Recently, Sip! Mendocino in Hopland played host for the release of the 2012 vintage of Coro Mendocino wines, the uniquely Mendocino Zinfandel-centric cooperative wine program, with the 2012 Coro Mendocino blends of Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Clos du Bois, Golden Vineyards, McFadden Farm, Parducci Wine Cellars, Ray’s Station, and Testa Vineyards each being unveiled.

2012 was a terrific vintage for reds, a warmer than average year, with near perfect growing conditions, yielding richly flavorful wines. Each winery produced their own version of Coro, with notes from each of the participating winemakers during pre-bottling blind barrel tastings to guide them.

If there was a ‘typical’ Coro in 2012, which there wasn’t, it would have been made with 50 percent Zinfandel, 17 percent Petite Sirah, 16 percent Syrah, 6 percent Carignane, 4 percent Primitivo, 3 percent Charbono, 2 percent Barbera, 1 percent Grenache, and 1 percent Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend — that’s what I get when I averaged the components for each of the eight wines poured at Sip.

All of the wines were tasty, with the stellar fruit of 2012 showing well. Each individual winery will sell their wines at about $40 through their tasting rooms, and all eight will be available for purchase at Sip in Hopland, beginning in the next week or so. Look for the Coro wines grown organically to show up at the Ukiah Co-op soon.

McFadden will release the 2012 Coro at their Annual Farm Party on Saturday, July 11 (call 744-8463 for tickets), and each of the other seven wineries will find the right time and way to release their new wine. When you see them, taste them, you’ll enjoy each.
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One of the folks I work with invited me to join her large family on the coast for a camping weekend, which allowed me the opportunity to see some of our county’s more rural, and beautiful, areas; that, and I got to enjoy lots of delicious authentic Mexican food, paired with McFadden’s Late Harvest Riesling, 2011 Coro and award winning Sparkling Cuvee Brut. Thank you to Juanita Plaza and all of her family for making me feel so welcome.

While on the coast, I visited Sally Ottoson’s Pacific Star Winery, located on the west side of Highway 1, 12 miles north of Fort Bragg at the 73.58 milepost. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Pacific Star is a popular destination for tourists visiting Mendocino’s coast.

Picnicking on the Mendocino Coast is possible at Pacific Star Winery. (Photo by John Cesano)

Picnicking on the Mendocino Coast is possible at Pacific Star Winery. (Photo by John Cesano)

When I visited, Holly poured me six wines for a $5 tasting fee. The glassware was INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine). The egg shape bowl of INAO glassware is designed to fully enhance the concentration of aroma and allow the wine to be swirled without spilling. Noted wine critic Robert Parker called INAO glasses, “The finest inexpensive tasting glass in the world,” and I was pleased to taste from them.

Holly attends to several tasters at family-friendly Pacific Star Winery. (Photo by John Cesano)

Holly attends to several tasters at family-friendly Pacific Star Winery. (Photo by John Cesano)

First up was the 2013 Pacific Star Orange Muscat, a sweeter, but not too sweet at less than 1 percent residual sugar, white wine. An apricot and floral nose gives way to a mouth of ripe stone fruit, herb, and mown hay.

Sally holds her white wines in stainless steel, rather than oak, for brighter fruit expression, and many of the wines are poured through an aerator to further accentuate the fruit notes.

2012 Pacific Star Viognier — grassy peach and pear with a touch of astringency

In 2006, Sally found there were fault lines under the property, and that was the inspiration for Pacific Star’s NV It’s My Fault, a non vintage red wine, made from a “secret blend” of six varieties. Sally used to make a Coro wine, so this is like that…sort of.

The nose gave up notes of raspberry, cola, herb, cherry, blackberry, mint and light oak. The tannins were a little tight, the oak was evident, and there were sweet tart black cherry, raspberry and darker berry notes in the mouth taste.

2012 Pacific Star Tempranillo, with fruit from Lake County, chocolaty, blueberry, and blackberry, with supple tannin, was really nicely balanced, and had good mouthfeel.

Holly told me that Charbono was Sally’s flagship wine, and the grapes came from Eddie Graziano’s farm in Calpella.

2012 Pacific Star Charbono — Really lovely wine nose of deep full multi-noted blackberry, cassis, oak, and dusty cocoa earthiness. The mouth showed medium firm tannin, and there was plenty of aging potential for this wine. I picked up berry fruit, earthiness, leather, and tart blackberry.

