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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 – Nodding to Cliché

Originally published on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2014, in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper.

New Year’s Eve. Which cliché should I bow to? Should I write about sparkling wines to enjoy tonight? Should I offer up a list of New Year’s resolutions? Why choose? I’ll touch on both, and more, this week.

Graziano, Handley, McFadden, Nelson, Paul Dolan, Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger, Signal Ridge, Terra Savia, and Yorkville Cellars all poured bubblies at last year’s Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines.

Opening a bottle from any of these producers should be a cause for celebration, rather than a response to a celebration, as they are delightful sparkling wines and merit being opened and enjoyed on a more regular basis than only for special occasions.

I believe that it is better to open a bottle of sparkling wine to make an occasion special than to wait for a special occasion to open a bottle of sparkling wine. Make your days better; drink wine with meals, celebrate the ordinary, create your own extraordinary reality.

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I reviewed many of the county’s sparkling wines here: http://johnonwine.com/2014/04/10/a-mendo-bubbly-fest-recap/ and I would encourage you to read those reviews online, or simply visit a winery tasting room to taste bubblies for yourself.

Many of the county’s best sparkling wines are also available at the Ukiah Co-op.

Two small updates on the county’s sparkling wines since I wrote the reviews in April: Graziano’s 2010 Cuvee #10 Sparkling Brut was judged Best of Show at the 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition and McFadden’s NV Sparkling Cuvee Brut was judged Best of Show at the 2014 California State Fair Wine Competition. Conveniently, Graziano and McFadden are open daily for tasting, and have neighboring tasting rooms less than ten steps apart in downtown Hopland.

This year’s Mendo Bubbly Fest event will return to Terra Savia on Saturday, April 11, 2015; look to this column for more news, including where to get tickets, as the event nears.

Resolutions. Ugh. Does anyone really stick to these things?

Each year, I promise to get out and taste more wine, and farther afield, but work and home conspire to keep me from traveling far or often, at least as far or often as I would like.

I did make a couple of trips over the hill to visit the wineries of Hwy 128 here in Mendocino County, largely in response to invitations by the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association to their Pinot Noir Festival and Barrel Tasting Weekends. This year, I would like to return for those events, for the Alsace festival, and for visits to individual wineries for spotlight winery pieces. Let’s see how we do with that desire.

I’ve lost some weight, over a case of sparkling wine worth of weight, and I will lose more weight this year. This has meant more cooking at home, where I control the calories going into the food I consume. I resolve to continue to find wine friendly recipes that pack a ton of flavor into as few calories as possible.

When I attended the mushroom dinners at Crush Italian Steakhouse and Barra of Mendocino last month during the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest, I was dieting. I will continue to attend the best wine dinners that I am invited to, and write them up here for you, this year. Not diet friendly, I’ve learned a little portion control, so these dinners are both deliciously wonderful and not disastrously destructive to my dietary goal of continued weight loss.

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For me, wine is food, one more dish among many in a larger meal, and makes that meal better. I often exhort or encourage you, my readers, to try a particular wine with food, because I believe that sublime wine and food pairings are the path to greater wine enjoyment (and consumption).

I also think that these special food and wine dinners are the best opportunity for you to get out and experience several wines and several dishes to find out for yourself what pairing is all about, and hopefully inspire you to do more at home for yourself, your friends, and your family.

That possibility means that I will try to attend a few extra wine dinners, and at more restaurants, in 2015.

Anyway, I would like you to make a resolution for me, if you can. Please resolve to enjoy at least one more bottle of Mendocino County wine in 2015 than you did in 2014. Thanks and cheers!
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One more thing: Thank you to the many people who donated new unwrapped toys or cash – which I bought more toys with – in support of the Toys For Tots efforts at McFadden. After a storm impacted kick off, you stepped up and brought more toys than we had previously collected. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
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Edited to add for online archived version of column:

On New Year’s Eve, I joined Leo Laporte, Mike Elgan, and Tonya Hall in Petaluma at TWiT.tv’s Brick House for an online streaming 24 hour charity fundraiser for UNICEF, and I poured some sparkling wines and mentioned both JohnOnWine.com and McFaddenFarm.com during the segment.

Most people watching do not then go to a website when it is mentioned, so the numbers watching must be incredible, because within an hour I had 800 folks visit here and 32 orders for sparkling wine were placed through McFaddenFarm.com or Amazon.com.

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I had a great time, and was even segment-crashed by Marilyn Monroe, so the event was a touch disjointed but fun nonetheless.

Here’s a link to view an archived copy of the segment: http://youtu.be/VG9nhLiTT30?t=11m55s

Enjoy!

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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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