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John On Wine – 4th annual Testa Blending Party and Winesong

Two great wine events on one day

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

 

I’m giving you a touch over two weeks notice, so I hope to see many of you, because on Saturday, Sept. 6 there are two of my favorite Mendocino County wine events.

One may be the county’s largest wine event for the year, the other is smaller but more dear to me. First, let’s start with my favorite: Testa Vineyards is having their 4th annual Blending Party from 6 to 10 p.m., and it is at Testa Ranch in Calpella, right here near Ukiah. Before making a Coro red blend, Maria Testa Martinson and husband Rusty Martinson had their Black wine, a blend of wines made from the different red grape varieties grown on Testa Vineyards.

The wine changes each year as different wines and percentages find their way into the mix and become the finished wine. I attended the first Testa barn blend party and sat with local industry luminary Kelly Lentz, and although we each had different ideas about what blend would yield the best wine, we came to find that it was nearly impossible to blend a bad wine from Testa’s juice. Last year, Maria announced that Testa’s fifth Black blend would rely heavily on the blend put together by the wine blend judged best at the 3rd annual Testa Blending Party.

I was honored to be one of three judges and, together with my fellow judges, we reconfirmed that there are many paths to a delicious Testa blend as we tasted through 25 different wines created by folks sitting at 25 different tables. This year, from 6 to 7 p.m., guests will enjoy appetizers and try to unleash their inner winemaker, blending Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane, Charbono, and Petite Sirah into a possible winning blend.

From 7 to 8 p.m., it is scrumptious dinner time, with catering champs Bella Ciba returning. During dinner, the judges will pick this year’s Blending Party wine winner.

I know I like wines that are well integrated, where nose leads to mouth and on to finish seamlessly, with a food-friendly touch of acid to balance an abundance of cleanly discernible fruit notes. Of course, this year’s other judges may prefer high-alcohol fruit-jam-bombs that obliterate food flavors, so finding a way to make a blend to please all palates might be a better road to victory than trying to please mine alone.

After dinner, from 8 to 10 p.m., there will be dancing as McKenna Faith and her band perform. McKenna is a Nashville recording artist, a genuine star, from right here in Ukiah, and incredibly talented. I’m an old Deadhead, not really a Country Western kind of guy, but enjoyed every moment McKenna played last year; quality transcends genre. Of course, this being Mendocino County, and a wine event, times may be flexible a bit, so show up on time, and roll with the flow.

The food is great, the blending is fun, the wine is terrific, the music is fantastic, and the Testa Family – Maria and Rusty, their kids, their aunts and uncles – they are all just the nicest people. Tickets are $70, Testa wine club members get a 25 percent discount, and with limited seating you’ll want to get your tickets early; this event sells out and no tickets are available at the door.

Visit TestaRanch.com/order, or call Maria at (707) 391-7273 to get your tickets now.

The second Sept. 6 wine event is Winesong, a charity auction and wine tasting, enjoying its 30th year, and is held at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens located in Fort Bragg. More than 100 wineries will pour tastes, over 50 food purveyors will offer bites, and nine different musical groups will perform and entertain from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the Winesong wine and food tasting.

A charity auction runs from 2 to 5 p.m., with a special gourmet lunch additionally available. “The centerpiece of Winesong weekend is our Charity Auction, featuring both a silent and live auction. Excitement builds in the Auction Tents with lively bidding for over 200 lots, featuring spectacular wines from the world’s most prestigious wine producers, rare vintages, large format bottles plus special vertical and horizontal collections.

Other auction highlights include original art from acclaimed California artists, vacations packages and highly coveted international wine getaway packages to Tuscany, South Africa, France, Spain, South America the Caribbean, and other enchanting parts of the world. Rounding off the travel offerings are one and two night getaway trips to the West’s most romantic inns, resorts, and spas. Coupled with the Wine & Food Tasting, the day can’t be beat ” is how the event website describes the most exciting part of the day’s events.

Winesong is presented by the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation with proceeds benefitting the Mendocino Coast District Hospital.

