John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, December 18, 2014 by John Cesano

John On Wine – Five Holiday Gifts for the Wine Lover in your Life

Buying Christmas gifts is fun, but sometimes it can be challenging. Here are some recommendations from a wine lover to you for any wine lovers on your gift list.

5. A book on Sake. Sake Confidential, a beyond-the-basics guide to understanding, tasting, selection & enjoyment, by John Gauntner. Available online at www.amazon.com/Sake-Confidential-Beyond-Basics-Understanding/dp/1611720141.

I know wine well, generally, but there are huge gaps in my knowledge. I am good with California wines, and obviously know Mendocino County wines well, but I do not know the over 3,000 wine grape varieties of Italy and I am nearly as ignorant about Sake.

Sake is really more like beer than wine, brewed and fermented rice alcohol. I have a friend, Fred Albrecht, who dines out often, and loves Japanese food. Fred is Sake knowledgeable. When out together, Fred orders Sake for both of us or, where wine is the better choice, he usually seeks my input.

John Gauntner’s book on Sake is both informative and entertaining, approachable and useful. No book will turn anyone into an expert, but armed with knowledge of Junmai, Namazake, Ginjo, Nigori and more, the real fun begins: slightly educated tasting leading to experience based learning and genuine knowledge. I own and love this book.

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4. A wine preserver. Savino Wine Preservation Carafe. Available online at www.savinowine.com. I have written about a variety of wine preservation tools. The idea of wine preservation is that rather than have deterioration between glasses because of oxidation after a bottle is opened, the wine can be protected and used the next day, or for a family who finish a bottle perhaps a second bottle may be opened and then protected rather than finished.

Vacuum pumps, using a valved stopper to suck air out of a bottle only create a pressure differential and not a real vacuum – harmful oxygen is still inside the bottle, and the pumping strips wine of aroma and flavor, and should be avoided.

Savino is a simple, elegant, attractive and effective wine preserver; a cylindrical carafe with a floating cap that rests upon the wine, blanketing it from harm at any remaining level. I own a Savino.

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3. A wine aerator. Zazzol is the one I use. Available online at www.zazzol.com. Some folks, rather than trying to maintain a wine between glasses, are more interested in hastening the ‘breathing’ a wine needs, so as to have the wine open more quickly, so the enjoyment can begin sooner. A wine aerator is a device that increases a wine’s exposure to air so it may be thus enjoyed. There are many aerators on the market, but I recommend Zazzol because I own a Zazzol, it works, and it comes attractively packaged.

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2. Wine. Available at winery tasting rooms up and down Hwy 101 inland and along Hwy 128 toward the coast, here in Mendocino County. Please, if you can, visit a winery tasting room and buy your wine gifts, or wine club gift memberships, direct. I have lots of wine, but have found that there is no such thing as owning too much wine.

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1. Tickets to a wine dinner. I have written about the wine pairing Chef’s Dinners at Crush Italian Steakhouse that featured the wines of Saracina, Barra/Girasole, Bonterra, Coro, Yorkville Cellars, and Cesar Toxqui Cellars. Each one was an amazing experience. The next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah will be the feature inland event of the 2015 Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Festival, and showcase the wines of McFadden Farm. The dinner will be Wednesday, January 21, 2015 at 6:00 pm, and tickets run just $75 for food, wine, tax, and tip. Tickets are available online at www.mcfaddenfarm.com/Crush-Winemaker-Dinner_p_102.html.

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Regular readers know that I have gone to every Chef’s Wine Dinner, and I am certainly going to this dinner as well. I love Dungeness crab, and Chef Jesse Elhardt’s menu will be crab-centric with our coast’s bounty featured in reception, first course, and second course dishes. The only course likely to miss the kiss of crab will be dessert.

McFadden, of course, produced the California State Fair Wine Competition’s Best of Show Sparkling Wine, so a McFadden bubbly will start the night off as the reception wine. The first course of food, three or four dishes served family style, will be accompanied by Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer. The second course, with another three or four dishes, will be accompanied by Pinot Gris and Old Vine Zinfandel. Dessert is individually plated and will be accompanied by Late Harvest Riesling. To be clear, that’s a twice Gold Medal winning bubbly, three 90 point Wine Enthusiast magazine rated whites, a 95 point Just Wine points rated red, and a three time Double Gold or higher awarded dessert wine. Oh yeah, and Chef Jesse’s crabtastic menu.

