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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.

2010 Coro Rankings

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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 ­ – Question Corner

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

My good friend, Amie Bunch, recently sent me a note asking, “This maybe a dumb question, but do they add sugar to wine?”

Here is the answer I sent her:

“Not a dumb question at all, it is a great question.

Wine gets sweetness and alcohol from the sugar that is in the grapes that the wine is made from.

In the vineyard, buds break out on the vines in the spring and grapes come from those buds. The vines take moisture from the earth and heat from the sun during the summer and grapes grow from the buds – small at first – but larger and larger and by fall’s harvest they have gone from bitter to sweeter. The measure of sugar in a grape at harvest is called brix and usually the higher the brix the more a grower gets paid for his grapes.

The sugar loaded grapes are squeezed, crushed, pressed, stomped, and otherwise rendered of their juice at the winery. Grapes become grape juice.

Fermentation, the changing of grape juice to wine, occurs when yeasts (naturally occurring or purposefully chosen inoculation) convert the sugars in grape juice to alcohol, heat, and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide can be bled off, the heat can be controlled with cooling coils, and the alcohol can be manipulated to some degree.

In many red wines fermentation is complete, taken all the way to dryness and this can yield some high alcohol wines. As Zinfandel can often brix high, there are Zinfandels that drink hot with alcohol running 17 percent or higher.

Many sweeter wines – whites and rosé, have lower alcohol and higher residual sugar, because fermentation is stopped before the yeast can convert all of the sugar in the juice into alcohol. To stop fermentation coils around a stainless steel tank are super chilled, cooling the wine, and stopping the fermentation.

Okay, that’s the vineyard grape to juice to wine story.

Some vintages (simply another name for year when referring to grapes) are cool, too cold to yield the desired brix for a vineyard’s grapes. Big rains can do the same thing, especially if they come late in the season but before harvest, as the vines suck up the extra moisture which then decreases the ratio of sugar to water in the grape. Generally, growers do not love low sugar grapes. Same with the winemaker at the winery.

A natural fix for low sugar in the grapes would be simply to add some sugar.

Wineries in the U.S. are not allowed to add sugar to wines. It is illegal.

That said, grape concentrates can be added to the juice to bring sugars up and a low brix problem can be solved.

Oh, and it is alleged that some wineries – I’m thinking of one enormous producer of Chardonnay in particular – do in fact add sugar to their juice.

Now to break the rule; bubbly, champagne, sparkling wine – whatever you call it – does get sugar added to the wine. Instead of making the wine in a barrel or tank, the wine is made in the bubbly bottle and spends a year to a year and a half in the case of McFadden, as an example, with the yeast and lees (spent yeast and other small solids) before disgorgement (a process of removing those particulate solids). At disgorgement, a dosage (a dose) of sugar is added to the wine and the cork & cage are fitted. The small bit of unspent yeast acts upon the dosage and a secondary fermentation occurs.

Remember the carbon dioxide I mentioned before that is bled away? Well, now, trapped inside the bottle, this carbon dioxide becomes a part of the wine, and that added sugar is responsible for the bubbles in a bottle of bubbly.”

Yeah, I know the answer was a bit long winded, but she thanked me, writing back, “You rock! My friend asked me and I told her I didn’t think they did. I told her I would find out. I forwarded her your response and she was so impressed. I said, yeah, I have smart friends.'” Hopefully the answer, off the top of my head, was right.
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Next week is the big Coro Mendocino wine dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah. Grab your reservation, don’t wait, do it now! What are you thinking? That they have hundreds of seats available? They don’t. Call now. (707) 463-0700. About 60 very lucky dinner guests will sit down on Wednesday, Dec. 11 at 6 p.m. for an amazing Chef’s Wine Dinner.