Tickets are $150 for the entire day, wine and food tasting, silent auction, and live auction, or $250 for reserve seating and a three course meal prepared by a celebrity chef to enjoy during the auction. To purchase tickets, or for more information, visit Winesong.org.

That’s it, two great events, just over two weeks away. Pick one, or the other, or – like me – both and I’ll see you on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014.

NOTE: This poster did not run in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper version of my wine column today, but I added it here for my online archived copy:

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John On Wine ­ – Crab, wine & more

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on January 23, 2014 by John Cesano

 

This week, I look back at last weekend, reflect a bit, and look ahead to more events this week.

On Saturday night, I went to Patrona in Ukiah for a winemaker dinner boasting a very crab-centric menu, because the Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest is going on. The meal also featured the sparkling and still wines of Roederer Estate winemaker Arnaud Weyrich from nearby Anderson Valley. I was thrilled to use the event as a reconnecting date, the first in over 20 years, with a dear friend, June Batz, who will likely be accompanying me to more wine events in the future.

Arnaud visited each table, welcomed guests to the event, and shared some information about the winery, and the night’s wines. Showing far more humility than I would have, he refrained from noting that one of the night’s wines, the Roederer L’Ermitage was named the #1 wine of 2013 by Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Some of the folks attending included Lorie Pacini and Allen Cherry, who are two of the biggest supporters of Mendocino County wines I know, Gracia Brown from Barra and Girasole along with her husband Joseph Love, and Christina Jones, owner/chef of Aquarelle restaurant in Boonville – who is doing her own winemaker dinner tonight, Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. with wines from Handley Cellars.

The three bubblies, Roederer Estate Brut, the L’Ermitage, and a Brut Rose, were everything you would hope and expect, simply perfect when paired with crab egg rolls, crab stuffed chicken, and an orange marmalade crepe with whipped cream respectively.

The two surprises of the evening were a pair of still wines, the 2012 Carpe Diem Chardonnay, barrel and tank fermented, with a majority of used oak, yielding a gorgeously balanced wine that paired beautifully with butter poached crab and avocado, and the 2011 Carpe Diem Pinot Noir, a delightfully characterful wine that went well with pork belly.

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Overheard at Barrel Tasting 101 last weekend: “Why is this Chardonnay cloudy? I think it is corked.”

Whoa there; a wine that is still in barrel, a wine not ready for bottling yet, a wine that has never seen a cork, can’t be “corked.”

Often time, Chardonnay in barrel is held “sur lies” or with the spent yeast of fermentation to provide the wine with a little weightiness or richer mouth feel. Barrel samples of these wines will be cloudy. Similarly, red wine barrel samples are colored, but often not clear. I will write more in advance of the next barrel tasting event I point to.

The most important thing to know about barrel tasting is that wines tasted from barrel are not finished wines, some do not taste particularly good, but will eventually yield delicious bottled wines. Barrel tasting provides clues, hints, at what you might expect from future wines. Some wineries offer cases sales on wines tasted from barrels, wines that are not released yet, but will be released in the future, and these offerings and sales are known as “futures.”

Tasting room folks that I talked to reported an interesting mix of folks attending the event; some who knew what a barrel tasting was about, other folks who were open to learn, and still other folks who were interested in consuming as much wine and crab as they could for $10.

June and I visited Maria and Rusty at Testa Vineyards in Calpella on Sunday, and it was great to see the crew working, pouring wines, serving up tasty treats.

Rusty pulled samples from the barrels in the cellar; I enjoyed the barrel samples I tasted, and thought the Petite Sirah would be great held separate instead of used up in blending. Charbono, Carignane – all my old favorites – tasted great from the barrel. Rusty is usually busy manning the grill, barbecuing chicken or oysters for an event, when I see him, so it was a treat to hear him talk about the wines and wine making.

Back upstairs and outdoors, we enjoyed tastes of current release bottled wines with Maria, paired with mighty delicious crab spread atop a slice of toasted French bread. Well, yum.

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The folks at Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in writing about their Blackberry Shine and Champagne cocktail, the MoonMosa. I’ve written about spirits when I visited with Crispin Cain and the folks from Germain Robin in Redwood Valley, and I work for a place with two Double Gold sparkling brut wines, so, sure, why not?

