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John On Wine – ­ A Mendo bubbly fest recap

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on April 10, 2014
Written by John Cesano

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Last Saturday, April 5th, I attended the inaugural Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines. I was not alone, more than 150 people showed up at Terra Savia in Hopland. Many were readers of this column who were kind enough to say hello, some were wine club members of the tasting room I manage, and some were brand new to me ­ but not brand new to having fun as they clearly knew what they were doing.

Alison de Grassi and Gracia Brown, the wonder twins from Visit Mendocino responsible for events and marketing, attended as did Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster. The support for this great event was really impressive. The day was beautiful; I parked a short walk away from the site, and saw workers raking muddy leaves into a pile, the scent earthy, almost mushroomy, and wonderful.

A Gathering of friends

Birds were chirping many different songs in the trees around. The sky could not have been more blue or clear. Terra Savia operates from a large yellow metal building filled with art and custom handcrafted furniture of immense proportion. Within the space, a dozen tables were set up in a circle, each table a microburst of activity, color, and energy as each participating winery created their own presentation space.

Here are a few definitions for bubbly-centric wine terms that may prove useful as you read on: Brut means dry. Cuvee means blend. En tirage means time yeast and lees spend in the bottle before disgorgement. Lees are spent yeast, yeast that converted sugar into alcohol, heat, and carbon dioxide during fermentation. Blanc de Blanc means white of white and suggests that Chardonnay is the grape the wine is made from; as opposed to Blanc de Noir, a white wine made from red wine grapes, typically Pinot Noir, but given no time on skin after crush, so no color. A magnum is a bottle twice as large as normal, 1.5 L. vs, 750 ml.

Bubbly Gathering

Graziano poured their Cuvee #10 Sparkling Brut, a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc from the 2010 vintage that spent three full years en tirage. This bubbly had the most clear lemon note of the sparkling wines being poured at the event, balanced by a rich yeastiness. Both Greg Graziano and Bobby Meadows poured for the assembled crowd.

Handley poured a 2003 Brut, made from 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay, with flavors of steely mineral lemon and vanilla apple.

Guinness McFadden and Judith Bailey poured the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition double gold medal winning 2009 McFadden Reserve Sparkling Brut, a blend of 50 percent Chardonnay and 50 percent Pinot Noir that spent more than two-and-a-half-years on yeast and lees in the bottle before disgorgement. The flavors are bright, showing apple and grapefruit tempered by brioche and nut.

Nelson poured a nice NV Blanc de Blanc with bright lemon, pear, and apple notes.

I really liked the Paul Dolan NV Brut, a cuvee of 45 percent Chardonnay and 55 percent Pinot Noir, with 100 percent of the grapes from McFadden Farm. Bright, unapologetically crisp, with green apple, grapefruit, and pineapple.

Rack and Riddle poured for sparkling wines. I tasted their NV Brut, showing orange, cream, apple, and lemon; and a Brut Rose that was dry, dry, dry with strawberry over ice crispness.

Ray’s Station’s NV Brut offering was 65 percent Chardonnay and 35 percent Pinot Noir and was fairly broad and round with apple, pear, and bready notes. Although Brut suggests dryness, this seemed a touch sweeter ­ at least in comparison with the wine tasted just before this one. Margaret Pedroni captivated attendees as she described the wine she poured.

Roederer Estate poured from 1.5 liter magnums, which is nicely showy. Their NV Brut tasted of pear, green apple, nut, and lemon; the NV Brut Rose showed lovely balance and flavors of apple and strawberry.

Scharffenberger’s NV Brut tasted of dry yeasty ginger, citrus, and apple.

Signal Ridge garnered a lot of buzz from attendees, with tasters elevating the apple, almond and mineral flavored Brut into their top three tastes.

Terra Savia, the host for the event, poured their lovely 2009 Blanc de Blanc, showing bright apple and lemony citrus notes.

