I love Zinfandel. Growing up, Zinfandel was used in the kitchen to flavor foods and served at the table to complement those dishes. Hanging just outside my office at the tasting room I manage, there is a framed photograph taken in 1972 of my brother and me crushing Zinfandel grapes by foot for a family wine.

A little too long for my newspaper wine column at over 4,400 words, I wrote an online recap of January’s Zinfandel Experience, produced by Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP), in San Francisco. Last year, I attended the inaugural ZAP’s Simply Summer Celebration and recapped the experience here in the paper.

Living in Mendocino County, I am fortunate as a Zin lover; Zinfandel is the county’s most planted grape and the county’s flagship cooperative wine program, Coro Mendocino, focuses on the many possible expressions of heritage Zinfandel blends.

On Saturday, Aug. 15, from 1 to 3:30 p.m., the second ZAP Simply Summer Celebration (of Zinfandel) will be hosted on Seghesio Family Vineyards’ Home Ranch in Alexander Valley at 24400 Rich Ranch Road, Cloverdale. Sixty-five wineries will pour their Zinfandel wines, including Seebass Family Vineyards and Edmeades from Mendocino County, plus Carol Shelton Wines and Artezin Wines, among others, who make Zinfandel using Mendocino County grapes.

Epicuria

Great wine needs great food to pair with, and Seghesio is one of my favorite Passport to Dry Creek Valley stops because they always bring it with their food offerings. For this Simply Summer Celebration, ZAP shares, “Seghesio’s custom mobile Jedmaster smoker, with the capacity for 320 pounds of pork butt, Blaze, is equipped to smoke for a huge crowd. Seghesio’s resident pit master, Executive Chef Peter Janiak loves to fire Blaze up any chance he gets and has become quite famous for his hand-made salumi, sausages and smoked meats.” On the menu: Pulled Pork Sandwich smoked for 14 hours and topped with a Zinfandel based BBQ sauce, Feta & Watermelon Salad, and even a Vegetarian Option for the pork averse among you. Healdsburg’s Moustache Baked Goods will provide dessert samples, “baked from scratch and by hand without preservatives and only in small batches.”

Tickets are $65 each, or $50 for ZAP members, and include a commemorative tasting glass, tastes of wines from 65 producers, BBQ food dishes made to pair perfectly with the wines you’ll be tasting, and dessert bites.

ZAP Heritage Club members get a bonus tasting in the hour before the main public tasting; “In collaboration with Seghesio Family Vineyards, ZAP has arranged for an exclusive Zinfandel tasting at the historic Seghesio Home Ranch Vineyard in northern Alexander Valley. Hosted by Seghesio, ZAP Heritage Club members will learn about the history and heritage of this continuously operating 120 year old vineyard. The tasting will focus on the Home Ranch Zinfandel, which still uses founder Edoardo Seghesio’s original 7-acre 1895 vines as the foundation of this wine. Seating is very limited and RSVP is required.”

For more information about ZAP’s Simply Summer Celebration, or to purchase your tickets before they sell out, visit http://www.Zinfandel.org.

Thanks to Glenda Cunningham and Rebecca Robinson of Zinfandel Advocates & Producers for inviting me to your summer event, again.
__________

No one should have to take the blame but me when my writing goes off the tracks, but Ron Washam deserves a little credit for making it better. Ron writes satirically about wine, online wine writing, and wine marketing for his popular Hosemaster of Wine blog. Ron also writes some of the best written wine reviews and winery features under his Ephemera banner on the site as well.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to pour for Ron, and things were going great until I described one of our wines as, “authentic,” which earned a sad shake of the head from Ron. It does not matter whether a wine is estate grown, organically, made with minimal intervention, exhibits varietal correctness, and is an expression of both terroir and vintage, or if that wine is mass produced, conventionally farmed with a liberal application of Round Up, and is absolutely vile in all sensory aspects; they are both authentic.

I have tried not to use meaningless descriptors like authentic, natural, or sustainable since that day. Recently, I sent Ron a note, because I sensed he was tired or down, such being the lot of a writer sometimes. I wrote, “I have appreciated your writing for years, have read all your posts, and appreciate the pin you bring to the overinflated pretentiousness that pervades the marketing of wine.

