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John On Wine – Get your tickets now

This post will be published on Thursday, April 9 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper

Every so often, I use my column as an event listing for my readers. Today is one of those days. While certainly not a complete list of wine country events, here are some incredibly worthwhile things to do, and most will sell out in advance, so do not dawdle, get your tickets now.

Saturday, April 11 – The annual Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines – Mendocino County’s best sparkling wines from Elke Vineyards, Graziano Family of Wines, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Parducci Wine Cellars, Nelson Family Vineyards, Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger Cellars, Signal Ridge Cellars, Terra Sávia Winery, and Yorkville Cellars, paired with fresh oysters from Tomales Bay with Mignonette or Somendo ranch lemons, paella Valenciana, assorted cheeses with fresh bread from Schat’s Bakery, strawberries with melted Swiss dark Chocolate, Meyer lemon almond cake, and live music. Tickets are $55 online in advance and TODAY IS THE LAST DAY FOR ADVANCE TICKETS! GET YOUR’S HERE, $65 at the door. This is THE Event to go to if you love sparkling wine and great food, and is happening this Saturday – get your tickets NOW!

Saturday, April 18 – Earth Day at Barra of Mendocino – Join the Barra family in a celebration to honor Mother Earth and the rich bounty of Mendocino County, from 10-5. Be the first to taste Barra’s organic olive oil made from olives grown on the family farm of Bella Collina.  Translated as, “Beautiful Hillside,” this area provides gravelly soil for these trees to thrive right alongside Barra’s prized Petite Sirah and Zinfandel vines.  While you’re at it, taste newly released vintages of organic wines, and enjoy the gardens and scenic surroundings.  For more information:  (707) 485-0322

Saturday, April 25 & Sunday, April 26 – Passport to Dry Creek Valley – Over one weekend, Passport guests are welcomed into nearly 50 wineries throughout Dry Creek Valley, each offering a unique pairing of premium wine, gourmet food and entertainment. Take a vineyard tour for a grape-to-glass look at Dry Creek Valley wine. Sample exclusive vintages, rarely available to taste. Meet winemakers and grapegrowers – the generations of people behind the wine and magical ‘Dry Creek Valley spirit’. Savor exquisite food and wine pairings from acclaimed chefs. I LOVE Dry Creek Passport, will be attending for the third year in a row, and with so many wineries participating, no two Passports are the same. Enjoy! Tickets are $141.38 and available online at www.drycreekvalley.org

Thursday, April 30 – Thirsty Thursday at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland – Tickets are $20, or one free ticket per SIP! wine club membership. Each month offers a different terrific tasting. Last month I enjoyed a tasting of five wonderful Sake paired with delicious Sushi from Oco Time, this month could be anything from a pairing of the County’s best Alsatian whites with the foods of Alsace, or Pinot Noir with mushroom risotto. For more info, and to grab your tickets, call (707) 744-8375.

Saturday, May 2 & Sunday, May 3 – Hopland Passport – Closer to home, Hopland’s Passport event is manageable, and just the right size to be able to visit all the participating wineries without rushing. I’ll be working at McFadden, of course, and think we offer up the event’s best wines and food from our certified organic farm, but there is also proudly offered food and wine pairings at Brutocao, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui, Frey, Graziano, Jaxon Keys, Jeriko, McNab Ridge, Milano, Nelson, Rivino, and Terra Savia. Two day ‘early bird’ tickets are $45 and available at www.destinationhopland.com or $55 at participating wineries during the event. This is probably the best event value of the bunch.

Sunday, May 10 – Mother’s Day Brunch at Barra of Mendocino – Honor the special women in your life this Mother’s Day with a brunch celebration at BARRA of Mendocino Winery.  Enjoy a scrumptious brunch buffet with friends and family. Take in the sounds of a three piece jazz ensemble, stroll through blooming gardens and take family photos. Honor the women in your life with this special day of pampering! Brunch will be served from 10:00 am – 1:00 pm. Reservations are required and children are welcome. $35 for adults/ Special Pricing for Wine Club Members (limit two tickets per member) and $12 for children under 12 years of age. To purchase tickets, please call Katrina at (707) 485-0322, or drop by Barra’s tasting room at 7051 N. State Street in Redwood Valley. My son Charlie took his mother Lisa last year and both reported that it was a lovely event. Do this for Mother’s Day.

