I spent the last weekend barrel tasting at some Anderson Valley winery tasting rooms, a guest of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association. By Friday, I will have taken the VERY RAW notes below and, with a little polish and serious editing, will turn in something tighter to run in Thursday, August 7’s Ukiah Daily Journal as a finished wine column.

I’ll provide all of the pictures below and let my editor use what she prefers. I’ll delete use of the F-bomb, still quite intact below, and try to paint a mini portrait of each place I visited. I would love to return and write some single winery spotlight columns.

Anyway, I thought I would give my online readers a glimpse into how a column is created, with a before (these notes, cut and pasted directly from my tablet) and after (the column I’ll post after it is published).

Cheers!

Foursight

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2013 ZERO New Oak Pinot delightful! bright notes! fruit showing well.

33-35 whole cluster, 13.3-13.5 alc, 2-7 year barrel. Bottle 27 and 28 of August.

12, 13, 14 all easy to make, un memorable because of no challenges.

2013 Charles Vineyard Pinot – Same wine but with 33% new oak

Little higher tannin with 2/6 barrels new, makes acid (brightness) less perceptible. Oak offers or brings out a smoky note. Firmer. Paired with Salumi straightens this right out, demonstrating once again the incredible food pairing magic found with Pinot. Instant yum.

2013 Foursight Clone 05 – Pommard 05 on 50% new oak.

Showing the herbal undertones that make for a memorable sinuous vinous Pinot.

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Kristy Charles, Joe Webb.

Anderson Valley, where oaks meet redwoods, with grapes providing the bridge.

Philo Ridge

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2012 Marguerite Vineyard Pinot woody, green (in a good way) cherry fruit, pretty straightforward. Dry farmed above the Holmes Ranch, good acidity.

2013 Estate Pinot (AV) – Could be wine, close to finish. Drinking great.

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Watermelon Gazpacho is fanfuckingtastic, but mushroom and Pinot are the better pairing.

2013 Testa Primativo Philo Ridge’s first Primitivo. Stands up nicely to the intensely spicy gazpacho. Recipe in pic.

K.C. Is the caterer. McClure Fred and heather’ winery Chef.

Seebass

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TR Mgr Jill initially overwhelmed by tasters. Carboy samples of the Mysteriös are being bottled as we speak and released Nov. Greg made, NV, 2011 and 2013. Zin, Merlot, Grenache, Syrah blend. Lush, juicy, bright, yummy, fun. $45

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Lichen

slope sandy loam nutrient poor, nutrient added through irrigation. Incredibly low vigor, crappy land, so we plant incredibly densely, per vine yield is super low, but high skin to pulp, 4000 vines per acre, yield ends up good, and flavors are ideal. 1000 case per year. Moving forward, all the sparkling will be estate. Bubbly is done right here

Dan: 60 Noir 40 Gris white blend. 2013 is so similar to 2012, 2011 was miserable. Lush juicy stone, pear, grapefruit, lovely acid to fruit.

Bubbly, williamette Valley. Bright mineral steely fruit, clean crisp, refreshingly delicious.

Two vintage Solera with three vintage due September. 2011-2013 Solera is gorgeous. Rich, ready, cherry berry fruit, layers of flavor, Herb, twenty kinds of yum.

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Doug Stewart, founder and previous owner of Breggo

I work for a place that makes the best bubbly in the county, and I have tons at home, and I don’t have a winemaker’s salary but a Hopland tasting room manager’s salary, so finding myself buying a bottle of Lichen’s Bubbly tells you all you need to know about how good if is.

Balo

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Washed glass with water…2012 Pinot Noir Blanc. Still white from Noir. Floral perfume, surprisingly sharper edge in mouth than nose suggests, crisp, pear apple .

2012 Pinot Gris grapes from Mary Elke. Spice, mellow, round. A touch of funk nose and finish.

2013 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir. Dry. Lovely salmon color, same funk.

Jerry Garcia and Dawg mandolin David Grisman’s Shady Grove playing. Pizza tapes?

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Pizza is from San Marzano. Salt, tomato, cheese, crust. Delicious enough it doesn’t need meat, but a touch salty. The crust was great, even without topping, similar to a air pocket blessed sourdough or pretzel, this was an artisanal bread all by itself.

Didn’t find any barrel action.

Free bottles water, immaculate bocce courts, lavender, pet friendly fenced poop pen for dogs, really just super enjoyable place to visit.

Greenwood Ridge Vineyards

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2012 hundred point Pinot Noir – same as 2012 GRV estate below, but with 7 months longer in new French oak. “Allen makes his Pinot more in the traditional manner, less fruit.” – Buzz  (Best name ever.)

