Note: This column originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, December 19, 2013 -

Wow, the last column before Christmas. This is where I am supposed to write the cliché “Holiday Gifts for your Wine Lover” piece. I’ll probably mention a couple of things that I like, but first, I have a couple of notes of thanks:

Thank you to everyone who, after reading my column last week, came to the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room with a new unwrapped toy donation for our Toys For Tots toy drive & wine tasting event. We just about doubled the number of toys brought in last year, and we will be able to bring these toys to the Hopland Volunteer Fire Department for the wonderful firemen to deliver, helping Santa, on Christmas Eve. The thanks for this success, and the joy and smiles of the children helped, is all because of you, and I am incredibly grateful.

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Thanks also go to my boss Guinness McFadden and to our winemakers Bob Swain and Mark Beaman. Last week, I was invited to sit in on tastes of wines we’ll release in the future, and helped shape a future Coro blend. I am a taster guy; I taste wine, describe it, and sell it. I know the rudimentary process of winemaking, but this knowledge is much more theory than practice, and sitting with two accomplished winemakers in their realm, not mine, was a terrific experience. I learned a ton, and I gained a new and valuable perspective.

Finally, many folks to thank for last week’s Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Ukiah, featuring the 2010 vintage Coro Mendocino wines.

First, thanks to my boss for picking up the tab for my dinner. Next, thanks to the entire staff at Crush, from chefs Jesse and Nate and their entire kitchen crew to the front of house team, for another spectacularly executed wine dinner experience. Speaking of front of house team, thanks to Julie Golden from Coro Mendocino for working alongside the team to pour a plentitude of delicious wine. Huge thanks go to local superstar photographer Tom Liden; as soon as I saw Tom with his camera, I knew I could leave my picture taking device in it’s bag. Finally, thanks to everyone who attended the dinner; without you and the energy you bring, there would be no special wine dinners.

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Photography by Tom Liden, Tom Liden Photography

The Coro Dinner at Crush saw the largest event gathering, 70 guests, in the history of all three Crush restaurants, and the event sold out earlier than any previous dinner, with many people on a waiting list, hoping for a cancellation.

I love the Zinfandel based blends of the Coro Mendocino program, they were all delicious. Food highlights for me were the wedge salad with Nueske bacon, blue cheese, and red onions; the crab balls – they were billed as cakes, but trust me they were balls; oysters Rockefeller; and Prime Rib with all the trimmings. For me, the best, and most memorable, food and wine pairing of the night was at dessert, when the Butterscotch Budino, a bowl with chocolate pudding on the bottom, then caramel pearls, then butterscotch pudding, topped with Chantilly cream and mint – you dug down to get all layers with each spoonful – was paired with the Double Gold and Best of Class awarded 2011 McFadden Late Harvest Riesling. I expected delicious, but this pairing left delicious far behind; this was a perfect pairing. A spoon and a tiny sip, another spoon and another sip, until, too soon, it was gone.

This dinner series is a treat, and I’ll let you know about future dinners when I hear about them.

The next scheduled Coro dinner will be the 2011 vintage release party at the Little River Inn on Saturday, June 28, 2014. For more info, or to make a reservation, call the Little River Inn at (707) 937-5942.

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Okay, here are some wine gift recommendations for Christmas:

Wine. Visit any winery tasting room, enjoy a wine tasting if you have the time, and pick up some delicious wines for the holidays. Wine makes a great hostess gift when you visit for a Christmas party or dinner. Wine makes food taste better, so you should serve it at your table too. A couple of bottles wrapped and placed under the tree make for great emergency gifts when someone gives you a gift and you hadn’t purchased a gift for them yet. Wine was Christ’s first miracle, and he offered a cup to the dinner guests at His last supper, so wine infuses a little miracle into this season of Christmas.

Wine gadgets. A good wine opener, an aerator, reusable bottle stoppers, a Champagne stopper, and a can of argon or argon mixed with nitrogen to preserve wine between glasses are all great gifts that a wine lover will appreciate.

Wine books: I have two to recommend. The first features the words of Heidi Cusick Dickerson, who wrote a weekly wine column in the Journal before I did, and the photography of Tom Liden, and is focused on the wines, wineries, and vineyards of Mendocino County. The book is Mendocino Roots & Ridges and retails for $29.95. It is gorgeously rich in content, and hand signed copies by Heidi and Tom are available widely, including the McFadden tasting room in Hopland.

The second book has a larger focus, The New California Wine by San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonne retails at $35, and is available at better book stores everywhere. Among my favorite dozen inland Mendocino vineyards that Bonne notes are Eaglepoint Ranch, Gibson Ranch, Heart Arrow Ranch, Lolonis, McFadden Farm, Sun Hawk, and Testa; as well almost twenty Anderson Valley properties. The book is a look at California’s wine industry today, growers, winemakers, and the wines, and is an absolute must have book for anyone serious enough about wine to have a library of wine books.
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That’s it, some thanks, a couple of wine gift ideas, and this wish: Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, or whatever year end wish for happiness works for you, from me.