Friday, May 15 through Sunday, May 17 – 18th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival – Taste the world-class Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs of more than 50 producers from around California and savor perfectly paired foods designed to complement the exceptional Anderson Valley Pinot wines. I had a spectacular time last year, and look forward to attending again this year. If you love Pinot Noir, or even like it, you will be impressed with the incredibly high quality of the valley’s flagship variety. Various tasting, technical conference, and winemaker dinner tickets are available, ranging from $50 to $135 for each event, online at www.avwines.com

Wednesday, May 20 – Graziano Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse – Greg Graziano makes terrific, well priced wines. His tasting room is right next to mine, and I know he has legions of fans for his wines. I’ve written many times about how great the chef’s winemaker dinners at Crush are; they operate like a well-buttered machine. I do not need to see a wine list or menu to know how good this is going to be. I’ve got my ticket already. Tickets are $75, dinner, wine, tax and tip inclusive; call Crush at (707) 463-0700 for tickets.

Friday, June 19 – 2012 Coro Vintage Release Party – Join the Coro winemakers for a gourmet dinner for two paired with our wines and take home a complete set of the 2012 vintage. Seating is limited. Reservations required. $700 per couple. Includes the full collection of the 2012 vintage ($320 value) and complimentary valet service. The 2012 vintage consists of 8 wineries: Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Clos du Bois, Golden Cellars, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Parducci Wine Cellars, Ray’s Station, and Testa Vineyards. Coro Mendocino 2012 Vintage Release Party Friday, June 19th 2015 6:00 – 10:00pm at Dogpatch WineWorks, San Francisco. For the most fun, ask to sit with Guinness McFadden or me, John Cesano; we tell great Irish stories or perform stupid magic tricks, and I’ll leave it to you to guess who does which. Tickets are available at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland; or call (707) 744-8375. Do this for Father’s Day.

Friday, June 19 through Sunday, June 21 – A Taste of Redwood Valley – The weekend kicks off with a Friday night winemaker’s dinner at Barra, tickets are $65, and the fun continues with two day weekend tasting tickets at either $30 in advance or $35 at the event. Three day tickets are discounted at $90. Participating wineries and distilleries include Barra/Girasole, Brown, Frey, Germain-Robin/Craft Distillers, Giuseppe/Neese, Graziano, Silversmith, and Testa. Get your tickets in advance online at www.atasteofredwoodvalley.com

Saturday August 22 – Yorkville Highlands Wine Festival – This family-friendly festival and auction is at Meyer Family Cellars this year. Festivities start at 1pm. Highlights will include tasting scores of award-winning wines made and grown within the Highlands around Anderson Valley.  The price includes a delicious farm-fresh lunch and scrumptious desert, a tempting silent auction where you can bid on rare bottles and hundreds of bargains galore. There’s always the riotous grape stomp along with other wild and wacky games. Advance tickets are $45, or $60 during the event, and available at www.yorkvillehighlands.org

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John On Wine: Mendocino County’s annual celebration of sparkling wines

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sparkling wine, whether French Champagne, Italian Prosecco, Spanish Cava or a California bubbly is not just for New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day and weddings.

The relatively high acidity in a sparkling wine means it can positively sing and dance with a wide variety of foods, cutting through fatty foods like foie gras or roast chicken, or riding parallel to higher acid foods like citrus and tomato. While oysters, salmon and duck are natural pairings, pop the cork on a bubbly the next time you have scallops, chicken, rabbit, short ribs or a strawberry dessert.

Sparkling wine producers have enjoyed the benefit of consumers shopping for bubblies for special occasions, but allowing that notion to stand, the notion that sparkling wine is for special occasions, is bad marketing and does consumers a horrible disservice. Rather than waiting for a special occasion to open a bottle of sparkling wine, and far too many folks have a bottle in their refrigerators for years unopened just waiting for that occasion, consider making the day special by opening bottles of sparkling wine more regularly.

The cool climate areas of Mendocino County are perfectly suited for growing grapes that make ultra-premium quality sparkling wines, and at a fraction of the cost of other world class sparklers. In 2013, at years end, Wine Enthusiast Magazine published its list of the Top 100 Wines, and Roederer Estate L’Ermitage 2004 took the #1 spot, the top wine of the year. McFadden Farm took the top honors at the 2014 California State Fair Wine Competition with their Best of Show NV McFadden Sparkling Cuvée Brut, and took a Double Gold with their NV McFadden Sparking Cuvée Brut Rosé. McFadden has taken a dozen Gold, Double Gold, Best of Class, or Best of Show awards with their bubblies in the last two years. Graziano’s Saint Gregory “Cuvee Alexandra” Brut Sparkling Wine was chosen the Best of Show white wine at the 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition. Yorkville Cellars was just one of the 16, out of 2,323 wines entered in the 2014 Orange County Wine Competition to take a Four Star Gold and Best of Class honor, and they did it with their Cuvee Brut. Anderson Valley to Potter Valley, the county’s sparklers are among the best you can taste anywhere.

