer for the photographic contributions of Bryan Elhardt and Tom Liden; thank you both. -John

The Baby Jesse (photograph provided by his father Bryan Elhardt)

The Baby Jesse (photograph provided by his father Bryan Elhardt)

Genesis: In the beginning, April 20, 2013, Chef Jesse Elhardt created a menu to pair with Greg Graziano’s wines for a wine club dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse; Jesse said, “Let there be food”; and there was food, and Jesse saw that the food was good.


Chef Jesse Elhardt’s last dinner cooking at Crush Ukiah was the Chef’s Winemakers Dinner featuring Graziano Family of Wines (photograph by John Cesano)

From that dinner, the Chef’s Winemaker Dinner series at Crush was born, and begot nights that featured Chef Jesse’s food creations paired with the wines of Saracina (July 2013), Barra of Mendocino and Girasole (August 2013), Bonterra (November 2013), 2010 Coro Mendocino (December 2013), Yorkville Cellars (April 2014), Cesar Toxqui Cellars (November 2014), McFadden Farm (January 2015), 2011 Coro Mendocino (February 2015), and finally ending where he began, with a Chef’s Winemaker Dinner featuring the wines of Graziano Family of Wines on May 20, 2015 and Greg and Trudi Graziano. Chef Jesse also squeezed in a sold out wine club only dinner for McNab Ridge earlier that week.

St. Gregory Sparking Wine for appetizers and Monte Volpe Pinot Grigio for the First Course (photograph by Tom Liden)

St. Gregory Sparking Wine for appetizers and Monte Volpe Pinot Grigio for the First Course (photograph by Tom Liden)

The Graziano Family of Wines dinner was the last supper Chef Jesse would cook at Crush in Ukiah. Jesse will continue with Crush, in Chico and San Diego for a short while before embarking on a 2,600 mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Jesse’s parents, Bryan and Lynne Jackson Elhardt, and Crush owners Doug and Debbie Guillon attended this very special wine & food event.

Chef Jesse talks with John Cesano and Graziano manager Mike Williams before dinner (photograph by Bryan Elhardt)

Chef Jesse talks with John Cesano and Graziano manager Mike Williams before dinner (photograph by Bryan Elhardt)

The incredibly fortunate attendees met in the bar area to enjoy winemaker Greg Graziano’s 2010 St. Gregory Cuvee Trudi (named for his wife) Brut Rose, paired with both a wonton cup filled with Prawn & Scallop Ceviche, with saffron, tomato, red onion, jalapeno, cucumber & parsley; and Fried Colossal Olives stuffed with a mixture of cooked Italian sausage, ricotta, and Gorgonzola, soaked in buttermilk then coated with flour, semolina, and ground risotto, which were incredibly delicious, with a meaty, nutty texture, and a brine saltiness that bordered on addictive, and paired brilliantly with Greg’s phenomenally delicious sparkler, my favorite of all he has yet released.


The amazing fried colossal olives and Greg’s equally amazing sparkling brut rose (photograph by John Cesano)

Restaurant manager Kevin Kostoff shepherded the diners into the banquet room to find seats, and then welcomed all assembled to a very special evening, introducing our servers Ben & John, beverage manner Nick Karavas, and owners Doug and Debbie, before turning things over to Jesse, who upon announcing, “this will be my last wine dinner in Ukiah,” was greeted with crying and gnashing of teeth.

Chef Jesse breaks the news that this is his Last Supper at Crush Ukiah (photograph by Tom Liden)

Chef Jesse breaks the news that this is his Last Supper at Crush Ukiah (photograph by Tom Liden)

Jesse took bread, gave thanks to Greg and Trudi, and broke the bread, gave it to the patrons, and said, “Take this, all of you, and dip it in Greg’s organic olive oil.”