Coro is both Italian and Spanish for Chorus.

Coro Mendocino is a wine program unique in the entire United States, where geographically related wineries make wine following a protocol as is done in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chianti, virtually everywhere throughout Europe, but nowhere else here. Each Coro Mendocino winery produces a wine featuring Zinfandel, the county’s heritage grape, and each wine contains between 40 and 70% Zinfandel, with the blending grapes being traditional Mendocino County blending grapes – typically Rhone or Italian varietals. The wines get blind tasted several times in panel tastings by the program winemakers, with the intent to make the best possible wines, and each wine must survive a pass/fail independent blind tasting to become Coro. There is more that goes into the program, but take my word for it, the Coro wines are as special as the program is unique, and the 2009 vintage Coro wines are spectacular, every single one. Ten wineries made a 2009 Coro Mendocino, no two are the same and the variations in style are amazing, ranging from lighter to big and dense.

Last night, Saturday June 23, 2012, the tiny town of Little River on the Mendocino Coast played host to the 2009 vintage Coro Release Party. The sold out dinner at the Little River Inn was a huge success as an event; the wines, food, and people gathered made for an incredibly memorable evening. The 2009 vintage was poured by ten wineries: Barra, Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, Mendocino Vineyards, McFadden, McNab, Parducci, and Philo Ridge.

In perhaps the most absurd twist of fate, the best way to tell you about last night’s release party dinner for the 2009 vintage Coro Mendocino wines, and the entire Coro Mendocino program itself, is to tell you about an 11th wine that wasn’t poured.

I mentioned that a wine needs a “thumbs up” from a blind tasting panel to be called Coro. I didn’t point out that a “thumbs down” vote would mean not only do you not have a Coro, but because there isn’t the 75% minimum quantity required by labeling law you also don’t have a bottle you could call Zinfandel. As an example, if Guinness McFadden came up short in his Coro making efforts, he might be forced to call the resulting wine, “Guinness’s Random Red,” which is a much tougher sell, even at a lower price, than the quality assured Coro he might have hoped to make.

This year, Owen Smith of Weibel made a wine that was Coro in all respects. The wine adhered to the strict protocol of Consortium Mendocino – the collective name of the Coro producers, and had secured the all-important vote from the independent panel that allowed his wine to be called Coro.

In what Monte Hill, member of the Consortium board, described as a comedy of errors (tragedy of errors might be more accurate), two unfortunate events followed: special bottles used only for Coro were accidentally not ordered by another program winery for Weibel’s wine, and then while waiting for fulfillment of an emergency special bottle order, the wine changed through oxidation.

Weibel’s winemaker Smith made adjustments to the wine and saved it but, when tasted alongside the other 2009 Coro wines, he determined that the wine was no longer Coro. There is a high expectation of quality, and he felt his wine no longer met that high standard. Although the wine could very rightly have been called Coro, and Smith could have been insisted that it be labeled so, honor was paramount. Weibel and Smith both took a hit, but gained nothing but respect for their defense of the Coro program.

I’ve tasted Weibel’s 2009 almost-Coro wine, and while not Coro, I think it drinks nicely. I have suggested the wine be called Integrity and sell for around $15 alongside the other 2009 Coro wines.

Owen Smith and Weibel elevated every 2009 vintage Coro wine released last night, and I was thrilled to be able to sit between Owen and Guinness at the release dinner party, two of Consortium Mendocino’s best Coro winemakers – even if one may not see his name grace a Coro bottle.

Okay, now on to the fantastic event and the ten 2009 Coro wines that were there:

The five course sixth annual Coro Producers Release Party Dinner started with a passed appetizer tartar trio of wild king salmon gravlax with sweet onion and dill aioli, red beet with goat cheese and cilantro vinaigrette, and cherrywood cold smoked sturgeon with cucumber chives and crème fraiche, paired with sparkling, white and rosé selections from the Coro producers.

The saltiness of the goat cheese and earthiness of the beets paired nicely with many of the rosé wines poured, and the smoked sturgeon was reminiscent of many of Mendocino County’s 2008 vintage wines.

Non Coro wines poured at the reception that captured my attention included  the 2011 McNab Ridge Rosé of Syrah, 2011 Barra Pinot Noir Rosé, Parducci’s Rosé of Grenache & Zinfandel, 2010 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc (I absolutely loved it), NV (2009) McFadden Sparkling Brut (this poured out in no time), and 2011 McNab Ridge French Colombard.

Margaret Pedroni, Consortium board member and marketing powerhouse, met with Little River Inn Chef Marc Dym in advance to make sensible food and wine pairings. The Coro wines were split into three groupings, lighter, medium, and bigger.