Even though I manage McFadden’s tasting room, all the ticket money goes to Crush Italian Steakhouse to buy fresh crab. We keep nothing, and I have to buy my own ticket…although Guinness will end up covering that one. There is no conflict of interest in this recommendation.

How good a gift do I think this is? I have bought five tickets; four to give to my regular crew at the tasting room for Christmas, and another for my evening’s date, Kim Smith – who used to write for this paper. This may be the best wine dinner I attend in 2015. Over half of the 70 available tickets are already sold, so do not delay. This is my number one recommendation as a gift for wine (or Dungeness crab) lovers.

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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John On Wine – More Mushroom Meals, and a Turkey Meal Nears        

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, November 14, 2014

Thanks to the good efforts of Visit Mendocino, the local tourism group that brings visitors to Mendocino County for events, who then stay in our inns and hotels, their Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest continues through this weekend.

Last week, I wrote that one of the best ways to experience the magic of wine was through great wine dinners, and I wrote that Crush has the edge in putting on Chef’s Wine Dinners, like last night’s dinner, pairing the wines of Cesar Toxqui Cellars with mushroom dishes (for a recap of that dinner, visit JohnOnWine.com online where I’ll be posting an online exclusive within the week), or the next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush, on Wednesday, January 21, 2015, when Chef Jesse pairs crab dishes (thanks again Visit Mendocino for your Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest!) with highly rated and multiple Double Gold medal wines from McFadden Farm. Well, I should have made clear that Crush, by virtue of the restaurant’s layout has an edge, but there is one winery with a similar advantage: Barra of Mendocino.

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Barra of Mendocino can host an event, rain or shine, in their own facility, which is both a tasting room and event center all at once. Barra does so with frequency, and this Saturday, November 15, from 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM, Barra is hosting their Annual Winemaker Dinner which will feature five courses of mushroom dishes paired with delicious wine. Tickets are $80, or $55 for Barra wine club members (707) 485-0322 to get your tickets, tell ‘em I sent you, and I will see you there!

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The evening will be Moulin Rouge themed, think Parisian cabaret with great food and drink.

Here is the menu for Barra’s spectacular mushroom dinner:

L’ Apértif: Mushroom Pate’, Charcuterie, French cheeses, green olives, and baguettes served with Zinfand el, Chardonnay, Sangiovese;

L’ Entrée: Wild mushroom bisque with puff pastry square filled with brie served with Pinot Noir;

Le Plat Principal: Thick brined pork cut with wild mushroom gravy, sugared sweet potato crisps, haricot verts and slivered almonds served with Cabernet Sauvignon;

Le Formage: Wild mushrooms, apples, butternut squash and burrata served with Chardonnay; and

Le Dessert: Ocracote fig preserve cake with candy cap mushroom ice cream served with choice of Port or Muscat Canelli.

I will post a recap of this dinner on an exclusive online post at JohnOnWine.com within the week.

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Another fun mushroom and wine experience will be at Yorkville Cellars on Highway 128 in the Yorkville Highlands. Yorkville Cellars focuses on the wine varieties of Bordeaux, France; Malbec among them. Coming up this Friday, November 14 through Sunday, November 16, from 11-6pm each day, you can experience. “Malbec Four Ways for Four Days”:  an inaugural Malbec Rosé, Malbec table wine, Sweet Malbec and a new release of Sparkling Malbec Brut Rosé. The Malbec grapes come from Yorkville’s own certified organic estate vineyard. Nicely enough, there will be tasty and tantalizing mushroom themed appetizers and desserts to pair with the wines.

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For all of the fun mushroom themed events going on through Sunday, pick up a copy of Visit Mendocino’s 44 page brochure made just for the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest, available at nearly every winery tasting room in the county, or go to http://www.visitmendocino.com/mushroom-wine-and-beer-festival online.
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Looking forward a couple of weeks, to Thanksgiving, I was wondering what you do with wine at the holiday. What wines do you serve? Do you bring wine as a hostess gift to be shared with the meal. I wrote a piece last year about what wines go best with Thanksgiving dinner, and over the years, I have brought, and my family has enjoyed, every possible imaginable wine, from sparkling wines to dessert wines, and rosés to huge reds, with whites from dry to sweet as well.

I think that any wine, if good, makes a dinner better, and I have plenty of very good wine to bring to any dinner; but I also think some wines do better with Thanksgiving fare than others. Personally, I think that lighter, low alcohol red wines are great, because they are less likely to overpower the turkey. Blends are a good choice, because each grape gives up different aromas and flavors and with a basket of notes to pull from, different foods can pull different notes to pair with, each differently, from just one wine. Blends are chameleon-like, going with many things well, and I particularly like Rhone varietal blends, both red and white.