Rather than allow the sense that wine is serious stuff, unknowable to the regular man, only to be appreciated by those who have devoted a lifetime to tasting, and alienating a huge segment of the potential market for wine, I wish that more people would demystify the fermented juice of grapes, point to it as a terrific component in a larger meal, make it approachable.

Heralding inexpensive wines, as opposed to cheap wines, and suggesting food pairings, driving new consumers to seek out these easily found wines in the market to try, trusting that once the door has been opened many of these new converts from milk, soda, or beer at the dinner table will seek out more expensive bottles, visit tasting rooms, or attend wine events, is what I wish more folks did.

Personally, I do not love [a common supermarket brand, name masked for this piece] wines, I think they are cheap, they just do not taste good to me. I am amazed, under Concha y Toro, just how good the wines at Fetzer are at about the same price point. Inexpensive vs. cheap.”

Ron replied, generously, “Your letter is very kind, and much appreciated. I agree with all of your sentiments, and I’ve spent a lot of energy on HoseMaster trying to express them. Wine is supposed to be enjoyable and life-enhancing, not snooty, not strictly defined (“natural” or “100 point”), not boring. Reading wine blogs makes wine seem dull and lifeless when it’s anything but. And not just wine blogs, most of the press as well make it seem stupid and mundane.”

For my readers, visit Ron’s site, go into the archives and read every piece in order; the comments are often as good as the piece being commented upon. For the local wine folks who read my column, craft a better message, connect with your customers better, make wine approachable and your customers will enjoy it more and share it with their friends and family more often.

10702_954035131274235_3405864874218756_n
20140321-155458.jpg

John on Wine – Spotlight winery: Fetzer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fetzer's Barrel Room

Fetzer’s Barrel Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10702_954035131274235_3405864874218756_n
20080421_011535_ukiahLogo
John On Wine – Coro, Crush, Coro and Crush

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, April 2, 2015

Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, Coro Mendocino, Crush, Coro, sometimes it seems that I am writing my column about one or the other with a frequency that squeezes other worthy subjects out. There are other great restaurants in Ukiah; Patrona, Ritual, and Oco Time come immediately to mind; but Crush is uniquely suited to host spectacular chef’s wine dinners, with their private dining room and top notch kitchen and front of house team. Anderson Valley is well known as a place where premium Pinot Noir and Alsatian variety white wines are born; inland Mendocino grows some terrific Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux varieties; but Coro Mendocino is the county’s flagship wine, and the cooperative element to the program has me writing about these Zinfandel-centric blends made by different great winemakers with deserved prevalence.

Guinness McFadden makes a Coro wine and, fortunately for me, he was overwhelmed with meetings and sent me to sit with the Coro winemakers to taste barrel samples of the 2013 Coro wines being produced by Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Golden, Graziano, Parducci, Testa, and, of course, McFadden, on March 18.

I tasted through the wines in January, for the second of four blind tastings, with the winemakers, each giving notes of unvarnished constructive criticism on each wine, so adjustments could be made. I tasted them again yesterday, for the third group Coro winemaker blind tasting, and the tweaks made in the intervening two months had every one of the wines positively singing. As an example, Guinness reduced the blend of his wine from 70% Zinfandel to 67%, and increased the Syrah in his blend from 20% to 23%, with the remaining 10% unchanged and given over to Petite Sirah. That small change improved the wine remarkably, providing balance and integration.

Doubly fortunate, I was also able to blind taste the finished, bottled, but not yet released, 2012 vintage Coro wines, to help judge their weight, in advance of the multi course 2012 vintage Coro Release Party at dogpatch WineWorks in San Francisco on June 19 (tickets would make a perfect Father’s Day Gift). Again, the wines of Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Golden, McFadden, Parducci, Ray’s Station, and Testa all tasted wonderful, each their own unique wine, and vintage different from the just tasted 2013 Coro wines.

Triply fortunate, that same evening, I attended a Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, featuring incredible dishes prepared by Chef Jesse Elhardt and his team, and the lineup of 2011 vintage Coro wines.

Rusty Martinson of Testa, Owen Smith of Barra, Hoss Milone of Brutocao, and Dennis Patton of Golden. (photo by John Cesano)

Rusty Martinson of Testa, Owen Smith of Barra, Hoss Milone of Brutocao, and Dennis Patton of Golden. (photo by John Cesano)

The evening started off with passed Gazpacho Shooters of San Marzano (the best) tomato, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and Malden salt; which were the best gazpacho I have ever tasted, and paired perfectly with the McFadden Sparkling Cuvee Brut.