2012 Pacific Star Cabernet Sauvignon — I picked up slightly greener, more vegetal, vinous notes with herb supporting a nose of raspberry and blackberry fruit, and a mouth of bright, slightly tart blackberry.

On the coast, Pacific Star Winery is a lovely place to visit, taste wine and enjoy a picnic lunch. Don’t fret if you show up without food, as there are packages of meats, cheeses and crackers available for purchase in the tasting room.
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I finished up my weekend with a visit to see Crispin Cain and Tamar Kaye at their American Craft Whiskey Distillery to pick up a bottle of their two-year Rye Whiskey as a gift for my stepfather. While there, I sampled the latest barrel sample of the Bourbon, cut from last tasting’s 60 percent alcohol to 41 percent with collected rain water, and it tasted great. I also tasted their son Devin Cain’s 1850 Cocktail, based on the Sazerac, and ended up buying a bottle for myself.

In 1838, the first cocktail was created in New Orleans featuring French brandy and Peychaud bitters, and by 1850, that first cocktail, the Sazerac, had achieved popularity. Over the years, the recipe has been tweaked, with the addition of absinthe and sugar, and American rye whiskey replacing French brandy.

I love Devin’s 1850, and I love the absinthe ice cream that Crispin and Tamar make for events, but I don’t like absinthe. Crispin told me that similarly most folks would not drink straight vanilla, but enjoy vanilla ice cream, as both vanilla and absinthe are powerfully flavorful on their own. Thanks for helping me understand my own confusing and seemingly contradictory tasting experience.
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Devin, like his father, worked at Germain-Robin Alambic Brandy and learned the art and science of distilling there before making use of that knowledge to craft the craft whiskeys, gins, vodkas, liqueurs, absinthe and bourbon I have enthused about here previously.

Devin’s version of the 1850 cocktail, or Sazerac, is informed by his time with Alambic, tasting aged and new brandies, and noting their differences; Devin’s 1850 Cocktail is made from newer brandy aged and colored by French oak barrels, made more flavorful by infusion of sassafras, vanilla, dried fruit, and other exotica, and clear wheat whiskey instead of the rye I expected, plus absinthe in a 1 part per 500 parts ratio.

Creating each individual element, and then finding the perfect blend of those elements, involved nearly 100 tasting trials over the course of a full year, but that level of attention to detail is something that I have come to expect, and appreciate, from everything coming out of the family’s American Craft Whiskey Distillery.

This is a perfect cocktail, a whole glorious bottle of perfectly blended cocktails, and an improvement on the standard Sazerac, bringing a welcome memory of my last New Orleans visit home to Ukiah.

John On Wine – An early Thanksgiving


Susan Johnson and John Cesano at Passport to Dry Creek Valley

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Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 14, 2015

I know I am supposed to save up all my gratefulness for the year and post it in a cliché Thanksgiving post toward the end of November, but Thanksgiving is coming early this year.

During the recently passed Hopland Passport event, one of our visiting tasters told me that she wished she could have my job. Everybody sees greener grass outside their lives; I would love to have Anthony Bourdain’s job, but I do recognize how blessed I am.

The Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley invited me to attend the Passport to Dry Creek Valley for the third consecutive year, and I am extraordinarily grateful. This year, I was accompanied by my good friend, Susan Johnson. Susan and I used to travel the country doing tradeshows, winemaker dinners, and corporate events for wineries, and then moved together to work for the Wine Appreciation Guild where we visited hundreds of wineries and tasting rooms throughout California.

Susan now works for a company that provides winemakers the tools to make great wine, and of course I pour great wine at one job and write about great wine in my other job. Although we came at each wine tasted from a different perspective, Susan looking at what could have made a wine better and me taking each wine as it is, we both were absolutely impressed front to back with the line ups at media check in host winery DaVero, Gustafson Family Winery, and Seghesio. Talty did the best job amplifying social media marketing, Selby had the best single bite of food, and Blanchard had the best ‘story’ wine.

DaVero produces organic or biodynamic wines from Italian varieties, and I shared the names of some Mendocino growers when asked by winemaker Evan, but if you grow grapes in the county, certified organic or biodynamic, and they are Italian varieties, then Evan wants to hear from you. Terrific wines that you will not taste anywhere else, plus they have farm goods for sale — and you know how much I love an organic farm stand & tasting room!