Monte Hill was the evening’s master of ceremonies, and in his welcoming comments described Coro Mendocino as a “showcase for Mendocino Country’s heritage grape, Zinfandel.” Hill also described the cooperative winemaking process, with blind tastings starting in January with comments from each winemaker, offering constructive criticism and continuing through three more tastings before the big pass/fail tasting the following May.

The Consortium Mendocino is led by an elected officer, the Coro Commander. Commander George Phelan of Mendocino Vineyards commented that in addition to Chorus, “Coro also means community,” then introduced Monte Hill, Margaret Pedroni, and Julie Golden  “secretary and czar” from the board.

The first course paired the lighter styled 2009 Coro wines of McFadden, Mendocino Vineyards, and Brutocao with consummé of Little River shitake mushrooms with fennel and pork dumplings.

Our table included Guinness McFadden, his girlfriend Judith Bailey, two of Judith’s sisters and their husbands, and me – plus Monte Hill and his wife Kay, and Owen Smith. With seven strong McFadden fans at our table (I manage the McFadden tasting room in Hopland), we probably should have had a second bottle of McFadden Coro. I thought it had a lovely cherry noted easy drinkability, and while it paired great with the consummé, I would love to have had some McFadden Coro remaining to try with the second course’s pork belly.

Guinness McFadden said that his farm produces cool climate Zinfandel, and the lighter style McFadden Coro tasted great with the consummé. McFadden also noted that while Phelan is the Coro Commander, Julie Golden does so much work for the Consortium that “Golden is really the Coro Admiral, as Admirals outrank Commanders.”

The second course paired the medium weight 2009 Coro wines from McNab Ridge, Philo Ridge, Golden, and Barra with Coleman natural pork belly with wilted escarole and soft creamy polenta. I love pork belly and polenta, and really enjoyed this entire flight of wines.

The Entrée paired the bigger 2009 Coro wines from Claudia Springs, Fetzer, and Parducci with “cinghiale” wild boar ragout over pappardelle pasta with red chile garlic broccolini.

Bob Klindt of Claudia Springs spoke about the experience of making a Coro, the fellowship, the experience of offering somewhat harsh criticism of a wine in blind tasting only to find it was his own wine that he felt needed improvement.

I have heard the exact same thing from nearly all of the Coro producers at one time or another. The humbling experience of offering yourself notes for improvement in early blind tastings of your own Coro candidate wine.

Zindanelia Arcidiacono, better known as Z, and Coro winemaker for Fetzer, spoke of the experience of making the best wine she could, of putting so much of herself into the process, that now she could invite us to taste Z in the glass.

I think of Coro wines as brilliant food wines as the different grapes blended in with the base Zinfandel add more flavor notes allowing for pairing magic. Claudia Springs’ Coro stood out for me because it was so  big and “Zinny,” tasting the most like a big Zin and least like a blend. I also loved the smooth rich integrated oak meeting rich supple fruit in Fetzer’s Coro.

Dessert was an olallieberry galette with meyer lemon curd and was enjoyed with whatever Coro wine you wanted to pour with it.

Chef Marc Dym, of the Little River Inn, put together an incredibly successful meal around the various wines being featured.

I liked every 2009 vintage Coro Mendocino, each and every one richly deserving of the name, all perfect ambassadors for Mendocino County’s grape growing and wine making prowess.
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If you missed the 2009 vintage release dinner party, there is another opportunity to taste these excellent Coro Mendocino wines in a special showcase event:

Join the Consortium Mendocino at the 2009 Coro Wines Farm to Table Dinner for an evening of great food and wine, followed by dancing under the stars late into the night on the bank of the upper Russian River, Saturday, August 18, 2012, 5:30 PM – 11:00 PM AT McFadden Farm, 16000 Powerhouse Road, Potter Valley, CA 95469. Tickets are $125 per couple, $65 per single. The stars of the evening, the 2009 vintage of Coro Mendocino wines, will be paired with grilled organic grass fed McFadden Farm beef and seasonal local farm fare. Each Coro Mendocino producer will bring a white, rose, or sparkling wine to complement the organic farm to table fare as well. Seating is limited, call to secure your spot today; McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, (707) 744-8463.

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I’m going to join Steve Jaxon tomorrow, Monday, June 25, 2012 at 5:00pm on his KSRO 1350 AM show The Drive With Steve Jaxon. We’ll taste wines and talk about the annual McFadden Wine Club Dinner at McFadden Farm on July 14 and the 2009 Coro Wine Farm To Table Dinner at McFadden Farm on August 18. We’ll taste McFadden wines and Coro wines from various producers and give away a pair of tickets to each event sometime between 5:00pm and 6:00pm, so listen in on the radio or streaming live at http://www.KSRO.com

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