Yorkville Cellars doesn’t grow Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, the grapes typically found in sparkling wines, but Bordeaux varietals instead. Previously, Yorkville made a Sparkling Rose of Malbec, the only one I had ever tasted, and it was good. The current release I jokingly refer to as the cuvee of crazy, because the blend was unimaginable prior to it being poured for me: 51 percent Semillion, 24 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25 percent Sauvignon Blanc. The result isn’t crazy at all, but rounder than is typical with the Bordeaux varietal fruit offering up flavors of grapefruit and cranberry.

Bubbly Feast

The food for this event was spectacular, and one of the most enjoyable aspects of the event was random pairings of different foods and sparkling wines. Some pairings elevated both the food and beverage, while other pairings oddly diminished the wine being tasted. There will be a Mendo Bubbly Fest next year, and I’ll attend again, but get out of your house and into the tasting rooms of these wineries to taste their sparkling wines this weekend, or soon, and bring a bottle or two home ­ not to serve on a special day, but to make a day special by serving them.

 

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John On Wine – Wine Tasting in March

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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John On Wine – Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on February 27, 2014 by John Cesano

Destination Hopland, the non-profit group charged with promoting tourism for the Hopland area wineries, is sponsoring a new event on Saturday, April 5 and invited participation from sparkling wine producers from throughout Mendocino County. A “Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines” will be held from noon to 4 p.m. at Terra Savia, 14160 Mountain House Road, Hopland. Eleven local producers will come together at Terra Sávia winery in Hopland to showcase their finest offerings. Great and classic food pairing treats for sparkling wines will be served, like smoked salmon, local oysters, pate, canapés, fresh strawberries, artisan breads and, for dessert, delicious lavender infused sponge cake. Classical guitarist Joel DiMauro will be performing. Participating wineries include:

Graziano Family of Wines

Handley Cellars

McFadden Vineyard

Nelson Family Vineyards

Paul Dolan Vineyards

Rack & Riddle

Ray’s Station

Roederer Estate

Scharffenberger Cellars

Signal Ridge

Terra Savia

Tickets are $55 and available online at mendocinosparkling.brownpapertickets.com.

The folks at Wine Enthusiast magazine taste a lot of wine, well over 10,000 wines each year, I am sure. Last December they announced their Top 100 wines of 2013, and the #1 wine of the year was the 2004 Roederer Estate L’Ermitage. The 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, with 5,825 wines entered, was the largest judging of American wines in the world. The only winery in the nation to win two Double Gold Medals (unanimous Gold from the judges) for sparkling wines was McFadden Vineyard for the NV McFadden Sparkling Brut and the 2009 McFadden Reserve Sparkling Brut.

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Bubbly in Mendocino County is spectacularly good, the quality high, while the prices are remarkably affordable. Far too many people open a bottle of sparkling wine only to celebrate a special event, when a good quality bubbly is an absolute delight when enjoyed as a before-dinner cocktail, or when paired with a host of foods from oysters to salmon bagels and poached eggs with caviar to chicken breasts in a citrus glaze.

Some sparkling wines that will be poured have notes of green apple and grapefruit, unapologetically crisp, while others will showcase a bready, yeasty, brioche character. Lemon, hazelnut, and toffee are notes you might taste in a sparkling wine, or rose petal and strawberry notes from a sparkling rosé.

Cuveé is a word that you will see on more than one label. Cuveé means blend, and a sparkling wine with a cuvee designation is likely a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, with perhaps a small amount of Pinot Meunier.

You will also see NV on a bottle or three, and this is also a blend, but a blend of different vintages. NV means non-vintage. The folks who produce sparkling wines in Mendocino County scrupulously refer to our bubblies as sparkling wines and never Champagnes. Practically the same thing, but we respect that real Champagne comes from Champagne, France. That said, most of us understand and do not mind when our customers use the terms sparkling wine and Champagne interchangeably.

