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John on Wine- Coro Mendocino

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on July 17, 2014
Written by John Cesano

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

 

So, you want to be a winemaker and you want to be old school about it? You buy an airline ticket and fly to Bordeaux France. When you get there, you find that there is a protocol for making wine in this geographically identifiable area, and that if you make your wine in Bordeaux using any varietal grapes other than those on a very short list of approved grape varietals for Bordeaux wines, then you’ll be with Luca Brasi, “swimming with the fishes”. Get caught dropping a single Pinot Noir grape into a barrel of Bordeaux wine and life as you knew it is forever changed for the worse.

It is the same in Burgundy, Tuscany, pretty much everywhere throughout Europe. Every geographically identifiable area has a protocol, a list of allowed grapes that can be used to make wine.

Here in the United States, things are different. Winemakers can make wine with much greater freedom, in a near willy-nilly manner. There is no geographically identifiable area making wine following a protocol — except Mendocino County, and the Coro Mendocino wines.

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For a short time, it could have been argued that California had the Meritage program, but the association did a poor job of protecting the name and protocol established, and now there are wines called Meritage made outside of the state, and even outside the country.

Back to Coro; unique in the United States, a group of Mendocino County winemakers got together a dozen years ago and decided to cooperatively and collaboratively make a wine representative of the county. They chose the name Coro, because Coro is Italian (and Spanish, Latin, and Portuguese) for Chorus. Where a chorus is a blending of voices into a harmonious whole that is greater than the individual voices, Coro wines would be blends of grapes made better than the individual varietals, and with multiple Mendocino County wineries producing their own Coro each year, the program would be greater than the individual efforts of any one winery.

There are wine regions that are famous for particular grapes; Napa is known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley is known for Pinot Noir. Sadly, the wine buying public did not similarly know what Mendocino County grew (other than Marijuana). The reason is that roughly 75 percent of the grapes grown in Mendocino County are bought and used by Napa and Sonoma County wineries to make their wines. Mendocino County was more of a grape farm county than a grape wine county.

The initial task for the first Coro winemakers, when creating a protocol for the wines to be made, was to make Zinfandel, Mendocino County’s most planted grape, the heart of every Coro wine. Every Coro would contain no less than 40 percent and no more than 70 percent Zinfandel. The blending grapes would be grapes that have historically grown alongside Zinfandel in the county, grapes that might have been harvested and co-fermented in the field blend wines of the past; typically Italian or Rhone varietals. There was also a 10 percent “free play” allowance established, so each participating winery could put their own flavor stamp on their Coro.

Other rules were established, barrel and bottle aging minimums, specified use of oak, chemistry limits to ensure a general uniformity with no outliers.

Recently, the 11th vintage was released, at a five course meal at the Little River Inn. The participating wineries were Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, Parducci, and Testa. The new Coro wines will be available at each winery’s tasting room. Golden promises a tasting room in Hopland before year’s end. For convenience, all new Coro wines are also sold at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland, for folks who want to pick up a vintage set.

Just before the dinner, I had an opportunity to gather with five Coro winemakers at Parducci for a television shoot. The CORO show is part of a three-part segment on the Mendocino County wine industry. The other shows are Women in Wine and Next-Gen in Wine. All three should air and be available for viewing by September at the latest, back to back, on public access channels and online. Look for “Spotlight on Mendocino County!” by Out & About Media in a couple of months.

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Coro winemakers, (l-r) Dennis Patton, George Phelan, Maria Testa Martinson, Bob Swain, and Hoss Milone. Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

I got to be the moderator, but the show could have self-moderated around a pouring of the Coro Mendocino wines poured that day by Bob Swain of Parducci Wine Cellars, Maria Martinson of Testa Family Winery, Hoss Milone of Brutocao Family Vineyards, George Phelan of Clod du Bois, and Dennis Patton of Golden Vineyards.

Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

We tasted wines, each different, yet related by protocol, from five producers and three vintages. They were uniformly delicious, but Dennis stole the show by bringing a Golden Coro from the classic 2007 vintage. The answers from the five winemakers, their conversations, were probably better than my questions.

Line up of Coro

Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

Most striking was how every answer seemed to touch upon the collaborative aspects of the program, how winemakers blind taste barrel samples of each vintage several times, making and then sharing notes, all in an effort to produce the very best wines possible. The camaraderie among the winemakers was palpable.

Salute

Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

Huge thanks to the crew; producer Leigh Anne Lindsey from Out & About Media, director Steve Yoakum of MediaVectors Group, photographer Larry Wagner, and production assistants Marilyn Wagner and Mary Fairbanks.

Get out to a Coro member winery tasting room, and taste Mendocino County’s flagship wine. For more information about Coro Mendocino, visit their website at www.CoroMendocino.com.

EDITED TO ADD: For the archived copy of this column, I went back to the working title “Coro Mendocino #205″ which I came up with because it felt like I had written about Coro at least 204 times previously, sometimes a mere mention, sometimes a section in a column, while other times I use a whole column to spread the word of Coro. I’ve written pieces for 101 Things to do in Mendocino County and I wrote full page pieces for the Ukiah Daily Journal before I decided to take on a weekly column. By a wide margin of words, I have written more about Coro Mendocino than any other writer, so now you know why this piece was titled as it was. Oh, here’s a few archived Coro mentions: here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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John On Wine ­ – The column from Yuma

Originally published June 13, 2014 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper

The 2014 Orange County Fair Commercial Wine Competition, put on each year by the Orange County Wine Society is one of the largest and most respected wine competitions held each year. Entry to wineries is free, where most competitions charge $60 to $80 per wine entered, and this year’s 30th annual event saw 2,323 wine entries. Gold medals were awarded to 345 wines and only 38 wines ­ just over 1-1/2 percent of all wines entered – received the rare special recognition 4 Star Gold Medal, a unanimous vote for Gold from all judges and the equivalent of a Double Gold medal from other wine competitions.

These are the wines using Mendocino County grapes that earned one of these highest awards:

McFadden 2011 White Riesling Mendocino County, Potter Valley, Late Harvest;

Navarro Vineyards 2012 Syrah Mendocino;

Paul Dolan Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County, Certified Organic;

Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Ltd. 2012 Chardonnay Mendocino Ridge, Limited Release, Botrytised;

Yorkville Cellars 2011 Sparkling Wine “Cuvee Brut”, Mendocino County Rennie Vineyard & Randall Hill Vineyard Certified Organic The Yorkville Cellars. Sparkling Brut was also selected as the Best of Class wine in the Premium Sparkling wines category. I should have a list of all the gold medals out of Orange County, plus results of the 2014 California State Fair are due soon and I’ll post more top awards from both of these competitions as I receive them.

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Last night, as I write this, I was backstage at The Joint at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas for the last show of Guns n’ Roses’ residency. Andrew Dice Clay did a surprise guest set before Nic Cage announced the band and Axl Rose and the gang took the stage at midnight playing nonstop until just past three in the morning. I saw many things that would make wine tastings considerably more interesting if incorporated in our tasting rooms. With elevating platforms, laser lights, pole dancers, pyrotechnics, and confetti cannons, I am confident that inland Mendocino winery tasting rooms could quickly outdraw Napa tasting rooms. I’m pretty sure the show would be the talk of Hopland Passport for years to come.

Now, and as you read this, I’m in Yuma, Ariz. with my brother visiting our stepfather. I was at a super-sized supermarket today and visited the wine aisles. Underneath a sign for Syrah and Petite Sirah were Riesling and Moscato, and the entire Zinfandel section was stocked with pink wines. I’m not in wine country anymore. There were no wines in two long aisles with a Mendocino County appellation. With temperatures well over 100 degrees all week, I do understand the pink and white wines in place of red wines on the shelves here; folks are going to drink a whole lot more chilled wines — maybe even wine with ice cubes — than big dry red wines. It is already plenty dry enough here in the desert. I have to be honest, there is very little wine forecast for me this week, but plenty of Bloody Marys and Budweiser.