Gustafson is a long drive from any other winery, but absolutely worth the time to get there. Best winery views ever, fantastic wines, whimsically wonderful presented tasty food creations, and a dream property for vacation rental. Gustafson joins Preston and Truett-Hurst as one of my three favorite Dry Creek places to spend an afternoon with wine and food.

In spite of my desire to visit new wineries each Dry Creek Passport, Seghesio pulls me in year after year. Between wine, food, and music this is probably the most dependably solid stop for complete satisfaction.

Within seconds of a #DCVPassport post by me, about any participating winery, Talty was sharing or retweeting it. Visit them if you like Zin, Zin, or Zin. Selby’s duck and andouille sausage gumbo with crayfish cornbread was the best food I tasted all weekend. Blanchard had the best music with the Rosetown Ramblers covering Grateful Dead tunes, and each bottle sold of their “Helicopter” blend sees a donation to help the families of our military’s special operators.

Two days before our own Hopland Passport, I attended a general meeting of Mendocino Winegrowers Inc. at Barra of Mendocino. I would love to sit at a table with Charlie and Martha Barra, George Lee, Ed Berry, Leroy and Mary Louise Chase, and just shut up for a change. Listening to these, and other great growers, is so wonderful, and helps me in my education about Mendocino wine. I gratefully accepted an invite to visit the Chase Vineyard on a future date, and am thankful for the opportunity to tell a future story about wine from a great vineyard.

Hopland Passport. For me, it is a week of preparation, two days of intense energy output, and nearly a week of putting my tasting room back together afterward. Although people have reported that attendance may have been lighter than in the past, you couldn’t tell it by our numbers. I have everyone to thank, all of the team at the farm, the tasting room team, our chef team, and especially all of our visitors for more than doubling our numbers from last spring’s Passport event.

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Passport is truly a team effort, and we all work hard to make it as fun as possible; I think we succeeded. Now, if you’ll all come and pick up all of your paid for wine, I’ll be even more thankful.

Thanks to Tom Liden, Mendocino winery photographer, for your kind words of encouragement about the words I write weekly. Thanks also to all of my other readers for your words of support; I confess that I am still a little freaked out when I’m recognized for my writing and the compliments about individual pieces I have written, but I am enormously grateful. Within the last two weeks, three different people have told me they enjoy the recaps of the Chef’s Winemaker Dinners at Crush; that makes the piece I’ll be writing about the May 20 Graziano dinner all the easier to write.

Thanks to Aubrey Rawlins, executive director of Mendocino Winegrowers Inc., for recommending me for a winery writing gig. The funny thing is I already loved the wines and winery involved, had planned a visit for a future spotlight winery piece here, and this might be the easiest gig ever, a two for one opportunity.

Thanks to Janis MacDonald and Kristy Charles of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association for invitations to all of your events, and for treating the Ukiah Daily Journal wine guy the same as the folks from Wine Enthusiast, San Francisco Chronicle, and Wine Spectator; it is appreciated, if a little surreal and humbling.

I will next be attending the 18th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival on May 14-17; with a welcome dinner on Thursday (tonight) at Balo Vineyards, the Technical Conference on Friday at the Fairgrounds in Boonville (seriously, it may sound boring, but the tech conferences that Anderson Valley puts on are a highlight of each event) and a Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars that evening, a Press Tasting at Scharffenberger Cellars on Saturday morning followed by the Grand Tasting at Goldeneye Winery.

On Sunday, May 17, I’ll be headed to The Barlow in Sebastopol to taste Mendocino County’s Gold Medal awarded wines from the recent 2015 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge. Friday, June 19, I’ll be at the Coro Mendocino 2012 Vintage Release Party & Multi-Course Dinner at Dogpatch Wine Works in San Francisco (tickets available at Sip Mendocino in Hopland, ask to sit at the McFadden table), and the next day, June 20, I’ll be at the Metreon in San Francisco for the 11th annual Pinot Days.

In between all this, I’ll be visiting vineyards, wineries, and tasting rooms for future pieces, or simply my own further education and enjoyment.

None of my opportunities would be possible without invitations from others, and those invitations come because I write for you, my readers, here in the Ukiah Daily Journal and online at JohnOnWine.com and you are the reason I have a life worthy of gratitude, of thanks, and of appreciation. I’m not waiting until Thursday, November 26, Thanksgiving day 2015; let me say it now (and possibly again then): Thank you!

