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John On Wine – A New Zin Tradition

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, August 28, 2014

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

On a sunny Saturday in August, I spent some time in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley at the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) Simply Summer Celebration, an inaugural event billed as “a new Zin tradition.”

A large white tent was set up in the center of Ridge Vineyards’ Lytton West Vineyard and over 125 Zinfandels were poured by the 50 wineries set up underneath the canopy, with Petaluma’s Pizza Politana set up just outside the tent and serving wood-fired artisan pizzas and a mixed green salad for the over 400 assembled wine lovers that day.

I love Zinfandel, but it can be a pretty big varietal, often tending toward high alcohol and massive dense fruit jam bomb flavors. On a hot day, outside, with plenty of sun, surrounded by other tasters, I was pleased to be writing for the Ukiah Daily Journal, as I could focus on the few wines made from Mendocino grapes and sensibly limit my tastes.

First up, I tasted the wine that won the John Parducci Best of Show Red Wine award at the recent 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition, the 2012 Artezin Wines Zinfandel, Mendocino, $17. Pouring it was winemaker Randle Johnson.

Artezin is a Napa winery, part of The Hess Collection, and the grapes for this top medal winning Zinfandel come from all over inland Mendo, including from Laviletta Vineyard on Mill Creek Road in Talmage, Seebass Family Vineyard and Paul Dolan’s Dark Horse Ranch on Old River Road near Talmage, Brown Vineyard in Redwood Valley, and Eddie Graziano’s Rovera Ranch near Calpella, among several others.

The wine was lush, showing clear berry, cherry, spice and herb notes up front, leading to red and purple fruit, including pluots. There is a lot happening in this wine, well integrated, marked by balance and finesse. 14.5% alcohol but doesn’t drink hot, feels like 13.9%.

Randle asked about the Mendocino Wine Competition, and if his award meant that the judges chose it above the best Cabernet Sauvignon, best Syrah, best Petite Sirah, best Carignane, over the best of all of Mendocino County’s red wine varieties, and not just above all of Mendocino County’s Zinfandels – which would be an impressive feat by itself. I told Randle that, yes, his Zinfandel was chosen best of all red wines entered into competition. Randle responded, “this award means more to me than a 95 in Wine Spectator.”

Josh Wagner, an employee at one of Kendall Jackson’s other wine concerns, poured three wines for Edmeades of Philo, between Boonville and Navarro, in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley. I tasted a 2012 Edmeades Zinfandel, Mendocino, $21, a blend of Zin, Petite Sirah, and Syrah, a decent weight wine at 14.7% alc but a little soft in the mouth, without discernable oomph. Next, Josh poured the 2012 Edmeades Zinfandel, Perli Vineyard, $31, a Zin, Merlot & Syrah blend, that tasted like a walk through the black pepper forest, with oak, anise, and plummy meaty raspberry. Finally, I tasted the 100% Zinfandel offering from Edmeades, a 2011 Shamrock Vineyard, with fruit taken at 2,800 feet in elevation. Lighter mouth feel than the Perli, but not dismissible at all. Plenty of flavors, and a wine that begs to be paired with food, where herbs and fruit would pop.

Carol Shelton poured her eponymous wines, and I tasted her 2012 Carol Shelton Wines Wild Thing Old Vines Zinfandel, Mendocino, $19. Carol’s Zinfandel showed brambly bright raspberry and darker blackberry, with herb and black pepper. I worked with Carol from 1993 to 2001, and have an affinity for her wines. Not too big at 14.5%, but certainly not too light. This would be a Goldilocks’ choice wine. 83% Zinfandel , 15% Carignane , and 2% Petite Sirah; the 92% of grapes coming from Mendocino County are from the Cox Vineyard, just north of Ukiah.

Not Mendocino County, but close, I tasted a wine from Chacewater Wine from over in neighboring Lake County’s Kelseyville. The 2012 Chacewater Zin, Sierra Foothills, $20, ran 14.5% alc and had dusty rhubarb, cherry, and oak notes throughout.

