John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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John On Wine – Spotlight Winery: Cesar Toxqui Cellars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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John On Wine – Wine Tasting in March

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on March 6, 2014 by John Cesano

This Saturday, Hopland celebrates St. Patrick’s Day a little early with participating winery tasting rooms serving up a little Irish cheer, and homemade Irish dishes, to pair with terrific wines and big savings from 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. St.Patrick’s Day is the day that Rich Parducci and Greg Graziano are as Irish as Guinness McFadden; everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

McNab Ridge will serve up Irish Stew, Irish soda bread, and Bailey’s Irish whipped cream.

McFadden will have corned beef and cabbage, cooked in McFadden Gewurztraminer and McFadden organic herbs. Ray’s Station is going with Reuben meatballs, Irish cheese, and Irish short bread. Cesar Toxqui Cellars will have Italian food. Naughty Boy and Graziano will also take part in Second Saturday fun.

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Saturday, March 8 from 1 -4 p.m. ­ Little River Whale Festival benefiting MAPA ­ the Mendocino Area Parks Association, and the Van Damme State Park. This is a passport style event over three hours with eight locations. Tickets are $25 in advance and can be purchased by calling Little River Inn at 937-5942 or $30 at the event. Specialties from eight local gourmet chefs and local wines! Participating wineries include Alder Vineyards, Edmeades Winery, Graziano Family of Wines, Handley Cellars, Lichen, Lula Cellars, and Stevenswood Wines. Dessert & locally roasted coffee by Thanksgiving Coffee at the Little River Market & Deli.

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The Wine Road is a Sonoma County winery tourism group run by Beth Costa and includes the Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, and Alexander Valley, all of which surround the town of Healdsburg. Wine Road puts on the Barrel Tasting Weekends with more than 100 participating wineries in and around Healdsburg.

From the Wine Road website page dedicated to the Barrel Tasting Weekends: “Barrel Tasting is not a food pairing or themed event. It’s all about the wine … many wineries offer “futures” on their barrel samples. This is a chance to purchase wine now, often at a discount, then come back to the winery when the wine is bottled, typically 12-18 months from now. Many wines are so limited, buying futures is your only chance to purchase them. Attendees are encouraged to pack a picnic, as most wineries will not have food for this event. The ticket price includes the opportunity to sample wine from the barrel and in most cases also trying a limited number of current release wines.”

Did you notice that they mention that there is no food at the event and encourage folks to bring an entire picnic of food? That is to counter the only negative attached to the event: it has picked up a bit of a reputation as a drunk fest ­ but a very successful drunk fest. I remember attending more than 25 years ago. Barrel Tasting used to be just one weekend and it was free. Alexander Valley opened up Friday night and I would visit there first, with Dry Creek Valley and the Russian River Valley for Saturday and Sunday. The event was largely attended by folks in the wine industry and wine enthusiasts. The event has grown, and gone from free to $5, then $20, and now $30; and from one weekend to two. With 8,000 folks on the road, racing from winery to winery, trying to taste at over 100 and get value for their ticket price, there are horror stories of inebriation. Imagine it, and the reality is 10 times worse. That said, it really is just a few horribly bad apples gaining all of the notoriety, and the event really is otherwise spectacular. The final weekend of the 36th annual Barrel Tasting are this weekend, March 7-9, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Advance ticket sales have ended, but wineries will sell tickets at the door. For a map of participating wineries, visit http://bit.ly/1cA956P.

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Saturday, March 22 from 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. – Saracina’s Old Soul Red Blending Party. I’ve written before about how much fun a wine blending party can be, I’ve attended the Testa Barn Blend Party two of the three years it has been held, and was able to be one of three judges to help Maria and rusty choose a winner last year. Nelson, McNab Ridge, and now Saracina also have wine blending events, and all are worth attending. Saracina winemaker Alex MacGragor will lead folks through the art and science of wine blending, and then set you loose to help fashion or inspire the next vintage of the Saracina Coro Mendocino. Oops, a rose by any other name. I should have said that you have the chance to blend your own version of the Saracina Atrea Old Soul Red.

