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John On Wine – Recap of a great three day wine weekend

Last week, I mentioned that I was attending some wine events and promised a recap of tastes of the eighteen gold medal winning wines made using Mendocino County grapes that were at the Barlow on Sunday in Sebastopol for the 2015 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge grand tasting.

Upon arriving, I was instantly reminded of Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke the Elder’s quote, “no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force,” which could be paraphrased and shortened, “no plan survives first contact.”

At check in, my badge could not be found, but I was saved by fellow writer and wine ambassador Thea Dwelle who recognized me and secured two wristbands for me and my tasting companion, Susan Johnson. Thank you Thea!

List in hand, ready to taste the wines in a planned order, I found that the wineries were not alphabetically ordered, but by wine type, whites and bubblies in one group, light reds and blush wines in another, and finally big reds in a last group. The problem, for me, is that a number of wineries won medals for more than one wine type, and the significant crowds made the tasting I had planned nearly impossible.

Instead, I decided to put my notebook away and simply taste what I wished, and enjoy myself. That new plan was a smashing success as there was much to enjoy.

I lived and worked in the Sonoma County wine industry for far longer than I have lived and worked here in Mendocino County, and saw many friends; the event was very much like a reunion for me. The wines were top notch, as you might expect from a collection of gold medal winners, and the food was beyond good, the food was great. Special thanks to all of the wine judges, including Christopher Sawyer who shared some of his event photos for this piece.

Two Michelin Star Cyrus' chef Doug Keene with Foie Gras for Late Harvest and Caviar for Bubbly at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Two Michelin Star Cyrus’ chef Doug Keene with Foie Gras for Late Harvest and Caviar for Bubbly at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

I tasted Foie Gras and Caviar from Michelin two star awarded chef Doug Keene, spectacular pork treats from Food Network celebrity Duskie Estes and husband John Stewart, salmon, truffled mac and cheese, pork belly, tuna tataki, and so much more. Every bite was an absolute delight but some were so intensely flavorful that finding a wine that could pair well was a challenge – a challenge I accepted.

Duskie Estes of Zasu at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Duskie Estes of Zasu at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Wines, well that’s why I attended, right? I loved Carol Shelton’s new 2014 Wild Thing Chardonnay, Mendocino County, with oak but not so much as to mask the abundant and flavorful fruit notes. Navarro’s 2014 Pinot Blanc and Campovida’s 2013 Arneis were also drinking great. Handley’s 2014 Rose of Pinot Noir was bright and flavorful, a good match for many foods, and their Best of Mendocino County awarded 2012 Pinot Noir was especially delicious with gorgeous cherry berry fruit and depth, matched to oak and herb. Campovida’s 2013 Campo di Rossa, a Rhone blend, and Masut’s 2013 Pinot Noir rounded out my day’s favorite local red tastes. I finished my day with a taste of the 2013 Merriam Vineyards Chardonnay, Bacigalupi, Native Fermentation $56, poured by the multi-talented Toni DiLeo, and was well pleased with the choice. Toni and I sold a 1994 Bacigalupi Chardonnay made by Carol Shelton many years ago, and it brought the event full circle for me, with ribbon and a bow.

Campovida's Sebastian Donoso with two Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge Gold Medal winners (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Campovida’s Sebastian Donoso with two Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge Gold Medal winners (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

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2015 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival (photo by Tom Liden)

2015 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival (photo by Tom Liden)

Before the Barlow event on Sunday, came 2015’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival. Once again, another amazing event put on by Mendocino County’s best organized appellation. I might be the largest cheerleader for inland Mendocino’s wine scene, but credit where credit is due, Janis MacDonald and her team at the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association do the very best job reaching out to the press, marketing and promoting, and staging first class wine events within Mendocino County. Kudos go to Janis, Kristy Charles, and all of the amazing volunteers, for another memorable and worthwhile event.

Pizza is served by Stone & Embers at Balo Vineyard's Welcome Dinner for the press (photo by John Cesano)

Pizza is served by Stone & Embers at Balo Vineyard’s Welcome Dinner for the press (photo by John Cesano)

The event kicked off for me Thursday night with a Welcome Dinner at Balo Vineyards. There were more wines than I could taste, more winemakers and winery owners than I could chat with, but I said my hellos and tasted some delicious wines. Favorites of the night included the 2014 Avenging Angel Pinot Noir Blanc, a 2013 Philo Ridge Viognier with Greg Nelson’s grapes, the 2012 Waits-Mast Wentzel Vineyard Pinot Noir, the 2012 Donkey & Goat Broken Leg Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2012 Williams Selyem Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir, and a 1994 Husch Pinot Noir which I would describe as ‘faded glory’, a wine from a great vintage, a little beyond its prime, but filled with memories of other wines from that year. The appetizers, salads and pizza by Stone & Embers were excellent.

