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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.”

 

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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 ­ – Crab, wine & more

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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