Bonus non-Mendo Zinfandel tastes: I tasted the 2012 Barefoot Cellars Zinfandel, Lodi, $7, because winemaker Jennifer Wall had done such a good job with social media marketing, inviting those who ZAP indicated would be attending to come and taste her wines. The Barefoot Zinfandel had smoky, woody, darker color and flavors without being heavy, with a dominant dark strawberry jam note.

Beltane Ranch winemaker Kevin Holt poured their inaugural 2012 Beltane Ranch Estate Zin, $44. I visited Beltane Ranch in the Sonoma Valley’s Glen Ellen with my friend Serena Alexi earlier this year. A blend of Zin, Alicante Bouschet, Carignane and Petite Sirah, the wine drank young, with intense flavors of black raspberry jam, herb, and oak supporting the fruit in this 15.5% Alc wine.

I tasted the 2012 Ridge Lytton Springs, as a good guest should always taste the host’s wine. At just 70% Zinfandel with 21% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignane, and 3% Mourvedre, this wine is technically not a Zinfandel, although it is sufficiently Zinny to me and, if grown and made one county north, could be called a Coro. 14.4% in alc and loaded with flavor, plenty of brambly ripe berry and a little firm. This is a wine that can lie down and improve with cellaring.

I recognized plenty of other wine writers, and saw that some of my favorite other Zinfandel producers were pouring, but as the attendance grew to over 400, counting winemakers, I decided to call it a day, and headed home to relax in an air conditioned room. That night, I baked spicy chicken wings and paired them with the 2012 Artezin Zinfandel, the Mendo Best of Show red, and that pairing may have best defined a simply summer celebration and new Zin tradition, as it was perfect.

Here’s a link to the Zin friendly baked chicken wing recipe.

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John On Wine ­ – A tale of two Passports

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 1, 2014
Written by John Cesano
John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

It was the best of Passports…

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I attended the 25th anniversary Passport to Dry Creek Valley last week, with my girlfriend and trusted second taster, June, as guests of the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley (WDCV). We were greeted at check-in by the new Executive Director of WDCV, Ann Peterson, who may have one of the best jobs in the wine industry, working with great farmers and winemakers in a gorgeous environment, every day.

Dry Creek Valley lies mostly to the west of Hwy. 101, and stretches 17 miles south to north from Healdsburg to Geyserville, two miles wide, in Sonoma County. Continuing a string of sold-out passport events, 6,000 tickets were sold, at a two day weekend price of $120, and allowed visitors the opportunity to visit and taste at 50 winery tasting rooms throughout Dry Creek Valley.

There is no reason to try to visit all 50 wineries even in two days, as there would be less than 15 minutes per winery, with travel between wineries having to fit into the allocated time, and rushing is no way to enjoy a passport event.

June and I visited 17 wineries in two days, a perfect number, giving about 45 minutes per winery. Some visits were shorter, some were longer, all were enjoyable. The great thing is that we could attend next year, visit 17 new wineries and have a completely different experience, equally great; and the same again for a third consecutive year with only one winery repeated in three years with 50 wineries to visit. There is no way I can fit a description of food, wine, music, and scene at 17 wineries here, but here are some impression highlights:

DaVero Farms and Winery stood out because I have a thing for farms and wine, farm stands & tasting rooms, and Ridgely Evers, the owner of DaVero greeted us both warmly. I had met Evers on previous visits, and was surprised at how much growth had occurred. This was June’s first visit and, an animal lover, June was in Heaven at Evers’ biodynamic farm, scratching a pig into a contented lie down. I enjoyed a taste of the DaVero Malvasia Bianca, bright with citrus and white pear flavors, in an outdoor canopy room being made from one tree . Evers has planted cuttings from a single Italian willow in a large circle and is training their growth to create the unique spot to enjoy wine.

Charlie Palmer has been honored by the James Beard Foundation twice, once as “Best Chef” in New York for his restaurant Aureole, and earned a multi year string of Michelin stars for restaurants in both New York and Las Vegas. He also cooked for June and I – ­ okay, and everyone else with a passport who visited Mauritson Wines. We loved the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc paired with brown sugar and bourbon cured salmon with arugula salad, pickled red onions, goat cheese & toasted hazelnuts; and the 2012 DCV Zinfandel with a Zinfandel braised wild board slider and Charlie’s bread and butter pickle.