Friday morning’s Tech Conference featured a look at the state of Pinot Noir by Glenn McGourty, who shared that Pinot Noir acreage in the state has doubled, at least, since 2000, and that the variety is the most valuable grown per ton, on average. Nancy Smith and Jennifer Carah from The Nature Conservancy returned to update attendees on water flow and proposed efforts to balance the needs of fish and humans in the Navarro watershed. Andy Walker discussed rootstock and Jean-Jacques Lambert talked about soil in the two tech sessions aimed well over my head, but undoubtedly of value to the vineyards and winery owners attending. My favorite sessions included a panel tasting of Pinot Noir produced from different soil types, another panel tasting focusing on various Pinot Noir wines produced using Charles Vineyard grapes, and the lunch session with various Anderson Valley Pinot Noir wines and the best conference food ever served at a tech conference, prepared by Boont Berry Farm. I’m a simple taster, and my favorite sessions involve wine and a story. My favorite quote of the day came from Bill Hill of Expression 39 wine, on terroir (soil and climate), “there are a few places in the world that make wines that are really interesting, there are places in the world that make wines that shouldn’t.” The day’s conference amply demonstrated that Anderson Valley is a place to make Pinot Noir.

Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

That night’s Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars catered by The Q was a blast. Lots of people gathered to enjoy the best event BBQ food served at one of these events, fantastic wine, great heartfelt country folk music, and the company of one another.

Just some of the wines at the Press Tasting at Scarffenberger Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

Just some of the wines at the Press Tasting at Scarffenberger Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

Saturday morning, at 8:50 am, I started working through tasting wines, taking comprehensive notes for each, at the Press Tasting at Scharffenberger Cellars. I took over 2 ½ hours to taste through about 55 wines, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience as John and Linda Compisi and Christopher Sawyer were also tasting and there were great conversations and cross talk over wines being tasted.

My favorite wines of the press tasting, in reverse alphabetical order, were the 2012 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Wentzel Vineyard, Anderson Valley; 2012 Witching Stick Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir; 2011 Philo Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley; 2013 Phillips Hill Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; 2013 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Noir, Deep End Blend, Anderson Valley; 2012 Husch Reserve Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; 2012 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, Helluva Vineyard, Anderson Valley; 2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; 2012 Fathers & Daughters Pinot Noir, Ella’s Reserve, Ferrington Vineyard (not a consensus choice, light, but stand out interesting); 2013 Drew Pinot Noir Fog-Eater Anderson Valley; 2013 Bink Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; and 2012 Baxter Pinot Noir Anderson Valley (tasted at the Grand Tasting).

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting wines (photo by Tom Liden)

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting wines (photo by Tom Liden)

The Grand Tasting at Goldeneye Winery was indeed grand, with smiling winemakers pouring for smiling attendees. The smiles were easy to come by, bought with some of the best wine and food imaginable, from among many of the county’s best producers.

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting food (photo by Tom Liden)

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting food (photo by Tom Liden)

Tom Liden, Mendocino County photographer extraordinaire, was on hand and his photos are as gorgeous as the wine and food served. Thanks for sharing, Tom.
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Next week, I’ll be recapping the Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, featuring the wines of Graziano Family of Wines.
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NOTE: This piece is scheduled to run in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 28, 2015 and, instead of waiting for publication there before archiving here, I am running it here first for timeliness. The early reference to last week’s column will actually be a column that runs tomorrow, and be archived out of order shortly after, here.

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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!

On Saturday, I attended the Sonoma County Harvest Fair Awards Gala with my good friend Susan Johnson.

Lovely Susan Johnson, grower and sharer of delicious vegetables

Susan and I have each attended our share of Awards Galas and remembered them as being dress affairs. I have spent most of the year in shorts and sandal mode, so Susan felt compelled, unnecessarily, to remind me to dress for the event.

John Cesano in coat, tie, and dress shoes – with socks!

When I arrived at Susan’s house in the Russian River Valley, it was nearly 100 degrees, and taking mercy on me, Susan released me from the coat and tie.

We arrived at the Sonoma County fairgrounds about 15 minutes before the event start time, and drove past a long line of people on our way to park the car. Several of the people in line were dressed in shorts and tee shirts. Although I am a huge fan of the casual dress, it was disappointing to see that some people didn’t make an attempt to be dress appropriate for the event. I was a little envious.

We were in the middle of the line when the doors opened, and it took a full 15 minutes to get in the door as tickets were taken and glasses handed out. The crowds raised the heat inside of the building and made for a less than perfectly comfortable event.

Finding wineries was made difficult as they were first grouped by geographical area, or appellation, and then alphabetically. It took a while to catch on that Russian River Valley wineries were at one end and Sonoma Valley wineries were grouped together at the other end of the hall. Aldler Fels and Alderbrook would not be nowhere near each other.

We received our tickets from Heather Irwin of BiteClubEats, and Susan and I both thought that Heather did a great job emceeing that evening. We also thought she should be invited to host solo next year, because her co-emcee was droning, slow, and uninteresting.

The evening was about people for us, more than wine. I was thrilled to see Serena and Mark, Rachel, Linda and Gordon, and Robert and his new gal. It was a little too hot, and a little too crowded to really make wine tasting fully enjoyable. We did a little tasting, but it was just nice to get out together, and I was looking forward to a more select opportunity to taste in earnest.