Here’s a thumbnail sketch into how sparkling wine is made: Grapes for sparkling wine are picked earlier than for still wine, at lower sugar, usually in August. Chardonnay is picked for a Blanc de Blanc, Pinot Noir is picked for a Blanc de Noir, and a blend of the two is often picked for a Brut or Brut Rosé. After crushing the grapes for juice, the wine is made in the bottle, rather than an oak barrel or stainless steel tank.

A little active yeast in the bottle feeds the sugar – this is fermentation and where the alcohol comes from. The fruit notes come from the grapes. The wine spends time with unspent yeast, and spent yeast, also known as lees and picks up some yeasty or bready notes.

By tilting the bottle toward a neck down position, and giving the bottle little turns, the yeast and lees collect at the neck end of the bottle. This process is known as racking and riddling. The neck end of the bottle is submerged in a below zero freeze bath so a solid plug of yeast and lees can be formed and removed.

A second fermentation happens when a small dose of sugar, or dosage, is added to the wine and the cork and cage are affixed to the bottle. A small amount of unspent yeast remains in the bottle and eats the dosage, resulting in carbon dioxide, the bubbles that make sparkling wines so fun. This is how good bubbly is made. I hope you’ll get a ticket to the inaugural Mendo Bubbly Fest; If you do, then I’ll definitely see you there. Cheers!

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John Cesano pouring one of two Double Gold Medal awarded McFadden Sparkling Brut wines.

 

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John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

John On Wine ­ Alcohol: enough is enough!

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on December 26, 2014 by John Cesano

 

Alcohol; it’s why we buy wine instead of soda, right? More alcohol must be better in a wine than less alcohol too, I mean it just stands to reason, don’t you think?

This question came to mind after I read a review of San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné’s new book The New California Wine. The review was written by Wine Spectator magazine’s senior editor, Napa, James Laube. Where most every review of Bonné’s book was complimentary, Laube seemed to almost have the knives out as he wrote his piece, “(Bonné)’s hardly enamored with much of (California wine),” is how the piece begins and it doesn’t get much nicer.

Why would one professional wine writer be so uncomplimentary, so unkind, so border-line rude? Wine Spectator reviews and rates wines on a 100 point scale, made famous by wine critic Robert Parker, and like Parker seems to award more points to fruit jam bombs made of Napa fruit with high alcohol levels. By contrast, Bonné seems to prefer wines of greater balance, greater drinkability, more food friendly wines, with lower alcohol.

Before I go on, I abhor numbers. Alcohol percentage, residual sugar, volatile acidity, the numbers that describe a wine only tell a small part of a wine’s story. Residual sugar alone, without a lot of other data may be suggestive of sweetness, but actual perception when tasted may be something different altogether. Wines must be tasted to be judged.

Okay, that disclaimer aside, I agree with Bonné. Many wines have alcohol levels that are just too damn high. Please, I would so much rather have a lighter styled wine that balances fruit and acid, and has a lower alcohol, so I can enjoy it with friends over a nice dinner than have to suffer another painfully hot, high alcohol wine that is so dense with flavor, so big and overpowering that it ruins the food it is paired with.

Whether an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir over 15 percent or a Dry Creek Zinfandel over 17 percent alcohol by volume, there just isn’t a good reason for these wines to be so hot, unless the winemaker was pandering for a high score from Spectator or Parker. Big alcohol wines also tend to garner high medals, I suspect, because judges’ palates are quickly blown out by high alcohol fruit bombs and are unable to fairly judge wines of greater subtlety and reserve, but upon tasting another monster wine break out the gold.

I worked for a winemaker who used to make gorgeously flavorful wines, good bodied wines, gold medal winning wines, and rarely did she produce a wine at or above 14 percent alcohol by volume. These were the easiest to sell wines I’ve ever experienced. People ordered, but most importantly they reordered, and in quantity, because the wines were so good.

Sadly, she has turned to the dark side, and is putting out some wild beasts, up and over 15 percent alcohol today. More attention, higher ratings, easier golds; From some quarters, anyway.