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Truett Hurst: A glass of Zin Rose in hand, June and I walked down to the Adirondack chairs beside the burbling water, the wind in the trees, insects chirping, birds calling, a kiss shared; ­ truly a magical place. We also had the opportunity to talk with Paul Dolan, Mendocino biodynamic grape grower and partner at Truett Hurst.

Hog Island Oysters at Stephen & Walker with possibly my favorite wine of the weekend, a 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir; Amphora’s ABCs, Aglianico, Barberra, and Chardonnay, and June’s favorite food of the weekend, a chocolate truffle; the lobster roll at Bella; and the weekend’s best music: Rovetti & Meatballs, a fiddle, drums, and guitar ­ blending bluegrass, zydeco, and country – American music; Seghesio’s Zin; Ridge’s Zin; Talty’s Zin; there is just too much that was great to mention.

The views, wide open valley, green on the hills, blue skies, baby grapes on young vines, trees and flowers; slowing down, taking it all in, the scents and sounds too, Passport to Dry Creek Valley is a time to recharge your batteries, get right after working and living in a box, and is a bargain at $120. This is my favorite wine event, any price, anywhere; attending and not working is great!

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…It was also the best of Passports.

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If you missed Passport to Dry Creek Valley, or if you attended but want another weekend to experience more soul cleansing magic, the great news is that the 23rd annual Spring Hopland Passport is this weekend. Seventeen Hopland area winery tasting rooms – a perfect number – will put their best foot forward, pouring all of their wines and offering food pairings for two days, Saturday, May 3 and Sunday, May 4, from 11 a.m. -5 p.m. each day.

If you order online today, Thursday, May 1 by noon, you can pick up a two day ticket to Hopland Passport for just $45 each. Visit http://www.DestinationHopland.com/store, and if the store closes then you can buy your passport at any participating winery tasting room during the event for $55.

I believe that Hopland Passport is the best wine weekend event value – well underpriced – in the industry. Participating wineries include Brutocao, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui, Frey, Graziano, Jaxon Keys, Jeriko, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Milano, Naughty Boy, Nelson, Ray’s Station, Rivino, Saracina, Seebass, and Terra Savia.

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The weather looks like it will be perfect, I hope to see you in Hopland this weekend. I’ll be at the place with the farm stand & tasting room, stop by and say “hi.”

 

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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.

 

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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!

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John On Wine – The Perfume of Zinfandel

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on January 30, 2014 by John Cesano

I love women. I love perfume. I love how the same perfume can smell different on different women. I am fond of all things sensual, and scents from flowers, foods, wines, and a woman’s perfume are all wonderful.

Generally speaking, I concur with John Barlow and Bob Weir; “too much of everything is just enough,” is a phrase from their song I Need a Miracle that just makes me smile. Perfume at a wine tasting, however, is the exception, and almost any is too much. Men, and their cologne, can trigger an inner groan, a silent shriek of exasperation, as well.

Wine tasting, whether at a winery tasting room, or a big event like last weekend’s Zinfandel Experience, put on by the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, is about pulling notes from a wine; aroma and bouquet for the nose, taste for the mouth, and deciding if this is the wine for you, if this is a wine worth plunking down your hard earned dollars for.

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It is hard to discern subtle nuance, the difference between green apple and yellow apple, apricot and nectarine, plum and cassis, in a wine when your nose is assaulted by waves of woody, floral, citrus, or other fragrant notes of perfume or cologne, sometimes freshly reapplied in the car moments before entering a wine tasting.

Wine tasting in a spring garden with fresh and fragrant blooms is similarly unkind to the wines, as is tasting in a room that smells of recently applied paint, wood floor polish, or other maintenance or cleaning products.

Last Saturday, coincidentally my birthday, I was at the Presidio in San Francisco to take part in three tasting track sessions, each held in a different building located at the Parade Ground.

The parade grounds at the Presidio in San Francisco

The parade grounds at the Presidio in San Francisco

The Terroir Tasting track, held in the Observation Post offered an incredible view of both the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, and grouped Zinfandels by appellation, so you could visit a table and taste wines from Mendocino and Lake Counties, or the Dry Creek Valley, or Lodi, or Paso Robles, or any of the other main growing regions for Zinfandel, and explore how these different growing regions affect the varietal’s characteristic notes.