Yesterday, Monday, I returned to attend the Sonoma County Trade & Media Tasting from 1:30 – 4:30. With 1,084 wines entered into competition, I couldn’t taste everything. 207 wines were awarded at least a Gold Medal by the judges, and I am not able to taste that many wines in a day, suffering palate fatigue long before then, so I looked to limit my tasting further. I decided to taste wines being chosen by the judges as the Best in their Class, and included Double Gold (Unanimous Gold votes by all the judges). After putting together a tasting list by varietal, I found that several of the wineries chose not to pour their wine for the trade or media; I found that was very disappointing. By winery, in alphabetical order, here are my tasting notes from the media tasting event:

Alexander Valley Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Franc Estate Alexander Valley $21.00 – Cabernet Franc Best of Class – Smooth (French oak for 14 months). Tastes nice, herb, spice, but Cab Franc will never be my favorite varietal – the varietal makes me think of sappy green wood bits – but for those that like Cab franc, this is a good one.

Alexander Valley Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Estate Alexander Valley $18.00 – Chardonnay Retail Price up to $19.99 Double Gold – Oak, toast, cream and vanilla. Old California style, heavier in body and mouth without being fat. Clean and bright with depth. Fruit is along for the ride.

Alexander Valley Vineyards 2007 Viognier Estate Alexander Valley $21.00 – Viognier Sweepstakes White – Clean peach and pear. Would pair great with a lighter seafood pasta. A little “zingy” on the back end.

Arbor Bench Vineyards 2007 Reflections Meritage Arbor Bench Vineyard Dry Creek Valley $34.00 – Bordeaux Blends Retail Price $30 and over Silver – What? A silver medal wine gets tasted? The winery owner asked me to taste so I did. Merlot, Cab, and Malbec. Round, drinkable, very food friendly. Wonderful fruit berry medley without in your face forwardness.

Armida Winery 2008 Syrah Flora Ranch Chalk Hill $32.00 – Syrah/Shiraz Retail Price $25 and over Double Gold – NOT POURING

B.R. Cohn Winery 2009 Chardonnay Sangiacomo Vineyard Reserve Carneros $35.00 – Chardonnay Retail Price $30 and over Best of Class – NOT POURING

B.R. Cohn Winery 2008 Syrcab Sonoma Valley $32.00 – Other Red Varietal or Generic Best of Class – NOT POURING

Carol Shelton Wines 2008 Black Magic Zinfandel Sonoma County $20.00 – Late Harvest or Dessert Red Best of Class – This was my #1 favorite wine of the tasting. I had preconceptions prior to tasting it that were blasted to smithereens at first sip. I literally was rocked and exclaimed, “Oh my God.” This 15% alc Zin is simply delicious. Late Harvest wines, dessert wines, and Ports scare me, many are so over the top, and I steel myself for them, but this was disarming, and amazing. Velvet smooth, and honeyed. This Zinfandel had botrytis sweet apricot and honey notes more typical of a Sauterene. Sweet Zinfandel raspberry jam meets Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. It is just freaky good. After already falling in love, Carol gave me a chocolate to pair with the wine, just wow.

Carol Shelton sharing some of her zinsight

Carol Shelton Wines 2006 Bacchus Laureate Reserve Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley $52.00 – Zinfandel Retail Price $35 and over Gold – Carol Shelton earned her Bachelors of Science from UC Davis 30 years ago, and this wine is a tribute to her time there. With over $5,000 from sales of this wine being donated back to Davis, the Bacchus Laureate allows wine enjoyment now to support wine enjoyment tomorrow. This is a monster Zin. Huge, powerful. I’ll be honest, I like them a little tamer.

Chateau St. Jean 2007 Syrah Durell Vineyard Sonoma Valley $40.00 – Syrah/Shiraz Retail Price $25 and over Best of Class – NOT POURING

D & L Carinalli Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Estate Russian River Valley $20.00 – Chardonnay Retail Price $20 to $20.99 Best of Class – Multi layered fruit. Great integration. A blending of subtleties, A little vanilla on the finish. Going to be sold at Harvest Fair Friday through Sunday at $144/case or $136/case for 5 cases. Great buy!

Davis Family Vineyards 2006 Barn d’Or Sonoma County $24.00 – Bordeaux Blends Retail Price up to $29.99 Best of Class – NOT POURING

de Lorimier Winery 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Warm Springs Ranch Dry Creek Valley $32.00 – Cabernet Sauvignon Retail Price $25 to $34.99 Best of Class – Dusty cocoa, herb, fruit. Nicely balanced. Warm blackberry, boysenberry and spice. Smooth.

Eric K James 2007 Pinot Noir Carneros $24.00 – Pinot Noir Retail Price up to $24.99 Best of Class – Smoky, round, lush, integrated herb, spice, cherry, plum. Vinous.

Forchini Vineyards & Winery 2007 Papa Nano Estate Dry Creek Valley $18.00 – Italian Varietals or Blends Best of Class – An American Chianti, Tuscan style red. Soft round strawberry, vanilla, oak, chocolate. Smooth, delish. Jim Forchini is a great winery ambassador.

Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards 2002 Royal Cuvee Carneros $32.00 – Sparkling Wines Best of Class – Creamy, low yeasty, apple, lemon, small beaded bubble, nice mousse, caramel mist, round.

Hauck Cellars 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County $35.00- Cabernet Sauvignon Retail Price $35 to $44.99 Best of Class- I was not allowed to taste before being made to make note that this is Hauck’s third year in a row with a Best of Class Cab. Are you satisfied with the pimping? Send me a bottle. Anyway, bright forward berry fruit, oak. Not a monster Cab, a little elegant, vinous.

Imagery Estate Winery 2007 Petit Verdot Sonoma Valley $39.00 – Bordeaux Varietals Best of Class – NOT POURING

Imagery Estate Winery 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Wow Oui Sonoma Valley $27.00 – Sauvignon Blanc Retail Price $17 and over Best of Class – NOT POURING

Kenwood Vineyards 2007 Merlot Jack London Vineyard Sonoma Valley $20.00 – Merlot Retail Price up to $24.99 Double Gold – Deeper, more herbaceous nose. Plum. Nice integration.

Kenwood Vineyards 2009 Pinot Gris Sonoma County $14.00 – Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio Best of Class – Really delicious. Third vintage. Lime, light garden herb, steely, stone fruit, citrus fruit, mineral.

Leveroni Vineyards 2006 Merlot Moon Valley Vineyard Sonoma Valley $16.00 – Merlot Retail Price up to $24.99 Best of Class – Really bright nose. Fruit and herb. Candied cherry follows from nose to mouth. A little deeper finish with leather and plum.

Little Vineyards 2008 Syrah Sonoma Valley $30.00 – Syrah/Shiraz Retail Price $25 and over Double Gold – NOT POURING

Macrae Family Winery 2007 Pinot Noir Bacigalupi Vineyard Russian River Valley $34.50 – Pinot Noir Retail Price $25 to $34.99 Best of Class – An in your face, or nose, Pinot. Forward everything. Surprisingly sweet note of cherry fruit after a heavier dense nose. Really nice.

Mahoney Vineyards 2009 Albarino Las Brisas Vineyard Carneros $18.00 – Riesling/Other White Best of Class – Spanish varietal. Drier, crisper. Light body. Fruit and floral. Clean.

Mayo Family Winery 2007 Meritage Los Chamizal Vineyards Reserve Sonoma Valley $50.00 – Bordeaux Blends Retail Price $30 and over Best of Class – Different varietals from different blocks of one vineyard, crushed and barreled separately. Aged about 2 years, about 70% new oak. Smooth. Drinkable. Round. Blackberry, oak, currant. Delish.

Mazzocco Sonoma 2005 Merlot Dry Creek Valley $28.00 – Merlot Retail Price $25 and over Best of Class – Herby, darker, deeper. Not loving it, but others will – and clearly did. Parker-esque? More herb, spice, oak focused than fruit in this wine.

Mill Creek Winery 2009 Gewurtztraminer Estate Vineyard Dry Creek Valley $19.00 – Gewurtztraminer Best of Class – Dry Gewurtz nose. Round, sweet honeysuckle, apricot, lychee, orange blossom

Mill Creek Winery 2007 Zinfandel Kreck Family Vineyards Dry Creek Valley $38.00 – Zinfandel Retail Price $35 and over Best of Class – Under 200 cases. Initial alcohol blossom found in many Zins. Classic peppery meaty jammy zin.

Mobius Wines 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County $24.99 – Cabernet Sauvignon Retail Price up to $24.99 Best of Class – NOT POURING

Novy Family Winery 2007 Syrah Russian River Valley $24.00 – Syrah/Shiraz Retail Price up to $24.99 Best of Class – Blackberry and chocolate. Smooth and delicious. Complex.

Paradise Ridge Winery 2008 The Posse Hoenselaars Vineyard Russian River Valley $50.00 – Rhone Red Varietals or Blends Best of Class – Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel. A “Rhonefindel.” Wow, nice blend. Round, chocolate, lush warm fruit, spice and herb. Terrific food wine. 250 cases.

Pedroncelli Winery 2005 Port Four Grapes Dry Creek Valley $18.00 – Port Best of Class – Made with real Portuguese varietal grapes, this 18.5% alc Port has raspberry, coffee, and baking spice notes.

Sebastiani Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley $33.99 – Cabernet Sauvignon Retail Price $25 to $34.99 Double Gold – NOT POURING

The food tables were an absolute treat, with delicious specialty meats, cheeses, breads, oils, fruit, spreads.

Sebastiani Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Russian River Valley $14.99 – Chardonnay, unoaked Best of Class – NOT POURING

Sebastiani Vineyards 2008 Chardonnay Sonoma County $12.99 – Chardonnay Retail Price up to $19.99 Best of Class – NOT POURING

Simi Winery 2007 Late Harvest Riesling Alexander Valley $30.00 – Late Harvest or Dessert White Sweepstakes Specialty – NOT POURING

Simi Winery 2007 Petite Sirah Dry Creek Valley $35.00 – Petite Sirah Best of Class – NOT POURING

St. Francis 2008 Caro Santo Sonoma Valley $45.00 – Sangiovese Best of Class – NOT POURING

Starkey’s Court 2008 Zinfandel Pedrazzini Family Vineyard Sonoma Valley $24.99 – Zinfandel Retail Price up to $24.99 Best of Class – Nicely integrated, well balanced herb, spice, black raspberry.