I have had inexpensive blends, Trinchero’s Menage a Trois at $7.99 as an example, that tasted good and went spectacularly well with a holiday dinner. There is nothing wrong with good tasting food wine that is affordable.

Here’s the thing, I know what I like. Let me know what wine you like to share at Thanksgiving. Email me at JohnOnWine@gmail.com and you may find that you help write my next column, or a portion of it, for me.

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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John On Wine – Wine Tasting 101

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, November 6, 2014; written by John Cesano

Wine tasting is daunting for some folks. If you have never gone to a winery tasting room, for a wine tasting, the uncertainty of what to expect, can be a little scary, even intimidating.

Beer is simple, you go to the corner store, grab an ice cold six-pack out of the cooler, pay for it, take it home, open a bottle, and drink it. No one is judging you. It is just beer in a bottle, and then in your belly. Food pairings are not much of a concern with beer; chips, nuts, pretzels will all do just fine.

If you watch Frasier and his brother Niles in reruns, then you might think wine is pretentious and that the little rituals might trip you up and make you look foolish. Put any such concerns out of your mind.

For the most part, wine – to me, and to many Italian Americans in northern California – is food. Wine is just one more ingredient, or dish, among many, in a larger meal, and wine should complement your food and make it taste better.

One of my favorite things about a Chef’s Wine Dinner at a good restaurant, like Crush or Patrona here in Ukiah, is that perhaps six wines will be poured and perhaps ten food dishes will be served, and you are afforded the opportunity to try sips of different wines with different foods to see what pairings work for you, a wonderfully playful experiment of trial and error, or better yet trial and delicious success, over an entire evening…well, that is a great way to be awakened to the wonder of food and wine pairings, surrounded by 70 other people having the same sensory overloading experience, oohs and ahhs, and, as the evening goes on, groans of delighted contentment, everywhere.

The next of these opportunities is next Wednesday, November 12, 2014, when Chef Jesse Elhardt and his team at Crush pair mushroom dishes with the wines of Cesar Toxqui Cellars, at what I consider the premier event of the entire 2014 Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Festival. Surprising no one, I have my ticket already. Tickets are $65 in advance, or $75 at the door, and include food, wine, tax & tip.

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Cesar Toxqui will have his Cesar Toxqui Cellars wines featured at the Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah on Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Similarly, the premier event of the 2015 Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Festival will be the McFadden Farm Winemaker Dinner at Crush on Wednesday, January 21, 2015. This dinner will be a crabapalooza, and as crab costs more than mushrooms, tickets are $75 in advance, and also includes food, wine, tax & tip. There will be no tickets at the door, as this event will sell out.

Contact Crush by calling (707) 463-0700 to make reservations for either of these two great opportunities to play with food and wine!

Visits to winery tasting rooms should be as much fun, or certainly more fun than they too often are, I’ll admit. If you are a novice, and want to feel comfortable, come and visit me at the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland. I’m in most every Tuesday through Friday from 10-5 each day, and my incredible team handles most of the other days. We’re the top rated tasting room in California by the San Francisco Chronicle, because we want you to enjoy yourself, because we give you an experience, and because we treat you with respect.

First things first, wine tasting should be complimentary. This isn’t liquid gold and rubies, it is fermented grape juice, and I am thrilled to do away with the pretension of Napa County for visitors to our humble tasting room. If you value your juice too greatly to pour a taste of it, or don’t know how to add the cost of samples to your cost of goods when setting prices, then Napa County is one county south, then another east. That said, while wine tasting is complimentary, tossing a bill or two in the jar is never frowned upon.

Next thing, and perhaps the most important thing to know: the dump bucket is your friend. I like to pour through all available wines, usually about a dozen, give or take, and if you try to drink a dozen pours then you will be drunk. I pour an ounce of wine in a nice big glass, and if you swirl the wine then you can break free some of the aroma molecules, and put your nose into the glass, and slowly sniff in all the smells. Then take a little sip, and see what flavors the wine has. The wine flavor will taper away, sometimes slowly, sometimes abruptly, and more flavor notes may be found here on the finish. Finally, dump the remaining wine from the glass into the bucket.

I let people experience the wine before I share the notes that the wines present to me. I also tell a little story about each wine, and put our wines in context by describing our farm, our growing choices, the winemaking styles, and much more. A visit with me can often last an hour, and involve a dozen wines, but a mere sip of each wine means less than an ounce consumed and critical judgment is still intact, so wine buying or wine club joining decisions are about the wine and not the result of alcohol making your decisions for you.