Everyone who attends and participates is a winner, as events at Saracina are known for being memorably top notch. After the hard work (it isn’t really, it is big fun) of wine blending winds down, you get to relax and enjoy Saracina wines and a family-style lunch of wood-fired pizzas and gourmet sides prepared by farm-to-table chef Olan Cox.

Given the hands-on nature of this experience, space is very limited. Please call (707) 670-0199 to grab your ticket now. Saracina is located 1.5 miles north of Hopland at 11684 South Hwy 101.

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I fly to Phoenix for the weekend. Perhaps, I’ll review coach class airline wine and airport hotel lounge wine for next week’s column. In the meantime, why don’t you get out this weekend and taste some wine? There certainly are ample opportunities for a great wine weekend close to home. Cheers!

The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition is the big daddy of wine competitions, the largest judging of American wines in the world. This year’s competition started on Tuesday and finished today. There were 5,825 wine entries for the judges to taste. The very best wines earned a Gold Medal, a Double (unanimous) Gold Medal, or Best of Class award. There were also Sweepstakes awards for Best red, white, bubbly, dessert, etc.

These best of the best wines will be poured at Ft. Mason in San Francisco at a Public Tasting on Saturday, February 15, 2014 from 1:30-5:00pm. Tickets regularly sell out, click HERE to buy your tickets.

I’ve pulled together a list of all of the wines made from Mendocino County grapes that won a Gold Medal or higher at the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition – I wonder which of the two Double Gold Medal Dry Sparkling wines from Mendocino County I’ll toast the winners with…maybe both!

Best of Class Chardonnay $15.00-$19.99
2012 Husch Vineyards Chardonnay, Estate Bottled, Mendocino $15.00

Best of Class Grenache
2012 Campovida Grenache, Dark Horse, Mendocino County $36.00

Double Gold Medal Dry Sparkling
NV McFadden Vineyard Cuvée Brut, McFadden Farm, Potter Valley $25.00

Double Gold Medal Dry Sparkling
2009 McFadden Vineyard Special Reserve Brut, McFadden Farm, Potter Valley       $40.00

Double Gold Medal All Other White Varietals
2012 Campovida Roussanne, Bonofiglio, Mendocino County $32.00

Double Gold Medal Pinot Noir Up to $19.99
2012 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley $19.50

Double Gold Medal Pinot Noir $30.00-$34.99
2010 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley $32.00

Double Gold Medal Pinot Noir $50.00 and over
2011 Cakebread Cellars Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley $50.00

Double Gold Medal Pinot Noir $50.00 and over
2010 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, RSM Vineyard, Anderson Valley $56.00

Double Gold Medal Zinfandel Up to $19.99
2012 Navarro Vineyards Zinfandel, Mendocino $19.50

Double Gold Medal Zinfandel $25.00-$29.99
2012 Husch Vineyards Zinfandel, Old Vines, Mendocino $25.00

Double Gold Medal Merlot $10.00-$14.99
2011 Bliss Family Vineyards Merlot, Estate, Mendocino $13.95

Double Gold Medal Cabernet Sauvignon $30.00-$34.99
2011 Moniker Wine Estates  Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County $30.00

Double Gold Medal All Red Blends $25.00-$34.99
2012 Husch Vineyards Heritage, Old Vines, Mendocino $28.00

Gold Medal Sauvignon Blanc $14.00-$19.99
2012 Husch Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino $14.00

Gold Medal Sauvignon Blanc $14.00-$19.99
2012 Husch Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Renegade, Mendocino $18.00

Gold Medal Chardonnay $10.00-$14.99
2012 Kimmel Vineyards Chardonnay, Kimmel Vineyards, Potter Valley $14.99

Gold Medal Chardonnay $10.00-$14.99
2012 Parducci Wine Cellars Chardonnay, Small Lot Blend, Mendocino County $13.00

Gold Medal Chardonnay $15.00-$19.99
2012 Naughty Boy Vineyards Chardonnay, Thornton Ranch, Potter Valley $15.50

Gold Medal Chardonnay $25.00-$29.99
2011 Husch Vineyards Chardonnay , Special Reserve, Mendocino $26.00

Gold Medal Chardonnay $25.00-$29.99
2012 Navarro Vineyards Chardonnay, Premier Reserve, Anderson Valley $25.00

