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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.

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John On Wine ­ – Spirits, dinners, passports, festivals, and a movie

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, April 24, 2014, written by John Cesano

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Jack Crispin Cain is the man behind Greenway Distillers, Inc. and American Craft Whiskey Distillery, co-located with Germain-Robin in Redwood Valley. Cain invited me to taste two new Low Gap whiskeys. Crispin also creates Crispin’s Rose Liqueur, Absinthe Superiure, Fluid Dynamics Barrel Aged Cocktails, Russell Henry Gins, and DSP CA 162 Straight Vodka.

Very much a family affair, Cain’s two sons Devin and Crispin Dylan were working on the next lime vodka when I arrived for a private tasting, and wife Tamar is involved in growing the roses for the Rose Liqueur and the herbs for the Absinthe. Tamar will also be the editor of a book due this fall, “Rural Cocktails of Mendocino County” that will be collaboratively written by Brian and Kate Riehl, as well as Jack Crispin Cain, and feature cocktails built around Cain’s spirits.

First up for tasting was a new Low Cap 2 Year Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey made from malted wheat and aged in used Port, Cognac, and Minnesota barrels. The color was natural, from the barrels, and not the darker color you find from whiskeys produced with caramel flavor and color additives. The new Whiskey has a natural perfume of butterscotch and cereal grain, candied wheat, and is incredibly smooth.

Cain’s 2010 Low Gap Whiskey earned a 5 star review and a 100 point rating. Reviewers will need to add another star and a few more points to their rating systems. The flavors of all of Cain’s spirits are pure, clean, with delicate identifiable notes. Cain explained that by using no artificial flavorings, only real fruit and other pure ingredients, and careful distilling techniques with direct fire and a copper onion shaped still, fermentation enzymes and yeasts leaving no sugars, and a host of other refined decisions, the quality of his spirits, already high, will continue to improve and then be maintained indefinitely.

I also tasted a 2011 blended Corn and Barley Whiskey, running 43 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). The flavors are not as direct as the Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey, but more layered at a very subtle level with a little bite on the end; the classic corn whiskey flavor definitely comes through.

I tasted four vodkas from Cain’s DSP CA 162 label. The unflavored vodka has a super clean taste with light wheat notes. The lime vodka, made from an infusion of Malaysian lime and leaf was delightful for the pure candied lime note. The tangerine was a touch lighter in the mouth, delicate, and again showed candied fruit ­ this time tangerine. The citron vodka was bright and round with intensely concentrated sweet fruit.

Cain poured a barrel aged gin, 47 percent ABV, not yet released but gorgeous with a taste between gin and whiskey. The gin was aged in two new Bourbon barrels and one used Cognac barrel. There is a natural sweetness from both the cereal and the oak. Look for this to be bottled and sold as “Russell Henry Dark Gin” toward the end of the year, hopefully before Christmas. Spirits are often blended to make a tasty cocktail. I find that every spirit Cain makes is already cocktail delicious, sipping sweetly straight.

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I attended a Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush featuring the wines of Yorkville Cellars last night. For a recap of the meal, visit my online wine blog http://www.JohnOnWine.com where I will post a stand-alone story with every bite and sip getting its due.

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This weekend, I am attending Passport to Dry Creek Valley, the sold-out event in Sonoma County. Together with my girlfriend, June, I will be an appreciative guest of the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley. The event is sold out. This event always sells out. Next week, my wine column will be a recap of the travels by June and myself through the Dry Creek Valley.

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For those who want a Passport experience, Hopland Passport in Mendocino County is two weekends away, on May 3 and 4, and a $45 ticket online in advance (tickets are $55 if you procrastinate) will allow Passport holders to visit 17 winery tasting rooms — tasting fees waived — to taste wines paired with scrumptious food offerings at each stop. For $2.65 per winery attendees will enjoy wine and food tastes with many tasting rooms hosting live music or fun tours, and with some wineries offering their best sale prices of the year, as well as 30 prizes given away in drawings. Hopland Passport is a must attend wine event. For tickets, go to http://www.DestinationHopland.com/store.

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Individual events at this year’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival are selling out. If you love Pinot Noir, then this is a series of events, a festival, for you. Dinners, tastings and more on May 16 and 17. Tickets available at http://www.avwines.com/anderson-valley-pinot-noir-festival.

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If you have Netflix, I highly recommend the movie SOMM, a documentary following candidates attempting to become Master Sommeliers. The single-minded devotion to a subject, to a goal is impressive, as is the sheer narcissism of most of the candidates. Not always attractive, this glimpse into the highest levels of wine geekdom is nonetheless educational and entertaining.

