Cue the banjos.

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

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

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

Umm, the bad news.

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

Okay, what’s the good news then?

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

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

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

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

CHEF’S WINE DINNER Featuring CESAR TOXQUI CELLARS

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 6:00 pm

MEET AND GREET

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

FIRST COURSE

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

SECOND COURSE

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

DESSERT

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

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

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 6:00 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

John 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 ­ – Summer Wine

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 15, 2014; written by John Cesano
John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

I do not know why wine appreciation breeds elitist snobs, but it does. Frasier Crane and his brother Niles, television’s most beloved pair of pretentious snobs, famously loved wine. They weren’t even aware of their snobbery or pretension, and would argue that elitism is a desirable trait.

I agree that elitism is a good thing, as the alternative is seeking mediocrity or worse, but walking around with a stick up your butt, well, that is far less attractive.

A few years back, when I first wrote a piece about blush and rosé wines, I had no difficulty finding plenty of folks damning all pink and lightly colored wines, and nearly all were simply jackasses.

Sweet wines? Same thing. So many self-professed wine experts dismiss Riesling and Gewurztraminer as “not serious” wines, unworthy of consumption.

This even affects some wine competition judges and magazine wine writers who disdain any wine not red, and any red not Cabernet Sauvignon, and can’t see to rate blush wines on a genuine 100 point scale, creating an artificial high possible mark for these non-serious wines, perhaps a 94 for the best possible example of a rosé or Gewurztraminer.

Some of the best wines, especially best summer wines, are either sweet, or pink, or both. I love Cabernet Sauvignon, but some of the best red wines aren’t Cabernet.

The best tasting wine for me at this year’s big Zinfandel Advocates and Producers event was quite possibly the least serious wine, McNab Ridge’s Zinzilla.

With a name inspired by a Japanese movie monster, and a blend sure to make all snobs turn at least half a nose up – the wine is 50% Mendocino County and 50% Lodi grapes. Folks from Mendocino County will look down on the Lodi portion, folks from Lodi will look down on the Mendocino County portion, and folks from Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley will look down on all of the grapes. Pure snobbery. The wine tastes good, damn good.

The fact that I happened to pair this wine with a perfect pairing cheese, which undoubtedly made Zinzilla taste better, is beside the point. Wine is meant to be paired, and the two things wine pair best with are food and friends. Either can make a wine taste better, both can make a wine taste outstanding.

Anyway, I’m seeing a nice run on our drier Alsatian styled Gewurztraminer as we head into summer temperatures, and I’m looking at baking a ginger cake to pair it with at a near future event. Serving wine with food to friends; that’s what I am talking about.

Blush or rosé wines are some of my favorite wines. I would love for my boss to reverse engineer the Navarro Rosé of Pinot, a near perfect wine, not sweet, but lovely fruit, light, crisp, refreshing. Delicious. Naughty Boy, Graziano, Ray’s Station, Saracina, Campovida, Testa, Seebass, and Carol Shelton all make delicious pink wines from Mendocino County grapes.

The most maligned wine among wine critics is Sutter Home’s White Zinfandel. In truth, I do not like it, but not because it is pink, which is enough for most critics; I do not like it because I found it to be out of balance, spiky acid and synthetic candy fruit notes. Still, drop me into a party where the host is pouring it, and I can sip my way through a glass.

Rather than taste at Sutter Home, I would rather taste at another of the family’s properties, Trinchero Napa Valley, where everything served is delicious; rather than taste Sutter Home’s White Zinfandel, I would rather taste any of many dozens well-made dry pink wines. These are just easier wines to pair with foods.

Speaking of pink wines, while Americans look down at pink bubblies, Brut Rosé, because the wrong notions of pompous wine critics have tainted the general population, in Europe the blush option is most highly sought and the bubblies of color in Champagne cost more than the mere Brut.

I LOVE Brut Rosé, and am thrilled my boss made one. We’re going to release it at our big annual farm party on July 12, and it will sell out quickly. Make tasting it a priority. Until then, Roederer, Scharfenberger, and Terra Savia all have a Brut Rosé available now.

My last wife called me a wine snob, and I certainly am discerning when it comes to wine, but hopefully I’m not a jackass with a stick up my butt. Don’t worry, there are still plenty of them, and they don’t need me to join them.

Drink the wine you like, sweet and pink wines are not just beginner wines, but can be wines worth seeking out this summer. The best wine is the one you have in front of you when your friend is beside you. Make it happen.

Maybe, I’ll be a few seats down, enjoying a non-serious wine too.