Thirsty Thursdays SIP! Mendocino Thirsty Thursdays

Sake & Sushi Tasting

Thursday, March 26th  |  5:00 – 7:00pm  |  SIP! Mendocino

To celebrate the arrival of spring and the local cherry tree blossoms, SIP is hosting a sake & sushi tasting on Thursday, March 26th from 5-7pm. SIP will also have an assortment of local wines open and available for purchase by the glass.

I’m going; join me for an evening of good taste: a chance to educate your palate and deepen your understanding of sake paired with an assortment of sushi from Oco Time.

Cover charge is $20 for non-wine club members and free for one person per each SIP! Mendocino wine club membership.

SIP! Mendocino is located in downtown Hopland at 13420 S. Hwy 101. For more information, call (707) 744-8375 or visit the shop’s online page for the event.

 

John On Wine – Wine blends, both European and local

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 2, 2014

Recently, I received an email from David and Merry Jo Velasquez of Cannon Falls, MN; after visiting the tasting room where I work and finding this wine column, they visited France and suggested a column, “outlining the GSM grape varieties that make Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine so popular, and which winemakers are doing similar blends in Northern CA,” as well as exploring the “French law/custom [that] allows 13 grape varieties to be used in CdP wines…[and] other stringent requirements which were fascinating to learn about.” They also mentioned the “terroir” (the land, climate, the environment grape vines grow in) and sent some terrific photos.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard

Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a town in the Rhone wine region of southeastern France. Red varieties allowed are Cinsaut, Counoise, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Muscardin, Piquepoul Noir, Syrah, Terret Noir, and Vaccarèse (Brun Argenté). White and pink varieties are Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanche, Clairette Rose, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Picardan, Piquepoul Blanc, Piquepoul Gris, and Roussanne. The 13 varieties historically mentioned by David and Merry Jo have expanded to 18, as today the Noir (black/red), Gris (grey), and Blanc (white) versions of individual grape varieties are considered separate.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape red grapes reaching maturity - note the rounded stones in the vineyard that the vines fight through

Châteauneuf-du-Pape red grapes reaching maturity – note the rounded stones in the vineyard that the vines fight through

Famed for GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) Rhone blends, some of my favorite wines tasted have come from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. By far, most of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are red, and most use Grenache as the base, or largest element, of their blends. Lighter in body, two things allow for wines of greater intensity:

First, yields are reduced with local laws prohibiting greater than 368 gallons to be produced per acre of fruit. By dropping fruit during the growing season, the remaining fruit receives greater vitality from the vine, and the result is greater flavor. Second, instead of holding the wines in oak barrels, and having the oak overpower the flavors of the grape, much of the wine is held in concrete containers, a neutral container that better protects against oxidation than oak during winemaking. Here, in northern California, there are a number of wineries using Rhone varietals who have purchased concrete ‘eggs’ to make their wine in.

Richly ripe white grapes from Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Richly ripe white grapes from Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Blends done right are wines greater than the sum of their parts. Often Cabernet Sauvignon, a big firm wine, will have some Merlot blended in as the Merlot will soften the wine; and the reverse is true, an overly soft Merlot can benefit from the backbone a little Cabernet Sauvignon can offer to the blended wine’s structure.

Just as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are often blended together, so too are Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, and Zinfandel and Carignane. There are many ‘classic’ blends, and they are classics because they work, the wines blended are often better than the wines held separate.

In California, as long as there is 75% or more of any single wine grape variety in the wine then that grape variety can be used on the label; in other words, the Zinfandel you buy at the store has at least 75% and up to a full 100% of Zinfandel in the bottle, but might contain some other wine grape varieties – up to 25% in total. There are many local wineries that make stellar blend wines, and do not bother with hitting 75% of any varietal, instead giving their blend wine a fanciful proprietary name like Black Quarto, Atrea Old Soul Red, or Campo de Stella.

In Europe, wines are named for the areas they come from, and a Châteauneuf-du-Pape red wine can be made from any of nine grape varieties and is most often a blend, while a red wine from Bordeaux will be made from a shorter list of grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère. Just as Châteauneuf-du-Pape has a protocol, part law and part tradition, for making wine, so too does Bordeaux, and nearly every other geographically identifiable wine area in Europe.