Winemaker Greg Graziano (photograph by Tom Liden)

Winemaker Greg Graziano (photograph by Tom Liden)

The first course paired Crispy Veal Sweetbreads with white bean puree, Neuske Applewood smoke lardon, tempura brownbutter caper berry, and chive stick; Insalata Mista with gem lettuce, arugula, grilled radicchio, marinated heirloom tomato, cucumber, marinated artichoke, and red onion; and Bacala All’Amalfitana four day saffron constantly changed water soak, salt cod mini cakes with Yukon gold, housemade bread crumb, lemon aioli, and parsley oil; with Greg and Trudi’s 2013 Monte Volpe Pinot Grigio from 20 acres of Potter Valley vineyards, 100% fermented in neutral French oak barrels, made in the style of the great wines of Friuli.

Insalata Mista - mixed salad (Photograph by Tom Liden)

Insalata Mista – mixed salad (photograph by Tom Liden)

The second course was where Jesse performed his miracle with the fishes. Roasted Snake River Farms Pork Belly and Pork Shoulder Ragu on top of brown butter and aromatics ‘giant’ gnocchi with a reduced Reggiano cream, fried frico cheese for texture, and micro arugula to pair with Greg’s 2011 Enotria Barbera; and a Cedar Plank Wild Scottish Salmon, four pepper spice crusted, with a Petite Sirah reduction, porcini dust, morel, white asparagus, and hazelnut to pair with Greg’s 2011 Graziano Petite Sirah. Also served were Parslied New Creamer Potatoes with roasted red and yellow peppers, coppa, and baby peeled clip top carrots bathed in butter; and Triple Creamed Corn, of corn stock, corn pudding, corn kernel, chipotle compound butter, and micro cilantro.

Cedar Plank Salad, served with Petite Sirah; the miracle with the fishes by Chef Jesse (Photograph by John Cesano)

Cedar Plank Salmon, served with Petite Sirah; the miracle with the fishes by Chef Jesse (photograph by John Cesano)

Let me draw your attention to the miracle: Jesse paired fish with Petite Sirah, and pulled it of magnificently. Petite Sirah is big red wine. Fish is fish, and easily overpowered by big reds, but Jesse added layers of flavor to his Salmon, cooking it on a cedar plank, crusting it in four crushed peppers, glazed it in a reduction of Greg’s Petite Sirah with a touch of dried porcini mushroom dust, and then adding earthy morel mushrooms. The morels by themselves would have been a dish I would happily have enjoyed, and would order if on the menu; sautéed with white asparagus and toasted hazelnuts in butter, with salt and pepper. Building up the salmon, fortifying it, allowed it to pair brilliantly with Greg’s Petite Sirah.

John Cesano and Trudi Graziano (Photograph by Tom Liden)

John Cesano and Trudi Graziano (photograph by Tom Liden)

When supper was ended, before dessert was served, Jesse took a wineglass with 2011 Monte Volpe Tocai Friulano, Late Harvest Dolce Alexandra; again he gave thanks and praise; thanks to winemaker Greg and Greg’s wife Trudi Graziano, his parents Lynne and Bryan, and owners Doug and Debbie; and praise to the entire team of cooks and Crush’s new head chef Steve Lorenz, and then raised his glass, which was met by the crowd in a toast.

When the supper was ended, Jesse took the wine glass, gave thanks and praise (Photograph by Tom Liden)

When the supper was ended, Jesse took the wine glass, gave thanks and praise (photograph by Tom Liden)

Dessert was Monte Volpe Olive Oil Cake, apricot-currant compote, and a fresh ginger gelato with toasted almond crumb that Jesse said he was, “really excited about.” The cake, made from Greg’s olive oil, helped absorb some of the sweetness of his 43% residual sugar late harvest wine, while the fruit compote helped tie the two together. The gelato was a wonderfully delicious bonus, a last gift from Jesse to the fortunate witnesses to his last supper.

I have been fortunate, and have attended every one of Chef Jesse’s winemaker dinners for the public at Crush in Ukiah. While no one is irreplaceable, Jesse brought a high degree of creativity and passion to each dinner, producing different hand made pasta dishes, making uniquely different but always rich ragu sauces, turning ordinary vegetables into entree worthy dishes, and presenting playful and delicious desserts, always allowing the food to showcase the qualities of the wines they would be paired with. Jesse Elhardt is a talent that Ukiah will miss, but we all wish him the best in his new adventures to come.