Here’s the working Chef’s menu: Mini Wedge Salads with Nueske bacon, blue cheese, tomato, and red onion; Dungeness Crab Cakes with tomato confit, basil aioli, and balsamic; Oyster Rockefeller ­ the original recipe from 1899; Steak Tartare with French mustard dressing, caper, crispy shallot, and chive; Slow roasted Aged Prime rib of Beef with creamed fresh horseradish and natural au jus; Twiced Baked Idaho Potatoes with cheddar, scallion, and crème fraiche; Creamed Spinach Au Gratin with nutmeg, gruyere, and shallot; Local Organic Roasted Carrots with maple, dill, and butter; and a dessert of Butterscotch Budino with chocolate, whipped cream, and caramel pearls. Ten local wineries will be pouring their Coro Mendocino heritage Zinfandel blend wines; they are Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Mendocino Vineyards, Parducci, Philo Ridge and Ray’s Station. $65 covers dinner and wine, add tax and a tip, and the price is the bargain of the year. Count on Sparkling Brut to kick things off and dessert wine to end the night. Have you called yet? Stop reading, and start punching buttons, (707) 463-0700, and I’ll see you there.

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John On Wine ­ – Alphabet soup (VMC, MWI, AVWA, ATORV, DH, YHGVA)

Originally published on November 7, 2013 in the Ukiah Daily Journal by John Cesano


Last week was remarkable for inland Mendocino County’s wine scene. In a perfect example of “when it rains, it pours,” after I had complained that the wineries of inland Mendocino county receive scant attention when compared to the folks over in the Anderson Valley, all of a sudden we started getting noticed.

First, of course, was the San Francisco Chronicle’s tasting room reviewer for the Sunday travel section giving a three star review to the lovely Campovida and then a three and a half star review to the small but mighty McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, both located in Hopland.

The impact, the number of first time visitors who came because of the write up, was astonishing.

Next, Visit Mendocino County (VMC) brought professional photographers for all of last week, and in addition to capturing photographs in Anderson Valley and on the coast, the Vintage Marketplace building, which houses four winery tasting rooms, in Hopland was one of the locations chosen. Any promotional efforts by VMC on behalf of the winery tasting rooms, restaurants, and places to stay here along the 101 corridor from Hopland up to Willits, will be greatly appreciated.

Huge thanks go out to Jen Filice from VMC, who shepherded photographers and models all over the county, and to Margaret Pedroni from Ray’s Station, who was instrumental in helping the Vintage Marketplace location be chosen as the new hot spot for tourism promotion.

Speaking of Margaret Pedroni, Margaret also handles marketing for Coro Mendocino and has been busy working with Dave Richards, the manager of Crush restaurant in Ukiah, to see the 2010 vintage Coro Mendocino wines be the featured wines for the next Crush Chef’s Wine Dinner, on Wednesday, Dec. 11.

All 10 producers will be featured, Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, Mendocino Vineyards, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Parducci, Philo Ridge, and Ray’s Station, but with eight of the 10 wines being made at inland wineries, hopefully this dinner will bring a little more attention to the area.

You may have noticed a sign or two, or read an ad, or heard about events while listening to local radio; we are smack dab in the middle of the Mendocino Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest. It started last weekend, and runs through this weekend.

Many wineries throughout the county take advantage of the opportunity this festival, organized and promoted by VMC, provides. For two weekends, mushroom appetizers are available to taste with wines at dozens of winery tasting rooms. I, as an example, spent four hours preparing enough mushroom risotto to feed an army, and maybe a navy and some marines too, for my tasting room.

Restaurants team with wineries to feature mushroom and wine pairing meals, like Tuesday’s delicious dinner two nights ago at Uncorked in downtown Ukiah that featured the wines of winemaker Deanna Starr of Milano and Uncorked’s magical mushroom menu.

The big event is the mushroom train, where guests travel on the Skunk Train from both Willits and Fort Bragg to Camp Mendocino in a benefit for the Mendocino County Museum to taste culinary delights paired with the best local wine and beer.

A group of celebrity judges, members of the travel, food, or wine media, take part in the mushroom train event, taste the creations, and announce their favorites.

Last Friday, the members of the press and folks from throughout Mendocino County, kicked off their weekend at a reception put on by VMC and hosted by the four winery tasting rooms of Vintage Marketplace in Hopland; Ray’s Station, Graziano Family of Wines, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, and Naughty Boy Vineyards.