Meritage (rhymes with heritage, it is an American wine, not French, so please do not force a French mispronunciation) is a wine made outside of Bordeaux using the grapes used in Bordeaux, where an individual grape variety does not meet the minimum percentage threshold allowing the wine to receive a grape variety name. Starting as a California only association of blended wines, Meritage wines expanded first to the United States, and then internationally.

In all of the United States, there is only one geographically identifiable area that makes wines from an agreed upon list of grapes, and following an agreed upon production protocol, following the European model, but is by agreement among the participating wineries and not under force of law, and that unique in America area is Mendocino County, and the wines are Coro Mendocino.

A Quintet of Coro Mendocino Wines

A Quintet of Coro Mendocino Wines

Coro is Italian for Chorus and, just as a chorus should be a harmonious blending of voices, Coro wines should be a harmonious blending of grape varieties. Every Coro Mendocino starts with Zinfandel, Mendocino County’s most planted grape, and must contain no less than 40% and no more than 70% Zinfandel. Of note is that there is not enough Zinfandel, 75% minimum, to label the wine as a Zinfandel. The supporting ‘blend’ grapes include Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Sangiovese, Grenache, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, Primitivo, plus up to 10% “free play” where an individual participating Coro Mendocino winery can allow their signature style to shine through, with an Anderson Valley winery blending in some Pinot Noir or inland Mendocino winery blending in some Cabernet Sauvignon as an example. None of the supporting blend grapes is to exceed the percentage of Zinfandel in the finished wine.

Coro Mendocino wines also adhere to winemaking protocols, with wine chemistry limits and oak and bottle aging spelled out for participants. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Coro Mendocino program is that each winery puts their wines through a rigorous quality assurance regimen; first the wines are blind tasted several times as barrel samples by all the participating wineries with constructive criticism offered up for each wine in an effort to produce the very best wines possible, and then the wines go through a pass/fail, Coro/No-Coro, blind tasting before they may carry the Coro Mendocino label.

Each Coro within a vintage, winery to winery, is different, just as each Coro within a winery, vintage to vintage, is different, and yet there is a thread that ties all Coro Mendocino wines together, in much the same way that all wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Bordeaux are tied together, but with an assurance of quality.

Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, Parducci, and Testa each made a Coro in the most recently released vintage, 2011, and the wines can be tasted and purchased at each individual winery’s tasting room, or all can be purchased at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland. The best of the Coro from each vintage, produced from organically grown grapes, is also available at the Ukiah co-op and on Patrona restaurant’s wine list in Ukiah.

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John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

John On Wine ­ – Thank you

By John Cesano

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I like that we kick-off the holiday season with a giving of thanks. Facebook has featured 30 days of thanks – a note about something that moves someone to thanks – posted each day in November, 30 notes of thanks with several of my friends participating.

These many notes of thanks and the other upbeat, positive, and inspirational messages have made Facebook more joyful this month. I’ve participated; it isn’t a stretch imagining me writing 30 notes in 30 days, after all. A few of my notes touched on wine, pouring it, tasting it, writing about it, drinking it. I’ll be doing a bit more of that here.

First, I want to thank Guinness McFadden for giving me a job, for hiring me to take over your tasting room in Hopland. You hired an unknown quantity, I had never worked as a tasting room employee before. I hope your risk has been rewarded. Thanks to the wines and other foodstuffs from the farm that you provide me with, our numbers have never been better and we have the highest rated tasting room in the over five year history of San Francisco Chronicle tasting room reviews. I love that you tell me what, not how, and allow me to do my job with an amazing amount of freedom. I am thankful to be able to do something I am very good at.

I also want to thank my crew: Eugene, Gary, Ann, Juanita and Catrina for giving our visitors the same care I would give them, and freeing me up for days off.

I want to thank Bob Swain and, now sainted, Raphael Brisbois for making the wines I sell. You two have made wines with tons of medals and 90-plus ratings from Guinness’ grapes, and I am extraordinarily grateful to be able to pour them. Thanks also to Bob for sitting down with me and tasting 11 wines for a piece that ran online in March of 2010. Parducci Wine Cellars and Paul Dolan Wines were the first inland Mendocino County wines to get a feature piece written by me. I’ve asked Bob to sit down with me again and when he does, I’ll be thankful and write an updated piece featuring Parducci for the newspaper.