John on Wine – Spotlight winery: Fetzer

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 7, 2015

On a cool and overcast morning, I met with Fetzer winemaker Charlie Gilmore, at 8 a.m., for a tour and tasting at the Fetzer winery on Old River Road in Hopland. Joining us were Kelly Conrad, the public relations magician who managed to find a day and time when Charlie and I were both free, and Adam Reiter, Fetzer’s global brand manager.

Adam Reitner, Kelly Conrad, and Charlie Gilmore, Winemaker of Fetzer

Adam Reitner, Kelly Conrad, and Charlie Gilmore, Winemaker of Fetzer

Fetzer is the largest winery in Mendocino County, producing 1.5 million cases of Fetzer wine annually, and 3.5 million cases for all associated brands, which include Bonterra, Jekel, and Little Black Dress.

The winery was started in 1968 by the Fetzer family; acquired by Brown-Forman of Louisville, Kentucky – better known for Jack Daniels whiskey than wine – in 1992 for $82 million; and more recently was bought by Chile’s Concha y Toro in March, 2011 for $238 million. Today, Concha y Toro is the fourth largest wine company in the world.

I asked Charlie about the best thing about Concha y Toro as owners, and he shared, “The CEO of Concha y Toro is from a wine family. Concha y Toro allows a recommitment to the quality of our wine, a premium California heritage brand.”

Fetzer is a green winery, considering the environmental impact of every business decision. Through reuse, recycling and composting, Fetzer has decreased waste sent to landfills by 96 percent since 1990; last year Fetzer became the first Zero Waste Certified winery in the world, and next Fetzer is looking to become only the second B Corp winery in the world – guaranteeing social sustainability and environmental performance standards into the future.

Our morning started with a tour of the tank room, with jacketed tanks that allow wines to be super cooled for cold stabilization. The room was insulated, and engineered to make cost-effective wine in the most energy efficient way. We tasted two ice cold tank samples, both from Monterey County fruit, a 2014 Riesling showing peach and fleshy fruit notes, and a 2014 Gewurztraminer showing spice and fruit; and, shortly after, a 2014 Lodi Sauvignon Blanc, with grass and gooseberry nose, and crisp flavors of lemon peel, grapefruit, apple and pear. A little young, a little (okay, a lot) cold, these are wines of the future and this taste just gave a glimpse of that future, tasty but not fully developed.

Within seconds of being in the tank room, I couldn’t express adequately the degree of happiness at having chosen a warm heavy jacket to wear that morning; Kelly did not bring one and Adam was a gentleman and gave up his light jacket to her.

We toured the settling room, where wine sits 24-48 hours after being pressed and before moving to fermentation. As we walked from the settling room to the red wine side of Fetzer, Charlie told me that when Concha y Toro took over, they asked the Fetzer team, “where do you want to go?,” and he said he wanted to make the, “nicer wines that we felt we could do here,” and received more resources to allow that to happen.

We toured giant blending tanks, micro-oxygenation tanks, and tasted another sample, a 2014 Colusa Zinfandel, with briar, deep red fruit, and herb notes.

Stylistically, Charlie is returning Fetzer from European to California style wines, with a greater emphasis on discernible fruit notes.

Fetzer's Barrel Room

Fetzer’s Barrel Room

The barrel room is huge, a cavernous humidity controlled space built with a round Hobbit hole entrance, surrounded by insulating earth, and holds 55,000 wine barrels, most 55 gallons, and a mix of French and American oak.

Multiple presses lined up, most large – and one mega – on an empty pad, but during harvest constantly operating. One small five ton basket press, dwarfed by the larger presses, is used for the ultra-premium grapes used in the Sanctuary wines, and for fruit off McNab and Butler ranches for Bonterra.