I was joined by my friend June Batz, and we tasted Zinfandels from nearly every region. There were good wines from every growing region. It was a treat seeing Anne Alderette pouring wines for Dry Creek Valley and Zinfandel icon Joel Peterson wearing a stylish black cowboy hat.

Mendocino and Lake County wines lined up for tasting at the Terroir Tasting track

Mendocino and Lake County wines lined up for tasting at the Terroir Tasting track

The Sensory Tasting track was held at Herbst and was most similar to the old Grand Tasting, featuring the most producers in one spot, arranged alphabetically, pouring their Zinfandels. I talked with producers and tasted their Zinfandels made from Mendocino County grapes.

Carol Shelton, Carol Shelton Wines

Carol Shelton, Carol Shelton Wines

My good friend Carol Shelton poured me a taste of her 2012 Wild Thing Zinfandel, Mendocino County. We worked together eight years, she made great wine, and I traveled the country selling her wine. We worked a spectacular dinner together in Chicago. Made from organically-grown old-vine grapes, Carol’s Wild Thing showed plum and pepper with a little edge on the finish. $19.

Next up, I tasted a Zinfandel from Artezin, the 2012 Artezin Zinfandel, Mendocino, $18, made from bench fruit grown on the east side of Ukiah. The wine was medium bodied, but had a big nose, rich and deep, leading to a medium mouth of cherry and spice.

Edmeades Winery poured four Mendo Zinfandels; the 2011 Mendocino $20, 2010 Piffero $31, 2011 Shamrock $31, and 2010 Perli Vineyard $31. My favorite, the Perli Vineyard Zinfandel saw a little blending of Primitivo, some suitcase cuttings, and Merlot into the Zinfandel, and was grown above the fog line on the Mendocino Ridge, yielding bright acid to provide structure and balance for loads of spice and fruit notes of raspberry and darker berry.

Rich Parducci of McNab Ridge Winery

Rich Parducci of McNab Ridge Winery

Finally, I tasted three Zinfandels from McNab Ridge Winery, poured by winemaker Rich Parducci. First, I enjoyed the 2010 Cononiah $26, soft and drinkable with delicate white pepper and French oak smoothness, lovely classic Zin fruit from 100% Zinfandel grapes. Next, I tasted Rich’s 2011 Mendocino Zinfandel $18, which has a little Petite Sirah blended in, and is all chocolate and ripe berry cherry fruit. Finally, I tasted the 2011 Zinzilla $13, an unpretentious blend of Mendocino and Lodi grapes that I carried with me and paired with cheeses, an aged Gouda, a Manchego, a soft blue. Completely unfair to all of the other Zinfandels tasted but, when paired with cheeses, the Zinzilla was the best wine of the Sensory Tasting track.

The Reserve and Barrel Tasting track, held at the Film Center, should have been my favorite track, and my two favorite wines of the day came from here, but the words “Reserve and Barrel” acted as a magnet for every overly perfumed woman, and the Film Center had recently received a splash of paint and application of floor wax, and I could not stand to taste wines in the room. I did get a pouring of 2012 Bedrock Wine Company Zinfandel, Monte Rosso, Moon Mountain, $50, which I took back outside to experience, and what another fine wine, in an endless series of them, Morgan Twain-Peterson has produced. Weighty, full, balanced, with big bold flavors of fruit and spice harmoniously blended.

The Film Center at the Presidio, site of the Reserve and Barrel Tasting track

The Film Center at the Presidio, site of the Reserve and Barrel Tasting track

While outside, Christopher Watkins, writer of 4488: A Ridge Blog, and manager of Ridge, stopped to say hello to me. We have enjoyed each other’s writing in the past, he has kindly linked to things I have written, and we both love the wines he pours daily. We shook our heads, together, at the unfortunate smells inside the Film Center that made outside tasting necessary, and he extended an invitation to quarterly tastings at Ridge which I leaped to accept.

Inspired by my meeting with Christopher, I ventured inside for one more taste; winemaker Eric Baugher poured me a barrel sample of the 2012 Ridge Vineyards Jimsomare Zinfandel. This wine will be bottled in March and be released in November but, tasted outside, was drinking beautifully now, with lush plum, cherry and strawberry fruit notes, wedded to a little classic pepper spice.