Joel Peterson, a few years back suggested the three most common flaws of Zinfandel were too much alcohol, too much oak, and too much sugar. As the big boss man behind Ravenswood, a famous Zin house in Sonoma, Peterson should know. That said, both Peterson and his son Morgan Twain Peterson crank out some pretty huge wines.

The wines of inland Mendocino County are not uniformly low alcohol, but many are. Whether from cool climate Russian River adjacent or mountain shade properties in or near Hopland, or the higher altitude fruit grown at the north end of Potter Valley, there are some absolutely delicious wines grown and produced in our area. Zinfandel, and Coro Mendocino ­ the Zinfandelcentric blend I mention often, under 14 percent alcohol; Pinot Noir without a barnyard funk or filled diaper aroma; Chablis-like bright and unoaked Chardonnay; and Cabernet Sauvignon that you can take your time getting to know instead of a Cabernet that is so forward you feel like pressing charges. This is some of what we do so well here, and what some folks – notably the wine critics who seem to get a little too much wood over wines with a little too much wood and alcohol – don’t seem to get.

Wine Enthusiast magazines’ Virginie Boone visits inland Mendocino more often, and perhaps familiarity breeds understanding, because she rates many of our wines about two to five points higher than the folks who don’t visit as often over at Wine Spectator.

Jon Bonné tastes wines from all over, often, and has placed a light, low alcohol, almost Beaujolaisesque Zinfandel made entirely from inland Mendocino grapes on one of his annual Top 100 Wines lists.

I get a chance to taste a lot of our wines, and I may have developed a strong preference for what we do, because on a recent visit outside the county, I found wine after wine just too big for me to enjoy. I love Wine Spectator magazine for the articles, but personally I prefer Wine Enthusiast magazine and Jon Bonné’s San Francisco Chronicle reviews of our wines. I find I am more often in agreement.

Want high alcohol? Go to a bar. Want a food-friendly wine you can enjoy with food? Consider a wine from the area, with under 14 percent alcohol for a start. As always, the best way to find out whether you like a particular wine or not is to go wine tasting. Many local winery tasting rooms offer complimentary wine tasting and are open up until New Year’s Eve – although a few that sell bubbly will be open at least a half of that day too.

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EDITED TO ADD ONLINE: I received the following comment tacked on to another recently archived column in response to the newspaper version of this week’s column:

“This is regarding your UDJ article published today (12/26/13). I was going to email you but didn’t see an email listed. In any event, I have to agree with your general assessment of the multitude high alcohol wines out there. Which is why I drink mostly sparkling! I have worked for Roederer Estate for six years and have learned that sparkling is incredibly versatile with food as well as being on the lower end of the scale at 12%. One last thing, in reference to Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 of 2013, did you know Roederer’s 2004 L’Ermitage is rated number one? I believe it’s the first time a California Sparkling has garnered the top spot, so worth mentioning.
Cheers, Julie in Ukiah”

I could not agree more. Fantastic comment, great observation, and well deserved acclaim for the 2004 Roederer L’ Ermitage, and yes, you are right, this is the first time that a sparkling wine has topped Wine Enthusiast magazine’s annual Top 100 Wines list.

I had just written for Destination Hopland that there are bubblies to be tasted at Graziano, Jeriko, McFadden, Nelson, Rack & Riddle, Ray’s Station, and Terra Savia; but county wide Roederer, Scharffenberger, Yorkville Cellars, and Elke over on Hwy 128, and Paul Dolan up in Ukiah, all have to be added to the list. As a county, we may have the nation’s greatest concentration of premium bubblies, and they are indeed both enjoyably lower in alcohol and spectacularly food friendly when paired with the right foods. Taste this week, choose a favorite, and stock up for New Year’s Eve!

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I do love bubbly, and I would love to have them all to taste for a future column, maybe in advance of Valentine’s Day next year.

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John On Wine ­ – What wine goes with Turkey?