On Saturday, April 11, from noon to 4 p.m., the Annual Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wine will take place at Terra Sávia in Hopland. There is no better way to taste our county’s bubbly bounty, than having the best gathered in one place, with food pairings and live music.

2014's bubbly tasting at Terra Sávia.

2014’s bubbly tasting at Terra Sávia.

In addition to Roederer Estate, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Graziano Family of Wines, and Yorkville Cellars, there will be stunning sparkling wines poured by Elke Vineyards, Nelson Family Vineyards, Parducci Wine Cellars, Scharffenberger Cellars, Signal Ridge, and, of course, the host winery, Terra Sávia.

There will be an incredibly diverse spread of delicious food to pair with the many sparkling wines being poured: oysters with mignonette sauce or Somendo ranch lemons, paella Valencia, fresh strawberries with dark Swiss chocolate, assorted cheeses and artisan Schat’s bakery breads, and Meyer lemon almond cake.

Oysters being shucked for bubbly pairing.

Oysters being shucked for bubbly pairing.

Not all sparkling wine is the same. Different grapes, different blend percentages, different growing sites, different time spent in the bottle before disgorgement, different winemaker choices. With roughly two dozen sparkling wines, from dry Brut sparklers with crisp apple and grapefruit notes to Rosé sparklers with cherry, strawberry, and watermelon ripe red fruit notes, no two will be the same, and the opportunity to experiment with different sips paired with different foods, will make this a ‘must attend’ event.

Tickets are just $55 in advance online at http://sparklingwinefest.brownpapertickets.com/ or $65 at the door on the day of the event.

The cost of traveling to each of these top producers, and paying tasting fees, would easily be twice the ticket price, and come without the wonderful food pairings and live music. This is a festival you will want to attend.

After last year’s event, with every attendee talking afterward about how much fun it was, the number one comment I heard from others was, “why didn’t I hear about this? I would love to have gone!”

You have your chance now; call your friends and get your tickets today for Mendo Bubbly Fest 2015. I’ll see you there.

Terra Sávia is located at 14160 Mountain House Road, Hopland, CA 95449. For more information, call (707) 744-1114.

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The online ticket store for Spring Hopland Passport 2015 is also open.

Brutocao Cellars, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Frey Vineyards, Graziano Family of Wines, Jaxon Keys Winery and Distillery, Jeriko Estate, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, McNab Ridge Winery, Milano Family Winery, Nelson Family Vineyards, Rivino, and Terra Savia will participate. Enjoy wine and food pairings — and get your passport stamped — at each stop.

Each winery does what they do best; some offer up a fun themed weekend experience, some bring in live music, some offer guided garden tours, while others serve up delicious farm fresh food; while each pours their best wines and offers amazing sales.

Online tickets are $45 through March 31, $50 from April 1 to April 30, and available at any participating winery on the weekend of the event for $55. Online tickets can be purchased at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/hopland-passport-spring-2015-tickets-15912646153

For more information, visit http://www.DestinationHopland.com

 

 

 

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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John On Wine – 23rd annual Fall Hopland Passport is coming, Oct 18 & 19, 2014

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 9, 2014

We are just nine days out from the 23rd annual Fall Hopland Passport, coming up on Saturday, October 18, 2014 and Sunday, October 19, 2014, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. each day.

Like Napa in the 60’s or Healdsburg in the 70’s, Hopland today is a place where there are more grape growers than wineries, where organic is normal, and where amazing wines remain largely undiscovered.

Affordable, relaxed, enjoyable. Hopland is rural yet close to everywhere in the bay area; a getaway destination, a place to taste wine, and a gorgeously magical spot where cares and stress just melt away.

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Come to Passport, but don’t rush. Relax, take a deep breath. With 14 participating Passport winery tasting rooms to visit over two days for your $45 ticket – or $55 if you are procrastinator – you’ll have over 50 minutes to devote to each spot, with some tasting rooms just 20 mere feet from door to door!

Hopland is where the Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition’s Double Gold medal winning Cabernet Sauvignon and Best of Show white wine, and the California State Fair Wine Competition’s Best of Show sparkling wine can be tasted, and without any tasting fee when you buy a ticket.

There is food, real food, good food to taste at each stop on your Passport tour. The mouthwatering savory scent of BBQ grills cooking meat throughout the Hopland area will have you at peak readiness for wine and food pairings all weekend long.