After the ‘meet & greet’ appetizers, the lucky 70 attendees at the sold out dinner moved into the private dining room and took seats. Four Coro wineglasses, appetizer, and main course plates were in place, and the first course wines were poured, all 2011 vintage Coro wines, from McFadden, Parducci, Clos du Bois, and Testa. These four ‘lighter’ 2011 Coro wines were substantial, as was the food from the kitchen: Crush Antipasto with four assorted cured meats, four assorted cheeses, cornichons, olives, peppers, crostini, olive oil, and course mustard; Spicy Lamb Balls with Calabrian chili from Italy, romesco with toasted almonds and hazelnuts, feta, mint, and micro basil; and Seared Day Boat Scallops with a rosemary fig jam, bacon couscous, and a baby kale salad topped with white Champagne vinaigrette.

I Love the lamb meatballs, they were incredibly flavorful, and paired beautifully with sips of each of the four Coro wines from the flight. One of the cheeses, a Parmigiano-Reggiano, also was a particular delight when paired with the wines. The scallops, fresh from San Francisco the day before, was a spectacular dish, but honestly would have paired better with the lighter ‘meet & greet’ wines served earlier, as the Coro wines overpowered the delicious but delicate flavors of the dish for me, but easily resolved as I just ate the scallop without the wine, and loved them.

Gracia Brown of Visit Mendocino, Inc. (photo by John Cesano)

Gracia Brown of Visit Mendocino, Inc. (photo by John Cesano)

First plate cleared, wines dumped, new wines were poured, the 2011 Coro wines from Brutocao, Barra, Fetzer, and Golden, and the second food course to impress was brought out; Roasted Whole Filet Tenderloin with spiced crust, roasted mushrooms, a board sauce, and red wine demi-glace; One Hundred Layer Lasagna of fresh pasta, ten hour ragu, béchamel, tomato, reggiano, and fresh herb; Roasted Zucchini Ribbons with garlic chip, basil pesto, cherry tomato confit, and olive oil; and Potato au Dauphinoise with herb infused cream and cheddar bread crumb.

Sips of each of the five wines, I held onto some McFadden Coro, with bites of each food creation, were spectacular. The tender tenderloin of certified Angus beef, a perfect medium rare, cooked in butter, with a peppercorn medley crust was as good as meat gets; The lasagna was 100 layers of red, white, and green, representing the colors of the Italian flag, with the Bolognese ragu providing the red, béchamel bringing the white, and every third layer made from a basil infused pasta for the green; the roasted zucchini ribbons were delicious and provided a bright note for the second course; with the potatoes, made from a 1906 recipe, featuring sliced potatoes infused overnight in an herb cream, a must have seconds dish for me.

Dessert was a Flourless Valrhona Chocolate Cake served with house made toasted almond gelato, chocolate crumb, and spun sugar; and paired with a choice of McFadden Late Harvest Riesling or Brutocao, Dunnewood, or Parducci port. This might just be the best dessert I have tasted at Crush yet. I went with the Riesling, which paired perfectly, once again, with Jesse’s food.

All of the night’s wines were wonderful, and there was quite a bit of talk about how good the 2011 vintage Coro showed. Initially thought a ‘weak’ vintage, every Coro was a stellar food wine, and a testament to each winemaker’s skills and a great showing for the Coro program. Without exception, the 2011 Coro wines were delicious, lovely, and showed great finesse, balance, and flavor, each showing differently that intensity of flavor is not limited to over oaked, high alcohol, fruit jamb bombs. These were elegant wines, all.

The next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush will feature the wines of Graziano, and will be held on Wednesday, May 20; for tickets call (707) 463-0700.

The next Coro dinner will be on Friday, June 19, at dogpatch WineWorks in San Francisco, when the 2012 vintage Coro Mendocino wines are released. Tickets are $700 per couple, and include a gourmet multi course meal, paired with all eight new Coro wines, and each ticket includes the full collection of 2012 vintage Coro wines to take home. There will also be complimentary valet parking for the dinner, which in San Francisco is a huge bonus. For tickets, call Sip! Mendocino in Hopland at (707) 744-8375, and tell them you want to sit at a McFadden table if you would like to hear Guinness tell a five minute story about an Irish priest and a bike, or be less than dazzled by stupid magic tricks by me. Seriously, I have attended two of these dinners and they are the best wine dinner events you can attend, if you love red wine or Mendocino County. With Father’s Day falling on June 21 this year, tickets to this June 19 dinner really are a perfect gift for any wine loving dads.

