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John On Wine – The Perfume of Zinfandel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The parade grounds at the Presidio in San Francisco

The parade grounds at the Presidio in San Francisco

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

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

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

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

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

Carol Shelton, Carol Shelton Wines

Carol Shelton, Carol Shelton Wines

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

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

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

Rich Parducci of McNab Ridge Winery

Rich Parducci of McNab Ridge Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Class dismissed.

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John on Wine

Spotlight Winery: Rosati Family Wines

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


In 1980 Mario and Danelle Rosati bought 960 acres just off Highway 101 at Comminsky Station Road, 1.7 miles south of Squaw Rock, near where Mendocino County borders Sonoma County. The ranch has grown to 1,500 acres with another 1,300 acre companion ranch, and is mostly natural and unplanted land.

Told at purchase that all of the buildings would have to be torn down, Mario completely rehabbed and restored a large red barn, which is now the nicest guest house you might imagine, filled with wood and stone, a showplace kitchen, soaring open space; both comfortable and gorgeous at once.

“Maybe one plank from the original barn is left,” Mario told me, as he welcomed me for a tasting and dinner.

A lawyer by training in Palo Alto, Mario graduated from U.C. Berkeley’s law school and joined a small firm, Wilson Sonsini, in 1971. The firm grew from nine to more than 600 lawyers, and is now global. Mario went from associate to partner in 1975, to having his name included in the firm’s name, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

The seeds of Rosati Family Wines were planted in 1971 when Mario’s boss and firm founder John Wilson asked, “do you like to drink wine,” before assigning him a new client: Ridge Vineyards.

For those unfamiliar, Ridge is one of the most revered wineries in California, and the wines produced from their various Monte Bello Ridge vineyards are highly sought after. The 2007 Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon is currently going for $160 at the winery, as an example.

David Bennion, a founding partner at Ridge, and Mario worked together for years; and with the purchase of his Mendocino County ranch, Mario invited Dave up to hunt for mushrooms. Mushroom hunting became pig hunting too, and after having visited for years, Dave suggested that grapes might grow well on the ranch.

Using precious Monte Bello bud stock from Ridge, David helped Mario plant 10 acres to Cabernet Sauvignon on a mountain ridge with elevation ranging from 1,000 to 1,200 feet in 1987. Subsequently, vines were filled in and an additional three acres were planted with Jimsomare bud stock. Jimsomare is one of four Monte Bello ridge vineyards that Ridge considers estate vineyards. Peter Chevalier is the vineyard manager for Mario and Danelle.

Mario gave me a ride from the “barn” up to the vineyards, about 800 feet above the Russian River below. The grape set looked spectacular, but Mario told me that his winemaker, Zelma Long, would drop about half the grapes and, during sorting after harvest, Zelma and Danelle would further reduce the yield, until only about 1 ton of the best, most flavorful grapes remain to make the vintage’s wine.

Zelma Long’s Cabernet Sauvignon winemaking credentials are as solid as they come, making stellar Cab for both Robert Mondavi in the 70s and Simi in the 80s and 90s.

Zelma and Alex MacGregor work together at John and Patty Fetzer’s Saracina winery to turn Rosati’s Cabernet grapes into wine.

I tasted five vintages of Rosati Family Wines Cabernet Sauvignon, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007.

Tying each of the five vintages together was a rich earthy quality, a chewiness, firm tannins, a “dustiness” that echoes the best of Napa Cab’s “Rutherford dust” quality, and clear rich ripe fruit.

Mario said of the 2000, “when we first bottled this, it had so much tannin, but now Š” as he poured it for me. With age, this wine showed rich dark chocolate and cherry notes, and still had enough tannin left that this was a hold or drink wine.

Opening a bottle from one of the last three cases, Mario poured the 2004, which showed bright cherry berry fruit in the nose and was so enjoyably easy to drink. Perfect right now, with light tannin and oak providing a backdrop for earthy, dusty, cassis, blackberry and cherry in the mouth and a long beautiful finish.

The 2005 is classic Cabernet, all earthy dark fruit, plummy blackberry, boysenberry, and tannin. Pretty big, lay it down and hold, or drink.

2006 Rosati Family Cabernet Sauvignon is a gorgeous, food friendly, not overpowering, but bursting with candy like blackberry and black currant wine. Earthy, oaky, tooth coating chewiness upon opening gives way to rich and bright fruit, beautifully balanced and integrated, a lively and delightful wine.

The 2007 is plummy rich, dense, and packed with dark fruit. Maribeth Kelly brought an aerating decanter and this wine, which is a definite hold, a wine that can be laid down longer still to benefit, was magically turned into a drink.

Rick Berry and Maribeth were guests at a dinner Mario and Danelle kindly invited me to share, with fresh salmon caught by Rick being served. Steaks were also grilled with the most delicious rub, and were a perfect pairing for the several vintages of Rosati Cabernet at the table.

In Mendocino County both SIP! Mendocino in Hopland and the Mendocino Wine Shop in Mendocino carry Rosati Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is well worth a visit to either to try some, especially at a surprisingly affordable price of $32-$33.
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This piece was written over a month ago. This morning, I received an email announcing the release of the 2010 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet at $160 per bottle. These Rosati wines are like those Ridge wines, but you get five bottles for the price of one.

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