Here’s another thing that is important to own: you are the boss of you, you are the ultimate judge of what you like and do not like. I pour Gold medal, Double Gold medal, Best of Class and Best of Show wines. I have wines that professional judges unanimously voted Gold, in competition after competition after competition. I pour great wines, AND YOU ARE FREE TO NOT LIKE THEM. Not everyone likes everything, and with 12 wines to pour, there is a great chance you’ll find one or two, or all 12, to like or not like.

As I pour, I do mention foods that each of the wines I pour pair well with, often sharing recipes, because a wine at first taste that was just good can be the best wine you’ve ever tasted when it accompanies   the right dish.

After running through all of my wines, with the nosing, sipping, and dumping, I always ask visitors if they would like to revisit any wines, because sometimes one sip just isn’t enough. I also like to recommend other wineries to visit based on what my visitors liked most, and perhaps a local place to eat between wine tasting visits.

I write about wine because I do not want anyone to be intimidated by it. I pour wine in much the same way. Nicely enough, there are many other incredibly friendly and fun folks pouring wine throughout Mendocino County, and every one of us would love to pour wine for you. We’re gentle with first-timers; if you haven’t been wine tasting yet, give it a try.

Cue the banjos.

I wrote in the newspaper, and online, and spread the word about a dinner that will not be happening…sort of. Rivino was to be the featured winery at next Wednesday’s premier event, for me, of the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest, a Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah featuring mushrooms, of course, and the estate wines of Rivino.

I love Crush’s Chef’s Wine Dinner series, have attended them all (Saracina, Barra of Mendocino/Girasole, Bonterra, Coro Mendocino, and Yorkville Cellars). I think Jason and Suzanne at Rivino make enjoyable wines, and they have a large and loyal following. After the dinner was announced, the folks who put on both the Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest every November and the Crab, Wine & Beer Fest every January, Visit Mendocino, arranged for McFadden Farm to be the featured winery at Crush’s Crab themed dinner in January. Of course, I was going; of course, I was writing about it; and, of course, I was spreading the word.

I’ve got some good news and some bad news, which do you want first?

Umm, the bad news.

Okay, the bad news is that there will be no Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush featuring the wines of Rivino next Wednesday.

Okay, what’s the good news then?

The good news is there are two dinners next Wednesday. Crush will be having a Chef’s Wine Dinner, but the winery being featured will be Cesar Toxqui Cellars. I recently wrote a piece about Cesar and Ruth Toxqui, and their wines and new tasting room location in Hopland, and I am equally thrilled to be attending and tasting their wines at the dinner I have a ticket for.

Jason and Suzanne will also be having a mushroom themed dinner, cooked by the team from Pagan Fire Pizza, and will host it at their winery.

I wish they were on different nights, so I could possibly attend both, like Barra of Mendocino’s mushroom themed dinner to be held at 6:00 pm on Saturday, November, November 15 – which I am gleefully attending.

Menus change, pairings change; there are often additions or other edits made at the last minute, I guess incorrectly at vintages based on what is on a website, so consider what follows to be working menus, and possibly incomplete. For your consideration, please find both of the Wednesday, November 12 menus from Crush/Cesar Toxqui Cellars and Rivino/Pagan Fire Pizza, and the Saturday, November 15 menu from Barra of Mendocino:

CHEF’S WINE DINNER Featuring CESAR TOXQUI CELLARS

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 6:00 pm

MEET AND GREET

Porcini Bruschetta Bites – toasted baguette, tomato, herbed ricotta, olive oil, balsamic, micro intensity
Featuring 2012 Immigrant Chard and Pinot Gris

FIRST COURSE

Clams Casino – shiitake mushroom, pancetta, green bell pepper, shallot, house made bread crumbs, asiago, parsley
Polpette al Vino Bianco – veal parmesan reggiano, brown butter parsnip purée, caramelized onion jus, chive stick
Broccolini Salad – shaved crimini mushrooms, red onion, fried bread, fresh burrata, pickled mushroom relish, sherry vinaigrette, olive oil, micro intensity
Featuring 2011 Pinot Noir and 2010 Grenache

SECOND COURSE

Grilled C.A.B. Skirt Steak – roasted oyster mushroom & yukon potato purée, red wine & crimini demi glacé, chive
Ragu of Mushrooms – handmade orecchiette pasta, ricotta, basil pesto, parmesan reggiano
Brussels & Cauliflower Gratin – house made bread crumb, toasted pine nut, gruyere
Featuring 2012 Split Rock Zin and Heirloom Cinco

