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John On Wine – Nodding to Cliché

Originally published on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2014, in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper.

New Year’s Eve. Which cliché should I bow to? Should I write about sparkling wines to enjoy tonight? Should I offer up a list of New Year’s resolutions? Why choose? I’ll touch on both, and more, this week.

Graziano, Handley, McFadden, Nelson, Paul Dolan, Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger, Signal Ridge, Terra Savia, and Yorkville Cellars all poured bubblies at last year’s Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines.

Opening a bottle from any of these producers should be a cause for celebration, rather than a response to a celebration, as they are delightful sparkling wines and merit being opened and enjoyed on a more regular basis than only for special occasions.

I believe that it is better to open a bottle of sparkling wine to make an occasion special than to wait for a special occasion to open a bottle of sparkling wine. Make your days better; drink wine with meals, celebrate the ordinary, create your own extraordinary reality.

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I reviewed many of the county’s sparkling wines here: http://johnonwine.com/2014/04/10/a-mendo-bubbly-fest-recap/ and I would encourage you to read those reviews online, or simply visit a winery tasting room to taste bubblies for yourself.

Many of the county’s best sparkling wines are also available at the Ukiah Co-op.

Two small updates on the county’s sparkling wines since I wrote the reviews in April: Graziano’s 2010 Cuvee #10 Sparkling Brut was judged Best of Show at the 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition and McFadden’s NV Sparkling Cuvee Brut was judged Best of Show at the 2014 California State Fair Wine Competition. Conveniently, Graziano and McFadden are open daily for tasting, and have neighboring tasting rooms less than ten steps apart in downtown Hopland.

This year’s Mendo Bubbly Fest event will return to Terra Savia on Saturday, April 11, 2015; look to this column for more news, including where to get tickets, as the event nears.

Resolutions. Ugh. Does anyone really stick to these things?

Each year, I promise to get out and taste more wine, and farther afield, but work and home conspire to keep me from traveling far or often, at least as far or often as I would like.

I did make a couple of trips over the hill to visit the wineries of Hwy 128 here in Mendocino County, largely in response to invitations by the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association to their Pinot Noir Festival and Barrel Tasting Weekends. This year, I would like to return for those events, for the Alsace festival, and for visits to individual wineries for spotlight winery pieces. Let’s see how we do with that desire.

I’ve lost some weight, over a case of sparkling wine worth of weight, and I will lose more weight this year. This has meant more cooking at home, where I control the calories going into the food I consume. I resolve to continue to find wine friendly recipes that pack a ton of flavor into as few calories as possible.

When I attended the mushroom dinners at Crush Italian Steakhouse and Barra of Mendocino last month during the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest, I was dieting. I will continue to attend the best wine dinners that I am invited to, and write them up here for you, this year. Not diet friendly, I’ve learned a little portion control, so these dinners are both deliciously wonderful and not disastrously destructive to my dietary goal of continued weight loss.

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For me, wine is food, one more dish among many in a larger meal, and makes that meal better. I often exhort or encourage you, my readers, to try a particular wine with food, because I believe that sublime wine and food pairings are the path to greater wine enjoyment (and consumption).

I also think that these special food and wine dinners are the best opportunity for you to get out and experience several wines and several dishes to find out for yourself what pairing is all about, and hopefully inspire you to do more at home for yourself, your friends, and your family.

That possibility means that I will try to attend a few extra wine dinners, and at more restaurants, in 2015.

Anyway, I would like you to make a resolution for me, if you can. Please resolve to enjoy at least one more bottle of Mendocino County wine in 2015 than you did in 2014. Thanks and cheers!
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One more thing: Thank you to the many people who donated new unwrapped toys or cash – which I bought more toys with – in support of the Toys For Tots efforts at McFadden. After a storm impacted kick off, you stepped up and brought more toys than we had previously collected. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
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Edited to add for online archived version of column:

On New Year’s Eve, I joined Leo Laporte, Mike Elgan, and Tonya Hall in Petaluma at TWiT.tv’s Brick House for an online streaming 24 hour charity fundraiser for UNICEF, and I poured some sparkling wines and mentioned both JohnOnWine.com and McFaddenFarm.com during the segment.

Most people watching do not then go to a website when it is mentioned, so the numbers watching must be incredible, because within an hour I had 800 folks visit here and 32 orders for sparkling wine were placed through McFaddenFarm.com or Amazon.com.

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I had a great time, and was even segment-crashed by Marilyn Monroe, so the event was a touch disjointed but fun nonetheless.

Here’s a link to view an archived copy of the segment: http://youtu.be/VG9nhLiTT30?t=11m55s

Enjoy!

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The 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition was held Friday, August 1, 2014 and I have the results to share.

There may be some updating as some of the announcements and award results published elsewhere do not match the results I was supplied from the competition, but what you find here will always be the most up to date and accurate information directly from the competition organizers.

With a little slicing and dicing, more like sorting fields, I have three different ways to look at the same information.