It isn’t every day that you get to taste a lineup of an entire Coro vintage, doing so with a great dinner makes it all the better experience. Getting to taste three entire vintages in a day, 24 great wines in all, pretty much makes me the most fortunate tasting room manager and wine writer in California.

20140321-155458.jpg
John On Wine – My favorite Crush Chef’s Wine Dinner yet

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, February, 5, 2015

The recent Chefs’ Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah featuring McFadden Farm in Wednesday, January 21st 2015 was special for me. You have read six previous posts where I spread my love for these dinners all over the page, and we were finally going to be doing one for McFadden. What a treat.

First dose of love goes to Gracia Brown from Visit Mendocino County; Gracia brokered the deal between Kevin Kostoff at Crush and me at McFadden, bringing us together in joyful partnership, so McFadden’s top awarded and highly rated wines could be paired with Chef Jesse Elhardt’s unrivaled cuisine to offer inland Mendocino a premier event during the Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest.

The dinner would also be special, because it would mark Guinness McFadden’s first major public outing after heart surgery at the end of November.

Tickets for the dinner sold faster than any previous Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush, without Crush getting to send an email invitation to their previous dinner attendees, thanks to you, the readers of John On Wine in the Ukiah Daily Journal and the Wine Club Members and other McFadden newsletter subscribers. Kudos also to Nick Karavas, the exemplary bar manager at Crush, who talked up the dinner in house, and sold quite a few tickets as well.

Reception

The evening started with a reception appetizer of Dungeness Arancini with panko, saffron-sherry aioli, fried dill sprig. These rice balls, topped with crab were wonderfully delicious, and paired perfectly with the 2013 McFadden Chardonnay (90 Points – Wine Enthusiast Magazine); a perfect way to kick off the evening.

Arancini

After the meet and greet reception in the dining room bar area, Kevin invited the full house to move to the private glass-walled dining room and find a seat for the rest of the night’s dinner, served family style, which I love as it makes for a much more social evening.

Guinness

Once seated, owner Doug Guillon welcomed everybody to Crush and promised a wonderful evening for all, a promise kept. Chef Jesse described the appetizer course previously enjoyed, and the various dishes we would all soon enjoy. Guinness McFadden talked about his McFadden Farm and how his land influences the grapes that make the wines that would be served. Guinness introduced me and challenged me to be as brief in my remarks. I described our appetizer wine, and the two wines chosen for the first course.

Bacon wrapped, crab stuffed, shrimp

The first course dishes included Nueske Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Jumbo Prawns with dungeness mix, bistro sauce, buerre monte, and chive; 1914 Crab Louie Salad with butter lettuce, endive, marinated tomato, avocado, orange, and haystack; and Crab “toast” with garlic, reggiano, basil, lemon aioli, chili, and olive oil.

Crab Salad
Crab Toast

Many said that the first course was so rich, that by itself, the meal was complete, and every other dish was a bonus. The bacon wrapped prawn with crab was a meal highlight, although the crab salad showing notes of bright sweet citrus and the crab toast (think garlic toast but with crab, so a million times better) made the plate a celebration of delicious taste experiences.

Very happy guests

The first course featured two wines: NV McFadden Cuvee Rose (Gold Medal – 2014 Mendocino Wine Competition, Gold Medal – 2014 Grand Harvest Awards, and Double Gold Medal – 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition); and the 2013 McFadden Pinot Gris (90 Points and Editor’s Choice – Wine Enthusiast Magazine) – Guinness’ favorite wine. The Brut Rose showed lovely ripe red fruit notes of strawberry, cherry and watermelon, and the Pinot Gris is a lighter wine with pear and apple flavors richer than ordinary for the variety. The two wines, each in their turn, brought out the subtle, and not subtle, flavors of Jesse’s dishes.

Crab!