Gold Medal Chardonnay $25.00-$29.99
2012 Seebass Family Wines Chardonnay, Seebass Vineyards, Mendocino     $29.99

Gold Medal Chardonnay $25.00-$29.99
2012 Wattle Creek Winery Chardonnay, Yorkville Highlands $25.00

Gold Medal Chardonnay $40.00 and over
2011 La Follette Wines Chardonnay, Mendocino Ridge $48.00

Gold Medal Chardonnay $40.00 and over
2012 Tom Eddy Wines Chardonnay, Manchester, Mendocino $55.00

Gold Medal Gewurztraminer
2012 Highway 253 Gewurztraminer, Mendocino County $16.99

Gold Medal Riesling RS<1.49
2012 Handley Cellars Riesling, Anderson Valley $22.00

Gold Medal Riesling RS<1.49
2012 Navarro Vineyards Riesling, Anderson Valley $19.50

Gold Medal Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio $15.00 and over
2012 Handley Cellars Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley $20.00

Gold Medal Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio $15.00 and over
2012 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley $19.50

Gold Medal Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio $15.00 and over
2012 Philo Ridge Vineyards Pinot Gris, Marguerite Vineyard, Anderson Valley $21.00

Gold Medal Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio $15.00 and over
2012 Philo Ridge Vineyards Pinot Gris, Klindt Vineyard, Anderson Valley $20.00

Gold Medal All Other White Varietals
2012 Campovida Arneis, Spirit Canyon, Mendocino County $36.00

Gold Medal Dry Rose RS<1
2012 Campovida Rose di Grenache, Riserva, Mendocino County $34.00

Gold Medal Grenache
2012 Navarro Vineyards Grenache, Mendocino $29.00

Gold Medal Pinot Noir Up to $19.99
2011 Bliss Family Vineyards Pinot Noir, Estate, Mendocino $14.99

Gold Medal Pinot Noir $50.00 and over
2011 Tom Eddy Wines Pinot Noir, Manchester, Mendocino $60.00

Gold Medal Zinfandel $20.00-$24.99
2010 Brutocao Cellars Zinfandel, Hopland Estate, Mendocino $22.00

Gold Medal Merlot $15.00-$19.99
2011 Bonterra Vineyards Merlot, Mendocino County $15.99

Gold Medal Merlot $25.00-$29.99
2010 Byrd Vineyard Merlot, Byrd Vineyard, Mendocino County $29.00

Gold Medal Cabernet Sauvignon $30.00-$34.99
2010 Parducci Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, True Grit Reserve, Mendocino County $30.00

Gold Medal Bordeaux Blends $30.00-$39.99
2009 Alder Springs Vineyard Estate 13 Tasks, Alder Springs Vineyard, Mendocino $39.00

Gold Medal All Other Red Varietals
2012 Campovida Negroamaro, Chiarito, Mendocino County $36.00

Gold Medal All Red Blends Up to $14.99
2012 Kimmel Vineyards Redessence, Kimmel Vineyards, Potter Valley $14.99

Gold Medal All Red Blends $15.00-$24.99
NV Cesar Toxqui Cellars Heirloom IV, Mendocino $24.99

Gold Medal White Dessert RS>4
2011 McFadden Vineyard Late Harvest Riesling, McFadden Farm, Potter Valley $18.00

Gold Medal White Dessert RS>4
2012 Stephen & Walker Chardonnay Botrytis, Mendocino Ridge $65.00

Mendocino County is a farm county. We grow grapes that are often sold and blended into Sonoma and Napa county wines to make them better. It is really nice to see so many wines held separate, made from Mendocino County grapes, and recognized for their excellence. Congratulations to the grape growers, winemakers, winery owners who made these wines possible; and thanks to the terrific crew of judges at this year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. We consumers, tasters, and folks working in the tasting rooms are grateful to you all.

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John On Wine ­ – What wine goes with Turkey?

