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John On Wine – Halcón Vineyards, just in time for Thanksgiving dinner

Originally published in  the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, November 20, 2014

“I just found your site. Great to see someone focused on Mendo. Okay if I drop off samples?”

With this e-mail introduction, I came to meet Paul Gordon of Halcón Vineyards, allowing that we haven’t met in person yet, but have traded emails and I did indeed get those samples. Paul lives in Sunnyvale, but made a detour to Hopland on the way to Halcón Vineyards to drop off three wines. In the spring, I look forward to visiting Halcón Vineyards with Paul, and I’ll add pictures to the online archived version of this column then.

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Halcón is “a vineyard on the top of Yorkville Ranch at 2,500 feet. A cold, windy location with very rocky, thin soils,” Paul wrote, continuing, “we planted Rhone varieties, mainly Syrah. We also buy Roussane and Marsanne from Alder Springs.”

With regard to the samples, Paul asked me to, “please give them some air (even the white). The Grenache particularly is better the next day after opening.”

Each of the three wines dropped off for me had fanciful proprietary names, Prado, Esquito, and Alturas.

The 2012 Halcón Prado is a 50/50 blend of Rousanne and Marsanne, two Rhone white varieties and, according to the tech sheet provided, “represents the second Halcón vintage utilizing fruit from Alder Springs…meticulously farmed, the vines are planted in low vigor, hillside soils at well over 2,000 feet in elevation.” The Prado was aged in French oak, 20% new, and bottled unfined and unfiltered. The alcohol runs 14.3%, there were 180 cases produced, and the retail price is $32.

Pouring a taste, swirling it, the color is the pale yellow of spring’s first corn, and the wine offers up aromas of rich, sweet, fleshy fruit, orchard and tropical, lemon curd, butter, caramel, and a touch of vanilla and nutmeg spice, with pleasingly delicious balanced flavors of peach, apricot, apple, juicy ripe pineapple, and a long lingering finish, tapering away slowly, with all the flavors intact, but slowly, oh so slowly diminishing. The malic acid only becomes noticeable when the last sweeter flavors melt away.

The 2012 Halcón Esquito is a red Rhone blend, of 65% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre and 5% Syrah, and the fruit comes from Halcón’s estate vineyard, at 2,500 feet, one of the highest vineyards in California, in the Yorkville Highlands appellation. The vineyards offer views of both the Anderson Valley and Pacific Ocean beyond. The provided tech sheet promises a wine that, “combines bright, red fruited Grenache with a brooding, earthy Mourvedre. The Syrah pulls the pieces together and rounds out the palate.” The Esquito was aged in neutral French oak puncheons (larger oak barrels), and bottled unfined and unfiltered. The alcohol runs 14.1%, there were 220 cases produced, and the retail price is $32.

The 2012 Halcón Esquito is midway between translucent and opaque, and a rich purpley garnet color. Nosing and tasting yield dry cherry, black pepper, woody herb, and olive aromas, and flavors of cherry, pluot, dry cranberry, all in a lip smackingly delicious sip.

The 2012 Halcón Alturas is 97% Syrah and 3% co-fermented Viognier, fermented with natural yeasts, 20% new French oak puncheons, with no fining or filtering. The alcohol runs 13.5%, there were 325 cases produced, and the retail price is $32.

Darker, more opaque, the 2012 Halcón Alturas is a deep ruby color, and is simply bursting with juicy ripe red fruit. Direct, but the right notes. On the tongue, a little candied tart strawberry fruit blends with riper black cherry and blackberry. This wine tests my wine taster’s discipline, begging to be drunk, and not sipped or spit.

These wines are delicious multi noted and perfectly suited to going up against the wide variety of foods found at a Thanksgiving dinner table and pairing well with everything. I love Rhone wines, Rhone blends, am partial to Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre blends, so was surprised to find myself most in love with the last wine, the Alturas, the wine almost entirely made from Syrah. Both reds balance tart candied fruit with darker riper fruit, providing a broad range of flavors and full mouthfeel, on medium bodied wines.