Again, it was a treat to play host to visiting press, and also to our counterparts from around the county. Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association (AVWA) Executive Director Janis MacDonald was among the visitors and, always gracious, was very complimentary about one of our wines, sharing a story about how well it went over with a group recently. Poorly kept secret: I don’t only taste and drink wines from inland Mendo, and although I may not write them up, I love scores of wines made in the Anderson Valley.

Thanks to VMC’s Scott Schneider, Alison de Grassi, and Jen Filice for all you did to make the reception happen, and for making sure it was such a delightful success.

Lastly, but absolutely not leastly, the Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc. (MWI) brought all of Mendocino County’s grape growers, winemakers, tasting room managers, everyone in our industry, together for a wonderful night of fellowship and celebration at a Harvest Party BBQ Dinner at Seebass Family Vineyards on Old River Road about a mile and a half north of the Buddhist Temple in Talmage. All hands were on deck for this one.

Thanks to Zak Robinson and Aubrey Rawlins of MWI, and all the folks from A Taste of Redwood Valley (ATORV), Destination Hopland (DH), Yorkville Highlands Growers & Vintners Association (YHGVA), and Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association for bringing so many of your folks to this special night. Hosts Scott and Michelle Willoughby could not have wished for a more perfect evening for Seebass, for inland Mendocino County, and for the county’s wine community as a whole.

Glenn McGourty, University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor to Mendocino and Lake County, was presented with a richly deserved award for his many years of service to the entire county’s grape growing success; MWI announced the receipt of a grant from the USDA’s Risk Management Agency; the Mendocino Winegrowers Foundation, the non-profit organization raising resources for the Winegrowers’ Scholarship Fund, presented past recipients and fundraised for future recipients. All in all, a great night for Mendocino County’s wine industry, in the midst of a period of great promotional promise for the wineries of the inland county.

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John on Wine – Crush keeps crushing it!

Originally published on October 31, 2013 in the Ukiah Daily Journal by John Cesano

Wine and food. For me wine is food, an ingredient that, when added to a dish, makes a dish taste better. Pair it with the dish and the Heavens open and angels sing.

I have written about the last two Chef’s Wine Dinners at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah. First I wrote a newspaper column about the amazing dinner featuring winemaker Alex MacGregor’s wines from Saracina, and then I wrote an online piece about the spectacular dinner that showcased Charlie and Martha Barra’s wines of both Barra and Girasole.

I eat at other spots, many with terrific wine lists, and I’ll get to them in future columns, but Crush just keeps on, well, crushing it.

Last week, I took the opportunity to attend the third Chef’s Wine Dinner in the ongoing series. The night featured the wines of Bonterra Organic Vineyards. These dinners have grown to become sold out events. You have to call and grab your tickets early. Two long tables in a private dining room, laid out with place settings heavy on the wine glasses, await the night’s patrons. Folks sit together, and courses are served family style, which encourages communication as platters of food from the kitchen are passed and the food and wine combinations elicit at first squeals of delight and then, later in the evening, deeper moans of over full contentment.The evening’s offerings are deceptively described as First Course, Second Course, and Dessert. I say deceptively, because there are so many more items arriving at the table than a mere three dishes.

Each “course” is actually comprised of four or five dishes. Dessert is often three dessert elements fused into one greater whole. There are often bonus tastes of passed appetizers. All told, these three courses yield ten to a dozen food experiences. I’ve described these nights as Chef Jesse off the leash, nights for him to do one thing and one thing only: impress every diner and leave a lasting impression that brings each guest back again and again. Jesse’s team of chefs do a fantastic job, and assemble at each evening’s close to take a well-earned round of applause. Of course, the front of house has to fire on all cylinders for a night like this to work, and from Manager Dave through his entire team of servers, everything on the service end just purrs.

Last week, Chef Jesse delivered braised pork belly, with a perched and poached quail egg, buerre monte, and chive sticks; a beets salad, with roasted red, golden & striped beets, goat cheese, citrus, and hazelnut champagne vinaigrette; Devils on horseback: Nueske bacon wrapping Point Reyes bleu cheese stuffed Medjool dates; and crab stuffed piquillo poppers, with Dungeness crab, avocado mousse, tomato, esplette, olive oil, and micro greens.