I am sure no one wears perfume to a wine tasting maliciously; I’m sure no one has had the gumption to ask you not to, explaining that the result is about as welcome as a fart in an elevator, for fear of causing you pain through embarrassment. I loved the Zinfandel Experience, but between building maintenance and perfume smells, I was driven right away from what should have been the most overwhelmingly amazing part of the experience after only two spectacular tastes.

Venues are booked well in advance, and the folks at ZAP had no idea that one of their tasting track locations was going to get some fresh paint and polish applied too shortly before a wine tasting. Nothing that can be done about that. The heavily perfumed women flocking to the Reserve Tasting was also beyond control, and can only be addressed through education.

Class dismissed.

No matter how much you love your job, a day off is often a welcome thing.

I arranged to take four days off, Thursday through today, Sunday, and I had an absolute blast.

Thursday morning I awoke realizing I had to pop into work because I failed to enter my last order of the day before with the correct discount for a Wine Club Member ordering the Wine of the Month, 35%, so a quick trip into the office to void one order while reentering a new correct order started my day off.

My next stop was the Windsor Golf Course in Sonoma County where I would join my friends Fred, Gary, and Fred’s brother Richie to play as a team in the 15th Annual Wine Country Golf Classic, a charity tournament run by Cornerstone Media with the proceeds going to fund efforts to make meaningful communication possible with young people, to effect positive changes.

I had not golfed in over a year, and I am a terrible golfer anyway, but I have golfed with Fred and Gary many times in this tournament, and have golfed with Fred and Richie on off days while working in Florida, they know I am terrible, but we have a great time together, it is a best ball format tournament and I can contribute a little while being carried, and it is a fun day and for the kids.

Great lunch, champagne toast, winery teams, kegs of Bear republic on the course along with oysters and bloody Marys and mojitos (I didn’t find them but I really didn’t need them) and Bahama mama jello shots and wine and champagne and water and cookies and a painter and a River Rock Casino hand of 21 and more fun scattered about the course, plus an incredible dinner and live and silent auction to go with your golf would be enough for most people, but I got a terrific bonus: I shot well! I had booming drives, solid approach shots, birdie putts; maybe my best day of gold, certainly my best at this tournament, and together with my teammates, we took a second place award.

Friday, I had a morning meeting with a friend going back to elementary school, Mike. Mike is either the hardest working, or smartest working, or luckiest working person I know – I suspect it is a lot of the first two and a little of the last. I could list the series of business successes he has had, but it just comes off sounding unreal. The super cool news is that we might have the opportunity to work together on a future project, possibly with yet another friend from elementary school, Arne. Mike also is the man behind the authentic Pablo Sandoval panda hats you see at baseball games. Mike, the exclusive supplier, gifted me one of the incredible hats, and if there is any question as to how cool a panda hat is, my 14 year old son stole it immediately upon seeing it and has worn it without break the last three days.

Next, I went to visit another school friend, Karen, at the Dry Creek Valley winery she works at, Amphora Wines. It was funny, but it was kind of like seeing myself. Karen enjoys working for her winery, is competent, and a solid representative for her wine brand. I tasted her wines, loved the 2006 Amphora Zinfandel, Rivet Vineyard the most, perhaps because it reminded me most of the wines I grew up on. Many Zins are a little too much or too little of this or that, but the Amphora Rivet Zin has full fruit with a dose of pepper in the proportion I am fond of.

To get to Amphora, I passed by Dashe, another Dry Creek Valley winery, but one I know to use grapes from my employer’s vineyard. At Dashe, I tasted a 2009 Riesling. At work I taste a 2009 Riesling daily, made with grapes from the same vineyard and vintage. It was wild how grapes identifiably McFadden could yield two completely different wines. I bought a bottle, and now have to track down a Montelena Riesling made from McFadden Farm grapes so I can pour the trio for my staff at work.

Speaking of work and staff, I got a phone call from work when the mouse for the computer stopped working. I would rather get a call than not if there is a problem when I am away from my tasting room, and together we got things working, but the wireless mouse from my office isn’t in my office anymore.