Stryker Sonoma 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Alexander Valley $50.00 – Cabernet Sauvignon Retail Price $45 and over Sweepstakes Red – NOT POURING

Suncé Winery & Vineyard 2009 Pinot Noir Zora’s Estate Vineyard Reserve Russian River Valley $44.00 – Pinot Noir Retail Price $35 and over Best of Class – NOT POURING

Taft Street Winery 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley $24.00 – Pinot Noir Retail Price up to $24.99 Double Gold – Dusty cocoa, oak, dark cherry, herb. Lovely integration. Lovely mouth. This and a book. Some cheese. Leave me alone.

Trecini 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley $14.99 – Sauvignon Blanc Retail Price up to $16.99 Best of Class – Nicely appropriate varietal notes. Hay and cat pee in the house.

Wilson Winery 2008 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley $26.00 – Zinfandel Retail Price $25 to $34.99 Best of Class – Nice perfume. Beautiful fruit. Raspberry, blueberry, chocolate syrup, and spice.

Wilson Winery 2008 Wilson Family Red Estate Dry Creek Valley $32.00 – Other Red Varietal or Generic Double Gold – Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Tons of beautifully integrated fruit. Lush juicy blackberry and cassis. Nice oak. What a food wine!

Gordon Harsaghy pouring for Windsor Vineyards and Windsor Sonoma

Windsor Sonoma 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley $30.00 – Cabernet Sauvignon Retail Price $25 to $34.99 Not Entered – Gordon asked me Saturday night to stop back on Monday, he would have something special. This is Gordon’s favorite wine currently available from the entire Vintage Wine Estates portfolio. Perfumed. Really damn nice. Big, but smooth. 100% Cab. Integrated, Round. Lush. Layered and very drinkable. An herbal Cabernet with gorgeous fruit. Winemaker Marco DiGiulio did a solid job by these grapes.

The only note I have for the Harvest Fair organizers: next year, please have large plastic cups available for media tasters who may want to spit without leaning over a table to use the dump buckets.

The Sonoma County Harvest Fair will continue with tastings and sales for the public Friday through Sunday, October 1-3. The wineries who chose not to pour for the trade and media will be pouring their big medal winners for you next weekend.

If you live in, or near Santa Rosa, I heartily recommend going to the Harvest Fair; I hope my tasting list and notes above are helpful to you when planning your tasting order.

Every once in a while, I do an entry that covers more than one subject. These “potpourri” entries serve a couple of purposes; they allow me to tell you about things that don’t merit an entry of their own, they allow me to let you get a glimpse of what you might expect to see in the future, and they provide an entry where I can drop the mantle of wine blogger and just be John for a minute – perhaps getting off topic. In case you haven’t guessed yet, this is one of those entries.

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If you look up at the name of the blog in the vineyards scene header, you may notice the name of the blog has changed. So has the web address, or url, although the old one will continue to bring you here.

“John on wine, food, and living in the wine country” and http://johncesano.wordpress.com have become the much simpler “John On Wine” and JohnOnWine.com so let me welcome you to the newly christened wine, food, and wine country blog John On Wine.

When I attended ZAP on a press credential, I was asked for my business card many times over the three days I attended the ZAP Zinfandel tasting events. Knowing that business cards for the upcoming Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah tasting, and future events and visits, would be a good idea, I had to decide what information to put on the cards.

In the end my old site name was too long and cumbersome; I had to decide between JohnCesano.com  and JohnOnWine.com, and as no one has spelled my name correctly when hearing it for the first time, or pronounced it correctly when reading it for the first time, I decided to let go of ego and go with the simple site name.

Needless to say, I have new business cards.

The advantages to the new name are huge, if someone asks me about my blog, I can give them an address they can remember until they get home and log on. Readers can direct their friends to my site with much greater ease, I can hear it now, “It is John on wine dot com, John with an h, and John on wine all run together.”

I had to go to twitter and change from @JohnCesano to @JohnOnWine, and then update other social networks in a similar fashion, changing the name of my facebook group page and networked blogs account.

As on of my winery friends from twitter @PushbackWines said, “Nice, as they say, K.I.S.S.”

A downside is that I may have lost my Google PageRank, and several ranking lists will have the old url, or worse may lose track of my site altogether.

In the past, I used to point to the ranking pages when justifying requests for wines to sample, however my site is well established, the articles are solid, and I don’t feel the need to justify anymore. The site speaks for itself now.

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Speaking of wine samples, the mailman and UPS guy were at my house yesterday. I have four books to review, and about a dozen more wines to taste and review.

Thanks to the wineries and wine book publishers who see value in what I do.