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Recently, I wrote about the June 28 dinner at the Little River Inn to celebrate the release of eight 2011 vintage Coro Mendocino wines. Since then the menu was sent out, and it looks so good that I had to share it with you: Dinner menu prepared by Chef Marc Dym, hosted by the Coro Mendocino Winemakers.

Passed Appetizer Course – Taste a showcase of each winery’s sparkling, white and rosé wines with a trio of chilled shooters: tomato consommé w/ grilled steak and chives; sweet pea pureé w/ Dungeness crab & truffle oil; and cucumber vichyssoise w/ gulf shrimp and lemon oil during the cocktail hour.

Soup Course paired with the 2011 Coro wines from McFadden Farm, Clos du Bois Winery and Testa Vineyards – Seafood cioppino terrine: Dungeness crab, green lip mussels, and fish with traditional San Francisco cioppino garnishes.

Middle Course paired with the 2011 Coro wines from Brutocao Cellars, Golden Vineyards & Parducci Wine Cellars – Smoked duck breast salad: local greens, Mission figs, burrata cheese, almonds, Dijon & balsamic reduction

Entrée Course paired with 2011 Coro wines from Fetzer Vineyards & Barra of Mendocino – Confit pork osso buco: slow cooked pork shanks with saffron risotto, grilled broccolini & fennel tomato demi-glace.

Dessert – Sable Breton biscuit with warm blackberry compote and Penny Royal Laychee fresh goat milk cheese.

Seating is limited; Reservations are required. The cost is $500 per couple, so call the Little River Inn to secure your place at the dinner, (707) 937-5942. Every time I write $500 for dinner, I cringe. Every time I mention it in my tasting room to new folks, they cringe. Then I explain that the $500 is for two dinners, a couple, and includes one complete set of the Coro wines. Eight bottles of 2011 Coro Mendocino at $40 makes for a $90 dinner per person, for five amazing course, complete with spectacular wine. Maybe if you tell em John sent you, they’ll pour the three time Double/4 Star Gold Medal winning bubbly during the cocktail hour. Coro dinner – it’s a bargain.

 

 

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John On Wine – Wine Tasting in March

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on March 6, 2014 by John Cesano

This Saturday, Hopland celebrates St. Patrick’s Day a little early with participating winery tasting rooms serving up a little Irish cheer, and homemade Irish dishes, to pair with terrific wines and big savings from 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. St.Patrick’s Day is the day that Rich Parducci and Greg Graziano are as Irish as Guinness McFadden; everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

McNab Ridge will serve up Irish Stew, Irish soda bread, and Bailey’s Irish whipped cream.

McFadden will have corned beef and cabbage, cooked in McFadden Gewurztraminer and McFadden organic herbs. Ray’s Station is going with Reuben meatballs, Irish cheese, and Irish short bread. Cesar Toxqui Cellars will have Italian food. Naughty Boy and Graziano will also take part in Second Saturday fun.

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Saturday, March 8 from 1 -4 p.m. ­ Little River Whale Festival benefiting MAPA ­ the Mendocino Area Parks Association, and the Van Damme State Park. This is a passport style event over three hours with eight locations. Tickets are $25 in advance and can be purchased by calling Little River Inn at 937-5942 or $30 at the event. Specialties from eight local gourmet chefs and local wines! Participating wineries include Alder Vineyards, Edmeades Winery, Graziano Family of Wines, Handley Cellars, Lichen, Lula Cellars, and Stevenswood Wines. Dessert & locally roasted coffee by Thanksgiving Coffee at the Little River Market & Deli.

