Coro Mendocino, I’ve written about it before, but with a rare tasting coming this weekend, it bears writing about again.

A group of Mendocino County winemakers create a Zinfandel based wine blend where Zinfandel accounts for between 40 and 70% of the finished wine. The remainder is limited to classic Mendocino County varietals, but a winemaker can use any varietal, traditional or not, up to 10% to create the best wine possible. The idea is to capture the heart (Coro is Italian for heart) of Mendocino County, the heart of the vintage, in a bottle.

There are 13 winemakers who take part in the Coro Mendocino cooperative association, and all the winemakers must approve a Coro in a blind group tasting prior to the blend being allowed to be called a Coro Mendocino.

Each Coro Mendocino is different. In a single vintage there could be 13 different Coro Mendocino wines, each with a different blend of grapes, each grown in a different part of the county, each blended by a different winemaker. All delicious, none closely resembling the next. Each Coro Mendocino is sold for $37, is bottled uniformly, carries matching labels, with the winery name noted but subordinate to the Coro Mendocino identification.

This Saturday, April 16, 2011 Sip! Mendocino in Hopland will be hosting a tasting of 10 different 2007 Coro Mendocino producers from 6-9 pm. Graziano, McDowell, McFadden, Fetzer, Golden, Dunnewood, Brutocao, Philo Ridge, Parducci, and McNab Ridge will be poured. The cost is only $20 for the general public, and Sip! Mendocino wine club members may take part at no charge.

Be sure to taste the McFadden Vineyard Coro, it is 60% Zinfandel, 27% Syrah, and 13% Petite Sirah; add it up and you get 100% delicious. Rich warm cherry and berry fruit, chocolate, herb, rich and full, big yet easily drinkable, with a long, lingering, tapering finish. I may be biased, I am the Tasting Room Manager and Wine Club Coordinator at McFadden Vineyard, but I think it may be the most delicious of the 2007 Coro Mendocino wines. The great news is that on Saturday you can taste them all side by side and decide for yourself which is your favorite.

Until ZAP has the sense to invite all the Coro Mendocino wines to be poured at January’s annual Grand Zinfandel Tasting in San Francisco at Ft. Mason, this is your best, least expensive opportunity to taste the line up. Call Sip! Mendocino to secure your spot at Saturday night’s tasting, (707) 744-8375.

EDITED TO ADD: Amusingly, because it demonstrates my fallibility, it turn out Coro does NOT translate as Heart going from Italian to English. Coro is Chorus. Cuore is Heart. I am not as fond of the imagery of tasting the Chorus of Mendocino County. Romantic that I am, Coro SHOULD be Heart. Thanks to Eugene Gonsalves for catching my error, allowing me to note if not correct it.

 

Tierra – art, garden, wine

312 N School St

Ukiah, CA 95482

(707) 468-7936

 

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Also scheduled for Saturday, April 9, 2011, just about 15 minutes away from the Tierra event, half a dozen Hopland winery tasting rooms will be taking part in Second Saturday.

Each Second Saturday of the month, the participating Hopland winery tasting rooms have special one day one sales, prepare tasty treats to pair with their wine, and stay open an hour later.

As an example, McFadden Vineyard tasting room will be offering their stainless steel fermented, no malolactic 2009 Chardonnay, Potter Valley, made from organically grown grapes, at 35% off the regular case price which brings the per bottle price down to $10.40 each for your 12 bottles. The pairing snack will be a toothpick skewered medley of French bread, cheese, and apple – which will all show different notes in the day’s featured Chardonnay; and the tasting room will be open an extra hour, from 10:00 AM until 6:00 PM.

Other wines available for tasting include two Pinot Noirs, two Zinfandels, the Coro Mendocino, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, and two Rieslings. All McFadden Vineyard wines can be purchased at the tasting room or arranged to be shipped to your home or to a friend or family member as a gift.

With five different wine clubs, you can choose the perfect one for yourself or as a gift, and we will ship at special low wine club member rates either four bottles three times a year, or six bottles four times a year, with or without the addition of some of the non-wine items grown organically at McFadden Farm in nearby Potter Valley. While our shipping rates are low, local wine club members often elect to pick up their orders and save that cost.

Non-wine items like McFadden Farm Organic Herbs, Herb Blends and Dried Herb Wreaths, McFadden Farm Organic Beef, McFadden Farm Garlic and Wild Rice, Marinades, Pottery, McFadden Logo Hats and Shirts, McFadden Logo Riedel Wine Glasses, Wine Themed Shirts, and Wine Accessories are also available for purchase at the tasting room, or can be arranged to be shipped as a gift to a friend or family member.

Other Hopland winery tasting rooms taking part in April 9, 2011 Second Saturday include Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Graziano, Jaxon Keys, McNab Ridge, Milano Winery and Weibel. Other winery tasting rooms may participate as well.

DISCLOSURE: I am the tasting room manager and wine club coordinator for McFadden Vineyard which is why I was able to share so much about their Second Saturday in Hopland activities.

I am thrilled to announce the winner of two tickets to ZAP’s 20th Anniversary Grand Zinfandel Tasting, the biggest Zinfandel tasting in the world each year, and what many feel to be the crown jewel big event of the entire 3 day, 4 event Zinfandel Festival.

Earlier this week, I announced the ticket giveaway contest, writing

To be in consideration for the pair of tickets to the Grand Zinfandel Tasting, name a Mendocino winery that produced a Coro Zin blend in 2010. Leave your submission as a comment to this post. Contest entry submissions will be accepted through noon California time, this Thursday, Jan 20, 2011.

I spread the word using facebook and twitter, and received entries from eight folks, and correct qualifying entries from seven.

For the record, the 11 wineries of Coro Mendocino are Brutocao, Mendocino Vineyards, Fetzer, Golden, Graziano, McDowell, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Pacific Star, Parducci, and Philo Ridge Vineyards. The 2007 vintage was released on Saturday, June 26, 2010 at the Little River Inn on the Mendocino Coast. Coro Mendocino wines from all 11 wineries were poured that evening.

When there were only 6 correct entries, I was going to use a die to determine a winner, each die side representing a contest entrant.