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I can actually give a review of one of the books that arrived yesterday, because I didn’t have to read every word:

:WineSpeak:, A vinous thesaurus of (gasp) 36,975 bizarre, erotic, funny, outrageous, poetic, silly and ugly wine tasting descriptors. Who knew? by Bernard Klem

In :WineSpeak:, Klem has lifted and collated every descriptor for wine from hundreds of wine writers, from the well known and respected to the more niche and lesser known. Books, periodicals, web and blog sites from the pompously staid to the excitingly edgy were scoured by Klem to produce “WineSpeak:, a master wine tasting descriptor thesaurus.

Klem’s :WineSpeak:  has separated the wine descriptors into 3 major categories Appearance, Smell & Taste, and Distinctiveness, and then further broken down into 27 sub-categories, from Clarity (“so dense you need x-ray vision to see through it”) and Color (“dark red with purple-blue tinge”) through Acid (“enamel ripping”) and Tannin (“undrinkable tough”) , from Fruit (“piercing scents of black currants and raspberries”) and Wood (“overburdened by oak”) to Balance (” like a Michelangelo…everything in perfect proportion”) and Finish (“long, pure and drawn out”) – plus 19 more.

Aditionally, Klem has 20 special categories of wine descriptors, such as Terroir or Terror (“when you drink this wine you drink the place”) and An Ecstasy of Erotica (“like performing a sexual act that involves silk sheets, melted dark chocolate and black cherries while the mingles scents of cinnamon, coffee and cola waft through the air”).

Randomly opening the book, I found 138 descriptors for tannin on one page – and there seven pages of descriptors for just for tannin.

:WineSpeak: is an entertaining resource work for the general drinker of wine, and has earned a permanent place of importance on my wine reference shelf.

Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0980064805/ref=cm_cr_mts_prod_img

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For next Friday’s big Petite Sirah and food tasting, Dark & Delicious, I contacted all of the participating wineries by email and asked that they provide me a little information: I asked which wines they would be pouring, and I asked the alcohol percentage of those wines. I wanted to create a list of the wines to be tasted, ordered by alcohol percentage, so I could fairly taste and report on the wines tasted. Any other order of tasting puts lower alcohol wines at risk of not showing well as their flavors might be overwhelmed by previously tasted high alcohol wines.

In addition to contacting each winery by email, I tagged each winery in my blog entry about the ordered tasting list I was creating for myself and any of my readers who wanted to use it as well.

The event organizer also contacted participating wineries to let them know I was compiling a list of wines to taste and review.

In some cases, I sent second and third emails, and finally I made a phone call to each winery that didn’t respond to electronic communication. I have been able to collect the requested information from fully 95.56% of the participating wineries.

I love wine, wineries, vineyards, and the wine country in general, and  I would like to see them look as capable at business as they are at winemaking. I do my best. I wholly appreciate that the handful of non responding wineries are likely small wineries, running on skeleton crews, short on staff, and lacking in communication infrastructure.

To that end, when I taste the Petite Sirah wines poured at Dark & Delicious, any that are flawed or not to my taste will not be written about by me. That’s how I recapped my recent experiences at the ZAP Zinfandel tasting. I prefer to write about the positive things I experience.

In that vein, I want to express my appreciation to the 95.56%, the wineries who helped me when asked, who provided a little information upon request. Thank you for your near uniform professionalism and good cheer.

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I have been around wine forever, when Jeopardy has “wine” as a category I always sweep the category at home, but this week I found out something I never knew – but should have.

The US Government allows a 1.5% leeway in the accuracy of the alcohol percentage indicated on a wine’s label. In other words, a wine label with “12% by volume” might actually be as low as 10.5% or as high as 13.5% alcohol – this 1.5% leeway is allowed on wines as long as the wine does not exceed 13.9% (the Federal government collects more tax on wines 14% alcohol by volume and above). The permissible leeway is reduced to 1.0 % on wines over 14% in alcohol (however, the wine may not be less than 14%).

To me, this is just weird. Why bother to state an alcohol percentage to a tenth of a percentage point if it can be off by 1-1.5%?

How about honesty on the label, either “12 percent, give or take” or “ACTUAL 12.0 percent”?

I am sure that there is a reason that a winemaker can give me, probably owing to wine’s ever changing, living, nature, for the allowed leeway for stated alcohol percentage by volume on a wine label.

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I just found out that Susan Johnson, who was going to accompany me to Dark and Delicious next Friday, has had a surprise family affair pop up in conflict for the same day.

I will be looking for someone else to join me next Friday evening for a terrific tasting of Petite Sirah and food.

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Recently, I traveled from Cotati to Lucas Wharf in Bodega Bay on the Pacific ocean in Sonoma County to buy a quart of the most amazingly versatile and delicious passionfruit and chili sauce from the Island Deli..

The day was one of the sunny, blue sky days, sandwiched in between our rainy days. I had my son Charlie with me.

Sadly, the fish stall at the Wharf was not open (it was a weekend), but the smell of the ocean, fishy, briny, rich with sea life and the lingering smell of past catches was intoxicatingly wonderful.

Driving back to Ukiah from Bodega Bay, Charlie and I traveled the gorgeous west county of Sonoma County, Coleman Valley Road, Joy Road, Graton Road, 116, Occidental. Green, green, green. Cows, Llamas, Horses. Oak trees, Redwood trees, grape vines. It was so lush and beautiful. We had a really nice time driving home.