Originally published November 21, 2013 in the Ukiah Daily Journal by John Cesano

 

Thanksgiving dinner: What are you having? This year, the lure became too strong and a turducken shipped overnight from Louisiana will be the feature treat for me. For those of you who do not know what a turducken is (vegetarians would be best served skipping the next bit, moving on to the next paragraph right about now) a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey, with layers of creole cornbread stuffing in between each bird. Careful deboning is involved. Some folks make this a DIY project at home, but a call to the Cajun Grocer is much easier.

In the past, I’ve brined, I’ve baked, and I’ve set turkeys to turning in a set-it-and-forget-it rotisserie machine. Our family and many other Italian American families often had crab cioppino on Thanksgiving.

There was a store where I grew up that made arrangements with boats for their entire catch and huge trucks would be loaded at the docks, and run into town to make the freshest crab available for Thanksgiving.

The store ran ads for the crab at spectacularly low prices, using the crab as a loss leader to bring every Italian American in town to their store to shop for all of their holiday food. The result was a counter lined up eight deep with folks waiting to get their crab orders filled; two crabs, four crabs, eight crabs.

The last time I made crab cioppino using my sainted mother’s recipe, I used 16 whole crabs, cooked up two huge pots, used a ton of other shellfish and big chunks of white fish, plus a red sauce that cooked over 24 hours.

Something is wrong with my brother, okay many things are wrong with my brother, but only I can say that (well, I’m sure his ex-wives do, too); anyway, my brother does not like turkey. I get not liking mass produced, pumped up with water, 59 cents a pound, flavorless turkeys, but my brother doesn’t even like the million dollar a pound organic, free range, Willie Bird turkeys grown in Sonoma County. On Thanksgiving he cooks up a ham, a huge delicious ham.

In addition to a main course dish, of course, there is the stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, candied yams, polenta, baked oysters, cranberry chutney, green salads, pumpkin pie, apple pie, minced meat pie, and so much more served at the typical Thanksgiving table. I mention all these foods that people eat at Thanksgiving because when it comes to Thanksgiving’s varied meals, there is no one singular right wine.

No wine goes with everything, and let’s face it, nearly everything ends up on our Thanksgiving dinner tables. My solution lately has been to bring an assortment of wines to our family Thanksgiving dinner feast, cooked by my son’s maternal grandmother, my ex-wife’s mom. I think they continue to invite me because of the wine. Oh, and this year, I’m bringing a wild rice and broccoli casserole, too.

Conveniently, I work in a place that sells both wine and wild rice. Wild rice is also great for stuffings, and that provides the opportunity for a wine pairing trick. Cook some of your food in wine that you want to serve at the dinner. By cooking a wild rice stuffing in some Pinot Gris, or cooking down the onions, celery, and carrots that will go into your stuffing in a little Pinot Gris, then the Pinot Gris that you serve with dinner will tie back to the food.

I always cooked my crab cioppino in a red sauce that included some rich red Zinfandel, and I would serve the same wine at the table. My ham glaze has a little Coro Mendocino red blend in the mix. The whipped cream for a trifle, or to top a pie, has a little Late Harvest Riesling in it. If you aren’t a cook with wine sort, or you cook strictly to recipes and are afraid to incorporate some wine into your dish, then you are either going to have to find a food chameleon, a wine that goes with many foods, or an assortment of wines for your Thanksgiving table.

Pinot Noir is a relatively soft red wine that goes with many dishes. The soft dry cherry notes, light herb, and slightly earthy quality of Pinot Noir, make for a red not overwhelmingly big and bold, and allow it to pair spectacularly well, classically well, with dishes from salmon to pork. Local solid producers include Barra and Girasole of Redwood Valley, Parducci and Paul Dolan in Ukiah, Jeriko Estate and Saracina between Ukiah and Hopland, and Naughty Boy and Cesar Toxqui Cellars in Hopland.

