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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

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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 – 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.

Wine writers usually write about wineries and winemakers, tasting rooms and wines, but far too often don’t give full credit to the vineyards, winegrape caretakers, and the land the grapes grow on that shape the wines we enjoy.

The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition is a pretty big deal in the world of wine competitions. This year, this largest wine competition of American wines saw over 5,000 wines entered into competition from 23 US states. Of course, most of the wines came from California, and many of the wines entered were made with grapes grown in Mendocino County grapes.

All of the wines awarded medals – Bronze, Silver, Gold, Double (unanimous) Gold, Best of Class (best of varietal, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, etc.), and Sweepstakes (Best red, white, bubbly, dessert, etc. of Competition) – will be poured for the public at the SFCWC Public Tasting at the Festival Pavilion at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco on Saturday, February 19, 2011 from 2:00pm – 5:00pm.

I have pulled the 170 wines being poured, made from Mendocino County grapes, by wineries in and out of Mendocino County, so that you can try a Terroir tasting. By planning ahead, preparing a tasting list of Mendocino County wines, there is the opportunity to taste unique varietal characteristics found in Mendocino County’s wines, what makes Chardonnay made from Manchester Ridge grapes so good or how Barbera, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah each find a fullness of expression when grown in Mendocino County. The opportunity to explore and learn the profile of award winning Anderson Valley Pinot Noir or Mendocino Zinfandel by tasting several award winning examples in one place is rare, but well worth the effort – especially when the opportunity presents itself so richly.

I will visit wineries, mostly in Mendocino County, this year and write about the wines they make. I will have less opportunity to write about vineyards, although the sustainable, organic, and biodynamic green-ness of Mendocino County grape growing allows for compelling stories. The individual appellation promotional efforts for the Anderson Valley, Hopland, Redwood Valley, Ukiah, and the overarching Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission will focus their efforts on promotion of the county’s wineries, but not vineyards – it is a tougher story to tell effectively.

The results of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, 170 award winning wines identified as being made from grapes harvested in Mendocino County – plus countless more wines improved by the addition of Mendocino County grapes in wines labelled as coming from North Coast or California – and having a tasting list of of those 170 medal winning Mendocino County wines, allows tasters to experience the land of the county, the area within the county, individual vineyards, as much or more than tasting the winemaker’s art or the winery style imprint.

Regularly, I would suggest folks throughout the San Francisco bay area come north up highway 101 to Mendocino County to visit our vineyards and wineries, taste our wines and olive oils,  join our wine clubs, stay overnight in our lodgings, dine in our restaurants, visit more wineries, a farmer’s market, garden, museum, or hot springs, maybe ride on the Skunk Train, drive through redwood forests, visit our wild coast, and at the end of your visit, return home with a trunk full of delicious Mendocino County bounty.

Saturday, February 19, instead, I would urge you to visit San Francisco’s Fort Mason, and take part in your own exploration of Mendocino County wines at the Public Tasting of SFVWC medal winners.

This list is a celebration of Mendocino County’s Winegrape growers, congratulations on having your excellence recognized and awarded:

39 North Wine Company 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County $30 SILVER

39 North Wine Company 2007 Petite Sirah Mendocino County $30 SILVER

Albertina Wine Cellars 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino Zamarzly Family Vineyards $20 GOLD

Amorosa Bella NV Dry Sparkling Brut Mendocino County Amorosa Balla $30 BRONZE

Artevino 2009 Chardonnay Yorkville Highlands Mendocino County $30 GOLD

Artezin Wines 2009 Zinfandel Mendocino County $18 SILVER

Artezin Wines 2007 Petite Sirah Mendocino County $25 BRONZE

Balance by Heath Dolan 2007 Red Field Blend Mendocino $24 SILVER

Barra of Mendocino 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino $20 SILVER

Barra of Mendocino 2006 Sangiovese Mendocino $18 BRONZE

Baxter 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Run Dog Vineyard $45 SILVER

Baxter 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Toulouse Vineyard $45 SILVER

Baxter 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino Oppenlander Vineyard $60 DOUBLE GOLD

Baxter 2006 Carignane Mendocino Caballo Blanco $32 SILVER

Black Goose Wines 2006 Zinfandel Mendocino County Bartoloma Vineyards $26 BRONZE

Bliss Family Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino Estate Bottled $10 SILVER