Plates cleared, Jesse introduced his second course: Garlic Roasted Whole Crab with lemon, olive oil, and fresh herb; Zinfandel Braised Short Ribs with 4 hour natural jus, baked carrot purée, crispy shallot, and micro intensity; Roasted Jumbo Delta Asparagus with shallot sea salt, balsamic reduction, and chive; and Potato Gnocchi Gratin with fresh herb, cream, caprino, and house made bread crumb. I introduced the 2012 McFadden Old Vine Zinfandel (95 Points – Just Wine Points/Wine X), possibly the only Zinfandel light enough not to overpower crab, yet flavorful enough to stand up to Zinfandel braised short ribs. Every bite of food was a delight, but gnocchi speaks to my Italian heart, and I loved Jesse’s version…and his dedication, having handmade 1,500 individual gnocchi for the dinner.

Zin braised short ribs
Asparagus

Gnocchi

For dessert, by request, Chef Jesse recreated a much loved pairing from his December 2013 wine dinner that featured Coro Mendocino wines, a Butterscotch Budino with dual chocolate and butterscotch layers, chocolate pearls, salted butter crunch, toasted crab & coconut crumble (okay, the toasted crab and coconut crumble were a new crab-centric addition for tonight’s meal), paired again with the 2011 McFadden Late Harvest Riesling (Best of Class – 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, 4 Star Gold Medal – 2014 Orange County Fair Wine Competition, Double Gold Medal – 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition).

Dessert

The dinner was so good, the service so excellent, that although the ticket price for a crab dinner with wine was higher than any previous dinner (still a bargain at just $75), and included tax and tip, attendees spontaneously passed a collection basket for the servers to increase the tip, with the basket filling with $20 bills.

The owners' toast

The evening was great, and I want to thank everyone at Crush, from the folks who ordered our wines (thanks!), to those that cooked the dinner, and from those who served us all, to Doug and Debbie Guillon, our fantastic hosts for the evening. All night, and again all the next day, person after person told me how enjoyable everything about the evening was.

If you missed out, and many did – we could easily have sold out two nights – don’t fret, there are more Chef’s Wine Dinners planned for this year, and the next will feature the 2011 vintage of Coro Mendocino, the county’s flagship wine, a Zinfandel dominant red wine blend. The Coro dinner at Crush is going to be on Wednesday, March 18, 2015, and will likely feature the winemakers of Barra, Brutocao, Clod du Bois, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, Parducci, and Testa, with wines big enough to allow Jesse to showcase the depth of his ragu and other hearty Italian fare. To reserve your seat early for the March 18 Coro dinner at Crush, call (707) 463-0700.
_____

This weekend, on Saturday, February 7, join me at the 10th annual International Alsace Varietals Festival for a full day of events in the Anderson Valley, with many Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling wines, starting with an educational session in the morning, the big grand tasting in the afternoon, and a winemakers’ dinner in the evening. For more information, visit www.avwines.com/alsace-festival.

 

20140321-155458.jpg
John on Wine- Coro Mendocino

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on July 17, 2014
Written by John Cesano

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

 

So, you want to be a winemaker and you want to be old school about it? You buy an airline ticket and fly to Bordeaux France. When you get there, you find that there is a protocol for making wine in this geographically identifiable area, and that if you make your wine in Bordeaux using any varietal grapes other than those on a very short list of approved grape varietals for Bordeaux wines, then you’ll be with Luca Brasi, “swimming with the fishes”. Get caught dropping a single Pinot Noir grape into a barrel of Bordeaux wine and life as you knew it is forever changed for the worse.

It is the same in Burgundy, Tuscany, pretty much everywhere throughout Europe. Every geographically identifiable area has a protocol, a list of allowed grapes that can be used to make wine.

Here in the United States, things are different. Winemakers can make wine with much greater freedom, in a near willy-nilly manner. There is no geographically identifiable area making wine following a protocol — except Mendocino County, and the Coro Mendocino wines.

contactus_02

For a short time, it could have been argued that California had the Meritage program, but the association did a poor job of protecting the name and protocol established, and now there are wines called Meritage made outside of the state, and even outside the country.

Back to Coro; unique in the United States, a group of Mendocino County winemakers got together a dozen years ago and decided to cooperatively and collaboratively make a wine representative of the county. They chose the name Coro, because Coro is Italian (and Spanish, Latin, and Portuguese) for Chorus. Where a chorus is a blending of voices into a harmonious whole that is greater than the individual voices, Coro wines would be blends of grapes made better than the individual varietals, and with multiple Mendocino County wineries producing their own Coro each year, the program would be greater than the individual efforts of any one winery.