After returning home to Ukiah, after my panda hat was stolen by my son, I went to the sports bar at Branches to visit with my longtime friend Serena. I shared time with Serena and Serena’s childhood friends. Serena works for Sonoma Valley wineries; on her last visit Serena brought me a Wellington Zin, on Friday she brought me a 2010 Muscardini Cellars Rosato di Sangiovese, Monte Rosso Vineyards Sonoma Valley. I imagine it will be similar to the Petroni Vineyards Rosato di Sonoma I tasted last year, as that wine’s grapes came from the neighboring vineyard. I am grateful for the treat, but more grateful for the good company.

Saturday, I headed back to work for the third straight day off, this time to bring in food pairing treats for Second Saturday, a special day each month for Hopland area tasting rooms.

Next, I visited Denise at the McNab Ridge tasting room. Denise and McNab Ridge started Second Saturday, and it was fun seeing Diane Davis and her crew taking professional pictures for Denise’s website. Denise also cooked an incredibly delicious dish, Thai green curry shrimp couscous; it definitely made my Second Saturday dish pale by comparison. I tasted a French Colombard. You don’t see many folks making a straight Colombard anymore, but it was a tasty throwback treat. I actually like French Colombard and Chenin Blanc bottlings, while not noble they can be great performers. I also tasted the McNan Ridge Coro Mendocino vertical from 2003 through 2007, liking the ’04 and ’07 best, and a seriously great barrel sample of the Cononiah Zinfandel.

After McNab Ridge, I popped back into my tasting room to buy a jar of McFadden Farm organic onion powder. My timing was great because I got to help Ann ring up a 70 herb jar sale for a customer who was using our herbs as wedding favors for her son’s Hopland wedding.

On the way home, I visited and tasted at Nelson Family Vineyards at the north end of the Hopland Valley. I ran through the reds and whites, all just solid. I am enjoying tasting Mendocino County wines, noticing similarities and differences. I loved the 2007 Nelson Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. Lush, round, soft tannins, delicious. I bought a bottle, a really nice find as my winery doesn’t make a Cab and I had a hole in my wine rack just screaming for a Cab.

Today, I took my son Charlie, in his panda hat, to a baby shower for my niece, Charlie’s cousin, Jenny Jen Jen and her procreator Jeremy, then I went to visit friends old and new at a mini class reunion. My friend Rob and his wife came to Santa Rosa from Kingman, AZ and his friend Tony hosted a barbeque for Rob. I got to see Karen again, plus Shannon and Ken, all longtime friends from school. The day was more about Budweiser than wine, but I brought a bottle of red and white for my hosts. Time flew too fast, as it often seems to when you wish there was more to spend with friends.

I returned to the baby shower just in time for the unwrapping of presents, visited with family, answered a question or five about Social Media Marketing for my sister in law, and gathered my son up to return home.

Work clothes for the upcoming week have been washed, and are now in the dryer. My four days off were great, but it is time to get back to work.

Wine. Just four little letters, wine; but thousands of books have been published on the subject, with hundreds more written every year, countless magazines, periodicals, and trade publications are printed monthly, and writers opine in columns appearing in the newspapers of nearly every city in the world each week.

Wine. What insightful and new bits of information and wisdom do I have to share, that hasn’t been imparted, shared, by numerous others before?

I will likely add nothing new, and yet my experiences, uniquely my own, may trigger memories of similar experiences you hold; and a particular bottle, and the place you tasted it, and the people you tasted it with, may come back to you as clearly as yesterday. Maybe it was yesterday.

I am wine geekier than most. Experienced, a professional’s palate, around wine all of my life, with developed preferences, I am a Frasier Crane without the pretentiousness, without the snobbiness.  Raised on Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, I love big rich red wines; ideally with a ton of structure supporting accessible forward fruit. If an old friend showed up with a box of chilled white Zinfandel, something I personally have never bought for myself, I would work up a menu to feature the crushed-strawberry-over-ice notes it might have, pour myself a glass, and enjoy time shared with a friend.