I went looking for my 7 sided die when I received the, just barely in time, 7th correct qualifying entry; but I don’t have a 7 sided die.

From my son’s room, I did find a set of various energy cards from Pokemon, the card game. I chose 7 different energy cards, one to represent each contestant, directly from cellophane packaging. The contest instruments of randomization could not be more fair, more even.

These are the entrants, their qualifying winery, and their energy card:

Robin Miller – Golden Vineyards – Psychic Enrgy Card

Gina Braden – Brutocao Cellars – Lightning Energy Card

Sara Raffel – Fetzer – Darkness Energy Card

Michael McMillan – Graziano – Water Energy Card

Elizabeth McLachlan – Brutocao, McFadden, Parducci – Metal Energy Card

Ian Karch – Pacific Star Winery – Fighting Energy Card

Brendan McGuigan – McFadden – Grass Energy Card

I shuffle cut the cards for ten minutes, chose one at random and it was the Metal Energy Card.

That means Elizabeth McLachlan is the winner of the pair of tickets to ZAP’s Grand Zinfandel Tasting. Congratulations to Elizabeth, and thanks to everyone who entered and made this a fun contest.

Tickets are still available for purchase to attend the Grand Zinfandel Tasting at Fort Mason in San Francisco on January 29th. Tickets are not available for all Zinfandel Festival events, having sold out, so I would urge anyone considering purchase to hurry and do so.

Cheers!

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Yesterday, I visited Campovida, home to the wines of the Magnanimus Wine Group, to drop off a package.

While there, even without a walk through the gardens, I was wowed by the serenity and beauty, the magic of the place…again.

I took a couple of pictures, sort of abstract for being close ups cropping out background information or clues. I thought of it as a deconstructed view of my visit. Enjoy.

I’ve missed you. Thanks to everyone who visited John On Wine, looking to see if my favored iMac was repaired and if I was back to writing new posts; thank you for your loyalty, kindness, and patience.

I took my computer to Simon Kerbel, an Apple certified Mac specialist who runs his Mac Angel business out of his Sebastopol home. My computer was repaired in less time and at much less cost than I had initially feared, and I highly recommend Simon to any North Coast wine country Mac owners who find themselves in need of repair or upgrade. Simon, Mac Angel, macangel.biz, (707) 861-0606.

My writing station; a PC, and my iMac with a second display monitor to work with.

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ZAP, Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, is an organization that celebrates Zinfandel, the red wine varietal grape, and works to bring attention to Zinfandel, publicizing the varietal’s primacy as the wine that is California’s own.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the Zinfandel tasting events surrounding ZAP’s 19TH Annual Zinfandel Festival; the Zinfandel Festival is held late in January each year at San Francisco’s Ft. Mason.

All varietal wines bottled in California, from Alicante Bouschet to Zinfandel, must have at least 75% of the varietal named on the bottle to be varietally named or the wine must be called table wine. Zinfandel often has a little Carignane blended in, just as Cabernet Sauvignon often has a little Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc often has a little Semillon. These blends are traditional because over time these wine blends have often improved the unblended wines they came from. The sum is greater than the parts, winemaking as alchemy – gold (medals) from the crucible of the wine lab or cellar. There are wines that take the blending farther, and end up with no single varietal reaching the necessary 75% required for varietal naming on the bottle, 40% Zinfandel, 35% Carignane, 25% Grenache as an example; sometimes these wines, often tasting incredibly delicious, carry the name “Red Table Wine.”

Wine lists and market shelves are not set up for “Red Table Wines” or “White Table Wines,” and many wonderful expressions of a winemaker’s art become unwieldy, difficult to market or sell, wines.

ZAP is dedicated to Zinfandel and has required that the wines poured at their major tasting, the Grand Zinfandel Tasting, be Zinfandel, containing at least 75% Zinfandel.

Last year, at the Flights Zinfandel panel presentation tasting, an exploration of Zinfandel blends, many of the wines were “Red Table Wines,” with no varietal reaching 75% content. Some of the blends were the winemaker’s art, cellar or barrel blends, but some of the blends came from what are known as field blends.

Zinfandel has been planted in California a very long time, many old vines are from century blocks, plantings at least 100 years old. Many of these old vineyards have other grape varietals intermixed with the Zinfandel, some Carignane vines planted among the Zinfandel vines. At harvest, the winemaker could pick everything at once, crush it all at once, age it all together, and, in time, bottle a blended wine, a field blend.

ZAP has announced that with a unanimous vote of their Board of Directors, traditional Zinfandel blends, based on historical field blends, where Zinfandel is the dominant grape variety and Zinfandel accounts for at least 34% of the blend, may be poured at the 2011 Grand Zinfandel Tasting at next year’s 20th Zinfandel Festival.

“ZAP’s role in telling the complete, historically accurate story of Zinfandel will be enhanced by the inclusion of classic California field blends as part of the annual Festival and as part of the organization’s educational repertoire,” explains Joel Peterson, winemaker at Ravenswood, and ZAP Board member, “the Zinfandel field blend is the type of wine that would have made California famous 80 years ago, if it hadn’t been for Prohibition, this wine would have been California’s Bordeaux, Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Chianti—a blended wine made from grapes chosen by the people of the region, through mostly trial and error, to produce the best wine they thought the region could produce.  In other words, a fine regional wine only associated with California made no where else in the world.”

Zinfandel blends that come from winemaker choices in the cellar or lab, but use the same grapes traditionally found in classic field blends, and meet the Zinfandel dominant and 34% Zinfandel minimum content, are eligible to be poured as well.

The grape varieties for these Zinfandel field blend inspired wines can be Alicante Bouschet, Barbera, Black Malvoisie, Burger Carignane, Grand Noir de la Calmette, Grenache, Lenoir, Mataro (Mourvedre), Black Muscat, Negrette, Peloursin, Petite Bouschet, Petite Sirah, Semillon, Syrah, Tempranillo, and/or Teradalgo – and, of course, Zinfandel.