Originally published November 21, 2013 in the Ukiah Daily Journal by John Cesano

 

Thanksgiving dinner: What are you having? This year, the lure became too strong and a turducken shipped overnight from Louisiana will be the feature treat for me. For those of you who do not know what a turducken is (vegetarians would be best served skipping the next bit, moving on to the next paragraph right about now) a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey, with layers of creole cornbread stuffing in between each bird. Careful deboning is involved. Some folks make this a DIY project at home, but a call to the Cajun Grocer is much easier.

In the past, I’ve brined, I’ve baked, and I’ve set turkeys to turning in a set-it-and-forget-it rotisserie machine. Our family and many other Italian American families often had crab cioppino on Thanksgiving.

There was a store where I grew up that made arrangements with boats for their entire catch and huge trucks would be loaded at the docks, and run into town to make the freshest crab available for Thanksgiving.

The store ran ads for the crab at spectacularly low prices, using the crab as a loss leader to bring every Italian American in town to their store to shop for all of their holiday food. The result was a counter lined up eight deep with folks waiting to get their crab orders filled; two crabs, four crabs, eight crabs.

The last time I made crab cioppino using my sainted mother’s recipe, I used 16 whole crabs, cooked up two huge pots, used a ton of other shellfish and big chunks of white fish, plus a red sauce that cooked over 24 hours.

Something is wrong with my brother, okay many things are wrong with my brother, but only I can say that (well, I’m sure his ex-wives do, too); anyway, my brother does not like turkey. I get not liking mass produced, pumped up with water, 59 cents a pound, flavorless turkeys, but my brother doesn’t even like the million dollar a pound organic, free range, Willie Bird turkeys grown in Sonoma County. On Thanksgiving he cooks up a ham, a huge delicious ham.

In addition to a main course dish, of course, there is the stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, candied yams, polenta, baked oysters, cranberry chutney, green salads, pumpkin pie, apple pie, minced meat pie, and so much more served at the typical Thanksgiving table. I mention all these foods that people eat at Thanksgiving because when it comes to Thanksgiving’s varied meals, there is no one singular right wine.

No wine goes with everything, and let’s face it, nearly everything ends up on our Thanksgiving dinner tables. My solution lately has been to bring an assortment of wines to our family Thanksgiving dinner feast, cooked by my son’s maternal grandmother, my ex-wife’s mom. I think they continue to invite me because of the wine. Oh, and this year, I’m bringing a wild rice and broccoli casserole, too.

Conveniently, I work in a place that sells both wine and wild rice. Wild rice is also great for stuffings, and that provides the opportunity for a wine pairing trick. Cook some of your food in wine that you want to serve at the dinner. By cooking a wild rice stuffing in some Pinot Gris, or cooking down the onions, celery, and carrots that will go into your stuffing in a little Pinot Gris, then the Pinot Gris that you serve with dinner will tie back to the food.

I always cooked my crab cioppino in a red sauce that included some rich red Zinfandel, and I would serve the same wine at the table. My ham glaze has a little Coro Mendocino red blend in the mix. The whipped cream for a trifle, or to top a pie, has a little Late Harvest Riesling in it. If you aren’t a cook with wine sort, or you cook strictly to recipes and are afraid to incorporate some wine into your dish, then you are either going to have to find a food chameleon, a wine that goes with many foods, or an assortment of wines for your Thanksgiving table.

Pinot Noir is a relatively soft red wine that goes with many dishes. The soft dry cherry notes, light herb, and slightly earthy quality of Pinot Noir, make for a red not overwhelmingly big and bold, and allow it to pair spectacularly well, classically well, with dishes from salmon to pork. Local solid producers include Barra and Girasole of Redwood Valley, Parducci and Paul Dolan in Ukiah, Jeriko Estate and Saracina between Ukiah and Hopland, and Naughty Boy and Cesar Toxqui Cellars in Hopland.

Blends are a smart choice, because with different grapes come multiple wine flavors, and multi noted wines can pair with a wider variety of dishes than many single varietal wines. The county’s most famous blend is Coro Mendocino and the lightest, most food friendly style, the only one under 14 percent alcohol is the McFadden Coro, a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, and Petite Sirah. Other Coro Mendocino wines that would pair well with many Thanksgiving dinner spreads are made by Ray’s Station and Brutocao Cellars. McFadden, Ray’s Station, and Brutocao are all located in Hopland.