The blackberry currant of a Cabernet, or the brambly raspberry and black pepper spice of a Zinfandel, breathed in through my nose buried in a large glass; the wine swirled, aroma molecules breaking free, traveling up my nose, aromas, bouquet, analyzed, information passed on to the brain for comparison with similar previous smelled items. Judgement, memories triggered, new memories being formed.

I love smelling wines. I can happily swirl 4 ounces of wine in the bottom of a 16 or 20 ounce glass, and inhale the wine, breathe in the smells, experience the changes as a newly opened wine’s tannins and alcohol heat flush dissipate and the fruit comes forward. I love to let a wine breathe in my glass, “nosing” it over and over.

I often open a wine to be used at dinner, either in the food as a part of the recipe, or as an accompanying meal beverage – or more often as both. I love wine, I love food, and I love to pour myself a glass of wine to smell and inspire me as I prep a meal’s ingredients. I often spend an hour just breathing in a wine before tasting it.

I have a picture that hangs over my desk, and has hung on the wall of each of the wine industry related offices I worked in over the years; in the picture are an 11 year old me, and my then 7 year old brother, crushing grapes by foot. Any fan of Lucy Ricardo’s I Love Lucy trip to Italy can recognize instantly what my brother and I are doing. I love the picture, because it demonstrates how far back wine reaches into my life.

While I grew up with, and always loved, wine, one of the first wines that made me sit up and take notice was the 1976 Simi Cabernet Sauvignon. As I didn’t turn 21 until 1982, I found it too late and had to purchase the wine as a library release directly from the winery. I think I was spending $50 a bottle 25 years ago. I couldn’t afford much back then, but somehow I managed to always have a couple of bottles on hand for years until the winery ran out.

Fifteen years later, my dad asked me to watch his house when he went on vacation to Italy; and tucked away, I found a bottle of 1976 Charles Krug. I invited a wine loving friend up to the house for dinner, planning to showcase the Krug. Robert Mondavi is one of my wine industry heroes, he is a God, having changed California winemaking for all wineries, not just the winery he created in his own name. Mondavi left his family’s winery, the Charles Krug winery, to make his own wines his own way, and in doing so paved the way for everyone else, including Krug, to make better wines. I looked forward to tasting the ’76 Krug Cab, a winery from a historied family, from an area known for growing great Cabernet grapes, from an incredibly good vintage. Would it have held up? Would it be faded? Would it be vinegar?

Typically, I opened the wine while prepping dinner, and was not thrilled with the nose, it seemed muted, very closed, possibly dead. As time went on, the alcohol flush disappeared, but all that was left was a tannic edge without much fruit. The wine had gone, sadly faded. I sniffed and sipped at 30 minutes, an hour, two hours, three hours. Nothing.

My friend came for dinner, we ate and glanced wistfully at the bottle that never opened up. As I plated dessert, I tried the 76 Krug Cab one more time. Oh My God. a wine aged under dubious conditions for twenty five years, left open to breathe for over 4 hours, finally opened to show off the most amazing array of fruit and leather and herb and spice. Rich, deep and full, our dinner wine became the sweetest non-sweet dessert wine ever.

I remember during barrel tasting weekend in Sonoma County tasting a Zinfandel at Preston Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley. I was stunned by the flavors, still in the barrel, with lots of growing up yet to do, I was tasting what I thought of as the best Zinfandel I had ever tasted. I was so excited to taste the Zinfandel that would be made from this barrel. When at last the finished wine was blended and bottled, I tasted the newly released Zinfandel and was shocked.

Traditionally, Zinfandel may be blended with some Carignane, just as Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended with some Merlot. There are certain blendings, classic, that are accepted as appropriate and often result in a wine superior to the unblended wines otherwise made. Lou Preston chose to blend the best barrels of Zinfandel I had ever tasted with Cabernet, producing a wine that tasted like no other Zinfandel I had ever tasted. I was horrified, crushed, mourning the loss of what I had imagined.

Ignoring the label, putting aside expectations of what a Zinfandel should taste like, and what this Zinfandel could have tasted like, but tasting this wine as simply a red wine, and asking myself if I liked it or not, I found that I did indeed like it. I liked it quite a bit. I often took visiting friends by the Dry Creek Store for sandwiches, then to Preston Vineyards to buy a bottle of this Zinfandel, and over a few games of Bocce on the grounds of Preston Vineyards I would recount the tale of this wine from barrel to bottle, as I experienced it.