There are wine regions that are famous for particular grapes; Napa is known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley is known for Pinot Noir. Sadly, the wine buying public did not similarly know what Mendocino County grew (other than Marijuana). The reason is that roughly 75 percent of the grapes grown in Mendocino County are bought and used by Napa and Sonoma County wineries to make their wines. Mendocino County was more of a grape farm county than a grape wine county.

The initial task for the first Coro winemakers, when creating a protocol for the wines to be made, was to make Zinfandel, Mendocino County’s most planted grape, the heart of every Coro wine. Every Coro would contain no less than 40 percent and no more than 70 percent Zinfandel. The blending grapes would be grapes that have historically grown alongside Zinfandel in the county, grapes that might have been harvested and co-fermented in the field blend wines of the past; typically Italian or Rhone varietals. There was also a 10 percent “free play” allowance established, so each participating winery could put their own flavor stamp on their Coro.

Other rules were established, barrel and bottle aging minimums, specified use of oak, chemistry limits to ensure a general uniformity with no outliers.

Recently, the 11th vintage was released, at a five course meal at the Little River Inn. The participating wineries were Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, Parducci, and Testa. The new Coro wines will be available at each winery’s tasting room. Golden promises a tasting room in Hopland before year’s end. For convenience, all new Coro wines are also sold at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland, for folks who want to pick up a vintage set.

Just before the dinner, I had an opportunity to gather with five Coro winemakers at Parducci for a television shoot. The CORO show is part of a three-part segment on the Mendocino County wine industry. The other shows are Women in Wine and Next-Gen in Wine. All three should air and be available for viewing by September at the latest, back to back, on public access channels and online. Look for “Spotlight on Mendocino County!” by Out & About Media in a couple of months.

Coro Winemakers

Coro winemakers, (l-r) Dennis Patton, George Phelan, Maria Testa Martinson, Bob Swain, and Hoss Milone. Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

I got to be the moderator, but the show could have self-moderated around a pouring of the Coro Mendocino wines poured that day by Bob Swain of Parducci Wine Cellars, Maria Martinson of Testa Family Winery, Hoss Milone of Brutocao Family Vineyards, George Phelan of Clod du Bois, and Dennis Patton of Golden Vineyards.

Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

We tasted wines, each different, yet related by protocol, from five producers and three vintages. They were uniformly delicious, but Dennis stole the show by bringing a Golden Coro from the classic 2007 vintage. The answers from the five winemakers, their conversations, were probably better than my questions.

Line up of Coro

Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

Most striking was how every answer seemed to touch upon the collaborative aspects of the program, how winemakers blind taste barrel samples of each vintage several times, making and then sharing notes, all in an effort to produce the very best wines possible. The camaraderie among the winemakers was palpable.

Salute

Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

Huge thanks to the crew; producer Leigh Anne Lindsey from Out & About Media, director Steve Yoakum of MediaVectors Group, photographer Larry Wagner, and production assistants Marilyn Wagner and Mary Fairbanks.

Get out to a Coro member winery tasting room, and taste Mendocino County’s flagship wine. For more information about Coro Mendocino, visit their website at www.CoroMendocino.com.

EDITED TO ADD: For the archived copy of this column, I went back to the working title “Coro Mendocino #205” which I came up with because it felt like I had written about Coro at least 204 times previously, sometimes a mere mention, sometimes a section in a column, while other times I use a whole column to spread the word of Coro. I’ve written pieces for 101 Things to do in Mendocino County and I wrote full page pieces for the Ukiah Daily Journal before I decided to take on a weekly column. By a wide margin of words, I have written more about Coro Mendocino than any other writer, so now you know why this piece was titled as it was. Oh, here’s a few archived Coro mentions: here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

2010 Coro Rankings

20080421_011535_ukiahLogo
John On Wine ­ – Question Corner

Originally published on December 5, 2013 in the Ukiah Daily Journal by John Cesano

My good friend, Amie Bunch, recently sent me a note asking, “This maybe a dumb question, but do they add sugar to wine?”

Here is the answer I sent her:

“Not a dumb question at all, it is a great question.

Wine gets sweetness and alcohol from the sugar that is in the grapes that the wine is made from.

In the vineyard, buds break out on the vines in the spring and grapes come from those buds. The vines take moisture from the earth and heat from the sun during the summer and grapes grow from the buds – small at first – but larger and larger and by fall’s harvest they have gone from bitter to sweeter. The measure of sugar in a grape at harvest is called brix and usually the higher the brix the more a grower gets paid for his grapes.