DESSERT

Candy Cap Semifreddo – vanilla, mascarpone, macerated blueberries, fried quinoa, mint
Featuring port-esque Paloma Dulce

Wednesday November 12th @ 6:00 pm
$65 in advance , $85 at the door (includes tax & tip)
Call Crush at (707) 463-0700 for reservations
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Mushroom Winemaker Dinner at Rivino

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 6:00 pm

Come and enjoy an intimate dinner in our Vineyard! We are busily working on winterizing our tasting area so that we will have a beautiful space for this evening. It looks like rain on that night which will create the perfect cozy candle lit ambiance for this event.

Enjoy a mushroom inspired dinner with Suzanne and Jason. The menu will be an artful creation perfected by Mitch of Pagan Fire Pizza! On the night’s menu, expect:

The best Mushroom Risotto you have ever tasted; and
Wood fire roasted, boneless mushroom stuffed quail;
Featuring Rivino’s Estate Wines

Candy Cap Creme Brulee
Featuring shared samples a soon to be bottled White Port; a Viognier fortified with Germain Robin Brandy, the Brandy created from Rivino Viognier grapes as well!

Wednesday November 12th @ 6:00 pm
$75 each, $65 for Wine club members (limit two each)
Call the winery at (707) 293-4262 for reservations

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Barra of Mendocino can host an event in their own facility, which is both a tasting room and event center all at once. Barra does so with frequency, and on  Saturday, November 15, from 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM, Barra is hosting their Annual Winemaker Dinner which will feature five courses of mushroom dishes paired with delicious wine.

The evening will be Moulin Rouge themed, think Parisian cabaret with great food and drink. I will wear a suit, with tie. You don’t have to, but dress up is fun sometimes.

Here is the menu for Barra’s spectacular mushroom dinner:

L’ Apértif: Mushroom Pate’, Charcuterie, French cheeses, green olives, and baguettes served with Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Sangiovese;

L’ Entrée: Wild mushroom bisque with puff pastry square filled with brie served with Pinot Noir;

Le Plat Principal: Thick brined pork cut with wild mushroom gravy, sugared sweet potato crisps, haricot verts and slivered almonds served with Cabernet Sauvignon;

Le Formage: Wild mushrooms, apples, butternut squash and burrata served with Chardonnay; and

Le Dessert: Ocracote fig preserve cake with candy cap mushroom ice cream served with choice of Port or Muscat Canelli.

Saturday November 15th @ 6:00 pm
$80, or $55 for Barra wine club members
Call the winery at (707) 485-0322 for reservations
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More recently than my write up of Cesar Toxqui Cellars, in fact it is appearing in today’s weekly wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal – soon to be archived here, I wrote about the spectacular opportunity that these special multi course food and wine dinners present; you get to play with your food and no one will frown. Try a taste of each dish with each of the wines poured, and find what works for you, and what doesn’t, and even try to imagine what foods might pair even better with the wines you are tasting. Grab a ticket to one or two of these great dinners – I’m attending two; sadly, we can’t attend all three.

John On Wine – Wine blends, both European and local

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 2, 2014

Recently, I received an email from David and Merry Jo Velasquez of Cannon Falls, MN; after visiting the tasting room where I work and finding this wine column, they visited France and suggested a column, “outlining the GSM grape varieties that make Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine so popular, and which winemakers are doing similar blends in Northern CA,” as well as exploring the “French law/custom [that] allows 13 grape varieties to be used in CdP wines…[and] other stringent requirements which were fascinating to learn about.” They also mentioned the “terroir” (the land, climate, the environment grape vines grow in) and sent some terrific photos.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard

Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a town in the Rhone wine region of southeastern France. Red varieties allowed are Cinsaut, Counoise, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Muscardin, Piquepoul Noir, Syrah, Terret Noir, and Vaccarèse (Brun Argenté). White and pink varieties are Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanche, Clairette Rose, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Picardan, Piquepoul Blanc, Piquepoul Gris, and Roussanne. The 13 varieties historically mentioned by David and Merry Jo have expanded to 18, as today the Noir (black/red), Gris (grey), and Blanc (white) versions of individual grape varieties are considered separate.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape red grapes reaching maturity - note the rounded stones in the vineyard that the vines fight through

Châteauneuf-du-Pape red grapes reaching maturity – note the rounded stones in the vineyard that the vines fight through

Famed for GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) Rhone blends, some of my favorite wines tasted have come from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. By far, most of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are red, and most use Grenache as the base, or largest element, of their blends. Lighter in body, two things allow for wines of greater intensity:

First, yields are reduced with local laws prohibiting greater than 368 gallons to be produced per acre of fruit. By dropping fruit during the growing season, the remaining fruit receives greater vitality from the vine, and the result is greater flavor. Second, instead of holding the wines in oak barrels, and having the oak overpower the flavors of the grape, much of the wine is held in concrete containers, a neutral container that better protects against oxidation than oak during winemaking. Here, in northern California, there are a number of wineries using Rhone varietals who have purchased concrete ‘eggs’ to make their wine in.