Bliss Family Vineyards 2009 Merlot Mendocino Estate Bottled $10 SILVER

Bliss Family Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino Estate Bottled $10 SILVER

Blooms Winery on Whidbey 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County Blooms Vineyard $30 SILVER

Bonterra Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino County Bonterra $14 SILVER

Bonterra Vineyards NV White Table Blend Mendocino County Bonterra $10 SILVER

Bonterra Vineyards 2009 Rosé Mendocino Bonterra $14 DOUBLE GOLD

Bonterra Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir Mendocino County Bonterra $20 GOLD

Bonterra Vineyards 2008 Zinfandel Mendocino County Bonterra $16 GOLD

Bonterra Vineyards 2008 Merlot Mendocino County Bonterra $16 SILVER

Bonterra Vineyards 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino Bonterra $16 SILVER

Bonterra Vineyards NV Red Table Blend Mendocino County Bonterra $10 GOLD

Brutocao 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino Feliz Vineyard Estate Bottled $14 BRONZE

Brutocao 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino Bliss Vineyard Estate Bottled $16 SILVER

Brutocao 2008 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Estate Bottled $28 BRONZE

Brutocao 2007 Quadriga Mendocino Hopland Ranch Estate Bottled $24 SILVER

Brutocao 2007 Merlot Mendocino Bliss Vineyard Estate Bottled $20 SILVER

Brutocao 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino Hopland Ranch Estate Bottled $22 GOLD

Cahill Winery 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Cole Ranch $20 BRONZE

Calstar Cellars 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino Ridge Manchester Ridge $35 BEST OF CLASS

Calstar Cellars 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Londer Estate $50 BRONZE

Cameron Hughes Wine 2007 Syrah Mendocino County Yorkville Highlands $12 GOLD

Carol Shelton Wines 2007 Zinfandel Mendocino County Cox Vineyard $24 BRONZE

Castle Rock Winery 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County $10 SILVER

Claudia Springs Winery 2009 Viognier Redwood Valley Lolonis Vineyard $24 SILVER

Claudia Springs Winery 2009 Pinot Gris Anderson Valley Klindt Vineyard $18 BRONZE

Claudia Springs Winery 2007 Zinfandel Mendocino $24 SILVER

DeLoach Vineyard 2007 Pinot Noir Redwood Valley Masut $45 BRONZE

Edmeades 2008 Zinfandel Mendocino County $18 BRONZE

Esterlina 2009 Riesling Cole Ranch $20 SILVER

Esterlina 2009 White Dessert Cole Ranch $28 BRONZE

Foursight Wines 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Anderson Valley Charles Vineyard $20 SILVER

Foursight Wines 2009 Gewurtztraminer Anderson Valley $20 GOLD

Foursight Wines 2008 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Charles Vineyard Zero New Oak $25 BRONZE

Foursight Wines 2008 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley All In Charles Vineyard $35 BRONZE

Frey Vineyards Ltd 2009 Chardonnay Redwood Valley Biodynamic $14 BRONZE

Frey Vineyards Ltd 2009 Sangiovese Mendocino Organic $13 BRONZE

Frey Vineyards Ltd 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino Organic $15 SILVER

Girasole Vineyards 2009 Merlot Mendocino $13 SILVER

Girasole Vineyards 2009 Hybrid Red Mendocino $13 GOLD

Greenwood Ridge Vineyards 2008 White riesling Mendocino Ridge Estate Bottled $18 SILVER

Handley Cellars 2009 Gewurtztraminer Anderson Valley $18 SILVER

Handley Cellars 2009 Pinot Gris Anderson Valley $18 SILVER

Handley Cellars 2008 Pinot Noir Mendocino County $25 SILVER

Handley Cellars 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino $25 BRONZE

Handley Cellars 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley $30 GOLD

Harmonique 2006 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley The Noble One $50 SILVER

Harmonique 2006 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Elegance $53 SILVER

Harmonique 2006 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Delicace $55 SILVER

Harmonique 2006 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Oppenlander $55 SILVER