The sugar loaded grapes are squeezed, crushed, pressed, stomped, and otherwise rendered of their juice at the winery. Grapes become grape juice.

Fermentation, the changing of grape juice to wine, occurs when yeasts (naturally occurring or purposefully chosen inoculation) convert the sugars in grape juice to alcohol, heat, and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide can be bled off, the heat can be controlled with cooling coils, and the alcohol can be manipulated to some degree.

In many red wines fermentation is complete, taken all the way to dryness and this can yield some high alcohol wines. As Zinfandel can often brix high, there are Zinfandels that drink hot with alcohol running 17 percent or higher.

Many sweeter wines – whites and rosé, have lower alcohol and higher residual sugar, because fermentation is stopped before the yeast can convert all of the sugar in the juice into alcohol. To stop fermentation coils around a stainless steel tank are super chilled, cooling the wine, and stopping the fermentation.

Okay, that’s the vineyard grape to juice to wine story.

Some vintages (simply another name for year when referring to grapes) are cool, too cold to yield the desired brix for a vineyard’s grapes. Big rains can do the same thing, especially if they come late in the season but before harvest, as the vines suck up the extra moisture which then decreases the ratio of sugar to water in the grape. Generally, growers do not love low sugar grapes. Same with the winemaker at the winery.

A natural fix for low sugar in the grapes would be simply to add some sugar.

Wineries in most of the U.S. are not allowed to add sugar to wines. It is illegal.

That said, grape concentrates can be added to the juice to bring sugars up and a low brix problem can be solved.

Oh, and it is alleged that some wineries – I’m thinking of one enormous producer of Chardonnay in particular – do in fact add sugar to their juice.

Now to break the rule; bubbly, champagne, sparkling wine – whatever you call it – does get sugar added to the wine. Instead of making the wine in a barrel or tank, the wine is made in the bubbly bottle and spends a year to a year and a half in the case of McFadden, as an example, with the yeast and lees (spent yeast and other small solids) before disgorgement (a process of removing those particulate solids). At disgorgement, a dosage (a dose) of sugar is added to the wine and the cork & cage are fitted. The small bit of unspent yeast acts upon the dosage and a secondary fermentation occurs.

Remember the carbon dioxide I mentioned before that is bled away? Well, now, trapped inside the bottle, this carbon dioxide becomes a part of the wine, and that added sugar is responsible for the bubbles in a bottle of bubbly.”

Yeah, I know the answer was a bit long winded, but she thanked me, writing back, “You rock! My friend asked me and I told her I didn’t think they did. I told her I would find out. I forwarded her your response and she was so impressed. I said, yeah, I have smart friends.'” Hopefully the answer, off the top of my head, was right.
_____

Next week is the big Coro Mendocino wine dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah. Grab your reservation, don’t wait, do it now! What are you thinking? That they have hundreds of seats available? They don’t. Call now. (707) 463-0700. About 60 very lucky dinner guests will sit down on Wednesday, Dec. 11 at 6 p.m. for an amazing Chef’s Wine Dinner.

Here’s the working Chef’s menu: Mini Wedge Salads with Nueske bacon, blue cheese, tomato, and red onion; Dungeness Crab Cakes with tomato confit, basil aioli, and balsamic; Oyster Rockefeller ­ the original recipe from 1899; Steak Tartare with French mustard dressing, caper, crispy shallot, and chive; Slow roasted Aged Prime rib of Beef with creamed fresh horseradish and natural au jus; Twiced Baked Idaho Potatoes with cheddar, scallion, and crème fraiche; Creamed Spinach Au Gratin with nutmeg, gruyere, and shallot; Local Organic Roasted Carrots with maple, dill, and butter; and a dessert of Butterscotch Budino with chocolate, whipped cream, and caramel pearls. Ten local wineries will be pouring their Coro Mendocino heritage Zinfandel blend wines; they are Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Mendocino Vineyards, Parducci, Philo Ridge and Ray’s Station. $65 covers dinner and wine, add tax and a tip, and the price is the bargain of the year. Count on Sparkling Brut to kick things off and dessert wine to end the night. Have you called yet? Stop reading, and start punching buttons, (707) 463-0700, and I’ll see you there.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,036 other followers