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The Wine Road is a Sonoma County winery tourism group run by Beth Costa and includes the Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, and Alexander Valley, all of which surround the town of Healdsburg. Wine Road puts on the Barrel Tasting Weekends with more than 100 participating wineries in and around Healdsburg.

From the Wine Road website page dedicated to the Barrel Tasting Weekends: “Barrel Tasting is not a food pairing or themed event. It’s all about the wine … many wineries offer “futures” on their barrel samples. This is a chance to purchase wine now, often at a discount, then come back to the winery when the wine is bottled, typically 12-18 months from now. Many wines are so limited, buying futures is your only chance to purchase them. Attendees are encouraged to pack a picnic, as most wineries will not have food for this event. The ticket price includes the opportunity to sample wine from the barrel and in most cases also trying a limited number of current release wines.”

Did you notice that they mention that there is no food at the event and encourage folks to bring an entire picnic of food? That is to counter the only negative attached to the event: it has picked up a bit of a reputation as a drunk fest ­ but a very successful drunk fest. I remember attending more than 25 years ago. Barrel Tasting used to be just one weekend and it was free. Alexander Valley opened up Friday night and I would visit there first, with Dry Creek Valley and the Russian River Valley for Saturday and Sunday. The event was largely attended by folks in the wine industry and wine enthusiasts. The event has grown, and gone from free to $5, then $20, and now $30; and from one weekend to two. With 8,000 folks on the road, racing from winery to winery, trying to taste at over 100 and get value for their ticket price, there are horror stories of inebriation. Imagine it, and the reality is 10 times worse. That said, it really is just a few horribly bad apples gaining all of the notoriety, and the event really is otherwise spectacular. The final weekend of the 36th annual Barrel Tasting are this weekend, March 7-9, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Advance ticket sales have ended, but wineries will sell tickets at the door. For a map of participating wineries, visit http://bit.ly/1cA956P.

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Saturday, March 22 from 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. – Saracina’s Old Soul Red Blending Party. I’ve written before about how much fun a wine blending party can be, I’ve attended the Testa Barn Blend Party two of the three years it has been held, and was able to be one of three judges to help Maria and rusty choose a winner last year. Nelson, McNab Ridge, and now Saracina also have wine blending events, and all are worth attending. Saracina winemaker Alex MacGragor will lead folks through the art and science of wine blending, and then set you loose to help fashion or inspire the next vintage of the Saracina Coro Mendocino. Oops, a rose by any other name. I should have said that you have the chance to blend your own version of the Saracina Atrea Old Soul Red.

Everyone who attends and participates is a winner, as events at Saracina are known for being memorably top notch. After the hard work (it isn’t really, it is big fun) of wine blending winds down, you get to relax and enjoy Saracina wines and a family-style lunch of wood-fired pizzas and gourmet sides prepared by farm-to-table chef Olan Cox.

Given the hands-on nature of this experience, space is very limited. Please call (707) 670-0199 to grab your ticket now. Saracina is located 1.5 miles north of Hopland at 11684 South Hwy 101.

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I fly to Phoenix for the weekend. Perhaps, I’ll review coach class airline wine and airport hotel lounge wine for next week’s column. In the meantime, why don’t you get out this weekend and taste some wine? There certainly are ample opportunities for a great wine weekend close to home. Cheers!

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.

One of the biggest differences between winemaking in Europe and the United States is that wine made in Europe is made following a protocol established by and for the geographically identifiable area the wine is made in, while wine made in the United States is made with near complete freedom.

A Mendocino County wine might be Chardonnay or Malbec. Napa Valley is likely to contain Cabernet Sauvignon, but could instead contain Sangiovese. Russian River Valley wine bottles could be Pinot Noir or Semillion. In the United States, we have to label our wines with the grape varietal, because there is no rule, rhyme, or reason about what each area can put into the bottle.

When you buy a bottle of Bordeaux at the wine shop, you know which grapes the wine can be made from based on long established historical protocol, and you can have a solid expectation of style, based on every other Bordeaux wine you have ever purchased. Same for Burgundy, Tuscany, and Chianti.