Open top fermenters for Pinot Noir, with a track and pulley system to allow punch downs – punching the floating cap of skins and must down into the juice to impart color and flavor – to be more easily accomplished, also stood ready for fall.

Charlie, Kelly, and Adam had prepared a tasting of six current release Fetzer wines, the first full release under Concha y Toro.

2013 Fetzer Echo Ridge Sauvignon Blanc California $9.99 – brilliant white color, round mouthfeel, pear, grapefruit, herb. Charlie said he wanted to, “respect classic Sauvignon Blanc notes, but with more fruit forward expression, mouthfeel, and light acid.” He succeeded.

2013 Fetzer Sundial Chardonnay California $9.99 – white gold color, light oak, 20 percent new split between French and American, 35 percent older neutral oak, 45 percent stainless steel held. 14 percent malolactic fermentation, “takes the edge off acidity,” explained Charlie. Vanilla, coconut, apricot, peach, tropical fruit.

2012 Eagle Peak Fetzer Merlot California $9.99 – plummy red color, smoky, supple, black cherry and blackberry dark fruit, tannin, tobacco, leather, lush. A little Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, and Malbec blended in for color and flavor.

2013 Fetzer Valley Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon California $9.99 – deeper red color, rich Cab perfume on nose, meaty, deep dark berry. Oak (40 percent new – for Merlot too), mix French and American. Fleshy mouthfeel married to tannin. Red volcanic soils.

2013 Fetzer Goosefoot Road Riesling Monterey County $9.99 – Ahhh! I taste a lot of Riesling and love great ones. This is delicious, and very much a California style wine. You’ll never confuse this with a Grand Cru Alsace Riesling, and that is okay. Light gold color, soft, peachy, apricot, drinking drier than the 2.7 residual sugar would suggest, nice balancing acid. Simply lovely.

2013 Fetzer Shaly Loam Gewurztraminer Monterey County $9.99 – 67 percent of the Gewurztraminer sold in the US is made by Fetzer, they are #1 in the nation for Gewurztraminer wine production by many miles. Charlie is working to bring more of the spicy aromas to the variety, and this Gewurztraminer had a wonderful rose petal nose. Light argent color, orange blossom, spice, fruit, fruit, fruit. Apple, peach, nectarine. Mellow, long, delicious. The finish was so long, I could still taste this wine as I was driving away five minutes later.

$9.99 for a solid bottle of wine, often lower in a California store or higher in a New York store, for wines this good, made in this quantity, is a genuine testament to the entire team, from individual growers to cellar workers and winemakers to owners with a passion for quality wine. Everyone reading this has seen Fetzer wines at $6.99 in a local store, with an additional 10 percent or 15 percent taken off six or more bottles. Simply, you will not find a better wine value today. These are good wines, solid, much improved over recent years, and spectacularly priced.

Locally, Fetzer has a monthly Community Wine Sale with, “crazy good discounts,” where buyers choose from wines offered in an email newsletter and pick them up at the Hopland winery the following Saturday, and Fetzer donates 5 percent of all proceeds to the Gardens Project of North Coast Opportunities to develop and maintain community gardens in Ukiah, Hopland and throughout Mendocino County. To take advantage of this monthly sale, email winesale@fetzer.com and ask to be added to the list.

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Cue the banjos.

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

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

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

Umm, the bad news.

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

Okay, what’s the good news then?

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 6:00 pm


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


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


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


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

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

Mushroom Winemaker Dinner at Rivino

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 6:00 pm

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday November 15th @ 6:00 pm
$80, or $55 for Barra wine club members
Call the winery at (707) 485-0322 for reservations

More recently than my write up of Cesar Toxqui Cellars, in fact it is appearing in today’s weekly wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal – soon to be archived here, I wrote about the spectacular opportunity that these special multi course food and wine dinners present; you get to play with your food and no one will frown. Try a taste of each dish with each of the wines poured, and find what works for you, and what doesn’t, and even try to imagine what foods might pair even better with the wines you are tasting. Grab a ticket to one or two of these great dinners – I’m attending two; sadly, we can’t attend all three.


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

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!


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