Closer to home, Coro Mendocino is a cooperative venture where 11 Mendocino County wineries make individual Zinfandel dominant blends; the idea is to produce wines featuring the best grapes of Mendocino County, thematically similar in style, yet unique to the individual winery’s vision, the blend containing 40-70% Zinfandel, with blending grapes being Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Sangiovese, Grenache, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, and/or Primitivo. Winemakers may also blend in up to 10% free choice in creating their wine. Wines must have at least 1 year in barrel and at least 6 months in bottle before release. The alcohol level must fall between 12.5% and 16%, pH, total acidity, glucose/fructose enzymatic, volatile acidity, and malic acid also have agreed upon ranges. Oak barrels may be 25%-75% new oak.

The 11 wineries of Coro Mendocino are Brutocao, Mendocino Vineyards, Fetzer, Golden, Graziano, McDowell, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Pacific Star, Parducci, and Philo Ridge Vineyards. The 2007 vintage release party will be 6:00 pm on Saturday, June 26, 2010 at the Little River Inn on the Mendocino Coast. Dinner for two, with a tasting of all the wines, and a complete set of all 11 2007 Coro Mendocino wines to take home is just $480. For reservations, call toll free (888) 466-5683.

Some Coro Mendocino wines could be poured at ZAP’s Grand Zinfandel Tasting, but others would be excluded because of varietal choices in conflict with ZAP’s traditional field blend varietal list.

Yesterday, I asked Julie Ann Kodmur, ZAP’s publicist extraordinaire, about an odd anomaly I noticed in the list of ZAP approved field blend grapes. From my e-mail to Julie:

Semillon is a white wine grape. I know that there are numerous instances of white wine grapes being planted in “Zinfandel fields” or barrel blended, but I wondered at the inclusion of Semillon on the list in your press release, but the exclusion of other Bordeaux whites like Sauvignon Blanc. I also wonder at the inclusion of Rhone reds, but the exclusion of Rhone whites like Marsanne.

Are the heritage wines limited to those blended from the list below, or are other varietals allowed? I imagine some Mendocino Coro wines would be excluded if this list is set, while other Mendocino Coro wines, perhaps showing better Zinfandel blend characteristics might be excluded, if the list of varietals above is complete, finite, closed.

It almost seems as if a small handful of winemakers got together and made a list of grapes grown in their wine property blocks and called it a day.

Julie kindly forwarded my note to Zinfandel superstar winemaker Joel Peterson of Ravenswood, who responded today:

Hi John,

Thanks for your comments on the list of grapes included in the Zinfandel field blends.  The inclusion of Semillon in that particular list was the result of an accident.  While we recognize that there were many white grapes that appeared in some of these plantings, (Palomino, Sauvignon Vert, Berger, and French Colombard, to name a few others), the number of vines was usually so small as to be insignificant and they did not warrant inclusion.  While these grapes were on our original list, it was decided by the ZAP board that they be stricken from that list.

The list of Heritage Blend grapes is derived from a number of sources; experience of people in the field with their own old vineyards and various historical records from the era that these blends were being formulated. Understand that the key word here is “Heritage” Field Blends.  While I realize there are a number of other blends being made today that include Cabernet and other varieties not on the list, they would not be included as Zinfandel heritage field blends.  This was meant to be a historical reference point and an augmentation to our understanding of Zinfandel and its kin.

I suspect the list as it exists is not complete and will undergo some modification.  The key to additions is that they exist in significant proportion in existing Heritage Field Blends or in pertinent reference literature concerning these blends.

I hope this is helpful.

Joel

If you read my companion pieces from this year’s ZAP Zinfandel Festival, you know I hold Joel in the highest esteem. In those pieces, I wrote, “I tasted wines that ranged from 100% Zin to a wine where Zinfandel was not the predominant grape. I wondered when a Zin stops being a Zin. I asked Joel, “how much Zinniness (yes, it is a real word, I invented it) is required in a wine to be considered appropriate for inclusion at ZAP?” when we met over lunch at a ZAP event back in January. Joel said, “It is an interesting subject, and the wines that are being made from these mixed black blends have the potential to be some of the best, most singular wines California can produce. It is good to get the conversation about them started again. We lost the thread with the advent of Prohibition and in the process lost what might have been the wine that was our equivalent of Bordeaux, Chateauneuf du Pape, or Chianti. Blended wine made from grapes chosen by the people of that region to represent the best most representative wine that region could produce. Zinfandel is California’s own. There is nothing that even comes close. These talks of blending [Zinfandel] instead of Cabernet or Chardonnay; Zinfandel, Heritage, whatever it will be called, will be how we establish ourselves against European wines.”

Joel’s words then led me to suggest that ZAP might do just what they did, open the Zinfandel Festival up to more wines to be poured. Joel’s words today provide a foundation for a better understanding of ZAP’s announcement.

Earlier this year, I was asked how long I have lived in the Mendocino County town of Ukiah and I answered that I had lived here just a couple of years. In my head, I was a temporarily displaced Sonoma County resident.

Shortly after, talking with my brother, I again said that I had been in Ukiah a couple of years. My brother laughed and said I had been in Ukiah closer to five years.

I was surprised, but he was right; I moved to Ukiah five years ago, but traveled for work, sleeping more nights in hotels than my own bed each year. This year, I eliminated the travel, and took the time to breathe, to look around, to relax. I have begun to think of myself as someone from Ukiah for the first time.

Last weekend was Passport Weekend in Wine Country. I could taste wines in Napa’s Rutherford Appelation or San Luis Obispo, Dry Creek just finished ther Passport Weekend, and the Sonoma Valley is still to come; but I made a decision to taste the wines from my home and attended the Hopland Passport Spring 2010 wine tasting event.

Hopland is a small town in Mendocino County, choking Highway 101 down to one lane each direction, the first town in Mendocino County driving north up 101, and about 15 minutes south of Ukiah, the county seat. Green mountains on the west side of town stretching north and south, and valley spreading to the east. Vineyards sprouting green with new growth, lavender, poppies, floral explosion of perfume and color. I’m not gifted describing beauty, but the weekend was knockout gorgeous, a feast for all the senses.