Consumers know what they want, Chardonnay or Zinfandel, and just want to know what the best of each variety is, according to the judges at the competition. Here are the results by wine variety, ordered by medal:

2014 MCFWC AWARD BY VARIETY

Wineries only want to know how their wines fared. Here, with just a little cleaning up, are the results straight from the competition committee, sorted by winery:

2014 MCFWC AWARD BY COMPANY

Finally, some folks love competition. Here are the results, sorted by medal won, highest to lowest:

2014 MCFWC AWARD BY MEDAL

From dinner at Seebass with the judges and competition committee on the night before the competition, through to the award presentation dinner at Mendocino College after the judges’ hard work, this has been a fun week for Mendocino County wineries, playing host to influential wine writers and having the opportunity to pour the area’s very best wines.

My recommendation now is to find the list above that you like best and print it, then use it to guide you in visits to Mendocino County winery tasting rooms. See if you agree with the judges, and if you do then pick up some of the best wines in wine country before they sell out.

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John On Wine ­ – Summer Wine

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 15, 2014; written by John Cesano
John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

I do not know why wine appreciation breeds elitist snobs, but it does. Frasier Crane and his brother Niles, television’s most beloved pair of pretentious snobs, famously loved wine. They weren’t even aware of their snobbery or pretension, and would argue that elitism is a desirable trait.

I agree that elitism is a good thing, as the alternative is seeking mediocrity or worse, but walking around with a stick up your butt, well, that is far less attractive.

A few years back, when I first wrote a piece about blush and rosé wines, I had no difficulty finding plenty of folks damning all pink and lightly colored wines, and nearly all were simply jackasses.

Sweet wines? Same thing. So many self-professed wine experts dismiss Riesling and Gewurztraminer as “not serious” wines, unworthy of consumption.

This even affects some wine competition judges and magazine wine writers who disdain any wine not red, and any red not Cabernet Sauvignon, and can’t see to rate blush wines on a genuine 100 point scale, creating an artificial high possible mark for these non-serious wines, perhaps a 94 for the best possible example of a rosé or Gewurztraminer.

Some of the best wines, especially best summer wines, are either sweet, or pink, or both. I love Cabernet Sauvignon, but some of the best red wines aren’t Cabernet.

The best tasting wine for me at this year’s big Zinfandel Advocates and Producers event was quite possibly the least serious wine, McNab Ridge’s Zinzilla.

With a name inspired by a Japanese movie monster, and a blend sure to make all snobs turn at least half a nose up – the wine is 50% Mendocino County and 50% Lodi grapes. Folks from Mendocino County will look down on the Lodi portion, folks from Lodi will look down on the Mendocino County portion, and folks from Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley will look down on all of the grapes. Pure snobbery. The wine tastes good, damn good.

The fact that I happened to pair this wine with a perfect pairing cheese, which undoubtedly made Zinzilla taste better, is beside the point. Wine is meant to be paired, and the two things wine pair best with are food and friends. Either can make a wine taste better, both can make a wine taste outstanding.

Anyway, I’m seeing a nice run on our drier Alsatian styled Gewurztraminer as we head into summer temperatures, and I’m looking at baking a ginger cake to pair it with at a near future event. Serving wine with food to friends; that’s what I am talking about.

Blush or rosé wines are some of my favorite wines. I would love for my boss to reverse engineer the Navarro Rosé of Pinot, a near perfect wine, not sweet, but lovely fruit, light, crisp, refreshing. Delicious. Naughty Boy, Graziano, Ray’s Station, Saracina, Campovida, Testa, Seebass, and Carol Shelton all make delicious pink wines from Mendocino County grapes.

The most maligned wine among wine critics is Sutter Home’s White Zinfandel. In truth, I do not like it, but not because it is pink, which is enough for most critics; I do not like it because I found it to be out of balance, spiky acid and synthetic candy fruit notes. Still, drop me into a party where the host is pouring it, and I can sip my way through a glass.

Rather than taste at Sutter Home, I would rather taste at another of the family’s properties, Trinchero Napa Valley, where everything served is delicious; rather than taste Sutter Home’s White Zinfandel, I would rather taste any of many dozens well-made dry pink wines. These are just easier wines to pair with foods.

Speaking of pink wines, while Americans look down at pink bubblies, Brut Rosé, because the wrong notions of pompous wine critics have tainted the general population, in Europe the blush option is most highly sought and the bubblies of color in Champagne cost more than the mere Brut.

I LOVE Brut Rosé, and am thrilled my boss made one. We’re going to release it at our big annual farm party on July 12, and it will sell out quickly. Make tasting it a priority. Until then, Roederer, Scharfenberger, and Terra Savia all have a Brut Rosé available now.

My last wife called me a wine snob, and I certainly am discerning when it comes to wine, but hopefully I’m not a jackass with a stick up my butt. Don’t worry, there are still plenty of them, and they don’t need me to join them.

Drink the wine you like, sweet and pink wines are not just beginner wines, but can be wines worth seeking out this summer. The best wine is the one you have in front of you when your friend is beside you. Make it happen.

Maybe, I’ll be a few seats down, enjoying a non-serious wine too.

 

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John On Wine ­ – A tale of two Passports

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

John Cesano of John On Wine

It was the best of Passports…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…It was also the best of Passports.

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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