All three Halcón Vineyards’ wines are available for purchase at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland; and may be found on the wine lists of the Boonville Hotel, Stone and Embers restaurant, and the Albion River Resort in Mendocino County.

For more information about the wines and vineyards of Halcón, visit http://www.HalcónVineyards.com.

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A Taste of Redwood Valley’s 12th Annual Holiday Wine Sale & Juried Artisan Faire is this weekend, Saturday, November 22 and Sunday, November 23, from 11-5 each day. Bring a glass and visit Graziano Family of Wines and Germain-Robin/Craft Distillers, open Saturday only, and Frey Vineyards, Giuseppe Wines / Neese Vineyards, Silversmith Vineyards, Brown Family Wines , Barra of Mendocino / Girasole Vineyards, and Testa Vineyards, open both Saturday and Sunday, for complimentary wine tasting, new releases, and discounts up to 40% on wine and spirits. For more information, visit http://www.atasteofredwoodvalley.com.

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Last night, as I write this and not as you read this, I attended the sixth Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah. This one, smack in the middle of the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Festival, had Chef Jesse and his team serving up one amazing mushroom dish after another, and the wines were all from Cesar Toxqui Cellars and paired perfectly with the food. Two nights from now, again as I write this and not as you read this, I will be attending a similar mushroom dinner at Barra of Mendocino featuring the wines of…Barra of course! You can find recaps, word and pictures, from those two dinners online at http://www.JohnOnWine.com. Looking forward, the next big Chef’s Wine Dinner will be at Crush in Ukiah, during Mendocino County’s Crab, Wine & Beer Fest, will feature Dungeness Crab and the wines of McFadden Farm, on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 at 6:00 pm. Tickets are $75, include food, wine, tax, and tip, and are available at Crush in Ukiah, in the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland, or online at www.McFaddenFarm.com.

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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John On Wine – More Mushroom Meals, and a Turkey Meal Nears        

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, November 14, 2014

Thanks to the good efforts of Visit Mendocino, the local tourism group that brings visitors to Mendocino County for events, who then stay in our inns and hotels, their Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest continues through this weekend.

Last week, I wrote that one of the best ways to experience the magic of wine was through great wine dinners, and I wrote that Crush has the edge in putting on Chef’s Wine Dinners, like last night’s dinner, pairing the wines of Cesar Toxqui Cellars with mushroom dishes (for a recap of that dinner, visit JohnOnWine.com online where I’ll be posting an online exclusive within the week), or the next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush, on Wednesday, January 21, 2015, when Chef Jesse pairs crab dishes (thanks again Visit Mendocino for your Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest!) with highly rated and multiple Double Gold medal wines from McFadden Farm. Well, I should have made clear that Crush, by virtue of the restaurant’s layout has an edge, but there is one winery with a similar advantage: Barra of Mendocino.

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Barra of Mendocino can host an event, rain or shine, in their own facility, which is both a tasting room and event center all at once. Barra does so with frequency, and this 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. Tickets are $80, or $55 for Barra wine club members (707) 485-0322 to get your tickets, tell ‘em I sent you, and I will see you there!

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The evening will be Moulin Rouge themed, think Parisian cabaret with great food and drink.

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

L’ Apértif: Mushroom Pate’, Charcuterie, French cheeses, green olives, and baguettes served with Zinfand el, 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.

I will post a recap of this dinner on an exclusive online post at JohnOnWine.com within the week.

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Another fun mushroom and wine experience will be at Yorkville Cellars on Highway 128 in the Yorkville Highlands. Yorkville Cellars focuses on the wine varieties of Bordeaux, France; Malbec among them. Coming up this Friday, November 14 through Sunday, November 16, from 11-6pm each day, you can experience. “Malbec Four Ways for Four Days”:  an inaugural Malbec Rosé, Malbec table wine, Sweet Malbec and a new release of Sparkling Malbec Brut Rosé. The Malbec grapes come from Yorkville’s own certified organic estate vineyard. Nicely enough, there will be tasty and tantalizing mushroom themed appetizers and desserts to pair with the wines.