Richly ripe white grapes from Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Richly ripe white grapes from Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Blends done right are wines greater than the sum of their parts. Often Cabernet Sauvignon, a big firm wine, will have some Merlot blended in as the Merlot will soften the wine; and the reverse is true, an overly soft Merlot can benefit from the backbone a little Cabernet Sauvignon can offer to the blended wine’s structure.

Just as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are often blended together, so too are Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, and Zinfandel and Carignane. There are many ‘classic’ blends, and they are classics because they work, the wines blended are often better than the wines held separate.

In California, as long as there is 75% or more of any single wine grape variety in the wine then that grape variety can be used on the label; in other words, the Zinfandel you buy at the store has at least 75% and up to a full 100% of Zinfandel in the bottle, but might contain some other wine grape varieties – up to 25% in total. There are many local wineries that make stellar blend wines, and do not bother with hitting 75% of any varietal, instead giving their blend wine a fanciful proprietary name like Black Quarto, Atrea Old Soul Red, or Campo de Stella.

In Europe, wines are named for the areas they come from, and a Châteauneuf-du-Pape red wine can be made from any of nine grape varieties and is most often a blend, while a red wine from Bordeaux will be made from a shorter list of grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère. Just as Châteauneuf-du-Pape has a protocol, part law and part tradition, for making wine, so too does Bordeaux, and nearly every other geographically identifiable wine area in Europe.

Meritage (rhymes with heritage, it is an American wine, not French, so please do not force a French mispronunciation) is a wine made outside of Bordeaux using the grapes used in Bordeaux, where an individual grape variety does not meet the minimum percentage threshold allowing the wine to receive a grape variety name. Starting as a California only association of blended wines, Meritage wines expanded first to the United States, and then internationally.

In all of the United States, there is only one geographically identifiable area that makes wines from an agreed upon list of grapes, and following an agreed upon production protocol, following the European model, but is by agreement among the participating wineries and not under force of law, and that unique in America area is Mendocino County, and the wines are Coro Mendocino.

A Quintet of Coro Mendocino Wines

A Quintet of Coro Mendocino Wines

Coro is Italian for Chorus and, just as a chorus should be a harmonious blending of voices, Coro wines should be a harmonious blending of grape varieties. Every Coro Mendocino starts with Zinfandel, Mendocino County’s most planted grape, and must contain no less than 40% and no more than 70% Zinfandel. Of note is that there is not enough Zinfandel, 75% minimum, to label the wine as a Zinfandel. The supporting ‘blend’ grapes include Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Sangiovese, Grenache, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, Primitivo, plus up to 10% “free play” where an individual participating Coro Mendocino winery can allow their signature style to shine through, with an Anderson Valley winery blending in some Pinot Noir or inland Mendocino winery blending in some Cabernet Sauvignon as an example. None of the supporting blend grapes is to exceed the percentage of Zinfandel in the finished wine.

Coro Mendocino wines also adhere to winemaking protocols, with wine chemistry limits and oak and bottle aging spelled out for participants. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Coro Mendocino program is that each winery puts their wines through a rigorous quality assurance regimen; first the wines are blind tasted several times as barrel samples by all the participating wineries with constructive criticism offered up for each wine in an effort to produce the very best wines possible, and then the wines go through a pass/fail, Coro/No-Coro, blind tasting before they may carry the Coro Mendocino label.

Each Coro within a vintage, winery to winery, is different, just as each Coro within a winery, vintage to vintage, is different, and yet there is a thread that ties all Coro Mendocino wines together, in much the same way that all wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Bordeaux are tied together, but with an assurance of quality.

Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, Parducci, and Testa each made a Coro in the most recently released vintage, 2011, and the wines can be tasted and purchased at each individual winery’s tasting room, or all can be purchased at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland. The best of the Coro from each vintage, produced from organically grown grapes, is also available at the Ukiah co-op and on Patrona restaurant’s wine list in Ukiah.