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DISCLOSURE: I received :WineSpeak: by Bernard Klem as a sample book from the Wine Appreciation Guild.

I am attending Dark & Delicious, a Petite Sirah and food pairing event on February 19, 2010 from 6pm – 9pm at the Rock Wall Wine Company in Alameda California. Susan Johnson, one of my favorite wine and food gals, will be accompanying me to the tasting.

Tickets are available at just $60 each, and include free parking, wines from 45 top Petite Sirah producers and 31 great restaurants. This is a GREAT event, tickets can be purchased online at Dark & Delicious Event

In the wake of getting my palate assaulted by some frighteningly high alcohol Zinfandels at the recent ZAP tasting, I want to approach the upcoming Petite Sirah tasting a little differently. It is unfair to the producers of lower alcohol wines to taste their wines directly after tasting a wine of high alcohol.

Among the many pearls of wisdom Joel Peterson of Ravenswood shared after his son Morgan’s presentation at ZAP was the belief that wines to be tasted should be ordered by alcohol percentage, from low to high, and where two or more wines are being poured with the same alcohol percentage, by residual sugar from low to high.

Peterson said that the three sins of Zinfandel winemaking are too much alcohol, too much sugar, and too much oak. I think that winemakers make less palatable wines, committing all three sins, to try to have their wines noticed by Parker and Spectator tasters who have to taste large numbers of wines at the same time.

I tasted fewer than 80 wines over 3 days for review consideration at ZAP this year, I can be honest with myself about palate fatigue and assault. I marvel at those who claim the ability to taste over 200 wines and fairly assign point scores to the wines they taste. I’ll be honest, I think most are full of hooey; I agree with Joel Peterson sentiment, the only way to taste over 200 wines fairly for assigning point scores is to order the wines by alcohol, not just alphabetically, and I am sure those who tasted such prodigious quantities of wine made no such effort.

At Dark & Delicious, a PS I Love You event, at least 45 top producers of Petite Sirah will pour their wines. I estimate there will be 75 or so different wines to taste. In an effort to fairly taste the wines at the event, yesterday I sent the following email message to each of the 45 participating wineries:

“I will be attending Dark & Delicious.

Sadly, I will be spitting as I will be trying to taste all of the Petite Sirah being poured. I will be posting my notes on my wine blog, much as I did for the recent Zap tasting 19TH Annual Zinfandel Festival

One thing I wished at ZAP was that all of the wines werre arranged in order of alcohol percentage low to high. I found that after tasting a monster alcohol zin, the notes of the next zin tasted seemed muted. I would like to know what Petite Sirah(s) you will be pouring at Dark & Delicious, please include alc %, so I can order my tastings in advance.

Thank you very much.

John Cesano”

It may have taken mutiple emails, and phone calls in some cases, but I am thrilled to report that responses are coming in big. Here is what I have (95.56% of the participating wineries have already responded with the information requested):

13.0% alc. 2006 Concannon Vineyards Reserve Nina’s Cuvee Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley $30

13.3% alc. 2006 Ursa Vineyards Petite Sirah, Vineyard Blend, California $16

13.5% alc 2007 Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah, California (Clarksburg & Lodi) $12

13.5% alc. 2005 Cleavage Creek Napa Valley Reserve Petite Sirah, 200 cases, $45

13.5% alc. Concannon Vineyard Conservancy Petite Sirah $15

 

13.5% alc. 2007 (Langtry) Guenoc Petite Sirah, Lake County $20

 

13.5% alc.  2007 Windmill (Michael~David Winery), Perite Sirah, Lodi  (Petite Sirah blended with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon) $12

 

13.8% alc. 2007 Artezin Petite Sirah, Mendocino County (87% Petite Sirah, 7% Zinfandel, 6% Charbono) $20

 

13.8% alc. 1998 F. Teldeschi Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $32

13.8% alc. 2000 F. Teldeschi Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $36

 

13.8% alc. 2007 Spangler Vineyards Petite Sirah, Southern oregon, The Terraces $35

 

13.9% alc. 2007 Artezin Petite Sirah, Garzini Ranch, Mendocino County (100% Petite Sirah) $36

 

13.9% alc. 2007 Cleavage Creek Napa Valley Reserve Petite Sirah, 320 cases, $45

13.9% alc. 2006 Pedroncelli Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $15

14.0% alc. 2006 Cleavage Creek Napa Valley Reserve Petite Sirah, 250 cases, $45

14.2% alc. 2007 Grizzly Republic Petite Sirah, Roadrunner Farm, Paso Robles, $42

14.2% alc. 2005 Mettler Family Vineyards Petite Sirah, Lodi $22

 

14.3% alc. 1999 F. Teldeschi Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $36

14.3% alc. 2006 Marr Cellars Cuvee Patrick Petite Sirah

14.3% alc. 2007 Silkwood Wines Petite Sirah (494 cases) $39

 

14.3% alc. 2006 Twisted Oak Petite Sirah, Calaveras County (any others in a vertical fall in a 14.1-14.3 range) $24