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For all of the fun mushroom themed events going on through Sunday, pick up a copy of Visit Mendocino’s 44 page brochure made just for the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest, available at nearly every winery tasting room in the county, or go to http://www.visitmendocino.com/mushroom-wine-and-beer-festival online.
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Looking forward a couple of weeks, to Thanksgiving, I was wondering what you do with wine at the holiday. What wines do you serve? Do you bring wine as a hostess gift to be shared with the meal. I wrote a piece last year about what wines go best with Thanksgiving dinner, and over the years, I have brought, and my family has enjoyed, every possible imaginable wine, from sparkling wines to dessert wines, and rosés to huge reds, with whites from dry to sweet as well.

I think that any wine, if good, makes a dinner better, and I have plenty of very good wine to bring to any dinner; but I also think some wines do better with Thanksgiving fare than others. Personally, I think that lighter, low alcohol red wines are great, because they are less likely to overpower the turkey. Blends are a good choice, because each grape gives up different aromas and flavors and with a basket of notes to pull from, different foods can pull different notes to pair with, each differently, from just one wine. Blends are chameleon-like, going with many things well, and I particularly like Rhone varietal blends, both red and white.

I have had inexpensive blends, Trinchero’s Menage a Trois at $7.99 as an example, that tasted good and went spectacularly well with a holiday dinner. There is nothing wrong with good tasting food wine that is affordable.

Here’s the thing, I know what I like. Let me know what wine you like to share at Thanksgiving. Email me at JohnOnWine@gmail.com and you may find that you help write my next column, or a portion of it, for me.

On Wednesday, November 12, 2014, Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah hosted their sixth in a series of Chef’s Wine Dinners, this time pairing with Cesar Toxqui Cellars and featuring mushrooms from start to finish, celebrating the county’s bounty during the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Festival.

Cesar Toxqui

Cesar Toxqui

Cesar Toxqui, owner and winemaker at Cesar Toxqui Cellars, described each wine during the evening, and offered insight into some choices that go into winemaking…and selecting the right wines to pair with a multi-course mushroom dinner.

Ruth Toxqui and Lynn Elhardt

Ruth Toxqui and Lynn Elhardt

Cesar’s wife (and co-owner of Cesar Toxqui Cellars) Ruth Toxqui chatted with Lynn Elhardt (mother of the dinner’s Chef, Jesse Elhardt). Lynn kindly shared that Jesse’s path to Chefdom was as direct as computer science to mechanical engineering to the kitchen. While the path was meandering, the journey led to the right place.

Porcini Bruschetta Bites

Porcini Bruschetta Bites

The Porcini Bruschetta Bites during the meet & greet reception were paired with the 2012 Cesar Toxqui Pinot Gris, which provided a terrific pairing. Made from a toasted baguette, a concentrated tomato jam, herbed ricotta, olive oil, balsamic, micro intensity, and porcini mushrooms, one of the best pairings of the night was the single one of these I brought to the table and paired with Cesar’s Pinot Noir.

Crush General Manager Kevin serving up 2012 CTC Pinot Gris and Porcini Bruschetta Bites

Crush General Manager Kevin serving up 2012 CTC Pinot Gris and Porcini Bruschetta Bites

Kevin was a terrific host for the evening’s dinner, every want was met all night.

Dinner Meet & Greet

Dinner Meet & Greet

Typically folks spend fifteen minutes in the comfortable bar area, allowing late stragglers to arrive, before heading into the special event dining room.

Meet & Greet at the bar

Meet & Greet at the bar

Quite comfortable at the bar, I usually find myself enjoying the first food and wine pairings of the night here at these Crush Chef’s Wine Dinners.