Heron Wines 2009 Cabernet sauvignon Mendocino $14 BRONZE

Husch Vineyards 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino $14 BRONZE

Husch Vineyards 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino Renegade $18 SILVER

Husch Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Anderson Valley Vine One $18 BRONZE

Husch Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino $15 BRONZE

Husch Vineyards 2008 Chardonnay Mendocino Special Reserve $25 SILVER

Husch Vineyards 2009 Gewurtztraminer Anderson Valley $14 SILVER

Husch Vineyards 2009 Muscat Canelli Mendocino $15 SILVER

Husch Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Knoll $38 SILVER

Husch Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Reserve $35 GOLD

Husch Vineyards 2009 Zinfandel Mendocino Old Vines $25 GOLD

Husch Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino $21 SILVER

Husch Vineyards 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino Reserve $35 SILVER

Husch Vineyards 2009 Late Harvest Gewurtztraminer Anderson Valley $20 SILVER

J. Keverson 2007 Sangiovese Mendocino $20 GOLD

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards 2009 Barbera Mendocino County $17 BEST OF CLASS

Jaxon Keys Winery 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino $15 GOLD

Jazz Cellars 2007 Petite Sirah Mendocino Eaglepoint Ranch Vineyard $40 SILVER

JK Estates 2008 Pinot Noir Mendocino $13 SILVER

Kendall-Jackson 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino Grand Reserve $20 SILVER

Kimmel Vineyards 2008 Chardonnay Potter Valley Kimmel Vineyards $32 SILVER

Kimmel Vineyards 2007 Merlot Mendocino Kimmel Vineyards $38 SILVER

La Follette Wines 2008 Chardonnay Mendocino Ridge Manchester Ridge $48 SILVER

Le Vin Vineyards 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County Le Vin Vineyards $36 BRONZE

Ledson Winery & Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley $60 SILVER

Martella Wine 2007 Petite Sirah Mendocino Heart Arrow Ranch $35 SILVER

Martella Wine 2007 Cabernet sauvignon Mendocino Heart Arrow Ranch $55 BRONZE

Maysie Cellars Rosé of Sangiovese Mendocino County $13 SILVER

McFadden Vineyard NV Brut Potter Valley McFadden Vineyard $25 SILVER

McFadden Vineyard 2009 Gewurtztraminer Potter Valley McFadden Vineyard $15 BRONZE

McFadden Vineyard 2008 Pinot Gris Valley McFadden Vineyard $15 BRONZE

McFadden Vineyard 2007 Zinfandel Potter Valley McFadden Vineyard $19 SILVER

McNab Ridge Winery 2009 Roussanne Mendocino Shadow Brook Farms $15 SILVER

McNab Ridge Winery 2007 Petite Sirah Mendocino $18 BRONZE

McNab Ridge Winery 2009 Pinotage Mendocino Napoli Estate $20 SILVER

Mendielle Vertu 2007 Merlot Mendocino Destination Valley Vineyard $27 SILVER

Meyer Family Cellars 2009 Chardonnay Anderson Valley $22 BRONZE

Meyer Family Cellars 2006 Syrah Yorkville Highlands $28 BRONZE

Milano Family Winery 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino Queirolo Vineyard $29 BRONZE

Milano Family Winery 2006 Echo Bordeaux Blend Mendocino Rells Echo Vineyard $37 SILVER

Muscardini Cellars 2009 Barbera Redway Valley Pauli Ranch $38 SILVER

Naughty Boy 2009 Chardonnay Potter Valley Thornton Ranch $13 GOLD

Naughty Boy 2007 Pinot Noir Potter Valley NB Vineyard $24 SILVER

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino Cuvee 128 $18 BEST OF CLASS

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino  $13 BRONZE

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Anderson Valley Premiere Reserve $25 SILVER

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Gewurtztraminer Anderson Valley Estate Bottled  $19 SILVER

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Muscat Blanc Anderson Valley $19 SILVER

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Pinot Gris Anderson Valley $19 GOLD

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir Mendocino $19 SILVER

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Methode a l’Ancienne $29 SILVER

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Zinfandel Mendocino $19 GOLD

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Zinfandel Mendocino Old Vine $25 SILVER

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Syrah Mendocino $25 BEST OF CLASS