I visited over a dozen locations, experienced almost twice as many wine brand labels, and tasted just over 100 wines. The weekend was about much more than just the wines tasted; it was about the beauty of our county, the overarching commitment to green practices, change and hope as well. I came away from the two days more than a little more in love with where I live. I didn’t love every wine I tasted, but I can easily say that every winery had something positive for me to write about, and at least one wine I enjoyed without qualification.

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My first stop, coming south from Ukiah, was at Nelson Family Vineyards. Located down Nelson Ranch Road, on the west side of Hwy 101 (look for the strawberry farm of Saecho, and head west), the winery is reached by walking up a winding garden path from the parking area below. Floral growth adding color and scent to the day, did make taking nosing notes on the wines a touch more difficult, but their beauty made the challenge worthwhile.

2008 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Pinot Grigio $16 – Clear, steely mineral, floral honeysuckle, apple. Nice fruit.

2008 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Viognier $21 – Clear. Citrus, Orange blossom, apricot, apple.

2008 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Zinfandel Rose $16 - ¾  Zin, ¼ Pinot. Lightly rose colored. Nice acid. Juicy strawberry.

2008 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Riesling $16 – sweet honeyed apricot, peach, pear. Honey (yes, I know I mentioned it twice).

2009 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Orange Muscat $21 – Mineral, sweet peach, lemon citrus, floral honey. The mouth delivers more sweetness than the nose suggests.

2009 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Barn Blend $23 – I was told the blend is a majority Zin, with about 10% each of Cab and Merlot, and 5% Viognier. I thought it a little young, but rich, with a dusty chocolate nose; easily quaffable with lots of mixed berry and cherry fruit notes.

2007 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Zinfandel $23 – Nicely soft, lighter bodied, but full flavors, this Zin has enough acid to make your mouth want that next mouthful of raspberry jam and boyesnberry pie flavor. Spice and fruit.

2007 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon $23 – “Oh yeah,” is what I thought to myself. Love at first sniff. Black plum, dark fruit notes, delicious jammy blackberry and cassis notes.

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Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery is Ken & Diane Wilson’s first winery in Mendocino County. The Wilsons are known for making premium wines at a number of Sonoma County wineries, and bought what had been known as Jepsen Winery & Distillery, changing the name to honor Wilson’s grandfathers Jack Wilson and Cecile Keys.

Two huge changes, both for the better: the Wilsons have restored the historic hilltop on-property farmhouse and moved the tasting operations to the picturesque farmhouse, and the Wilsons brought winemaker Fred Nickel to Jaxon Keys.

Jaxon Keys’ hilltop farmhouse tasting room

The tasting room has a refrigerator with meats, salami, coppa, prosciutto, and mortadella at $4.95, and cheeses, white cheddar, sharp cheddar, plain jack, garlic jack, and Sicilian jack at $5.95 available to purchase. I can picture buying a little meat and cheese, sitting in a chair on the wraparound farmhouse porch, looking out over the valley vineyards, and sipping wine with meats and cheeses.

The wines, for the most part, are made from Estate grown grapes. One of my favorite wines, the 2007 Jaxon Keys Zinfandel Mae’s Block, had a great nose for a wine available at $6/bottle when purchased in a case. Pepper spice, berry fruit and herb. Solid Zin, not big, but good.

I did not love all of the wines, but the Wilsons are known for quality, and Fred Nickel who took over the winemaking duties only late August last year is a Mendocino County winemaking institution. Nickel knows the area’s fruit and how to make wines with soul from those grapes. I look forward to what will happen at Jaxon Keys moving forward. I think it safe to say that great grapes, great facility, great winemaker, and great owners will lead to a complete portfolio of first class wines.

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Saracina Vineyards starts with a visually striking architectural aesthetic. A lake, olive trees, circles of lawn, the wine cave ( a real one, dug into a hillside over two years), tree trunk tables, groovy designer chairs as (surprisingly) comfortable as they are cool looking, all lead to zen calm in which to perceive the land’s bounty.

The cave at Saracina Vineyards

The 2007 Saracina Sauvignon Blanc is an unapologetically layered white. About a liter of aroma and flavor shoehorned into a 750 ml bottle. Mineral, lemon, citrus, crisp peachy pear and melon. Round and full mouth, crisp acid without tartness, bank, complexity, a showy white. $15

I tasted the Sauvignon Blanc with a creamy goat cheese spread on a cracker, the goat cheese really pulled out steely lemon and pear notes.

Olive Oil – “OMG,” was my first thought and became my first note upon tasting the Hopland made oil pressed from the olive trees of Saracina. 4 varietals, estate grown, from 700 trees, blended together, make a deliciously flavorful olive oil, nothing like the bargain priced supermarket olive oil you’ve tasted before. $12

2006 Saracina Atrea Old Soul Red – A Zin, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Malbec blend. Saracina got the “soul” part of the name right, this wine has soul. Red & Black fruit blend, blackberry, cherry, raspberry, nice tannin and oak. Well balanced. Delicious. I asked why blend these grapes, was it a field blend, a barrel blend, why this blend? I was told that this “Mendo blend” was by design a blend of the county’s most iconic grapes. $25

Estate Bee Honey – Again, simply delicious. $12

2003 Saracina Syrah – Hillside fruit, a gorgeous Syrah, the kind that if people tasted they would buy. Lush, full dark juicy fruit, herb, spice, and a floral perfume. $18

2005 Saracina Syrah – Eagle Point (1,500 feet above sea level) and Potato Patch (2,200 feet above sea level) vineyards are the source of this rich intensely pub, blackberry, boysenberry noted wine. Leathery, supple, nice tannin and oak. – $32

I tasted the 2007 Saracina Petite Sirah, but I paired it with a chicken teriyaki falafel. I don’t know what this food treat was meant to pair with but it bulldozed the flavors of the Petite Sirah. I want to taste this wine again by itself. The falafel did remind me, fondly, of some of the food I tasted in the parking lots outside Grateful dead shows long past. – $38

The chairs in the shade, with a lake view, are prime real estate at Saracina Vineyards

Overall, a wonderful experience.

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Jeriko Estate is a popular site with a sprawling Tuscan style building with lovely landscaped garden. When I arrived on Saturday, the crowd was so large, and enthusiastic, that I nearly gave up, preparing to leave, planning to come back on a calmer day.