 

Note: This column originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, December 19, 2013 -

Wow, the last column before Christmas. This is where I am supposed to write the cliché “Holiday Gifts for your Wine Lover” piece. I’ll probably mention a couple of things that I like, but first, I have a couple of notes of thanks:

Thank you to everyone who, after reading my column last week, came to the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room with a new unwrapped toy donation for our Toys For Tots toy drive & wine tasting event. We just about doubled the number of toys brought in last year, and we will be able to bring these toys to the Hopland Volunteer Fire Department for the wonderful firemen to deliver, helping Santa, on Christmas Eve. The thanks for this success, and the joy and smiles of the children helped, is all because of you, and I am incredibly grateful.

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Thanks also go to my boss Guinness McFadden and to our winemakers Bob Swain and Mark Beaman. Last week, I was invited to sit in on tastes of wines we’ll release in the future, and helped shape a future Coro blend. I am a taster guy; I taste wine, describe it, and sell it. I know the rudimentary process of winemaking, but this knowledge is much more theory than practice, and sitting with two accomplished winemakers in their realm, not mine, was a terrific experience. I learned a ton, and I gained a new and valuable perspective.

Finally, many folks to thank for last week’s Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Ukiah, featuring the 2010 vintage Coro Mendocino wines.

First, thanks to my boss for picking up the tab for my dinner. Next, thanks to the entire staff at Crush, from chefs Jesse and Nate and their entire kitchen crew to the front of house team, for another spectacularly executed wine dinner experience. Speaking of front of house team, thanks to Julie Golden from Coro Mendocino for working alongside the team to pour a plentitude of delicious wine. Huge thanks go to local superstar photographer Tom Liden; as soon as I saw Tom with his camera, I knew I could leave my picture taking device in it’s bag. Finally, thanks to everyone who attended the dinner; without you and the energy you bring, there would be no special wine dinners.

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Photography by Tom Liden, Tom Liden Photography

The Coro Dinner at Crush saw the largest event gathering, 70 guests, in the history of all three Crush restaurants, and the event sold out earlier than any previous dinner, with many people on a waiting list, hoping for a cancellation.

I love the Zinfandel based blends of the Coro Mendocino program, they were all delicious. Food highlights for me were the wedge salad with Nueske bacon, blue cheese, and red onions; the crab balls – they were billed as cakes, but trust me they were balls; oysters Rockefeller; and Prime Rib with all the trimmings. For me, the best, and most memorable, food and wine pairing of the night was at dessert, when the Butterscotch Budino, a bowl with chocolate pudding on the bottom, then caramel pearls, then butterscotch pudding, topped with Chantilly cream and mint – you dug down to get all layers with each spoonful – was paired with the Double Gold and Best of Class awarded 2011 McFadden Late Harvest Riesling. I expected delicious, but this pairing left delicious far behind; this was a perfect pairing. A spoon and a tiny sip, another spoon and another sip, until, too soon, it was gone.

This dinner series is a treat, and I’ll let you know about future dinners when I hear about them.

The next scheduled Coro dinner will be the 2011 vintage release party at the Little River Inn on Saturday, June 28, 2014. For more info, or to make a reservation, call the Little River Inn at (707) 937-5942.

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Okay, here are some wine gift recommendations for Christmas:

Wine. Visit any winery tasting room, enjoy a wine tasting if you have the time, and pick up some delicious wines for the holidays. Wine makes a great hostess gift when you visit for a Christmas party or dinner. Wine makes food taste better, so you should serve it at your table too. A couple of bottles wrapped and placed under the tree make for great emergency gifts when someone gives you a gift and you hadn’t purchased a gift for them yet. Wine was Christ’s first miracle, and he offered a cup to the dinner guests at His last supper, so wine infuses a little miracle into this season of Christmas.

Wine gadgets. A good wine opener, an aerator, reusable bottle stoppers, a Champagne stopper, and a can of argon or argon mixed with nitrogen to preserve wine between glasses are all great gifts that a wine lover will appreciate.

Wine books: I have two to recommend. The first features the words of Heidi Cusick Dickerson, who wrote a weekly wine column in the Journal before I did, and the photography of Tom Liden, and is focused on the wines, wineries, and vineyards of Mendocino County. The book is Mendocino Roots & Ridges and retails for $29.95. It is gorgeously rich in content, and hand signed copies by Heidi and Tom are available widely, including the McFadden tasting room in Hopland.

The second book has a larger focus, The New California Wine by San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonne retails at $35, and is available at better book stores everywhere. Among my favorite dozen inland Mendocino vineyards that Bonne notes are Eaglepoint Ranch, Gibson Ranch, Heart Arrow Ranch, Lolonis, McFadden Farm, Sun Hawk, and Testa; as well almost twenty Anderson Valley properties. The book is a look at California’s wine industry today, growers, winemakers, and the wines, and is an absolute must have book for anyone serious enough about wine to have a library of wine books.
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That’s it, some thanks, a couple of wine gift ideas, and this wish: Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, or whatever year end wish for happiness works for you, from me.

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