I’m thankful for Kelly Hancock, my editor at the Ukiah Daily Journal. Your stellar work editing previous pieces made saying yes to writing this column easier.

Thanks to my predecessor, Heidi Cusick Dickerson, a better wine writer than I am, for being constantly supportive of my efforts and for sending folks my way.

Thanks to so many local folks for being so welcoming, helpful, and ­ again ­ supportive. Alan, Louis and Hairy Putter, Di Davis and the entire Davis family, Lorie Pacini and Allen Cherry; thanks to all of you.

Thanks to all of the winery tasting room folks, owners and employees, from Potter Valley to Ukiah, Redwood Valley to Talmage, and Capella to Hopland. There are so many more features yet to write. Some of you, I’ve visited but haven’t written up yet; I will, after visiting again.

Thanks especially to the folks at Barra and Girasole: Martha, Charlie, Katrina, and my tasting buddy Gracia; and to Maria Testa at Testa Vineyards, who always has a smile and a good glass of red. I do not know what they put in the drinking water up in Redwood Valley, but I appreciate your every kindness.

Thanks to Bernadette Byrne at Sip! Mendocino in Hopland for helping point a few of the folks behind the labels you pour my way. Two of the biggest treats that I am most thankful for are meeting Fred and Alberta of Albertina Vineyards, and Mario and Danelle of Rosati Family Wines; a pair of husband and wife couples, growing grapes, making wine and selling it in entirely too much anonymity. I loved your wines and enjoyed spending time with you – thank you for making me feel so welcome. For those reading this, wines from both Albertina and Rosati are available at Sip! Mendocino.

I get invited to things because I write. Thanks for all of the invitations to events, dinners, and tastings. I see some of the same folks at various events and two people I am very thankful for are Sheriff Tom Allman and District Attorney David Eyster of Mendocino County. These two do more than merely administrate, they care about and constantly engage the people in the communities they serve. I am thankful for such dedicated public servants.

I got a head start with hundreds of McFadden wine club members who already knew me, but the response to this column from the public has been surprising to me. I am thankful to each and every person who reads my column. It is still slightly unsettling to have people I’ve never met, in places other than wine shops, recognize me and compliment me on a column they read and remember. Whether I’ve been in line to get coffee, seated at a restaurant, or on the firing line at the gun club, you have come up to me to tell me you read my column and even if I am not used to being recognized, I am thankful for your readership and humbled by your feedback.

I’ll be in my tasting room today until 5 p.m. to help people with their very last minute Thanksgiving wine selections and while the room will only be closed one day for Thanksgiving, I will very thankfully take most of four days off, enjoying a family dinner on Thursday, and trying to buy some great cookware on a Friday sale. Maybe, I’ll taste some wines on the weekend for a future column, which would make my editor thankful. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
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Here’s some extra “thank you”s for my online readers to wade through. Thanks to my son Charlie; you are, by and large, a good boy. Thanks to Heather from Ft. Bragg; it is nice when we find the time to walk paths together. Thanks to Millesima USA, who inexplicably named this blog one of the Top Ten Wine News Blogs being written.

Top 10 Wine New Blog Award

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John on Wine

Spotlight Winery: Rosati Family Wines

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on September 5, 2013 by John Cesano


In 1980 Mario and Danelle Rosati bought 960 acres just off Highway 101 at Comminsky Station Road, 1.7 miles south of Squaw Rock, near where Mendocino County borders Sonoma County. The ranch has grown to 1,500 acres with another 1,300 acre companion ranch, and is mostly natural and unplanted land.

Told at purchase that all of the buildings would have to be torn down, Mario completely rehabbed and restored a large red barn, which is now the nicest guest house you might imagine, filled with wood and stone, a showplace kitchen, soaring open space; both comfortable and gorgeous at once.

“Maybe one plank from the original barn is left,” Mario told me, as he welcomed me for a tasting and dinner.

A lawyer by training in Palo Alto, Mario graduated from U.C. Berkeley’s law school and joined a small firm, Wilson Sonsini, in 1971. The firm grew from nine to more than 600 lawyers, and is now global. Mario went from associate to partner in 1975, to having his name included in the firm’s name, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

The seeds of Rosati Family Wines were planted in 1971 when Mario’s boss and firm founder John Wilson asked, “do you like to drink wine,” before assigning him a new client: Ridge Vineyards.