Chef Jesse Elhardt describing the night's dishes

Chef Jesse Elhardt describing the night’s dishes

Chef Jesse’s menus look good, but his verbal descriptions, when he paints pictures with words, well, this is a huge part of the night.

Crush Beverage Manager Nick pouring wines

Crush Beverage Manager Nick pouring wines

It is always great to see Nick, and together with the rest of the Crush team, gave guests a perfect service experience.


Polpette al Vino Bianco

Polpette al Vino Bianco

Veal, parmesan reggiano, brown butter parsnip puree, caramelized onion jus, chive stick. Sound good? It was better. These veal meat balls, this sauce, paired with the 2012 Cesar Toxqui Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, were beyond mere deliciousness. If God is missing his balls, these might be them. They are Heavenly.

Clams Casino

Clams Casino

Shiitake mushrooms, diced, then combined with pancetta, green bell pepper, shallot, house made bread crumbs, asiago, compound butter, and smoked chanterelle mushrooms. Again, paired beautifully with the 2012 CTC RRV Pinot Noir.

A full table of happy dinner guests

A full table of happy dinner guests

Sure, these folks could have eaten food off a pizza truck, outside, in the rain, but why would anyone do that? Chef Jesse Elhardt of Crush and Cesar and Ruth Toxqui of Cesar Toxqui Cellars were the evening’s perfect team, offering up taste sensation after taste sensation to a very appreciative group of dinner patrons.

Broccolini Salad

Broccolini Salad

Broccolini, shaved crimini mushrooms, red onion, fried bread, fresh burrata, pickled mushroom relish, sherry vinaigrette, olive oil, and micro intensity. You know the dinner is great when the vegetable dishes are great. This reminded me of a great broccoli rabe, a perfect vegetable dish to pair against veal, with wine.

 Cesar Toxqui Pinot Noir almost gone, Second course Cesar Toxqui Zinfandel just poured

Cesar Toxqui Pinot Noir almost gone, Second course Cesar Toxqui Zinfandel just poured

Cesar talked about his winemaking, saying, “we’re very small, handmade wines, I’m a hands on winemaker,” and explained that with his wines he, “tries to highlight the year, the varietal, and appelation,” using, “biodynamic, organic, and conventional,” winemaking choices, in that order.

The night's main wines paired perfectly with the rich and flavorful mushroom dishes

The night’s main wines paired perfectly with the rich and flavorful mushroom dishes

2012 Cesar Toxqui Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and 2012 Cesar Toxqui Cellars Split Rock Zinfandel (certified organic).

Brussels & Cauliflower Gratin

Brussels & Cauliflower Gratin

Brussel sprouts and cauliflower gratin with housemade bread crumbs, toasted pine nut, and gruyere,

Yukon Potato Puree

Yukon Potato Puree

Yukon potatoes and roasted mushrooms.

Drawing to a winning pair

Drawing to a winning pair

2012 CTC Split Rock Zin and Jesse’s Ragu of Mushrooms

Ragu of Mushrooms

Ragu of Mushrooms

I have written before that Jesse’s 8 hour ragu tastes like 48 hours, with rich deep intense flavors. I’ve enjoyed lamb ragu, beef ragu, and bison ragu from Jesse, but this vegetarian dish, this mushroom ragu is at least as good, if not better than any previous offering. Served with one of the best pastas ever made, a handmade orecchiette pasta, ricotta, basil pesto, and parmesan regianno, this was a show off dish. Cesar’s Zin was also rich, deep, and dark, almost more like a Cabernet Sauvignon, and paired beautifully with the mushroom ragu.

Grilled Certified Angus Beef Skirt Steak

Grilled Certified Angus Beef Skirt Steak

My iPad camera makes this meaty look rare red, but it was perfectly medium rare, and served with a red wine and crimini demi glace, and little crumbles of soft gorgonzola. Another dish created to pair perfectly with Cesar Toxqui’s Split Rock Zinfandel.