That was just the first course, and it was paired with the 2012 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc, my favorite wine of the night, with sweet green fresh mown hay, light herb, candied lemon mint sweetness, lime and bright grapefruit notes. A 50/50 Lake/Mendocino County wine, it showed lovely balance, at once both lush and showing crisp acidity. It was a treat tasting pork belly and quail egg ­- don’t you love cutting into a perfectly cooked egg and having the yolk released to form a bonus sauce – yum. Anyway, it was a treat tasting this dish with a Sauvignon Blanc instead of a red wine. Great confidence in pairing on display. The beets salad and crab poppers were also tremendously delicious.

The Second Course featured both a 2011 Bonterra Pinot Noir, just rated 90 points by Wine Enthusaiast, and a 2010 Bonterra Zinfandel. The Pinot Noir was meaty, with strawberry, cherry, and dark rich rhubarb; really drinkable, just lovely, supple yet delicate. The Zinfandel was soft yet bold, spicy with raspberry and strawberry, vinuous anise herb, and a touch of pepper spice.The big treat came pairing these two wines with Chef Jesse’s dishes for the second course: local J-bar-S bison 8 hour (tasted like 48) ragu, with pancetta, tomato, (phenomenal) handmade herbed gnocchi, basil, ricotta, and Reggiano; cracked pepper seared Ahi tuna with chanterelle mushrooms and a Bonterra Pinot Noir reduction; potatoes au gratin, Yukon golds with saffron cream, gruyere, and fresh herbs; and roasted delicate squash with creamed Swiss chard, celery root, and caramelized shallot salt.

Holy foodgasm! The bison gnocchi rigotta ragu dish with Zinfandel was stunningly perfect. The Ahi and chanterelles was gorgeous. The veggie dish with creamed swiss chard was divine.

Dessert was a (local) apple strudel of filo, toasted walnuts, cinnamon, Chantilly crème, and homemade ice cream, paired with the Bonterra Muscat which featured aromatic honeysuckle, floral and sweet-tart pear and mandarin notes, finishing with a zing.

As I have attended each of the Chef’s wine dinners at Crush, I had more than one diner ask if there was always this much food, as numerous a selection of excellent tastes, or whether this was a unique abundance. I am happy to say that for $50-$65 per person, depending on the wines being featured, the Chef’s wine dinners at crush in Ukiah are always the best wine dinner experience and a bargain as well.

Up next: On December 11, 2013, Chef Jesse and the entire Crush Ukiah team will deliver another breathtaking multi dish, multi course, meal and the wines featured will be the 2011 Coro Mendocino wines, Mendocino County’s celebration of grapes and winemaking, heritage Zinfandel blends, from Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, Mendocino Vineyards, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Parducci, Philo Ridge, and Ray’s Station. With so many powerhouse wineries involved, and the other dinner these wines are poured at going for $500 per couple, the $65 per person tickets – to taste the entire line up of Coro Mendocino wines with the consistently breathtaking food creations of Chef Jesse – will sell out faster than any previous Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush. Secure your spot today by calling (707) 463-0700 and I’ll see you there!

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.

2010_release_party

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 Mendocino, I’ve written about it before, but with a rare tasting coming this weekend, it bears writing about again.

A group of Mendocino County winemakers create a Zinfandel based wine blend where Zinfandel accounts for between 40 and 70% of the finished wine. The remainder is limited to classic Mendocino County varietals, but a winemaker can use any varietal, traditional or not, up to 10% to create the best wine possible. The idea is to capture the heart (Coro is Italian for heart) of Mendocino County, the heart of the vintage, in a bottle.

There are 13 winemakers who take part in the Coro Mendocino cooperative association, and all the winemakers must approve a Coro in a blind group tasting prior to the blend being allowed to be called a Coro Mendocino.