Blends are a smart choice, because with different grapes come multiple wine flavors, and multi noted wines can pair with a wider variety of dishes than many single varietal wines. The county’s most famous blend is Coro Mendocino and the lightest, most food friendly style, the only one under 14 percent alcohol is the McFadden Coro, a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, and Petite Sirah. Other Coro Mendocino wines that would pair well with many Thanksgiving dinner spreads are made by Ray’s Station and Brutocao Cellars. McFadden, Ray’s Station, and Brutocao are all located in Hopland.

Rosé wines are too often passed on because folks often associate all rosés with the cheapest and worst made White Zinfandel when the truth is that some of the most delicious wines available are dry rosés of Syrah, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, or Zinfandel. Terrific examples include those made by Campovida, Graziano, Frey, and McNab Ridge in Hopland, and Testa Ranch in Calpella.

Bubblies are one of the most popular bottles I bring, often finished first at a family holiday dinner. Great bubbly producers include Terra Sávia and McFadden in Hopland, and Nelson between Ukiah and Hopland.

Thanksgiving is about celebration with family and friends, about overflowing cornucopias and abundance. My recommendation is to grab a number of bottles, perhaps one or more from each of the categories above, an assortment of wines from an assortment of producers, all local, all delicious. Every wine mentioned is available for tasting this weekend, either complimentary or tasting fee refunded with purchase, so stock up on great wines that will make your Thanksgiving meal taste better, and your festivities more festive.

John On Wine – Hopland Passport is October 19 & 20 this Fall

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal on October 10, 2013

Hopland Passport is coming up in just nine days, on Saturday, October 19th and Sunday, October 20th, 2013, from 11:00am to 5:00pm each day.

With fifteen participating wineries pouring their best wines, incredible food pairings at each stop, and opportunities to experience tours, art, and live music, Hopland is the place to be for wine lovers next weekend.

Weekend passes include a collectable logo glass, a wristband, and a real Passport to collect stamps in, and are just $45 online at http://www.DestinationHopland.com/store, or $55 at the event. The online store CLOSES on Thursday, October 17th at noon, so purchase your tickets early to get the discounted price.

Here is some of the fun you can expect if you attend:

Brutocao Cellars plans a football themed weekend with great tailgate food to pair with their award winning Estate wines. The Blues Pirates will perform a “half time” show. Do not miss the annual grape stomp competition!

Campovida will serve organic fare from their gardens, prepared by chef Adam Weiss from their sister property, Piazza de Campovida. Enjoy light bites with the wonderfully expanded line up of wines. Taking the time for a guided tour of the property’s gardens is a must do part of Passport.

Cesar Toxqui Cellars is all about food and wine pairings. Start on the porch with fruit infused cheeses paired with Chardonnay and Viognier, then move inside for BBQ tri tip and sausage with Zinfandels, before finishing your visit with a dessert of dark chocolate cake and Port.

Frey Vineyards pours their organic wines in the Real Goods Store at the Solar Living Center. On the menu, to pair with Frey’s no sulfite added wines, is curried chicken with fall chutney, a biodynamic cheese platter with fresh baguettes, marinated goat cheese, and roasted organic vegetables in a Frey Chardonnay marinade. Explore the grounds, celebrate sustainability, and catch local musicians performing.

Graziano Family of Wines offers up over thirty wines, mostly Italian varietals, and all but a few at under $20. Enjoy aged cheese, homemade tapenade, country pate, seasonal fruit, and an assortment of imported sausages, served with wines ranging from Anglianico to Zinfandel.

Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery invites folks to sit on the covered veranda of their farmhouse tasting room and enjoy their wines with seasonal Mendo-sourced foods prepared by local chef Ellery Clark.

Jeriko Estate smartly offers up a classic pairing: pigs and Pinot. Enjoy three 2012 Pinot Noir wines; the Pommard clone, the Dijon clone, and a blend – the upper Russian River Pinot Noir, paired with wood roasted pork. Live music, tastes of the Gold Medal 2010 Sangiovese and barrel tastes of the 2012 Sangiovese, and San Greal Don 48 Chardonnay Vodka specialty cocktail recipe sharing round out a visit to this certified Biodynamic vineyard and cellar.

The McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room will show off the bounty of their bio-diverse, certified organic, family farm. Take a taste of any of over a dozen 90 point, or higher, rated wines and pair them with grilled organic grass fed beef from McFadden Farm. Enjoy the farm fresh goodness of their wild rice & artichoke heart salad. Guinness McFadden will visit both days and sign bottles of his wines as they are purchased..

McNab Ridge Winery will offer up a pirate themed Passport weekend, decked out in pirate garb, serving up Caribbean roasted pork tenderloin with a pineapple & apricot chutney over wild rice, paired with a gold medal winning dry Gewurztraminer. Over a dozen gormet dips & spreads, barrel tasting of a 2012 Pinot Noir, and bottle painting by Leslie Bartlomei are also on the menu, matey.

Milano Family Winery offers up smoked marinated Tri-Tip, veggies and dips, and aged Cabot Creamery cheeses, live music on both Saturday and Sunday, clothing and craft vendors, and a wide ranging line up of wines, from young sweet whites to aged dry reds.

Nelson Family Vineyards will pair their Estate wines with slices from Mendough’s Wood-Fired Pizza, including chevre and sun dried tomatoes, prosciutto and arugula, Gorgonzola and artickoke. Finish your tasting with their Ice Riesling.

Ray’s Station is pairing with Fork Catering again for some great taste combos; Korean Short Rib Sliders Creamy Slaw with Sriracha mayonnaise paired with 2011 Zinfandel; Grilled Cheese with Gruyère, caramelized onions and tomato jam paired with 2011 Ray’s Red Blend; Crispy Pork Skewers with cilantro, jalapeno and lime paired with 2011 Merlot; and Seven Layer Bars with coconut, butterscotch-chocolate chips, pecans and graham cracker crust paired with NV Brut.

Rivino Winery will be putting on a Canadian themed Passport this fall, with poutine paired with Chardon’eh. Music from the Barenaked Ladies, Neil Young, Bryan Adams and other Canadian artists will fill the air. Listen for owner’s Jason and Suzanne to lose their American accents as the weekend rolls on, slipping back into their Canadian accents.

Saracina will be hosting a squash party this year, featuring gourmet squash and pulled pork tacos to pair with some seriously delicious reds and whites. Live music will fill the air. Complimentary cave tours will be offered at 12:30, 2:30 and 4:00 p.m..

Terra Savia invites visitors to “laissez les bon temps roulez” – let the good times roll, with rich red, white, and bubbly wines paired with stuffed mushrooms and remoulade sauce, chicken and Andouille jambalaya, red beans and rice, couvillion – the fish stew, fried green tomatoes, and New Orleans bread pudding with rum sauce/lemon sauce. Beads, and music from Coffee Zombie Collective, will leave you feeling the joie de vivre – joy of life!

 

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John on Wine

Spotlight Winery: Nelson Family Vineyards

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on August 22, 2013, by John Cesano

The Nelson family grew up farming in Mendocino County midway between Ukiah and Hopland since Herman and Clara bought their home ranch in 1952. Mostly plums that yielded prunes, the farm also had some grapes already planted, French Colombard and Carignane.

Greg Nelson, Herman and Clara’s son, is now the lead Nelson working Nelson Family Vineyards, west of Hwy 101 on Nelson Ranch Road.

Greg Nelson pouring wine made by his son Chris Nelson in the Nelson Family Vineyards Tasting Room

Greg Nelson pouring wine made by his son Chris Nelson in the Nelson Family Vineyards Tasting Room

“I used to tell folks we were 7 miles south of Ukiah but now I just tell them to turn at the strawberries and follow the road back,” Greg told me as he shared how giving directions to the tasting room and event grove has become easier since leasing a front piece of the ranch to the very visible Saecho strawberry farmers.