If there is any question about how much I love doing what I do, inside my tasting room or outside, pouring my wines or any of the county’s best wines, this picture captured by Aubrey Rawlins of Mendoicino Winegrowers Inc should answer that question amply. I love pouring wines for folks.

John Cesano pours wine at an event focused on Mendocino County's organic, biodynamic grown wine grapes and the wines made from those grapes. (Photo by Aubrey Rawlins)

Here’s the column that was born at this incredibly fun wine press event, enjoy:

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John On Wine – Mendocino County’s Green Wine Growers

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, September 25, 2014

On a sunny Tuesday not long ago, I had the opportunity to pour wines at Danny Fetzer’s Jeriko Estate dirty dog river bar over an alfresco taco bar lunch for a group of influential wine writers and buyers in place of my boss, Guinness McFadden, who was at McFadden Farm for his 24th consecutive annual certification inspection as an organic grower of wine grapes, herbs, and beef.

His absence was understandable to all assembled, as the event was focused on Mendocino County’s organic and biodynamic grown wine grapes and the wines made from those grapes; all of the winery owners present had been through similar inspections.

Upfront, I want to thank Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc, our membership based wine and grape marketing group, for putting on a three day series of tastings; and I want to thank the attendees: Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s Jim Gordon, San Francisco Chronicle Carey Sweet, CIA Greystone’s Robert Bath, Huffington Post’s Mary Orlin, Ferry Plaza Wine Bar’s Peter Granoff, BevMo’s Jim Lombardo, 7×7 Magazine’s Courtney Humiston, Wine Business Monthly’s Mary Collen Tinney, Gary Danko’s Andrew Browne, and Writing Between the Vines’ Marcy Gordon (who once hosted me at her home for a tasting of Virginia’s best wines).

I also have to thank Ann Krohn of Frey Organic Wine; Ann either asked me a question or offered a kind comment that inspired me to launch into a monologue on what, to me, makes the Mendocino County wine scene special. When finished, I knew I had delivered a wine column.

In a previous job, I visited hundreds of winery tasting rooms in 42 California counties and saw the good and bad, but too rarely did I see the great. Too often, winery tasting room personnel would silently evaluate the worth of a visitor, judging based on the car you drove up in or the color of your credit card, and try to extract your money in the least amount of time while pouring the fewest number of wines.

I love being in a place that celebrates complimentary pouring, I tell folks they are at a tasting, not a bar, and explain what the dump bucket is used for, and give visitors an experience, an hour long tasting of 12 or more wines, with a story for each wine, and when finished I hope our guests feel a connection to the farm our grapes come from.

I would love to believe that I am the best tasting room manager on the planet, but the love that I feel for the grapes and wines that come from my farm is echoed in the presentations by my counterparts at winery tasting room after winery tasting room throughout Mendocino County.

Fully 75% of the wine grapes grown in Mendocino County end up bought and made into wines by wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties. Mendocino is a farm county. Our county is also home to the greatest concentration of certified organic and biodynamic wine grape growers, which is important to consumers who wish to avoid Monsanto Round Up grown wines (often misleadingly labeled “sustainable”).

Being a farm county with an emphasis on green growing practices, the wines are more closely tied to the land, and a land that has been farmed proudly.

Tasting room managers feel that pride, and we share a similar passion as we share remarkably similar stories with our guests.

Personally, I get to see the vintage play out on Guinness’ face, good or tough. Everything is tied to the land, the farm. I am pouring a direct extension of that farm. These are not wines made from bought grapes; the connection between grapes and wine is far more visceral for me and, after a shared wine experience, I hope the folks who taste with me feel a sense of that connection as well.

At the river bar lunch, I poured the 2014 California State Fair Best of Show Sparkling Wine for the day’s tasters, and a Pinot Gris that attendee Jim Gordon had rated 90 points and designated an Editors’ Choice wine, before inviting them all to stop by and taste all the other wines at the tasting room another attendee, Carey Sweet, had rated the highest in over five years of tasting reviews in the San Francisco Chronicle.

I am not shy, and made use of the opportunity I had, but I could have just as easily been pouring the wines for any of the other wineries present that day, and my message would have been just as passionate, just as compelling. The other wines made from organic grapes, biodynamic grapes, poured were from some of the county’s most iconic growers and wineries: Barra of Mendocino, Frey Vineyards, Handley Cellars, and the day’s host Jeriko Estate.