Each Coro Mendocino is different. In a single vintage there could be 13 different Coro Mendocino wines, each with a different blend of grapes, each grown in a different part of the county, each blended by a different winemaker. All delicious, none closely resembling the next. Each Coro Mendocino is sold for $37, is bottled uniformly, carries matching labels, with the winery name noted but subordinate to the Coro Mendocino identification.

This Saturday, April 16, 2011 Sip! Mendocino in Hopland will be hosting a tasting of 10 different 2007 Coro Mendocino producers from 6-9 pm. Graziano, McDowell, McFadden, Fetzer, Golden, Dunnewood, Brutocao, Philo Ridge, Parducci, and McNab Ridge will be poured. The cost is only $20 for the general public, and Sip! Mendocino wine club members may take part at no charge.

Be sure to taste the McFadden Vineyard Coro, it is 60% Zinfandel, 27% Syrah, and 13% Petite Sirah; add it up and you get 100% delicious. Rich warm cherry and berry fruit, chocolate, herb, rich and full, big yet easily drinkable, with a long, lingering, tapering finish. I may be biased, I am the Tasting Room Manager and Wine Club Coordinator at McFadden Vineyard, but I think it may be the most delicious of the 2007 Coro Mendocino wines. The great news is that on Saturday you can taste them all side by side and decide for yourself which is your favorite.

Until ZAP has the sense to invite all the Coro Mendocino wines to be poured at January’s annual Grand Zinfandel Tasting in San Francisco at Ft. Mason, this is your best, least expensive opportunity to taste the line up. Call Sip! Mendocino to secure your spot at Saturday night’s tasting, (707) 744-8375.

EDITED TO ADD: Amusingly, because it demonstrates my fallibility, it turn out Coro does NOT translate as Heart going from Italian to English. Coro is Chorus. Cuore is Heart. I am not as fond of the imagery of tasting the Chorus of Mendocino County. Romantic that I am, Coro SHOULD be Heart. Thanks to Eugene Gonsalves for catching my error, allowing me to note if not correct it.

I’ve missed you. Thanks to everyone who visited John On Wine, looking to see if my favored iMac was repaired and if I was back to writing new posts; thank you for your loyalty, kindness, and patience.

I took my computer to Simon Kerbel, an Apple certified Mac specialist who runs his Mac Angel business out of his Sebastopol home. My computer was repaired in less time and at much less cost than I had initially feared, and I highly recommend Simon to any North Coast wine country Mac owners who find themselves in need of repair or upgrade. Simon, Mac Angel, macangel.biz, (707) 861-0606.

My writing station; a PC, and my iMac with a second display monitor to work with.

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ZAP, Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, is an organization that celebrates Zinfandel, the red wine varietal grape, and works to bring attention to Zinfandel, publicizing the varietal’s primacy as the wine that is California’s own.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the Zinfandel tasting events surrounding ZAP’s 19TH Annual Zinfandel Festival; the Zinfandel Festival is held late in January each year at San Francisco’s Ft. Mason.

All varietal wines bottled in California, from Alicante Bouschet to Zinfandel, must have at least 75% of the varietal named on the bottle to be varietally named or the wine must be called table wine. Zinfandel often has a little Carignane blended in, just as Cabernet Sauvignon often has a little Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc often has a little Semillon. These blends are traditional because over time these wine blends have often improved the unblended wines they came from. The sum is greater than the parts, winemaking as alchemy – gold (medals) from the crucible of the wine lab or cellar. There are wines that take the blending farther, and end up with no single varietal reaching the necessary 75% required for varietal naming on the bottle, 40% Zinfandel, 35% Carignane, 25% Grenache as an example; sometimes these wines, often tasting incredibly delicious, carry the name “Red Table Wine.”

Wine lists and market shelves are not set up for “Red Table Wines” or “White Table Wines,” and many wonderful expressions of a winemaker’s art become unwieldy, difficult to market or sell, wines.

ZAP is dedicated to Zinfandel and has required that the wines poured at their major tasting, the Grand Zinfandel Tasting, be Zinfandel, containing at least 75% Zinfandel.