Rosé wines are too often passed on because folks often associate all rosés with the cheapest and worst made White Zinfandel when the truth is that some of the most delicious wines available are dry rosés of Syrah, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, or Zinfandel. Terrific examples include those made by Campovida, Graziano, Frey, and McNab Ridge in Hopland, and Testa Ranch in Calpella.

Bubblies are one of the most popular bottles I bring, often finished first at a family holiday dinner. Great bubbly producers include Terra Sávia and McFadden in Hopland, and Nelson between Ukiah and Hopland.

Thanksgiving is about celebration with family and friends, about overflowing cornucopias and abundance. My recommendation is to grab a number of bottles, perhaps one or more from each of the categories above, an assortment of wines from an assortment of producers, all local, all delicious. Every wine mentioned is available for tasting this weekend, either complimentary or tasting fee refunded with purchase, so stock up on great wines that will make your Thanksgiving meal taste better, and your festivities more festive.

John On Wine – Hopland Passport is October 19 & 20 this Fall

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal on October 10, 2013

Hopland Passport is coming up in just nine days, on Saturday, October 19th and Sunday, October 20th, 2013, from 11:00am to 5:00pm each day.

With fifteen participating wineries pouring their best wines, incredible food pairings at each stop, and opportunities to experience tours, art, and live music, Hopland is the place to be for wine lovers next weekend.

Weekend passes include a collectable logo glass, a wristband, and a real Passport to collect stamps in, and are just $45 online at http://www.DestinationHopland.com/store, or $55 at the event. The online store CLOSES on Thursday, October 17th at noon, so purchase your tickets early to get the discounted price.

Here is some of the fun you can expect if you attend:

Brutocao Cellars plans a football themed weekend with great tailgate food to pair with their award winning Estate wines. The Blues Pirates will perform a “half time” show. Do not miss the annual grape stomp competition!

Campovida will serve organic fare from their gardens, prepared by chef Adam Weiss from their sister property, Piazza de Campovida. Enjoy light bites with the wonderfully expanded line up of wines. Taking the time for a guided tour of the property’s gardens is a must do part of Passport.

Cesar Toxqui Cellars is all about food and wine pairings. Start on the porch with fruit infused cheeses paired with Chardonnay and Viognier, then move inside for BBQ tri tip and sausage with Zinfandels, before finishing your visit with a dessert of dark chocolate cake and Port.

Frey Vineyards pours their organic wines in the Real Goods Store at the Solar Living Center. On the menu, to pair with Frey’s no sulfite added wines, is curried chicken with fall chutney, a biodynamic cheese platter with fresh baguettes, marinated goat cheese, and roasted organic vegetables in a Frey Chardonnay marinade. Explore the grounds, celebrate sustainability, and catch local musicians performing.

Graziano Family of Wines offers up over thirty wines, mostly Italian varietals, and all but a few at under $20. Enjoy aged cheese, homemade tapenade, country pate, seasonal fruit, and an assortment of imported sausages, served with wines ranging from Anglianico to Zinfandel.

Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery invites folks to sit on the covered veranda of their farmhouse tasting room and enjoy their wines with seasonal Mendo-sourced foods prepared by local chef Ellery Clark.

Jeriko Estate smartly offers up a classic pairing: pigs and Pinot. Enjoy three 2012 Pinot Noir wines; the Pommard clone, the Dijon clone, and a blend – the upper Russian River Pinot Noir, paired with wood roasted pork. Live music, tastes of the Gold Medal 2010 Sangiovese and barrel tastes of the 2012 Sangiovese, and San Greal Don 48 Chardonnay Vodka specialty cocktail recipe sharing round out a visit to this certified Biodynamic vineyard and cellar.

The McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room will show off the bounty of their bio-diverse, certified organic, family farm. Take a taste of any of over a dozen 90 point, or higher, rated wines and pair them with grilled organic grass fed beef from McFadden Farm. Enjoy the farm fresh goodness of their wild rice & artichoke heart salad. Guinness McFadden will visit both days and sign bottles of his wines as they are purchased..