2012 was good, but 2013 was perfect. We picked early because the grapes were just ready then.

2013 GRV Pinot Noir bottle sample of barrel pull, lovely vibrant burgundy color. Dry cherry, pepper spice. No idea when will be bottled…”in the next year, I suppose” – TR Gal

2012 GRV Pinot Noir green, mildly astringent, herbal, firm tart cherry.

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Hurray for Buzz, the great TR guy at GRV, who called me on my inland Mendo focus, not enough love for 128. I told him about my mission statement from early on, to write about the area Wine Spectator ignores. He nodded his assent that a Wine Spectator cover for Anderson Valley Pinot Noir is greater than a focus on inland Mendo in an inland Mendo newspaper. I’m just been trying to cast a light on an area that otherwise gets no press.

Handley Cellars

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Barrel Samples poured by Travis Scott

2013 Vittorio Vineyard Primitivo, Redwood Valley perfume, fruit,

2013 Vittorio Petite Sirah, remarkably soft, light for a Petite.

2010 Vittorio’s Selected Red Table Red (finished wine example)

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Vittorio is an early generation Testa family member.

Light, super easy to drink, herb garden and berry patch, 13.5% alc.

All French Oak Barrels at Handley. About $1,400 each.

Exclusive Tasting Menu

Chocolates that pair with reds

Barbeque on the patio

Sausages.

Many happy people in them lovely, cool, comfortable tasting room.

Phillips Hill – Must Return for a feature!

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Buildings are an old apple drying facility

2013 Oppenlander (Comptche – 10 miles east of Mendocino) Pinot Noir – spectacularly drinkable right now, if a tiny bit green. Cherry, spice, herb, will be bottle Mar/Apr 2014. The extra time in barrel will yield: Acid and brightness will integrate and structure will become more silky. Aromatics will become more pronounced.

1,400 cases all in.

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At Phillips Hill, they pick at lower Brix, have higher acid, the fruit is there, but the alcohol is lower; instead of a higher alcohol wine that overpowers food, this wine – the 13.5% alc 2011 Oppenlander still has earthy floral tobacco notes, plenty of character. Completely unfair, because it is finished, not a barrel sample, but best wine of the day.?

Toby was welcoming. Pointed out how lovely the open air tasting was, the breeze making moot the 100 degree temps everywhere else.

Margot Federkiel, asst winemaker was my pourer and a wealth of helpful info and passion.

The Apple Farm

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>>>>Travis Scott at Handley sent me on to Phillips Hill where I tasted my day’s favorite wine and where I asked Toby if I could come back for a more comprehensive tasting. Margot at Phillips Hill sent me on to The Apple Farm where I bought a case of Bates & Schmitt organic apple juice. That’s how you do it!

Edmeades

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2013 Zinfandel, Peril Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge – more integrated. The Gianoli is good, but I like this better. Edges have been softened. Rounder, but less distinct.

2013 Zinfandel, Gianoli Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge – fruit slightly muted in nose, but nice weight coming on, depth, roundness, dark as opposed to bright, brambly raspberry, spice

2013 Syrah, Perli – black pepper, first and foremost, then vegetal and herbaceous undertone supporting dark fruit.

Lamb burger – way yummy. Thank you!

Pasta salad – basil, sun dried tomato, goat cheese, orzo, zucchini, hazel nut, , sherry olive oil.

2010 Perli Zin – perfume, lighter styled, not over powering, almost delicate.

2011 Champ de Reves Pinot Noir 14.5 certainly lighter than the Zins and beastly Syrah, brighter balanced candied cherry, light herb…at least that is what I’m getting after the fully flavorful lamb slider.

Shyla poured barrel samples and brought out food. Best, most engaging member of the staff.

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Beautifully manicured property, one of my favorite winery views anywhere, terrific food, interesting wines.

Gowan’s Oak Tree

I bought a mixed bag with 4 different squash, a dozen ears of white corn, a bag of mixed fruit, plots, plums, peaches, and apples, and a bottle of water. The water is always good on a 100 degree day tasting wine.

Toulouse Vineyards

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What a comfortable tasting room, wine barrel stools and tables, everyone can sit and relax. Thoughtful.

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2013 Pommard 04 (heat sterilized version of the 05). Oh, I get why my favorite Pinot at last year’s Mendo Wine Comp was from Toulouse. Deep, gnarly, cheery fruit with a sexy hint of green, herbal, loamy, a beautiful Pinot in the barrel.