Last year, at the Flights Zinfandel panel presentation tasting, an exploration of Zinfandel blends, many of the wines were “Red Table Wines,” with no varietal reaching 75% content. Some of the blends were the winemaker’s art, cellar or barrel blends, but some of the blends came from what are known as field blends.

Zinfandel has been planted in California a very long time, many old vines are from century blocks, plantings at least 100 years old. Many of these old vineyards have other grape varietals intermixed with the Zinfandel, some Carignane vines planted among the Zinfandel vines. At harvest, the winemaker could pick everything at once, crush it all at once, age it all together, and, in time, bottle a blended wine, a field blend.

ZAP has announced that with a unanimous vote of their Board of Directors, traditional Zinfandel blends, based on historical field blends, where Zinfandel is the dominant grape variety and Zinfandel accounts for at least 34% of the blend, may be poured at the 2011 Grand Zinfandel Tasting at next year’s 20th Zinfandel Festival.

“ZAP’s role in telling the complete, historically accurate story of Zinfandel will be enhanced by the inclusion of classic California field blends as part of the annual Festival and as part of the organization’s educational repertoire,” explains Joel Peterson, winemaker at Ravenswood, and ZAP Board member, “the Zinfandel field blend is the type of wine that would have made California famous 80 years ago, if it hadn’t been for Prohibition, this wine would have been California’s Bordeaux, Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Chianti—a blended wine made from grapes chosen by the people of the region, through mostly trial and error, to produce the best wine they thought the region could produce.  In other words, a fine regional wine only associated with California made no where else in the world.”

Zinfandel blends that come from winemaker choices in the cellar or lab, but use the same grapes traditionally found in classic field blends, and meet the Zinfandel dominant and 34% Zinfandel minimum content, are eligible to be poured as well.

The grape varieties for these Zinfandel field blend inspired wines can be Alicante Bouschet, Barbera, Black Malvoisie, Burger Carignane, Grand Noir de la Calmette, Grenache, Lenoir, Mataro (Mourvedre), Black Muscat, Negrette, Peloursin, Petite Bouschet, Petite Sirah, Semillon, Syrah, Tempranillo, and/or Teradalgo – and, of course, Zinfandel.

Closer to home, Coro Mendocino is a cooperative venture where 11 Mendocino County wineries make individual Zinfandel dominant blends; the idea is to produce wines featuring the best grapes of Mendocino County, thematically similar in style, yet unique to the individual winery’s vision, the blend containing 40-70% Zinfandel, with blending grapes being Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Sangiovese, Grenache, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, and/or Primitivo. Winemakers may also blend in up to 10% free choice in creating their wine. Wines must have at least 1 year in barrel and at least 6 months in bottle before release. The alcohol level must fall between 12.5% and 16%, pH, total acidity, glucose/fructose enzymatic, volatile acidity, and malic acid also have agreed upon ranges. Oak barrels may be 25%-75% new oak.

The 11 wineries of Coro Mendocino are Brutocao, Mendocino Vineyards, Fetzer, Golden, Graziano, McDowell, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Pacific Star, Parducci, and Philo Ridge Vineyards. The 2007 vintage release party will be 6:00 pm on Saturday, June 26, 2010 at the Little River Inn on the Mendocino Coast. Dinner for two, with a tasting of all the wines, and a complete set of all 11 2007 Coro Mendocino wines to take home is just $480. For reservations, call toll free (888) 466-5683.

Some Coro Mendocino wines could be poured at ZAP’s Grand Zinfandel Tasting, but others would be excluded because of varietal choices in conflict with ZAP’s traditional field blend varietal list.

Yesterday, I asked Julie Ann Kodmur, ZAP’s publicist extraordinaire, about an odd anomaly I noticed in the list of ZAP approved field blend grapes. From my e-mail to Julie:

Semillon is a white wine grape. I know that there are numerous instances of white wine grapes being planted in “Zinfandel fields” or barrel blended, but I wondered at the inclusion of Semillon on the list in your press release, but the exclusion of other Bordeaux whites like Sauvignon Blanc. I also wonder at the inclusion of Rhone reds, but the exclusion of Rhone whites like Marsanne.