McNab Ridge Winery will offer up a pirate themed Passport weekend, decked out in pirate garb, serving up Caribbean roasted pork tenderloin with a pineapple & apricot chutney over wild rice, paired with a gold medal winning dry Gewurztraminer. Over a dozen gormet dips & spreads, barrel tasting of a 2012 Pinot Noir, and bottle painting by Leslie Bartlomei are also on the menu, matey.

Milano Family Winery offers up smoked marinated Tri-Tip, veggies and dips, and aged Cabot Creamery cheeses, live music on both Saturday and Sunday, clothing and craft vendors, and a wide ranging line up of wines, from young sweet whites to aged dry reds.

Nelson Family Vineyards will pair their Estate wines with slices from Mendough’s Wood-Fired Pizza, including chevre and sun dried tomatoes, prosciutto and arugula, Gorgonzola and artickoke. Finish your tasting with their Ice Riesling.

Ray’s Station is pairing with Fork Catering again for some great taste combos; Korean Short Rib Sliders Creamy Slaw with Sriracha mayonnaise paired with 2011 Zinfandel; Grilled Cheese with Gruyère, caramelized onions and tomato jam paired with 2011 Ray’s Red Blend; Crispy Pork Skewers with cilantro, jalapeno and lime paired with 2011 Merlot; and Seven Layer Bars with coconut, butterscotch-chocolate chips, pecans and graham cracker crust paired with NV Brut.

Rivino Winery will be putting on a Canadian themed Passport this fall, with poutine paired with Chardon’eh. Music from the Barenaked Ladies, Neil Young, Bryan Adams and other Canadian artists will fill the air. Listen for owner’s Jason and Suzanne to lose their American accents as the weekend rolls on, slipping back into their Canadian accents.

Saracina will be hosting a squash party this year, featuring gourmet squash and pulled pork tacos to pair with some seriously delicious reds and whites. Live music will fill the air. Complimentary cave tours will be offered at 12:30, 2:30 and 4:00 p.m..

Terra Savia invites visitors to “laissez les bon temps roulez” – let the good times roll, with rich red, white, and bubbly wines paired with stuffed mushrooms and remoulade sauce, chicken and Andouille jambalaya, red beans and rice, couvillion – the fish stew, fried green tomatoes, and New Orleans bread pudding with rum sauce/lemon sauce. Beads, and music from Coffee Zombie Collective, will leave you feeling the joie de vivre – joy of life!

Today, the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition announced the medals that judges awarded the wines that were submitted this year. The SFCWC is the “big daddy” of wine competitions, and today’s announcement was highly anticipated by the wineries competing for awards.

I am concentrating on the wineries and tasting rooms along Highway 101 in Mendocino county’s inland corridor this year, from Hopland to Redwood Valley and Ukiah to Potter Valley. Some folks call this the Upper Russian River wine area, and is quieter than Mendocino County’s more heavily promoted wine area, the Anderson Valley. With a greater variety of micro-climates, Mendocino County’s inland corridor wineries produce medal winning wines across a greater number of wine varietals.

This is the list of awards earned by Mendocino County’s inland corridor wineries, where the wine label indicated the wine was made from the county’s grapes. There were many wines from inland corridor wineries that I did not list here; although they were excellent award winning wines, they were made with grapes from a neighboring county, or were self-identified as North Coast or California wine.

BEST OF CLASS – White Dessert RS>4.0
McFadden Vineyard 2011 Potter Valley McFadden Farm Riesling $18.00

DOUBLE GOLD – Chardonnay – $15.00 to $19.99
McFadden Vineyard 2011 Potter Valley McFadden Farm $16.00
DOUBLE GOLD – Grenache
Jaxon Keys Winery 2010 Mendocino Jon Vinecent $15.00