The landscaped garden at Jeriko Estate

Then a spot in a quiet corner of the tasting bar opened, with a dump bucket in front of the empty stool, and I swooped.

2008 Jeriko Estate Sauvignon Blanc $19.50 – Varietally correct. Mown hay, grass, floral, pear nose. Bright mineral pear and apple with light citrus flavors.

Natural Blonde Chardonnay $12.95 – Tart, yet round. Tart apple. Striking crispness and acidity. This is a Chardonnay to pair with bi-valve shell fish in place of a steely mineral Sauvignon Blanc.

2006 Strawberry Blonde Rose $12.95 – Light salmon color. Nice strawberry, raspberry, and kiwi fruit notes.

2006 Jeriko Estate Pinot Noir $38 – Smoke, oak, dried cherry flavors follow a nose of the same. Very direct. Spice, herb, and oaky vanilla add texture, rounding edge.This represents a lull in the crowds at Jeriko Estate on Santurday

Outside, in a round tent in the front gardens, bubblies were being poured. The tent smelled of must, perhaps having not fully dried after recent rains, or perhaps from a recent storage, but the subtle bright crisp apple fruit and citrus notes, toasty, floral, and slight mineral quality of the 2005 Jeriko Estate Brut Rose $48.95 were impossible to appreciate until I took my glass out and away from the tent.

It was nice to see goats scampering on the other side of a vineyard fence.

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One mile east of Hopland, on Hwy 175, Gary Breen and his wife Anna Beuselinck have purchased and are restoring the 5 year closed former Fetzer Wine & Food Center, newly christened Campovida (Field of life).

Magnamimus Wine Group, headed by Owsley Brown III, will be offering a full range of wines, tours of the property’s abundant gardens, and hosting wine and food events.

Magnanimus Wine Group at Campovida

I can say that a buzz running throughout the weekend, underneath the immediacy of the festivities and fun, wine and wonder, was a hope that Campovida and Magnanimus succeed, and that the property never close again.

Magnanimus offers wines on four labels; Mendocino Farms, Old River Cellars, Talmage Collection, and Ukiah Cellars.

2008 Ukiah Cellars Chardonnay, Beckstoffer and McDowell Vineyards, $16 – Clear, brilliant, pale gold. Apple & pear nose, tart fruit, but not aggressively tart. Light cream and vanilla apple flavors.

2006 Old River Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Ponderosa Vineyard (near Grass Valley in the Sierra Foothills), $19 – Nice, lush fruit. Supple and complex, approachable black berry fruit.

2006 Talmage Collection Pija Blend, Mattern Ranch, $25 – A field blend, roughly 50% Zin and 45% Petite Sirah (with a smudge, about 5% Charbono from Venturi Vineyards). Bright, lush, bursting fruit of cherry and berry, with integrated acid, oak, and tannin.

2006 Talmage Collection Syrah, Maria Vineyard, $32 – Dark purple, chewy cherry nose gives way to more full flavors of cocoa, black berry and currant.

2005 Mendocino Farms Redvine Series, Heart Arrow and fairbairn Ranches, $25 - 75% Cab, 13% Petite Syrah, and 12 % Syrah. Cab fruit is obvious. Blackberry rich. lush, juicy, soft, and delicious.

2005 Mendocino Farms Syrah, Fairbairn Ranch, $32 – Delicious burst of fruit, black berry and raspberry mix. Berry fruit medley. Lush, more than the typical Syrah.

2008 Mendocino Farms Zinfandel (Barrel Sample), Dark Horse Vineyard. – Really nice round fruit, accessible dark berry fruit. Incredible potential.

I toured the gardens with Ken Boek, and if you visit Campvida and Magnanimus you need to set at least an hour aside to walk with Ken. Part gardener, part historian, Ken is an invaluable asset. Hearing Ken tell about he and Julia Child traveling into Ukiah to buy comfortable shoes (they both wore 10 1/2 Men’s size sneakers) brings the food center back to life.

The gardens at Campovida

Ken’s brother played at the outdoor covered patio as part of a three piece acoustic group.

This seemed, to me at least, to be a very successful “soft” opening for Magnanimus and Campovida, and another grand opening celebration is being planned for June.

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Weibel Family Winery and Vineyards is out Hwy 175, past Campovida, past Hopland’s Indian casino, halfway to nowhere. Rural, centered in a valley, the winery’s tasting room is on the upper level of a two story building, and has a deck overlooking half of creation. An absolutely inspiring view.

Weibel Family and Winery

Road I Red - 75% Merlot, 25% Syrah. Easily drinkable red, soft tannins, cherry, oak, round, light. $10

Road I White – 50% Chardonnay, 50% Sauvignon Blanc. An interesting blend with apple, hay, grass, citrus, pear, floral honeysuckle. $10

2008 Weibel Estate Sauvignon Blanc $14.95 – Mown hay, melon, citrus, pear nose. Drinkable lemony apple pear fruit mouth. easy.

2006 Weibel Estate Zinfandel $16.95 – Zin nose of dark wild raspberry. Drinkable. Acid, balanced by tannin. Raspberry rut. Not overly peppery or spicy.

Looking at the view from the deck is your payment for the drive out to Weibel, finding enjoyable wines puts you squarely in the plus column for the trip.

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Milano Family Winery is located in an old Hop Kiln just south of Hopland on Hwy 101.

The historic Hop Kiln location of Milano Family Winery

Rewarding visitors, Milano played host to several local artists including Tres Classique, Ukiah’s specialty flavored oil and vinegar producer.

Milano Family Winery Big Ass Red is a Cabernet based blend of 12 varietals. Owner and winemaker Deanna Starr’s intent was to create a wine that can be brought to any dinner, that can pair with as many dishes possible, that would please the broadest range of palates. Light, lush, not tannic, very accessible, mixed fruit basket. $16

Milano Family Winery Big Ass Blond, a Chardonnay and Viognier blend, is made with the same intent, broad appeal. Lush fruit, apple pie and fig. $16.