Another powerfully memorable wine is the 1995 Kistler Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast, near where the Russian River empties into the Pacific Ocean. The Chardonnay seemed to hold every note in the nose and mouth that I had ever experienced in all other Chardonnays combined. It was all there: oak, toast, cream, vanilla, apple, pear, tropical and citrus, clove, caramel, butterscotch, and so much more. It was like tasting 1.5 Liters of flavor crammed into a 750 milliliter bottle. It was like magic, I have never experienced anything quite like it before or since.

I was in a restaurant in the foodie Buckhead section of Atlanta and saw the ’95 Kistler Chardonnay on the wine menu at $60 which is about the same as it cost on release in a store; remembering the magic, with great happiness, I ordered a bottle. The wine came to the table at perhaps a single degree above freezing, all of the amazing notes locked in by cold. This was a truly sad wine experience, to me it seemed criminal. I would much rather have enjoyed the wine at room temperature with the notes flying out of the glass than frozen and unable to escape.

From the 1973 vintage, Mike Grgich made Chateau Montelena a Chardonnay that won first place among the Chardonnays and white Burgundies at the famed 1976 Paris tasting using fruit that was purchased from the Bacigalupi vineyards in Sonoma County. I had a chance to taste wines made by California winemaker of the year Carol Shelton, using these same grapes, but from the superior 1995 vintage, for Windsor Vineyards. I had a stocked cellar of 360 bottles of wines at the time, I did not need more wine, but I found myself buying cases of this incredible Chardonnay.

Carol Shelton made wines that featured the flavors of the fruit, allowing the grapes and what they had experienced while on the vine to express itself in the bottle. One of the most consistent, approachable wines Shelton made year between the years of 1995 and 2000 was her Murphy Ranch Chardonnay for Windsor Vineyards. Legend, true or not I don’t know, is that Carol was able by contract to pick fruit from the Murphy Ranch in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma County before the vineyard owners could harvest the remaining grapes for use in their own Murphy Goode Chardonnay. All I know is that the Carol’s Murphy Ranch Chardonnay made up the largest portion of my collected Chardonnays during this time. I bought bottles from Murphy Goode each vintage as well to do a sort of horizontal tasting, same wine, same grapes, different winemaker.

I could write about the differences of the Chardonnays; the Kistler, the Montelena, the Windsor Bacigalupi Vineyard, the Windsor Murphy Ranch, The Murphy Goode; or about the different areas the grapes come from: Napa or the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Coast appellations of Sonoma County; or about the different vintages the grapes were grown: the late frosts and early rains or the perfect long and warm growing seasons. It is all of this and more that makes wine endlessly fascinating to the wine geek in me; but suffice it to say that wine is alive, it changes, even twin bottles, cellared well, can taste different months apart.

I could write endlessly about wines, and the wineries and vineyards of my family home in Sonoma County, California. I could tell you about learning that wines change by vintage as my first wife and I had a favored wine become a least favored wine when the last bottle of one vintage was consumed and the first bottle of the new vintage was tasted. I could share that Sonoma County with half the wineries of Napa County wins twice as many Gold Medals in National and International wine competitions – and the wines cost less.

I could write about the lesser known wines of the county I now live in, Mendocino. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown in the Anderson Valley; the similarities and differences of these grapes when compared with the grapes from the better known Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, the sparkling wine of Roederer Estate in the Anderson Valley compared to the California Champagne of the Russian River Valley’s Korbel. The lusciousness of Handley’s Anderson Valley Pinot, or the commitment to organic and sustainable farming practices of Mendocino County wineries – even wine giant Fetzer, located just off the 101 in Hopland. One of the most exciting one man wineries I know of is in Ukiah, where John Chiarito’s head pruned vines produce artisanal Italian varietals, Negroamaro and Nero D’Avloa, as well as gorgeously dense Petite Sirah and Zinfandel.

Mostly, when I write about wine, I want to share with you a memory; the taste of the wine, where I was, what I was doing, and who I was doing it with.

There are books dedicated to recommended pairings; red wine with meat, white wine with fish. I have found that any wine is best paired with friends.

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