Receive a Passport logo glass, entry to all wine tastings, food pairings and entertainment at all 14 wineries. Collect stamps in your actual Passport to enter the Passport Prize Giveaway…. over thirty fabulous prizes will be given away! Tickets can be purchased online at DestinationHopland.com/store for $45 or at any of the participating wineries during the event for $55.

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Get your ticket, raise your glass, and celebrate the A-Z variety of wines poured by the participating winery tasting rooms in the Hopland area: Aglianico, Arneis, Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane, Charbobo, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Cortese, Dolcetto, French Colombard, Gewurztraminer, Grenache, Marsanne, Merlot, Mosacato/Muscat, Negroamaro, Nero D’Avola, Orange Muscat, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Pinotage, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris/Grigio, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Primitivo, Riesling, Roussanne, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Syrah Noir, Tannat, Tocai Friulano, Valdiguie, Viognier, and Zinfandel.

There will also be blends; the county’s flagship Coro wines, rosés, late harvest and ice wine, port, sparkling, and Meritage wines to delight.

Here is a short description of what each winery promises visitors during the Hopland Passport wine weekend:

BRUTOCAO CELLARS •Award winning Estate wines from both bottle and barrel •Tasty delectables  •Annual grape stomp!

CAMPOVIDA •Wine tasting •Olive oil tasting •Live music •Food pairings from our restaurant the Piazza de Campovida •Garden tour with our master gardener, Ken Boek

CESAR TOXQUI CELLARS •Fruit infused cheeses paired with a new Orange Muscat, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay •New release full bodied 2012 Organic Zinfandel and our new Heirloom V with a mixed meat BBQ grill of wild boar sausage, and chicken •Ganache chocolate and port.

FREY VINEYARDS •Award-winning, Organic and Biodynamic wines (with no added sulfites) •Organic Autumn-inspired, colorful fresh foods.

GRAZIANO FAMILY OF WINES •Aglianico to Zinfandel we have as many as 30 different wines •Marinated tri-tip in the crock pot, imported aged cheeses, homemade dips and spreads, and more.

JAXON KEYS WINERY & DISTILLERY •Spaghetti western themed hospitality •Fresh spaghetti done three ways: red, white and green •Farmhouse

JERIKO ESTATE •Upper Russian River Grilling of mixed meats •Cheeses and condiments •Anima Mundi Pinot Noir and Reserve Pinot Noir, Sangiovese. •Barrel sampling •Music •Special wine prices that are discounted for passport weekend only

MCFADDEN FARM STAND & TASTING ROOM •Highly rated, top award winning wines •McFadden Farm Organic Grass Fed Beef, and Wild Rice and artichoke heart salad; both seasoned with Herbs and Herb Blends – family farmed and organically grown •Beef, Wild Rice, and Herbs available for purchase at special Passport discounts •McFadden Wine Members get 40% off cases of wine during Passport •Guinness McFadden will sign purchased bottles

MCNAB RIDGE WINERY •Rock music themed Passport  •Barrel tasting of our new Cononiah Zin with futures available •Complimentary bottle painting by Leslie Bartolomei •Smokestack BBQ grillmasters smoky chicken, gourmet sausage and grilled veggies. •Popular dips and spreads •Rich Parducci’s award-winning wines

MILANO FAMILY WINERY •Red-wine-infused oak smoked, marinated Tri-Tip, fresh veggies, cheeses and decadent chocolate raspberry brownies •Live music on the lawn with the Rose City Band playing jazz and dance music on Saturday •Contemporary duo of Marilyn DeFrange and Janet Orsi on Sunday.  Join us and eat, •Medal winning wines •Several craft vendors

NELSON FAMILY VINEYARDS •Estate wines •Mendough’s Wood-Fired Pizza, deliciously made with organic, local ingredients including chevre, sun dried tomatoes, prosciutto, arugula, Gorgonzola and artichoke atop the most incredible crust.

RIVINO ESTATE WINERY •“Wines of Anarchy” themed event •Pagan Fire Pizza •Newly released wines

SARACINA •Gourmet harvest fare •Live music by A Band Called Luke •Wine cave tours on Saturday at 1:30, 3:00 and 4pm and on Sunday at 1:00 and 3pm.

TERRA SAVIA •“A Cheesy Affair” is the theme •Greek salad stuffed tomatoes •Macaroni and cheese empanadas •Butternut squash with blue cheese •Frisee and farro salad with warm goat cheese •Accoustic and eclectic band Coffee Zombie Collective will entertain

This will be my eighth consecutive Hopland Passport missed because I work at one of the participating tasting rooms, and an event I sorely miss. I cannot recommend getting a ticket and attending Hopland Passport strongly enough, it is an absolute stand out wine event value – no where else do you get so much for so little!

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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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