 

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John On Wine ­ – A tale of two Passports

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 1, 2014
Written by John Cesano
John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

It was the best of Passports…

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I attended the 25th anniversary Passport to Dry Creek Valley last week, with my girlfriend and trusted second taster, June, as guests of the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley (WDCV). We were greeted at check-in by the new Executive Director of WDCV, Ann Peterson, who may have one of the best jobs in the wine industry, working with great farmers and winemakers in a gorgeous environment, every day.

Dry Creek Valley lies mostly to the west of Hwy. 101, and stretches 17 miles south to north from Healdsburg to Geyserville, two miles wide, in Sonoma County. Continuing a string of sold-out passport events, 6,000 tickets were sold, at a two day weekend price of $120, and allowed visitors the opportunity to visit and taste at 50 winery tasting rooms throughout Dry Creek Valley.

There is no reason to try to visit all 50 wineries even in two days, as there would be less than 15 minutes per winery, with travel between wineries having to fit into the allocated time, and rushing is no way to enjoy a passport event.

June and I visited 17 wineries in two days, a perfect number, giving about 45 minutes per winery. Some visits were shorter, some were longer, all were enjoyable. The great thing is that we could attend next year, visit 17 new wineries and have a completely different experience, equally great; and the same again for a third consecutive year with only one winery repeated in three years with 50 wineries to visit. There is no way I can fit a description of food, wine, music, and scene at 17 wineries here, but here are some impression highlights:

DaVero Farms and Winery stood out because I have a thing for farms and wine, farm stands & tasting rooms, and Ridgely Evers, the owner of DaVero greeted us both warmly. I had met Evers on previous visits, and was surprised at how much growth had occurred. This was June’s first visit and, an animal lover, June was in Heaven at Evers’ biodynamic farm, scratching a pig into a contented lie down. I enjoyed a taste of the DaVero Malvasia Bianca, bright with citrus and white pear flavors, in an outdoor canopy room being made from one tree . Evers has planted cuttings from a single Italian willow in a large circle and is training their growth to create the unique spot to enjoy wine.

Charlie Palmer has been honored by the James Beard Foundation twice, once as “Best Chef” in New York for his restaurant Aureole, and earned a multi year string of Michelin stars for restaurants in both New York and Las Vegas. He also cooked for June and I – ­ okay, and everyone else with a passport who visited Mauritson Wines. We loved the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc paired with brown sugar and bourbon cured salmon with arugula salad, pickled red onions, goat cheese & toasted hazelnuts; and the 2012 DCV Zinfandel with a Zinfandel braised wild board slider and Charlie’s bread and butter pickle.

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Truett Hurst: A glass of Zin Rose in hand, June and I walked down to the Adirondack chairs beside the burbling water, the wind in the trees, insects chirping, birds calling, a kiss shared; ­ truly a magical place. We also had the opportunity to talk with Paul Dolan, Mendocino biodynamic grape grower and partner at Truett Hurst.

Hog Island Oysters at Stephen & Walker with possibly my favorite wine of the weekend, a 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir; Amphora’s ABCs, Aglianico, Barberra, and Chardonnay, and June’s favorite food of the weekend, a chocolate truffle; the lobster roll at Bella; and the weekend’s best music: Rovetti & Meatballs, a fiddle, drums, and guitar ­ blending bluegrass, zydeco, and country – American music; Seghesio’s Zin; Ridge’s Zin; Talty’s Zin; there is just too much that was great to mention.

The views, wide open valley, green on the hills, blue skies, baby grapes on young vines, trees and flowers; slowing down, taking it all in, the scents and sounds too, Passport to Dry Creek Valley is a time to recharge your batteries, get right after working and living in a box, and is a bargain at $120. This is my favorite wine event, any price, anywhere; attending and not working is great!

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…It was also the best of Passports.

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If you missed Passport to Dry Creek Valley, or if you attended but want another weekend to experience more soul cleansing magic, the great news is that the 23rd annual Spring Hopland Passport is this weekend. Seventeen Hopland area winery tasting rooms – a perfect number – will put their best foot forward, pouring all of their wines and offering food pairings for two days, Saturday, May 3 and Sunday, May 4, from 11 a.m. -5 p.m. each day.

If you order online today, Thursday, May 1 by noon, you can pick up a two day ticket to Hopland Passport for just $45 each. Visit http://www.DestinationHopland.com/store, and if the store closes then you can buy your passport at any participating winery tasting room during the event for $55.

I believe that Hopland Passport is the best wine weekend event value – well underpriced – in the industry. Participating wineries include Brutocao, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui, Frey, Graziano, Jaxon Keys, Jeriko, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Milano, Naughty Boy, Nelson, Ray’s Station, Rivino, Saracina, Seebass, and Terra Savia.

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The weather looks like it will be perfect, I hope to see you in Hopland this weekend. I’ll be at the place with the farm stand & tasting room, stop by and say “hi.”

 

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John On Wine – 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 ­ – 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.

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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!

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