Are the heritage wines limited to those blended from the list below, or are other varietals allowed? I imagine some Mendocino Coro wines would be excluded if this list is set, while other Mendocino Coro wines, perhaps showing better Zinfandel blend characteristics might be excluded, if the list of varietals above is complete, finite, closed.

It almost seems as if a small handful of winemakers got together and made a list of grapes grown in their wine property blocks and called it a day.

Julie kindly forwarded my note to Zinfandel superstar winemaker Joel Peterson of Ravenswood, who responded today:

Hi John,

Thanks for your comments on the list of grapes included in the Zinfandel field blends.  The inclusion of Semillon in that particular list was the result of an accident.  While we recognize that there were many white grapes that appeared in some of these plantings, (Palomino, Sauvignon Vert, Berger, and French Colombard, to name a few others), the number of vines was usually so small as to be insignificant and they did not warrant inclusion.  While these grapes were on our original list, it was decided by the ZAP board that they be stricken from that list.

The list of Heritage Blend grapes is derived from a number of sources; experience of people in the field with their own old vineyards and various historical records from the era that these blends were being formulated. Understand that the key word here is “Heritage” Field Blends.  While I realize there are a number of other blends being made today that include Cabernet and other varieties not on the list, they would not be included as Zinfandel heritage field blends.  This was meant to be a historical reference point and an augmentation to our understanding of Zinfandel and its kin.

I suspect the list as it exists is not complete and will undergo some modification.  The key to additions is that they exist in significant proportion in existing Heritage Field Blends or in pertinent reference literature concerning these blends.

I hope this is helpful.

Joel

If you read my companion pieces from this year’s ZAP Zinfandel Festival, you know I hold Joel in the highest esteem. In those pieces, I wrote, “I tasted wines that ranged from 100% Zin to a wine where Zinfandel was not the predominant grape. I wondered when a Zin stops being a Zin. I asked Joel, “how much Zinniness (yes, it is a real word, I invented it) is required in a wine to be considered appropriate for inclusion at ZAP?” when we met over lunch at a ZAP event back in January. Joel said, “It is an interesting subject, and the wines that are being made from these mixed black blends have the potential to be some of the best, most singular wines California can produce. It is good to get the conversation about them started again. We lost the thread with the advent of Prohibition and in the process lost what might have been the wine that was our equivalent of Bordeaux, Chateauneuf du Pape, or Chianti. Blended wine made from grapes chosen by the people of that region to represent the best most representative wine that region could produce. Zinfandel is California’s own. There is nothing that even comes close. These talks of blending [Zinfandel] instead of Cabernet or Chardonnay; Zinfandel, Heritage, whatever it will be called, will be how we establish ourselves against European wines.”

Joel’s words then led me to suggest that ZAP might do just what they did, open the Zinfandel Festival up to more wines to be poured. Joel’s words today provide a foundation for a better understanding of ZAP’s announcement.

I woke up looking forward to doing some wine tasting. My plan was to go to Fetzer’s beautiful tasting room and gardens at their hospitality center in Hopland. Well coated against the cold, the day was beautiful, the mountains misty as ribbons of fog bedecked the mountain folds surrounding the Ukiah Valley.

I hadn’t visited the Fetzer tasting room in seven years, it isn’t really conveniently located, but I wanted to taste their dozen wines and find a jewel or two to recommend as a drinking wine, and perhaps a few more that would pair well with foods. I wanted to write about wines that were available in every store, and at prices that are affordable to anyone that can find their way to my blog.

Fifteen minutes south I turned off the 101 and drove down the empty Tuesday morning road to the Fetzer property. I drove over a bridge spanning the Russian River and came upon what had been the hospitality center for Fetzer.

Signs forbidding entry blocked the roads onto the property, previously maintained gardens gone wild, “for sale” signs. I began to suspect that I would not be tasting Fetzer’s wines.