Identified DOCG in Italy Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (controlled designation of origin guaranteed), AOC in France, – appellation d’origine contrôlée (controlled designation of origin), or other assurance of area protocol control, when you pick up a European wine, your expectations are based on where the wine came from.

In the United States, there is no similar geographically identifiable area making wine following a protocol – almost.

Unique in the entire United States is the Coro Mendocino program, established by a collaborative group of winemakers known as the Consortium Mendocino.

Every time you hold a Coro Mendocino wine, from any vintage, from any winery, you are holding something with connections to every other Coro Mendocino wine ever made.

Every Coro Mendocino wine is made from 100 percent Mendocino County grapes, by a Mendocino County winery, in the county, and contains Zinfandel first and foremost, between 40 percent and 70 percent, with no single blending grape varietal exceeding the percentage of Zinfandel used. Blending grapes come from a list of varietals historically grown in Mendocino County alongside Zinfandel, and are typically either Italian varietals – Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, and Primitivo, or Rhone varietals – Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, and Grenache.

Each winery is also allowed up to 10 percent free play, where a single unlisted varietal may be added to the blend. In the last 10 years, I can think of two wines that took advantage of the “free play” to add some Cabernet Sauvignon.

Chemistry limits (sugar, acid and pH), use of oak barrels, and both barrel and bottle aging are also addressed by the protocol to assure a somewhat uniform expectation of style within the Coro Mendocino program.

Each Coro Mendocino wine undergoes rigorous quality tasting trials. Initially, the wines are tasted up to four times by the participating winemakers who make and share notes of constructive criticism in an effort to see each wine reflect the high quality standards embodied by Consortium expectations.

A Selection Panel of five members of Consortium Mendocino – at least three being participating winemakers – conducts a pass/fail qualifying selection tasting. Pass, and you get to label your wine Coro Mendocino and sell it proudly beside every other Coro Mendocino made at $37. Fail and you’ve got nothing. You don’t have Coro and, without the minimum 75 percent needed, you don’t have Zinfandel. John Cesano’s “Random Red” wouldn’t likely sell for $37 or have the cachet a wine labeled Coro Mendocino has.

On Saturday, June 22, Consortium Mendocino will release the 2010 vintage Coro Mendocino wines at a 10th Anniversary Release Party at the Little River Inn. The 2010 vintage was produced by 10 wineries: Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Mendocino, Parducci, Philo Ridge, and Ray’s Station.

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A five course meal prepared by chef Marc Dym begins with a passed appetizer course, paired with a white or sparkling wines from each Coro winery, the remaining courses are seated; the three middle courses each feature three or four of the Coro Mendocino wines, grouped by weight, lighter, medium, and heavier, and paired with gourmet dishes. The final course is dessert and paired with your favorite of the 10 tasted Coro Mendocino wines.

Tickets are for couples, include the five course meal and the first tastes of each of the 2010 vintage wines, and a full set of all ten Coro Mendocino wines. The cost is $500 for a couple ticket and, with the 10 bottles of wine plus a five course dinner with wine for two, is a bargain. I attended last year, and wrote quite favorably about the experience.

This year, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Coro Mendocino, there will also be an exclusive V.I.P. tasting of Coro 1.5L magnums, on the night before the release party. Limited to the first 30 release party guests that reserve a spot at $75 per person, Coro wines from the last 10 years, and by producers current and past, will be opened and enjoyed from 4:30 ­ 6:30 p.m. on Friday, June 21.

To secure your seats at the release party dinner, and possibly the magnum tasting too, call the Little River Inn at (707) 937-5942.
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John Cesano works for McFadden, one of the ten 2010 vintage Coro producers. John, in his role as a local wine writer, has written about the Coro Mendocino program frequently, not because he works for a producer but because he he feels the program can be a critically important introduction to what, at their best, Mendocino County’s wines are about. 

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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