For those unfamiliar, Ridge is one of the most revered wineries in California, and the wines produced from their various Monte Bello Ridge vineyards are highly sought after. The 2007 Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon is currently going for $160 at the winery, as an example.

David Bennion, a founding partner at Ridge, and Mario worked together for years; and with the purchase of his Mendocino County ranch, Mario invited Dave up to hunt for mushrooms. Mushroom hunting became pig hunting too, and after having visited for years, Dave suggested that grapes might grow well on the ranch.

Using precious Monte Bello bud stock from Ridge, David helped Mario plant 10 acres to Cabernet Sauvignon on a mountain ridge with elevation ranging from 1,000 to 1,200 feet in 1987. Subsequently, vines were filled in and an additional three acres were planted with Jimsomare bud stock. Jimsomare is one of four Monte Bello ridge vineyards that Ridge considers estate vineyards. Peter Chevalier is the vineyard manager for Mario and Danelle.

Mario gave me a ride from the “barn” up to the vineyards, about 800 feet above the Russian River below. The grape set looked spectacular, but Mario told me that his winemaker, Zelma Long, would drop about half the grapes and, during sorting after harvest, Zelma and Danelle would further reduce the yield, until only about 1 ton of the best, most flavorful grapes remain to make the vintage’s wine.

Zelma Long’s Cabernet Sauvignon winemaking credentials are as solid as they come, making stellar Cab for both Robert Mondavi in the 70s and Simi in the 80s and 90s.

Zelma and Alex MacGregor work together at John and Patty Fetzer’s Saracina winery to turn Rosati’s Cabernet grapes into wine.

I tasted five vintages of Rosati Family Wines Cabernet Sauvignon, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007.

Tying each of the five vintages together was a rich earthy quality, a chewiness, firm tannins, a “dustiness” that echoes the best of Napa Cab’s “Rutherford dust” quality, and clear rich ripe fruit.

Mario said of the 2000, “when we first bottled this, it had so much tannin, but now Š” as he poured it for me. With age, this wine showed rich dark chocolate and cherry notes, and still had enough tannin left that this was a hold or drink wine.

Opening a bottle from one of the last three cases, Mario poured the 2004, which showed bright cherry berry fruit in the nose and was so enjoyably easy to drink. Perfect right now, with light tannin and oak providing a backdrop for earthy, dusty, cassis, blackberry and cherry in the mouth and a long beautiful finish.

The 2005 is classic Cabernet, all earthy dark fruit, plummy blackberry, boysenberry, and tannin. Pretty big, lay it down and hold, or drink.

2006 Rosati Family Cabernet Sauvignon is a gorgeous, food friendly, not overpowering, but bursting with candy like blackberry and black currant wine. Earthy, oaky, tooth coating chewiness upon opening gives way to rich and bright fruit, beautifully balanced and integrated, a lively and delightful wine.

The 2007 is plummy rich, dense, and packed with dark fruit. Maribeth Kelly brought an aerating decanter and this wine, which is a definite hold, a wine that can be laid down longer still to benefit, was magically turned into a drink.

Rick Berry and Maribeth were guests at a dinner Mario and Danelle kindly invited me to share, with fresh salmon caught by Rick being served. Steaks were also grilled with the most delicious rub, and were a perfect pairing for the several vintages of Rosati Cabernet at the table.

In Mendocino County both SIP! Mendocino in Hopland and the Mendocino Wine Shop in Mendocino carry Rosati Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is well worth a visit to either to try some, especially at a surprisingly affordable price of $32-$33.
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This piece was written over a month ago. This morning, I received an email announcing the release of the 2010 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet at $160 per bottle. These Rosati wines are like those Ridge wines, but you get five bottles for the price of one.

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John on Wine

Spotlight Winery: Albertina Vineyards

Originally Published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on August 8, 2013 by John Cesano

Along with my friend Gracia Brown, I spent a wonderful afternoon with Fred and Alberta Zmarzly at their remote, terraced-hillside vineyards tasting wine, eating some salami and cheese on crackers, and getting to know each other a little better.

Fred and Alberta met in Belmont at a nightclub called the Swiss Chalet, the band playing that evening was the Warlocks. The Warlocks would shortly after change their name to the Grateful Dead. Alberta also changed her name, taking Fred’s, Zmarzly, when they married.