My Second Course Plate. I exercised portion control, not my strong suit, especially with food this delicious.

My Second Course Plate. I exercised portion control, not my strong suit, especially with food this delicious.

I am on a diet, I’ve lost 35 pounds, with many to go. At past dinners, you would not see my plate for all the food piled on it. The quality, brilliantly defined flavors, of the night’s dishes made portion control acceptable…if not desirable. I did have three veal meatballs and a second small helping of the mushroom ragu.

Crush Wine Dinner Series devotees

Crush Wine Dinner Series devotees

My dinner mates inspected a bottle of Cesar’s Zinfandel, an organic offering full of flavor.

Dulce Paloma

Dulce Paloma

For dessert, Cesar and Ruth brought their Dulce Paloma, a port like, rich wine, fortified with a little extra goodness from Germain-Robin, the world’s best brandy maker.

Candy Cap Mousse

Candy Cap Mousse

Mushroom dessert? Yep. Candy cap mushrooms throw caramel flavors, and if no one told you, then you would never guess you are eating a mushroom dessert. This was a dual layer mousse, with candy cap, vanilla bean, blue berry, marscapone, fried quinoa, and mint.

Chef Jesse introduces his kitchen team, to a rousing ovation.

Chef Jesse introduces his kitchen team, to a rousing ovation.

At evening’s end, Chef Jesse brought his crew out from the kitchen and individually introduced each team member, and a round of applause, well earned, was given by the night’s diners.

I was asked to introduce the next Chef’s wine dinner at Crush, and tickets began selling immediately after this night’s mushroom dinner for the Wednesday, January 21, 2015 Chef’s Wine Dinner featuring Dungeness Crab dishes during the Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Food Fest with the wines coming from McFadden Farm. California’s best sparkling wine, the Wine Enthusiast magazine 90 point rated white wines, a 95 point Wine X/Just Wine Points Old Vine Zinfandel, and a three time Double Gold or better Late Harvest Riesling…with a bunch of Dungeness crab dishes created by Chef Jesse. $75, food, wine, tax, tip included, get your ticket NOW; they will sell out!

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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John On Wine – Wine Tasting 101

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, November 6, 2014; written by John Cesano

Wine tasting is daunting for some folks. If you have never gone to a winery tasting room, for a wine tasting, the uncertainty of what to expect, can be a little scary, even intimidating.

Beer is simple, you go to the corner store, grab an ice cold six-pack out of the cooler, pay for it, take it home, open a bottle, and drink it. No one is judging you. It is just beer in a bottle, and then in your belly. Food pairings are not much of a concern with beer; chips, nuts, pretzels will all do just fine.

If you watch Frasier and his brother Niles in reruns, then you might think wine is pretentious and that the little rituals might trip you up and make you look foolish. Put any such concerns out of your mind.

For the most part, wine – to me, and to many Italian Americans in northern California – is food. Wine is just one more ingredient, or dish, among many, in a larger meal, and wine should complement your food and make it taste better.

One of my favorite things about a Chef’s Wine Dinner at a good restaurant, like Crush or Patrona here in Ukiah, is that perhaps six wines will be poured and perhaps ten food dishes will be served, and you are afforded the opportunity to try sips of different wines with different foods to see what pairings work for you, a wonderfully playful experiment of trial and error, or better yet trial and delicious success, over an entire evening…well, that is a great way to be awakened to the wonder of food and wine pairings, surrounded by 70 other people having the same sensory overloading experience, oohs and ahhs, and, as the evening goes on, groans of delighted contentment, everywhere.

The next of these opportunities is next Wednesday, November 12, 2014, when Chef Jesse Elhardt and his team at Crush pair mushroom dishes with the wines of Cesar Toxqui Cellars, at what I consider the premier event of the entire 2014 Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Festival. Surprising no one, I have my ticket already. Tickets are $65 in advance, or $75 at the door, and include food, wine, tax & tip.