Vern knows the Pommard is showing great, but having separate lot Pinots makes for separate open bottles for tastings and isn’t ideal for a smaller winery…but he might bottle a barrel of this. Look for it.

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Vern Boltz, owner, winemaker, was as cordial as his tasting room was comfortable.

Baxter Winery

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2013 Valenti Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge, 4 miles from coast, 12.5% $48 the brown sugar on your breakfast oatmeal. Light, light, light in mouth, soft, not quite enough fruit or depth today.

2013 Weir Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands $48 30% whole cluster fermentation leading to redder than the previous wine’s more purple color. Okay, liking this one more, better more expressive fruit while still elegantly light. Candied cherry and rose petal.

2013 Langley Vineyard, Anderson Valley $48

These three will be bottled later in 2014 and ship May 2015. Cranberry, strawberry, and finally cherry…lighter end of the spectrum fruit flavors, but a nice little basket of mixed fruit, a little herb and floral and earth in support of fruit. Well integrated.

Claire and Phil Baxter doing the pouring.

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BricChickXan was here, we talked about our love of more elegant wines. Baxter is making them. Turns out, we both enjoyed some 2011 vintage treats amidst the cries of Hugely Overextracted Overoaked Oversugared High Alcohol Fruit Jam Bomb fans.

Elke Vineyards

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2013 Boonville Barter, more CA styled, $20 everyday wine – ready to drink in Oct or Nov after Sep bottling, simple, direct, bright cherry noted.

2012 Boonville Barter bottled deeper with age, and a teeny bit of funk…or that could be the sweat of the people in this little hot box of a tasting room. A surprising depth and complexity, considering the straightforward simplicity of the 2013.

2013 Blue Diamond picked two weeks earlier, more Burgundian, focused more on dirt than fruit. 35% new oak, 11 months on oak. 2 years in bottle before release. Loved this. One of the nicest wines of the weekend. Hard candy cherry fruit

2011 Blue Diamond – Holy fuck, this has a dose of that funk that Pinot is known for. I have tasted, by and large, some pretty funk free wines over the weekend, but I’m finishing on one with tons of unapologetic edge. No apologies needed, this is some seriously flavorful juice, with a showing of slightly more vinous tinged cherry and strawberry fruit.

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Great Gris packaging, boxless bag, greener and possibly avoid the stigma.

2010 Coro Rankings

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Here are the Mendocino County gold medal winning wines from the 2014 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge:

Husch, 2013 Anderson Valley Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley 96 points Gold Medal, and Best of Mendocino County, and Best of Show Dessert/Late Harvest
Handley, 2010 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, 98 points Gold Medal
Handley, 2013 Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley 96 points Gold Medal
Handley, 2012 Chardonnay Estate, Anderson Valley 95 points Gold Medal
Navarro Vineyards, 2012 Chardonnay, Anderson Valley 95 points Gold Medal
Masút, 2012 Pinot Noir, Mendocino County 94 points Gold Medal
Naughty Boy, 2012 Chardonnay-Thornton Ranch, Mendocino County 94 points Gold Medal
Yorkville Cellars, 2013 Rosé of Malbec, Yorkville Highlands 94 points Gold Medal
Bonterra Vineyards, 2012 Chardonnay, Mendocino County 93 points Gold Medal
Paul Dolan Vineyards, 2012 Pinot Noir, Potter Valley 93 points Gold Medal
Philo Ridge Vineyards, 2010 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley 93 points Gold Medal
Bonterra Vineyards, 2012 Merlot, Mendocino County 92 points Gold Medal
Carol Shelton Wines, 2012 Wild Thing Zinfandel, Mendocino County 92 points Gold Medal
Husch, 2012 Heritage, Other Red Blends, Mendocino County 92 Gold Medal
McFadden Vineyard, 2009 Reserve Cuvee Brut, Potter Valley 92 points Gold Medal
Navarro Vineyards, 2012 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley 92 points Gold Medal
Paul Dolan Vineyards, 2012 Chardonnay, Mendocino County 92 points Gold Medal
Campovida, 2013 Campo di Stelle, White Bordeaux Blend, Yorkville Highlands 90 points Gold Medal

 
An invitational tasting will be produced and hosted by The Press Democrat on Sunday, June 15, 2014 at the Culinary Institute of America – Greystone, featuring winners from throughout the North Coast. Enjoy Gold Medal winning wines from Mendocino, Lake, Sonoma, and Napa counties.

There is a special promotional code for my readers—$25 off the all-inclusive price of $125. Use promo code: GOLD when ordering your tickets. Tickets are available at northcoastwineevent.com

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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.
_____

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. 

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