Over the years, grapes were ripped out and replaced with more desirable varietals. The French Colombard made way for Zinfandel, and in 1974 the Nelsons planted Riesling which is now the oldest grapes grown on the ranch.

Greg told me that today, his son Tyler takes care of the farming, his son Chris is the winemaker, and Greg stays busy selling grapes and wine. “I knock on the door, if they decide to buy, I make the deliveries,” said Greg, as the wines of Nelson Family Vineyards are self-distributed.

While September 11, 2001 was a horrifically tragic day, Greg says the economic downturn turned into a blessing for Nelson Family Vineyards. Unable to find employment post 9/11, Chris moved back home to the ranch and became a winemaker producing his first wine, a Pinot Grigio in 2003.

A few years later, Greg figured 2006 or so, Chris, who played both classical and electrical guitar and had a love of music started promoting concerts at the grove at Nelson Family Vineyards. Now, there is a regular summer concert series, with performances the fourth Friday of each sunny month, plus other events throughout the year from weddings to charity fundraisers.

In addition to leasing land for Saecho’s strawberries, the Nelsons lease land for cattle raising and to Doug Mosel’s Mendocino County Grain Project, which grows wheat, rye, triticale, oats, and lentils. Mendough pizza often shows up at Nelson events and there are times that the pizza dough is made from flour from the grains grown on the ranch, in a wonderful but coincidental circle.

Greg said that Tyler grows grapes both conventionally and organically. Three vineyards are organic, while the others are, “fish friendly, low impact, and sustainable.”

Given the chance to pass on a message to the folks who read this column, Greg said, “we’re very grateful to the community we were all raised in.”

The gardens in front of the tasting room, originally designed and planted by Kate Frey are beautiful. Inside the tasting room Elliot Little photography graces the walls, local pottery, olive oil, and farm goods also offered, beside logo branded clothing and wines.

Greg poured the complete lineup of Nelson Family Vineyards wines for me.

The NV Brut, $28, made at Rack & Riddle in Hopland, tasted of apple cider, pear, and grapefruit. I didn’t ask, but I would guess a 60 percent Chardonnay, 40 percent Pinot Noir blend.

The 2011 Chardonnay, $21, showed light toasty oak and nice fruit, more apricot than apple. Rich.

The 2011 Pinot Grigio, $18, was lemon peel and high acid, wet river stone, and pear.

The 2012 Viognier, $21, was easy to enjoy, with edge free approachability, and light citrus playing against apricot.

The 2011 Pinot Noir, $28, exhibited classic Pinot funk, along with a light earthy cherry note.

The 2008 Zinfandel, $25, was nice. Not overly smoky or overly stripped. Soft, medium light raspberry, herb, and black pepper spice.

Barn Blend 2012, $25, is the wine made from the blend put together at the annual Barn Blend party at Nelson. This blend of Cabernet sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, and Viognier was soft, soft, soft, showing blackberry jam and herb.

The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, $28, had nice chewiness, tannin, oak, blackberry, briarwood, herb, and spice.

The 2009 Riesling, $19, comes off the oldest vineyard on the ranch. Light honey on a medium heavy body, petrol, and nectarine.

The 2009 Orange Muscat, $21, is a nice fruit basket of a wine with white pear and white peach providing balance for the sweeter orange and floral notes.

We finished up with the 2009 Ice Riesling, $25. At 16.2 residual sugar against 12.5 percent alcohol, this is a really nice dessert wine with concentrated honeyed pear, peach, apricot, and caramel marzipan. The finish narrows down to a clear apple note.

Greg shared that 2011 was a challenge in the vineyards, with a little botrytis here and there; and by contrast, “2012 was a lot easier, it was a cakewalk, it was the perfect growing season.”

Visit the Nelson Family Vineyards tasting room, at 550 Nelson Ranch Road, off Highway 101, down the road behind the strawberries. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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John Cesano has more than 200 posts about wine archived at JohnOnWine.com

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