2006 Milano Family Winery Malbec $29 - Nice nose of blackberry. Dark of color. Lush, fruit forward. Plum, blackberry and cassis. Really nice wine.

A potato bar, baked potatoes and a variety of possible toppings, made for a fun interactive food pairing option.

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Just southwest of town, Terra Sávia (Wise Earth) is home to Olivino, a state of the art, organic certified, custom press to make olives into olive oil.

The Terra Sávia Olive Oil facility and winery

Earlier, I wrote that I was wowed by the olive oil made from the olives of Saracina. This is where the olives were transformed into olive oil.

Ordinarily, a sizable number of wineries make olive oil because the seasons for grapes and olives are complimentary and allow year round activity.

In Terra Sávia, when olive season is finished, grapes grown around the property are made into wine by Jim Milone, longtime Hopland grapegrower and winemaker.

2006 Terra Sávia Blanc de Blancs $25 – Bright and yeasty granny smith apple flavors with bubbles.

2008 Terra Sávia Chardonnay $15 – Stainless steel held. Bright, crisp, but not tart, expressive apple.

NV Terra Sávia Pinot Noir $18 – Delicious warm cherry notes. Balanced, smooth. Paired with sauteed mushrooms valuable to taste: *shudders* “oh, that is it!”

Both the 2006 Terra Sávia Meritage $20 (very nice) and 2007 Terra Sávia Cabernet Sauvignon $18 (umm, yummy) paired well with some delicious meat available for pairing. My notes are sparse; these were wines number 58 and 59 of the day, and I was getting treated to a tour of the facility and explanation of the olive oil making process.

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General observations from day 1: It didn’t matter whether it was the second or last winery I visited, I always grabbed my notebook and camera and invariable had to return to my car for my tasting glass; I was so intent on notes and pictures that the glass was always an afterthought.

The Zinfandels I tasted were not the high alcohol fruit bombs, buried in pepper, that I have become used to. The Zinfandels of Mendocino County, or the Hopland portion of the county anyway, are more accessible, lighter, wines of a little more restraint.

The move in Chardonnay away from oak and toward stainless steel, and away from malolactic fermentation, has led me to taste some unpleasantly stridently tart apple Chardonnays lately, but the Chardonnays I tasted from Hopland, while crisp, were not overly tart.

Very drinkable wines from really nice fruit.

Another unmistakable mark of Hopland wines is the commitment to green practices, sustainable farming, organic grapes, biodynamic farms, and eco ethic that paints the wine industry locally as “Red, White, and Green.”

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Day 2, Sunday, of Hopland Passport weekend found me sitting outside Rack & Riddle custom wine services, waiting for 11:00 am and the beginning of my tasting day.

Rack & Riddle custom wine services

Rack & Riddle is a custom crush facility with a special emphasis and ability to create sparking wines in the Champagne Method, and is located near Terra Sávia, to the southwest of Hopland.

Bruce Lundquist, formerly of J Champagne, and Rebecca Faust, formerly of Piper Sonoma Champagne, are the co-founders of Rack & Riddle.

Last year, Rack & Riddle crushed 6,000 tons for 4-5 dozen clients, producing 225,000 cases of sparkling and 175,000 cases of still wines.

There is a great view from the bar at Rack & Riddle

With VP of Business Development Mark Garaventa pouring, I tasted some bubblies for breakfast.

2009 Nuestro Vino Sauvignon Blanc $7.99 – Citrus fruit. Bright lemon. Crisp. Clean. Delicious.

NV Rack & Riddle Blanc de Blanc $18 – 100% Chardonnay. Crisp, clean, light zing, lemon, apple – not tart, but crisp. Pale, nice small bubble. Great fruit. Great mousse. Light yeasty yum.

NV Nuestro Vino Brut $10.99 – 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir. yeasty. Pretty apple. Rounder. Floral and pear. Nice mousse.

NV Rack & Riddle Rosé $24.00 – Light berry, cherry, strawberry mix and apple. Light creamy yeast.

2008 Nuestro Vino Meritage $9.99 – 55ish% Cabernet Franc, 22.5ish% each Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Really? $10 Meritage? And it tastes good? Yes it does.

In addition to the Rack & Riddle label, the Nuestro Vino (our wine) label is a unique effort dedicated to make affordable wines, with Spanish language labels, aimed at the hispanic community, a niche currently underserved.

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I parked my car, grabbed my notebook, camera AND my glass. All the rest of the winery tasting rooms were within walking distance in downtown Hopland (only a few blocks long).

McNab Ridge Winery was pouring roughly 18,000 wines, clearly with the intent that tasters never leave the downtown Hopland tasting room location. I might be exaggerating, McNab only poured seventeen wines.

McNab Ridge Winery

The Parducci family is a famous winemaking family in the area, and McNab represents the family’s continuing winemaking presence. McNab Ridge Winery boasts the “Parducci Family’s 4-generation commitment to excellence in Mendocino County Winemaking.”

The first wine poured, a 2009 McNab Ridge Winery Sauvignon Blanc, $12, while clear in the bottle, appeared slightly blush in my glass, but that is only because I am a dumb ass and forgot to rinse my glass after my last wine at Rack & Riddle, a red wine. Glass rinsed, the Sauvignon Blanc was the same color in my glass as the bottle, and was nicely crisply citrusy, with a grassy note, and melon-y pear fruit in the mouth.

Seeing a long list of wines to taste shortened my notetaking, but here’s some more:

2008 McNab Ridge Winery Chardonnay $15 – Light gold. Oak, butter, vanilla and toast. OMG, my first noticeably oak barrel Chardonnay of the weekend. Tropical fruit and apple.

2008 McNab Ridge Winery Rousanne $15 - Pear and apricot, honey, round.

2007 McNab Ridge Winery Carignane $18 – Nice deep unclouded red color. Cherry, tannin. soft, round, and nice all by itself (or with only 3% Zin blended).

McNab Ridge Winery Fred’s Red $10 - Purple color. lighter. Cherry berry juiciness.