I received a mason jar of Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine. The packaging is fantastic.

Gary Krimont, a friend and wine industry socialite, helped me evaluate this unique beverage.

First, Moonshine might be pushing it. While the folks at Ole Smoky do produce a few products at 100 proof, the Blackberry Moonshine is just 40 proof, or 20 percent alcohol.

Honestly, the lower alcohol is a good thing, as it made this an easily enjoyed, flavorful sipper. The aroma is pure blackberry pancake syrup, but the flavor is more complex and layered. We mixed equal parts Shine and Brut, and both Gary and I felt that the cocktail was less than the sum of its parts. If you see one on a retail shelf, pick up a jar, and enjoy Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine by itself, it is light enough to drink uncut, and too delicious to dilute.

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Saturday is my birthday, and I will be attending ZAP, the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers Zinfandel Experience event at the Presidio in San Francisco. Sessions include a Sensory Tasting, a Terroir Tasting, and a Reserve & Barrel Tasting. Two Mendocino County wineries participating are McNab Ridge Winery in Hopland and Edmeades Estate Winery in Philo, and I look forward to tasting their Zinfandel, plus the Zinfandel wines made by many friends outside the county as well.

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Crab Fest continues this weekend, with the big events moving to the coast.

The Crab Cake Cook-Off & Wine Tasting Competition will take place this Saturday, Jan. 25 from noon to 3 p.m. under the big white tent at the corner of Main and Spruce in Ft. Bragg.

There is an all you can eat crab dinner, with wine, from 6 to 9 p.m., that Saturday night at Barra in Redwood Valley.

A host of winery tasting rooms along Highway 101 inland, and Highway 128 on the way to the coast, will be offering up crab taste pairings with their wines this last weekend of the Crab Fest, so get out and enjoy the bounty of our county.

So, tomorrow, I get to pour for McFadden from 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM out in Ft. Bragg on the Mendo coast at the botanical gardens for Winesong. I will not be alone; there will be about 100 wineries and 50 food folks, so this is an amazing tasting for attendees.

After, my time at Winesong, I take off my McFadden hat and put on my John On Wine hat and come back to inland Mendo for the 3rd annual Barn Blending BBQ at Testa in Calpella, Ukiah adjacent. Maria Testa Martinson asked me to come back to one of my favorite local wine events, but this year to act as a judge of the blends that folks make, and help to choose a winning blended wine. The party starts around 6:00 PM, folks make up their blends, inspired by finished wine poured at each table, and appetizers, then a terrific dinner of BBQ treats and Italian pasta is served, and the night’s fun continues with dancing to the live music of Nashville recoding artist McKenna Faith.

Frey is going to have an organically good time at their Frey Wine Club Party at the Solar Living Center in Ukiah from 4:00 PM – 8:00 PM, with wine, food, and music.

Parducci Wine Cellars will host The Ford Blues Band at Spencer Brewer’s Acoustic Cafe concert series event from 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM.

If I could be in two places at once, the event I would most like to attend, in addition to the two I am tomorrow, is the Topel Fifth Birthday Party. This is the event for my Sonoma County friends who just do not have the energy to drive up to Mendocino County for Mendo wine fun. Mark and Donnis Topel live, grow grapes, and make wine right here in Hopland; I see them at the post office, or when they visit my tasting room often. In a move that guaranteed they would see more visitors and pour for more tasters, Mark and Donnis put their Topel Tasting Room smack dab in the middle of Healdsburg, just a nudge off the town square on Matheson. The party is going from noon until 7:00 PM, and someone is going to win a year’s membership in the Topel Wine Club, which is an awesome gift.

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John On Wine

Join me for two wine events on September 7th

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on August 29, 2013 By John Cesano
John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Saturday, Sept. 7 is going to be a spectacularly full and fun day for me, with wine flowing from early in the day into the night, as I will help celebrate Mendocino County’s wine industry at two events. I hope you can join me at one, or both, of the day’s events.

First up is Winesong, a benefit for the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation, in Fort Bragg. This year marks the 29th Winesong Auction & Tasting, and the previous 28 annual Winesong wine events have led directly to lives saved as the next closest hospital is at least an hour away.