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Cesar Toxqui will have his Cesar Toxqui Cellars wines featured at the Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah on Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Similarly, the premier event of the 2015 Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Festival will be the McFadden Farm Winemaker Dinner at Crush on Wednesday, January 21, 2015. This dinner will be a crabapalooza, and as crab costs more than mushrooms, tickets are $75 in advance, and also includes food, wine, tax & tip. There will be no tickets at the door, as this event will sell out.

Contact Crush by calling (707) 463-0700 to make reservations for either of these two great opportunities to play with food and wine!

Visits to winery tasting rooms should be as much fun, or certainly more fun than they too often are, I’ll admit. If you are a novice, and want to feel comfortable, come and visit me at the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland. I’m in most every Tuesday through Friday from 10-5 each day, and my incredible team handles most of the other days. We’re the top rated tasting room in California by the San Francisco Chronicle, because we want you to enjoy yourself, because we give you an experience, and because we treat you with respect.

First things first, wine tasting should be complimentary. This isn’t liquid gold and rubies, it is fermented grape juice, and I am thrilled to do away with the pretension of Napa County for visitors to our humble tasting room. If you value your juice too greatly to pour a taste of it, or don’t know how to add the cost of samples to your cost of goods when setting prices, then Napa County is one county south, then another east. That said, while wine tasting is complimentary, tossing a bill or two in the jar is never frowned upon.

Next thing, and perhaps the most important thing to know: the dump bucket is your friend. I like to pour through all available wines, usually about a dozen, give or take, and if you try to drink a dozen pours then you will be drunk. I pour an ounce of wine in a nice big glass, and if you swirl the wine then you can break free some of the aroma molecules, and put your nose into the glass, and slowly sniff in all the smells. Then take a little sip, and see what flavors the wine has. The wine flavor will taper away, sometimes slowly, sometimes abruptly, and more flavor notes may be found here on the finish. Finally, dump the remaining wine from the glass into the bucket.

I let people experience the wine before I share the notes that the wines present to me. I also tell a little story about each wine, and put our wines in context by describing our farm, our growing choices, the winemaking styles, and much more. A visit with me can often last an hour, and involve a dozen wines, but a mere sip of each wine means less than an ounce consumed and critical judgment is still intact, so wine buying or wine club joining decisions are about the wine and not the result of alcohol making your decisions for you.

Here’s another thing that is important to own: you are the boss of you, you are the ultimate judge of what you like and do not like. I pour Gold medal, Double Gold medal, Best of Class and Best of Show wines. I have wines that professional judges unanimously voted Gold, in competition after competition after competition. I pour great wines, AND YOU ARE FREE TO NOT LIKE THEM. Not everyone likes everything, and with 12 wines to pour, there is a great chance you’ll find one or two, or all 12, to like or not like.

As I pour, I do mention foods that each of the wines I pour pair well with, often sharing recipes, because a wine at first taste that was just good can be the best wine you’ve ever tasted when it accompanies   the right dish.

After running through all of my wines, with the nosing, sipping, and dumping, I always ask visitors if they would like to revisit any wines, because sometimes one sip just isn’t enough. I also like to recommend other wineries to visit based on what my visitors liked most, and perhaps a local place to eat between wine tasting visits.

I write about wine because I do not want anyone to be intimidated by it. I pour wine in much the same way. Nicely enough, there are many other incredibly friendly and fun folks pouring wine throughout Mendocino County, and every one of us would love to pour wine for you. We’re gentle with first-timers; if you haven’t been wine tasting yet, give it a try.

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:

CHEF’S WINE DINNER Featuring CESAR TOXQUI CELLARS

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 6:00 pm

MEET AND GREET

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

FIRST COURSE

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

SECOND COURSE

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

DESSERT

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
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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

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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
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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.

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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