2007 McNab Ridge Winery Grenache $20 – Nice light round rhone blender, Smooth, soft, easy cherry fruit burst.

2007 McNab Ridge Winery Zinister $20 – Dark brambly raspberry fruit and deep color.

2006 McNab Ridge Winery Zinfandel $18 - Zin aroma of fruit, oak, spice and pepper. Softer and rounder in mouth than expected. Good fruit, nice aroma, little apiece pepper barrier to enjoyment.

2005 McNab Ridge Winery Coro $37 – I was told this pairs well with the meatballs being served. No, the meatballs overpower the Coro, and it remains untasted for me.

2007 McNab Ridge Winery Cabernet Sauvignon $18 – A really nice Cabernet. Varietally correct and easily drinkable. Blackberry, cassis, cherry, oak, vanilla, tannin.

2006 McNab Ridge Winery Petite Sirah $18 – Black and blue berry fruit bomb. Dense and concentrated.

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It is often said that great wine starts in the vineyard. As much as it is the case with many of the Hopland area wineries, it is safe to say that the grapes of Guinness McFadden, grown organically for 40 years, are the wines being poured – the vineyard is the wine.

It was a treat to see Guinness himself at his McFadden Vineyards tasting room.

Guinness McFadden at his winery’s tasting room

2006 McFadden Vineyard Chardonnay $13.25 - Round, not tart, apple fruit. Pear.

2006 McFadden Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc $13.25 – Wow. Forward nose. Mown hay, muted catp, citrus, lemon, pear, apple, tart, crisp, but not too much so.

2008 McFadden Vineyard Sparkling $25 – 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir. Brut. Crisp apple. deliciously spritely.

2008 McFadden Vineyard Pinot Gris $16 – Soft accessible. Nice hit of sweet honey. Clean. Pear and floral.

2006 McFadden Vineyard Riesling $18 - Interesting hay (S.B. like) note. Light sweetness, honey, pear, orange blossom.

2006 McFadden Vineyard Pinot Noir $10 (blowing out the last 100 cases, and it is great!) – “ooh!” Makes me yearn for mushroom to pair it with. Cherry, oak, earth, herb, round.

2007 McFadden Vineyard Zinfandel $19 – Dusty raspberry fruit. Incredibly approachable.

Out behind McFadden, I enjoyed a little BBQ tri tip; a wild rice, pea, artichoke, tomato and feta salad; and a raspberry vinaigrette feta spring leaf lettuce mix salad.

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Grazinno Family of Wines is right next door to McFadden in downtown Hopland. The family of wineries include Graziano, St Gregory, Enotria, and Monte Volpe.

Whites were being poured at a table in the rear of the tasting room, and reds at the bar.

I’m still waiting to hear that my card was pulled for the mixed case of Graziano wine.

The whites were all on ice, and although I tried, it just isn’t worth the effort to try to taste frozen wines for notes. Chardonnay and Riesling, near freezing, differ little; but bring up in temperature and differences abound. I will come back, taste the whites, and get nose and flavor notes on the wines poured on a future visit.

2006 St Gregory Pinot Noir Reserve $25 - Soft, muted fruit of cherry, and oak.

2007 St Gregory Pinotage $17 – Smoky, brambly fruit. smooth.

2006 Monte Volpe Sangiovese $17 – Nice dark color. Accessible fruit and dusty herb spice.

2006 Graziano Zinfandel $17 – Perfumed cherry(?!) note. Round. Soft.

2007 Enotria Dolcetta $17 – Mice dark purple fruit. Blackberry, boysenberry. Easy to drink.

2006 Enotria Barbera $17 – Raspberry herb. Soft, round, and jammy.

Paired with a Brie Blue blend cheese, similar to a Cambozola, the 2005 Graziano Petite Sirah $17 was positively sublime. I’ll be honest, I thought the Petite Sirah was shy (?!), until paired with the cheese, and then it exploded. Rich, dark, plummy fruit on nose; raison notes on berry explosion.

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McDowell Valley Vineyards

McDowell Valley Vineyards had some incredible sales, but as the wines would be sold out soon, I didn’t taste them. These are the wines I did taste:

2008 McDowell Valley Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc $15 – Baked pear and apple fruit pie.

2008 McDowell Valley Vineyards Grenache Rose $15 -  Dry, crisp, cranberry, raspberry, strawberry over ice.

2008 McDowell Valley Vineyards Viognier/Rousanne $22 – 64% Viognier, 36% Rousanne. A real treat. Light cream and fruit, like a handmade ice crierm. Vanilla, floral, citrus, orange; round pear, apple. Herb. Complex. Layered.

2005 McDowell Valley Vineyards Coro $37 – 52% Zin, 48% Old Vine Syrah. Cocoa chocolate dust. oak. Round. Accessible. Full flavored, but all the sharp edges smoothed. Wild black raspberry, cherry.

2006 McDowell Valley Vineyards Coro $37 – 55% Zin, 35% Syrah, 8% Petite Sirah, 2 Grenache Noir. Blackberry, strawberry, cherry, blueberry. Fruit basket.

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The last Hopland winery left on my passport for me to visit was Brutocao Cellars. Most of the wines I would taste were made by Fred Nickels (now with Jaxon Keys), but Brutocao is in good hands with David Brutocao taking over as winemaker, assisted by Paul Zellman and Hoss Milone.

Paul did the pouring of the wines and it was a treat to benefit from his experience.

Bocce courts at Brutocao Cellars

Brutocao has bocce courts, where the Italian bowling game bocce can be played while sipping wines and enjoying food.

2009 Brutocao Cellars Rosé Estate Bottled Hopland Ranches $14 – Strawberry over ice.

2008 Brutocao Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Estate Bottled Feliz Vineyard $14 - Crisp lemony citrus. Pear and melon.

2007 Brutocao Cellars Reserve Chardonnay Estate Bottled $25 – Great fruit, nice balance  of oak. Not too manipulated. Nice and drinkable.

2009 Brutocao Cellars Gewurtztraminer Alexander Valley $15 - Sweet light honey. Apricot nectar, spice, pie notes.

2007 Brutocao Cellars Pinot Noir Estate Bottled Anderson Valley $28 – Dried cherry, earth, mushroom. Beautiful burgundy. Lush, drinkable, nice buy itself, but what a food wine!