I continued another few miles up the road to Fetzer’s winemaking facility. It is huge, and quiet in the post harvest, between Christmas and New Year’s Day, way that almost all wineries are quiet. I drove to the Administration building, and the receptionist confirmed my suspicion: I would indeed not be tasting Fetzer wines.

Note to Brown-Forman: How about putting a tasting room on 101 in Hopland, where Brutocao, McFadden, McDowell, Dogwood/Three Families, and Graziano all have tasting facilities? You could have one facility for your Fetzer, Bonterra, and Sanctuary brands. Not as grand as your previous Fetzer Hospitality Center, closed about three years, but accessible and economically sustainable. Just asking’.

I woke up prepared to taste wines, and I was not going to be deterred by a mere tasting room closure. I got back on the 101 and headed south another half hour to Healdsburg, where Mendocino County’s Topel Winery has located their tasting room at 125 Matheson across from the Oakville grocery.

Walking in the tasting room door at Topel, I was welcomed almost immediately by Kevin Roach. Kevin asked what types of wines I prefer as he welcomed me to taste. I let him know I prefer Reds, but enjoy whites as well, and asked him to pour me his four favorite wines out of the fourteen available, the ones most likely to knock my socks off.

Kevin first poured me a glass of the 2007 Pinot Noir, Serendipity, Monterey. While I swirled and sniffed the wine, I looked over the tasting room. Attractive, well laid out, lots of dark wood and copper. Wood cabinets for Topel branded clothing, and for literature display. A smaller (VIP?) private tasting room with table is available as well.

Kevin told me that the grapes for the 100% Pinot came from the Chalone Vineyard, which is located in the Gabilan Mountain range. The Topel website identifies the grapes as coming from Monterey County’s Serendipity Vineyard. Wherever the grapes came from in Monterey County, 2007 was kind to these grapes, and the wine was luscious, with cherry sweet tart and raisoned cranberry aromas and raspberry and cherry flavors. Round, smooth, and balanced. This wine was wonderful. $28/bottle.

Wine #2 was Topel’s 2005 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. 92% Cab, 4% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot. I was pleased to taste this wine. I am a Sonoma County boy, born and raised. the wines I grew up with, tasted, sold, were Sonoma County wines. I live in Ukiah now, in Mendocino County, and I wanted this wine to taste good, I wanted the grapes from my new home to be good ones.

The 2005 Cab had a really low tannin load, was very approachable, with light herb and dark red cherry and berry fruit on the nose and repeating in the mouth. Velvety, smooth, soft, and balanced, with nice subtle notes. This is not a typical brick bat Cab, but a nicely drinkable Cab. $36/bottle.

Wine # 3 was the one year newer, just released three weeks ago, 2006 Estate Reserve Cabernet. 96% Cab, 2% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot. Same wine, again smooth. A little more tannin evident, but soft. Similar nose and flavor profile to the 2005 Cab; with chocolate and black cherry. Definitely younger, a little edgy. I would let it lay down a while longer. $36/bottle.

The final wine I tasted was the 2006 Topel Estate Blend. 45% Cabernet. 45% Syrah Noir, 5% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot. I have never heard of Syrah Noir, Kevin explained that it was a clone of Syrah. The grapes for this unique blend come from Topel’s vineyards on Duncan Peak, west of Hopland in Mendocino County.

Kevin told me that this wine is owner Mark Topel’s favorite wine, I found it unusual. with notes of plum, prune, and fig newton. Again, virtually no tannin load, another incredibly soft wine. I want to retaste this wine the most. The unusual blend led to unusual flavors, and this might be the best, most versatile food pairing wine I tasted at Topel. $36/bottle.

All four wines were soft, supple, balanced, approachable, very drinkable. Tannin providing structure to hand fruit on, but staying out of the way of enjoying the wines. Well oaken, but not oaky. In a word: smooth.

I want the Pinot to drink, the Cabs to have with grilled tri tip, and the Estate blend to get to know better.

I set out to taste affordable wines, under $20, and ended up tasting wines in the $20-$40 range instead. My mission to taste and recommend inexpensive, available, good wines has not been forgotten; but I am really glad I stopped in to taste these four wines from Topel Winery.

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