GOLD – Chardonnay – $15.00 to $19.99
Kimmel Vineyards 2011 Potter Valley Kimmel Vineyards $19.00
GOLD – Chardonnay – $30.00 to $34.99
Kimmel Vineyards 2010 Potter Valley Kimmel Vineyards $32.00
GOLD – Pinot Blanc
Girasole Vineyards 2011 Mendocino $13.00
GOLD – Pinot Noir – up to $19.99
Weibel Vineyards & Winery 2010 Potter Valley Weibel Family $16.95
GOLD – Merlot- $15.00 to $19.99
Bonterra Vineyards 2010 Mendocino County $15.99
GOLD – Cabernet Sauvignon – $40.00 to $49.99
Kimmel Vineyards 2010 Potter Valley Kimmel Vineyards $48.00
GOLD – Petit Verdot
Terra Savia 2009 Mendocino Sanel Valley Vineyards $22.00
GOLD – Red Dessert – RS>4.0
Jaxon Keys Winery 2010 Mendocino Port Dessert Wine $25.00

SILVER – Dry Sparkling
McFadden Vineyard NV Potter Valley McFadden Farm Sparkling Brut Cuvee $25.00
SILVER – Sauvignon Blanc or Fume – up to $13.99
Bonterra Vineyards 2011 Mendocino County $13.99
Brutocao Cellars 2011 Mendocino Feliz Estate $12.99
SILVER – Sauvignon Blanc or Fume – $14.00 to $19.99
Fetzer Vineyards 2011 Mendocino County Mendo $15.99
Patianna Organic Vineyards 2011 Mendocino Estate Organic Grapes $16.99
SILVER – Chardonnay – $10.00 to $14.99
Bonterra Vineyards 2011 Mendocino County $13.99
Naughty Boy Vineyards 2011 Potter Valley Thornton Ranch $14.50
SILVER – Chardonnay – $15.00 to $19.99
Brutocao Cellars 2011 Mendocino Bliss Estate $16.00
SILVER – Gewurztraminer
McFadden Vineyard 2011 Potter Valley McFadden Farm $16.00
McFadden Vineyard 2009 Potter Valley McFadden Farm $16.00
SILVER – Viognier – Up to $19.99
Bonterra Vineyards 2011 Mendocino County $13.99
SILVER – Viognier – $20.00 & Over
Campovida 2011 Mendocino County Campovida Estate $36.00
SILVER – White Blends Over $15.00
Jaxon Keys Winery 2011 Mendocino Farmhouse White $15.00
SILVER – Dry Rose – RS<1%
Naughty Boy Vineyards 2011 Potter Valley Naughty Boy Vnyds Dry Rose of Zinfandel $16.00
SILVER – Pinot Noir – up to $19.99
Fetzer Vineyards 2011 Mendocino County $19.99
SILVER – Pinot Noir – $20.00 to $24.99
Barra of Mendocino 2010 Mendocino $20.00
SILVER – Pinot Noir – $40.00 to $49.99
Jeriko Estate 2011 Mendocino Estate $48.00
SILVER – Zinfandel – up to $19.99
Bliss Family Vineyards 2009 Mendocino Estate $12.99
Bonterra Vineyards 2010 Mendocino County $15.99
Jaxon Keys Winery 2010 Mendocino $18.00
Weibel Vineyards & Winery 2009 Mendocino Weibel Family $16.95
SILVER – Zinfandel – $20.00 to $24.99
Jaxon Keys Winery 2010 Mendocino Maes Block $24.00
Jaxon Keys Winery 2009 Mendocino Ettas Block $20.00
SILVER – Zinfandel – $25.00 to $29.99
McNab Ridge Winery 2009 Mendocino Cononiah Vineyards $26.00
SILVER – Syrah/Shiraz- $20.00 to $24.99
Jaxon Keys Winery 2010 Mendocino Anna Mac $20.00
SILVER – Petite Sirah – Up to $19.99
McNab Ridge Winery 2010 Mendocino County $18.00
SILVER – Petite Sirah – $20.00 & Over
Parducci Wine Cellars 2008 Mendocino County $28.99
SILVER – Merlot – $10.00 to $ 14.99
Parducci Wine Cellars 2010 Mendocino County $10.99
SILVER – Cabernet Sauvignon – up to $14.99
Bliss Family Vineyards 2010 Mendocino Estate $12.99
Parducci Wine Cellars 2009 Mendocino County $10.99
SILVER – Cabernet Sauvignon – $15.00 to $19.99
Weibel Vineyards & Winery 2009 Redwood Valley Weibel Family $18.95
SILVER – Cabernet Sauvignon – $20.00 to $24.99
Brutocao Cellars 2009 Mendocino Contento Estate $22.00
SILVER – Cabernet Sauvignon – $25.00 to $29.99
Kimmel Vineyards 2010 Potter Valley Four Blocks $26.00
SILVER – Cabernet Sauvignon – $40.00 to $49.99
McNab Ridge Winery 2009 Mendo, Napa, Sonoma $40.00
SILVER – Cabernet Franc
Albertina Wine Cellars 2009 Mendocino Zamarzly Family Vineyards $24.00
SILVER – Bordeaux Blends – up to $19.99
Terra Savia 2009 Mendocino Sanel Valley Vineyards Meritage $18.00
SILVER – All Red Blends – Up to $14.99
Bliss Family Vineyards NV Mendocino Schoolhouse Red $12.00