2007 Brutocao Cellars Zinfandel Estate Bottled Hopland Ranches $22 - Rich raspberry, blackberry earthy spice. Chocolate leather.

2007 Brutocao Cellars Primitivo $22 – Really lush, dense, and delicious.

2005 Brutocao Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Bottled Contento Vineyard $25 – Dark dark purple. Dusty cocoa, blackberry. Lush, supple, slightly vinous, cassis.

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Well, that’s it. I had a great time, tasted a lot of great wines, came to understand better the flavor profiles of the varietals planted around my new home. A terroir that lends to more accessible wines, fewer monster fruit bombs, a lot more subtlety and varietally correct flavors coming through from vineyard to glass.

I plan to stop in to “Sip! Mendocino” in downtown Hopland, a one stop tasting room for numerous wineries who don’t have their own tasting room in the are.

Sip! Mendocino in downtown Hopland

DISCLOSURE: I was the guest of the Hopland Passport Association. Thank you for your hospitality.

I woke up looking forward to doing some wine tasting. My plan was to go to Fetzer’s beautiful tasting room and gardens at their hospitality center in Hopland. Well coated against the cold, the day was beautiful, the mountains misty as ribbons of fog bedecked the mountain folds surrounding the Ukiah Valley.

I hadn’t visited the Fetzer tasting room in seven years, it isn’t really conveniently located, but I wanted to taste their dozen wines and find a jewel or two to recommend as a drinking wine, and perhaps a few more that would pair well with foods. I wanted to write about wines that were available in every store, and at prices that are affordable to anyone that can find their way to my blog.

Fifteen minutes south I turned off the 101 and drove down the empty Tuesday morning road to the Fetzer property. I drove over a bridge spanning the Russian River and came upon what had been the hospitality center for Fetzer.

Signs forbidding entry blocked the roads onto the property, previously maintained gardens gone wild, “for sale” signs. I began to suspect that I would not be tasting Fetzer’s wines.

I continued another few miles up the road to Fetzer’s winemaking facility. It is huge, and quiet in the post harvest, between Christmas and New Year’s Day, way that almost all wineries are quiet. I drove to the Administration building, and the receptionist confirmed my suspicion: I would indeed not be tasting Fetzer wines.

Note to Brown-Forman: How about putting a tasting room on 101 in Hopland, where Brutocao, McFadden, McDowell, Dogwood/Three Families, and Graziano all have tasting facilities? You could have one facility for your Fetzer, Bonterra, and Sanctuary brands. Not as grand as your previous Fetzer Hospitality Center, closed about three years, but accessible and economically sustainable. Just asking’.

I woke up prepared to taste wines, and I was not going to be deterred by a mere tasting room closure. I got back on the 101 and headed south another half hour to Healdsburg, where Mendocino County’s Topel Winery has located their tasting room at 125 Matheson across from the Oakville grocery.

Walking in the tasting room door at Topel, I was welcomed almost immediately by Kevin Roach. Kevin asked what types of wines I prefer as he welcomed me to taste. I let him know I prefer Reds, but enjoy whites as well, and asked him to pour me his four favorite wines out of the fourteen available, the ones most likely to knock my socks off.

Kevin first poured me a glass of the 2007 Pinot Noir, Serendipity, Monterey. While I swirled and sniffed the wine, I looked over the tasting room. Attractive, well laid out, lots of dark wood and copper. Wood cabinets for Topel branded clothing, and for literature display. A smaller (VIP?) private tasting room with table is available as well.

Kevin told me that the grapes for the 100% Pinot came from the Chalone Vineyard, which is located in the Gabilan Mountain range. The Topel website identifies the grapes as coming from Monterey County’s Serendipity Vineyard. Wherever the grapes came from in Monterey County, 2007 was kind to these grapes, and the wine was luscious, with cherry sweet tart and raisoned cranberry aromas and raspberry and cherry flavors. Round, smooth, and balanced. This wine was wonderful. $28/bottle.

Wine #2 was Topel’s 2005 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. 92% Cab, 4% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot. I was pleased to taste this wine. I am a Sonoma County boy, born and raised. the wines I grew up with, tasted, sold, were Sonoma County wines. I live in Ukiah now, in Mendocino County, and I wanted this wine to taste good, I wanted the grapes from my new home to be good ones.

The 2005 Cab had a really low tannin load, was very approachable, with light herb and dark red cherry and berry fruit on the nose and repeating in the mouth. Velvety, smooth, soft, and balanced, with nice subtle notes. This is not a typical brick bat Cab, but a nicely drinkable Cab. $36/bottle.

Wine # 3 was the one year newer, just released three weeks ago, 2006 Estate Reserve Cabernet. 96% Cab, 2% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot. Same wine, again smooth. A little more tannin evident, but soft. Similar nose and flavor profile to the 2005 Cab; with chocolate and black cherry. Definitely younger, a little edgy. I would let it lay down a while longer. $36/bottle.

The final wine I tasted was the 2006 Topel Estate Blend. 45% Cabernet. 45% Syrah Noir, 5% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot. I have never heard of Syrah Noir, Kevin explained that it was a clone of Syrah. The grapes for this unique blend come from Topel’s vineyards on Duncan Peak, west of Hopland in Mendocino County.

Kevin told me that this wine is owner Mark Topel’s favorite wine, I found it unusual. with notes of plum, prune, and fig newton. Again, virtually no tannin load, another incredibly soft wine. I want to retaste this wine the most. The unusual blend led to unusual flavors, and this might be the best, most versatile food pairing wine I tasted at Topel. $36/bottle.

All four wines were soft, supple, balanced, approachable, very drinkable. Tannin providing structure to hand fruit on, but staying out of the way of enjoying the wines. Well oaken, but not oaky. In a word: smooth.

I want the Pinot to drink, the Cabs to have with grilled tri tip, and the Estate blend to get to know better.

I set out to taste affordable wines, under $20, and ended up tasting wines in the $20-$40 range instead. My mission to taste and recommend inexpensive, available, good wines has not been forgotten; but I am really glad I stopped in to taste these four wines from Topel Winery.

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