For those keeping score at home, Gracia has previously graced columns both here in print and my online blog, for having been the talented and hardworking representative of the county’s wine industry when she worked for the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission, and more recently as Martha and Charlie Barra’s current marketing superstar.

Together, Gracia and I left Hopland as we first traveled west, and then south and up, up, upward until we came to the cabin home of Fred and Alberta. Fred met and welcomed us, wearing relaxed farmers garb; blue jeans, a faded blue polo shirt, brown work boots, and a ball cap emblazoned “SIP! Mendocino” ­ which is where Albertina’s wines can be purchased in Hopland.

With a cooler filled with wine tasting and picnic provisions, we walked from Fred’s home, past a water pond, and up into the Albertina vineyards, a nudge over 400 acres around the side and up Duncan Peak.

As we walked, Fred shared that having moved from Buffalo, NY to California, and then on to Santa Rosa, he and Alberta were looking for a place to raise cattle and farm when they found a real estate ad offering a “pond, hunting, and lodge.” The ad stretched the lodge part, but they bought the place in 1983, rebuilt the cabin home and refurbished the other two “lodge” buildings in 1985 and 1986, decided to go into grapes in 2000, took care of water needs in 2001, and actually planted their Albertina vineyards in 2002.

Albertina means “little Alberta” in Italian, and is what Alberta’s father called her as a child. Now the name allows Fred to share his love for his wife with each bottle of wine made from their grapes.

On a knoll with 25 mile views, under the shade of oak trees in the center of the vineyards we tasted the 2009 Albertina Cabernet Sauvignon ($26). Made by Penny Gadd-Caster, who made Jordan’s Cabernet for 13 years, at Rack & Riddle in Hopland, this was a supple and smooth red, rich and redolent, with powerful blackberry fruit against a backdrop of leather, chocolate, and violet, with lighter supporting fruit notes of cherry and strawberry. A gorgeously integrated wine, there is a terrific nose to mouth to finish continuity of notes.

Fred sells 40 tons of fruit to Constellation, a giant in the industry with more than 50 wine brands in the U.S., and splits the rest between Rack & Riddle and Greg Graziano for turning into Albertina wines.

Fred next poured us some of his 2009 Albertina Cabernet Franc, Meredith’s Reserve ($24).

Outdoors, comfortably seated with friends, new and old, I tasted Fred’s Franc. Layers of flavors, red raspberry fruit, licorice, herb, pepper, and red plum played in a fruit forward styled enjoyable drinkable, soft, medium bodied wine.

Fred told us a bit about farming grapes and said there are really 12 things a farmer needs to do to make good grapes, irrigation being one of those things. Joking that his endeavors might be saintly, like Jesus he turns water into wine, but he’s not as good at it because it takes Fred 1/2 million gallons of water to make 3,000 gallons of wine each year.

After walking through the vineyard and seeing where a small portion came through a recent fire started by a tractor exhaust spark, we returned to the cabin home and met Alberta who had been resting during the hottest part of a very hot summer day.

The Zmarzly home is comfortable and charming, with a lovely antique stove and oven that definitely caught both Gracia’s and my eyes. We were also impressed with the casts of bear prints and the bear tales Alberta and Fred shared.

Paired with salami, cheese, and crackers, we tasted the 2009 Albertina Merlot, Lorelei’s Reserve ($24). Perfumed plum in a glass, the Merlot was the third of three Bordeaux varietal reds grown on the Zmarzly Family Vineyard to impress and please. Supporting notes included warm candied cherry and herb.

The four of us alternately sat and stood, conversations were weaved, stories told. We got to hear about the liquor stills that Alberta’s family had on the ranch where she grew up, and how the Feds blew the stills up, and while some folks got prosecuted, her father got off.

We heard about how the town of Hopland has changed over the years, since the Zmarzlys first came to town in 1983 until 2011 when I started managing a tasting room in town.

We talked about farming, conventional and organic ­ the Albertina vineyards are sustainably farmed.

Four hours passed and three wines were tasted. This was a standout experience for me, a wonderfully enjoyable and relaxed day chatting over wine. Fun.

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John Cesano, an ardent Deadhead, listened to the almost 24-year-old, October 9, 1989 Hampton Coliseum “Warlocks” show while putting this column together, in honor of Fred and Alberta’s meeting at a show by the band 24 years earlier still.

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