I’m not knocking wines made with Round Up, although Googling “Round Up Health Risks” might leave you conventional wine averse, or turning to wines labeled organic, made with organically grown grapes, or biodynamic, and I would completely understand. The folks at the river bar on that sunny Tuesday enjoyed delicious wines, and every single person from a winery was as proud of those wines as you can be. The wines were made by wineries that care about the land, and so that care is translated to the wine. I believe this is at the core of what makes Mendocino County wines special.

For more on the subject of genuinely green wines, I recommend Pam Strayer’s wine blog, Organic Wines Uncorked, at www.winecountrygeographic.blogspot.com

Tomorrow, the writers who devote the most time to tasting Mendocino county wines throughout the year, who write the most words about Mendocino County wines for newspapers and magazines, will gather in judgement of the entries for the 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition.

All work and no play is not how things are done in Mendocino County.

Today, the Coro Mendocino winemakers will pour a selection of library wines for those judges, an opportunity for them to relax and enjoy Mendocino County’s flagship wine.

Tonight, Destination Hopland and Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc. present a welcome dinner for the judges at Seebass Family Vineyard and Wines.

Here’s a working menu, featuring wines and farm goods from both Seebass Family Wines and McFadden Farm, as well as the local, organic, delicious bounty of the top artisanal purveyors of food and ingredients from throughout Mendocino County:

APPETIZERS – standing – passed – Paired with McFadden 2009 Reserve Brut

Bruschetta – Schat’s bread with white bean puree and sundried tomatoes and basil
Bread – Schat’s baguette
Olive Oil – Terra Savia/Olivino
Sundried tomatoes – Seebass
Speckled bayo beans – McFadden Farm
Basil – Seebass

Meat Balls – spiced beef meat balls
Beef – McFadden Farm
Egg – Seebass
Onions – Cinnamon Bear Farms
Herbs – McFadden Farm grilling herbs, lemon pepper, and garlic powder
Bread Crumbs – Schat’s

SALAD – Greens with champagne vinaigrette, roasted fresh beets and goat cheese – Paired with Seebass Barrel-Sampled 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel
Greens – Seebass
Edible flowers – Seebass
Beets – Cinnamon Bear Farms
Goat cheese – Pennyroyal Farms
Bacon crumbles – Mendocino Organics
Champagne vinaigrette – McFadden Sparkling Brut Rose, Terra Savia/Olivino olive oil, mustard, acid

GAZPACHO – Chunkier version with avocado garnish – Paired with McFadden 2007 Pinot Noir
Tomatoes – Cinnamon Bear
Cucumbers – Seebass
Red Onions – Cinnamon Bear
Cilantro – Cinnamon Bear
Red wine – 2010 McFadden Coro Mendocino
Chicken stock – Seebass
Avocado
Lime

SALMON – Broiled fresh wild king salmon with peach salsa – Paired with Seebass 2011 Grand Reserve Chardonnay
Salmon – The Fish Peddler
Peaches – Cinnamon Bear
Red Onion – Cinnamon Bear
Cilantro – Cinnamon Bear
Lime

LAMB – Herb crusted grilled Mediterranean lamb leg with wild rice, gold raisin and parley and grilled summer squash with plum/stone fruit wine reduction glaze – Paired with 2011 Seebass Syrah
Lamb – Mendocino Organics
Herbs – cumin +
Wild rice – McFadden Farm
Golden raisins – Seebass
Parsley, fresh herbs – Seebass
Baby zucchini – Seebass

CHEESEPaired with McFadden 2012 Riesling
Hard cheeses – Pennyroyal Farms
Spiced Walnuts – Seebass
Honey – Seebass

DESSERT – Blackberry crumble with homemade vanilla ice cream and dark chocolate drizzle – Paired with McFadden 2009 Coro
Blackberries – Seebass
Crumble – Flour, butter, brown sugar, nuts
Dark chocolate, melted –
Homemade ice cream – cream, vanilla, eggs – Seebass

Coffee – Black Oak
Tea – Mendocino Tea
Cream -

After tasting Mendocino County’s best wines tomorrow morning and afternoon, after deciding upon Silver and Gold medals, and Best of Red and Best of White honors; the judges will enjoy one more fine meal. The best part is that you can join them for this event!

The Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition awards dinner and ceremony will be tomorrow, Friday, August 1 at 6:00 p.m. at the Mendocino College Student Plaza. Dinner will be three courses by Chef Nicholas Petti of Mendo Bistro and his team of culinary students from the college, accompanied by wines entered into competition. Tickets are only $55 and available at mendocinowinecompetition.eventbrite.com or at the event.

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