Navarro Vineyards 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino $35 SILVER

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Navarrouge Mendocino $14 BRONZE

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Late Harvest Gewurtztraminer Anderson Valley $35 SILVER

Oak Cliff Cellars 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino County $35 SILVER

Oak Cliff Cellars 2008 Zinfandel Mendocino County Curtis Ranch $28 BRONZE

Parducci Wine Cellars 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County $11 GOLD

Parducci Wine Cellars 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino County $11 GOLD

Parducci Wine Cellars 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County $11 GOLD

Parducci Wine Cellars 2009 Sustainable White Mendocino County $11 BRONZE

Parducci Wine Cellars 2007 Petite Sirah Mendocino County $11 BRONZE

Parducci Wine Cellars 2007 Petite Sirah (True Grit) Mendocino $30 SILVER

Parducci Wine Cellars 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County $11 BRONZE

Patianna 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino Estate Grown Organic Grapes $16 GOLD

Patianna 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino Estate Grown Organic Grapes $16 BRONZE

Patianna 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino Made With Organic Grapes $20 BRONZE

Paul Dolan Vineyards 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County $18 GOLD

Paul Dolan Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino County $18 BRONZE

Paul Dolan Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino County $30 SILVER

Paul Dolan Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County $25 SILVER

Phillips Hill 2009 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Wiley $40 BRONZE

Philo Ridge Vineyards 2009 Gewurtztraminer Anderson Valley Ferrington Vineyards $18 BRONZE

Philo Ridge Vineyards 2009 Pinot Gris Anderson Valley Klindt Vineyards $18 BRONZE

Philo Ridge Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley $24 GOLD

Rock Wall Wine Co 2009 Viognier Mendocino $18 SILVER

Rock Wall Wine Co 2008 Petite Sirah Mendocino $22 BRONZE

Rosa D’Oro Vineyards 2009 Tocai Friulano Mendocino County $16 BRONZE

Route 128 Winery 2007 Syrah Torkville Highlands Opatz Family $24 SILVER

Scharffenberger Cellars NV Brut Mendocino $19 SILVER

Stephen & Walker 2009 Late Harvest Chardonnay Mendocino Ridge $65 BRONZE

Stonehedge Winery 2007 Malbec Mendocino Terroir select $15 SILVER

Terra Savia 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino $14 DOUBLE GOLD

Terra Savia 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino Sanel Valley Vineyard Reserve $18 SILVER

Terra Savia 2009 Meritage Mendocino Sanel Valley Vineyards $18 BRONZE

Trinitas Cellars 2007 Zinfandel Mendocino JMR & Comrado Old Vine $25 GOLD

Trinitas Cellars 2007 Rhone Cuvee Mendocino JMR & Comrado Old Vine $20 GOLD

Truett Hurst Winery 2009 Rhone Blend Mendocino Dark Horse $40 SILVER

VJB Vineyards & Cellars 2009 Tocai Friulano Mendocino County $22 GOLD

Volante Vineyards 2006 Petite Sirah Redwood Valley Thompson Vineyards $18 BRONZE

Williamson Wines 2009 Viognier Mendocino County Frolic $34 SILVER

Willowbrook Cellars 2008 Chardonnay Mendocino Ridge Manchester Ridge $34 DOUBLE GOLD

Windsor Vineyards 2007 Petite Sirah Mendocino County $10 SILVER

Windsor Vineyards 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County $18 SILVER

Yorkville Cellars 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Yorkville Highlands Randle Hill $17 SILVER

Yorkville Cellars 2009 Eleanor of Aquitaine Yorkville Highlands Randle Hill $25 SILVER

Yorkville Cellars 2009 Semillon Yorkville Highlands Randle Hill $20 SILVER

Yorkville Cellars 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Yorkville Highlands Rennie Vineyard $28 SILVER

Yorkville Cellars 2008 Cabernet Franc Yorkville Highlands Rennie Vineyard $25 SILVER

Yorkville Cellars 2008 Petit Perdot Yorkville Highlands Rennie Vineyard $28 SILVER

Yorkville Cellars 2008 Hi-Roller Red Mendocino County $18 SILVER

Zina Hyde Cunningham 2009 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Reserve $60 SILVER

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