“The generosity of past guests, donors and volunteers have allowed the Hospital to purchase new equipment such as an ambulance, echocardiography system, Nuclear Medicine Camera and provided essential funding for our Elwin Cox Memorial Cancer Care Fund,” explains this year’s auction catalog, allowing the hospital to provide “many specialty practices including oncology, cardiology, obstetrics, general surgery, orthopedic surgery and wellness” for “everyone who lives, works, or vacations on the Mendocino Coast.”

Saturday starts with Mendocino County’s best wineries (plus some stars from outside the county) and food purveyors providing a wonderful tasting with tables set up throughout the breathtakingly beautiful Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. A $100 donation allows guests to wander through the gardens from 11 a.m. -2 p.m., tasting the wines of over 100 premium producers and the taste treats from more than 50 top food purveyors, while bidding on a dazzling array of silent auctions.

A $200 donation adds a reserved seat under the tent for the live auction with a three course lunch by James Beard award winning celebrity chef Bradley Ogden, and a Winesong tote bag, all following the three hour wine and food tasting through the gardens. Narsai David, KCBS radio’s food and wine luminary, will be the event’s Master of Ceremonies.

The live auction items are a collection of 75 jealousy inducing wine, restaurant, hotel, event, and vacation packages, while the silent auction lots include stays at vineyard guest houses, art, library wines, and more.

The auction items are truly awesome, and I hope if you attend Winesong that you will bid and wish you luck, hoping you win. That said, I am a simple man, and the opportunity to choose from among so many highly rated and award winning wines paired with bites of the most delicious foods, while surrounded by the verdantly lush Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, and then a Bradley Ogden meal with wine, well, that is what I imagine Heaven must be like.

I will be pouring a variety of Gold Medal, Double Gold Medal, and Best of Class awarded wines for McFadden Vineyard, wearing my figurative McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room manager hat, while sporting a literal broad brimmed straw hat. Tasters will have fun as I try to impart a little story with each wine poured, definitely more fun than the folks pouring for whatever winery shares my table as they hear a non-stop three hour live commercial for all things McFadden.

To get your tickets to this Heaven on Earth charity event, visit http://www.winesong.org

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After Saturday’s early pouring on the coast, I will drive back over the hill to attend the 3rd annual BBQ and Blending Barn Party at Testa Ranch and Vineyards in Calpella, just north of Ukiah on North State street, from 5 ­ 10 p.m. that same day, Saturday, Sept. 7.

I attended the first Testa BBQ and Blending Barn Party and found it virtually impossible to blend the component wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane, and Petite Sirah, and not have the result taste great.

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John Cesano at the first Testa Barn Blend BBQ

Each table will get to create, through trial and tasting, their favorite blend which will help Maria Testa find the perfect blend percentages for her fifth flagship red wine, the Testa Black “Cinque.” To help lubricate the blending work, there will be wine poured to inspire your creativity. This year, for the first time, each table’s blend will be entered in a blind tasting by judges who will select a winner!

The three judges are John Buchenstein, Rosemary Eddy, and John Cesano, which explains why I am happily driving back to Testa instead of staying overnight on the coast.

As I would be impressed by a blend that wasn’t delicious, I’m predisposed to award gold medals to all entrants with one wine chosen Best of Class by John, Rosemary, and me.

Appetizers served at your table, then a barbecue dinner with Italian pasta and salad and bread to follow, before the desert and dancing begins. Additional wine will be sold by the glass or bottle.

Rusty Martinson works the grill like a master, and I have enjoyed oysters to chicken in the past. I’m looking forward to this year’s food off the grill, and of course the pasta and salad.

Local music sensation and Nashville recording artist, McKenna Faith will perform this year.

Individual tickets are $70, or $55 for Testa wine club members. Reserved tables for eight are $560, or just $440 for Testa wine club members.

Here’s the deal. I love Testa wines, and this event is a blast! To get your tickets before they sell out, call Maria Testa Martinson at (707) 391-7273.

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Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. Save the date on your calendar for at least one or, even better, two local wine events, and if you see me that day say hello.

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