BRONZE – Semi Dry Sparkling
Terra Savia 2011 Mendocino Sanel Valley Vineyards Brut Rouge $23.00
Weibel Vineyards & Winery NV Mendocino County Weibel Family Brut $16.95
BRONZE – Sauvignon Blanc or Fume – $14.00 to $19.99
Jaxon Keys Winery 2011 Mendocino Cecil Keys $16.00
Paul Dolan Vineyards 2011 Potter Valley $17.99
BRONZE – Chardonnay – $10.00 to $14.99
Parducci Wine Cellars 2010 Mendocino County $10.99
BRONZE – Chardonnay – $15.00 to $19.99
Cesar Toxqui Cellars 2010 Mendocino Immigrant $18.00
Patianna Organic Vineyards 2010 Mendocino Estate Organic Grapes $16.99
BRONZE – Chardonnay – $20.00 to $24.99
Rivino Winery 2010 Mendocino Schrader Ranch Estate $22.00
BRONZE – Riesling – RS<1.49
Bonterra Vineyards 2010 Mendocino County White $13.99
McFadden Vineyard 2010 Potter Valley McFadden Farm $18.00
BRONZE – Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio – $15.00 & Over
McFadden Vineyard 2011 Potter Valley McFadden Farm Pinot Gris $16.00
BRONZE – Pinot Noir – up to $19.99
Bliss Family Vineyards 2010 Mendocino Estate $15.99
Bonterra Vineyards 2011 Mendocino County $15.99
BRONZE – Pinot Noir – $25.00 to $29.99
Naughty Boy Vineyards 2009 Potter Valley Naughty Boy Vineyards $26.00
BRONZE – Zinfandel – up to $19.99
Patianna Organic Vineyards 2011 Mendocino Old Vine $19.99
BRONZE – Primitivo
Brutocao Cellars 2009 Mendocino Contento Estate $22.00
BRONZE – Italian Blends – Up to $24.99
Brutocao Cellars 2009 Mendocino Hopland Estate Quadriga $24.00
BRONZE – Syrah/Shiraz – up to $19.99
Jaxon Keys Winery 2010 Mendocino Sandra Syrah $18.00
BRONZE – Merlot – $10.00 to $ 14.99
Terra Savia 2009 Mendocino Sanel Valley Vineyards $13.50
BRONZE – Cabernet Sauvignon – $25.00 to $29.99
Parducci Wine Cellars 2010 Mendocino County $29.99
Yokayo 2010 Mendocino County $25.00
BRONZE – Bordeaux Blends – $20.00 to $29.99
Cesar Toxqui Cellars NV Mendocino Heirloom IV $24.00
BRONZE – Bordeaux Blends – $30.00 to $39.99
Milano Family Winery 2007 Mendocino Bells Echo Vineyard Echo $37.00
BRONZE – All Red Blends – Up to $14.99
Frey 2011 Redwood Valley Frey Field Blend $14.99
Weibel Vineyards & Winery NV Mendocino Road I Red Red Table Wine $9.95
BRONZE – All Red Blends – $25.00 – $34.99
Jaxon Keys Winery 2010 Mendocino Assemblage $28.00

Two things I noted: the winery I manage the tasting room for took the highest honors and, while many will rightly feel like winners, it seems to me that Potter Valley was the big winner with a nice haul of Best Of Class, Double Gold, and Gold Medals.

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