14.4% alc. 2008 R&B Cellars Pizzicato Petite Sirah, Bingham Ranch

14.5% alc. 2007 Bogle Vineyards Reserve Petite Sirah, Clarksburg $20

 

14.5% alc. 2006 Clayhouse Estate Petite Sirah, Paso Robles $25

14.5% alc. 2004 Concannon Vineyard Heritage Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley $30

14.5% alc. 2006 Concannon Vineyard Captain Joe’s Reserve Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley $30

14.5% alc.  2006 Field Stone Winery staten Family reserve Petite sirah, alexander Valley Estate Bottled (112 year old head pruned rocky clay soil vineyard) $35

14.5% alc. 2005 Foppiano Vineyards Estate Petite Sirah, Russian River Valley $20

 

14.5% alc. 2007 Fortress Vineyards Petite Sirah., Red Hills, Lake County $25

14.5% alc. 2006 Gustafson Family Vineyards Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Mountain Vineyard $28

14.5% alc. 2005 Heringer Estates Petite Sirah, Clarksburg $21

14.5% alc. 2006 Heringer Estates Petite Sirah, Clarksburg

 

14.5% alc. 2006 Langtry Estate Petite Sirah, Serpentine Meadow $40

14.5% alc. 2007 Line 39 Petite Sirah, North Coast $15

14.5% alc. 2007 Michael~David Winery Petite Petit, Lodi (85% Petite Sirah, 15% Petit Verdot) $18

14.5% alc. 2006 Miro Cellars Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley (100% Petite Sirah, 369 cases) $23

 

14.5% alc. 2006 Parducci True Grit Petite Sirah, Mendocino County $30

14.5% alc. 2007 Rosenblum Cellars Picket Road Petite Sirah, Napa Valley $35

14.5% alc. 2006 Stags’ Leap Petite Sirah, Napa County $38

14.5% alc. 2005 Stonehedge Terroir Select Petite syrah, (Pallini Ranch) Mendocino County $26

14.5% alc. (estimated) 2007 Tres sabores Petite Sirah, Napa Valley $45

14.5% alc. 2006 Ursa Vineyards Petite Sirah, Paso Robles (250 cases) $22

14.5% alc. 2006 Ursa Vineyards Petite sirah, Old Vines, Paso Robles $30

14.5% alc. 2006 Wilson Vineyards Petite Sirah, Clarksburg $12

14.6% alc. 2007 Gustafson Family Vineyards Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Mountain Vineyard $28

14.6% alc. 2007 Clayhouse Estate “Show Pony” Petite Sirah, Paso Robles $40

14.7% alc. 2006 Ballentine Vineyards Petite Sirah, Fig tree Vineyard $35

14.7% alc. 2008 Grizzly Republic Gypsy Noir, Barrel Sample (Rhone blend anchored with Petite Sirah, polished with Syrah, Mouvedre, Cinsault & Grenache), Paso Robles

 

14.7% 2006 Jazz Cellars Petite Sirah, Eaglepoint Ranch, Mendocino County (75 cases) $38

14.8% alc. 2006 Berryessa Gap Estate Grown Reserve Petite Sirah, Yolo County $18

14.8% alc 2006 Bogle Vineyards Phantom (a little over 50% Petite Sirah, then old vine Zinfandel, then old vine Mouvedre) Blend, California $16

14.8% alc. 2007 Rosenblum Cellars Heritage Clones Petite Sirah, San Francisco Bay $18

14.8% alc. 2007 Trentadue Petite Sirah, North Coast

14.9% alc. 2006 Bogle Vineyards Reserve Petite Sirah, Clarksburg $20

 

14.9% alc. 2006 David Fulton Winery Estate Bottled Petite Sirah St. Helena Napa Valley (314 cases) $45

14.9% alc. (labeled at 15.1%) Lava Cap Estate Petite Sirah, Granite Hill

14.9% alc. Rock Wall Wine Co Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley (any ’09 barrel samples are in the 14% arena) $28

14.9% alc. 2007 Stanton Vineyards Petite Sirah, St. Helena, Napa Valley (300 cases) $45

14.9% alc. Ursa Vineyards Petite Sirah, Sierra Foothills $22

15.0% alc. 2006 Aver Family Vineyards Blessings, Petite Sirah, Central Coast $55

 

15.0% alc. 2007 Aver Family Vineyards Blessings, Petite Sirah, Central Coast $55

 

15.0% alc. 2007 Charter Oak Old Vine Napa Valley Petite Sirah (150 cases) $42

 

15.0% alc. 2006 Earthquake (Michael~David Winery) Petite Sirah, Lodi (Petite Sirah with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon) $28

15.0% alc. 2006 Robert Biale Vineyards Petite Sirah, royal Punishers, Napa Valley $46

15.1% alc. 2003 Foppiano Vineyards Estate Reserve Petite Sirah, Russian River Valley $45

15.1% alc. 2006 Lava Cap Estate Petite Sirah, Granite Springs

15.1% alc. 2007 Lava Cap Estate Petite Sirah, Granite Springs

15.1% alc. 2005 Trentadue La Storia Petite Sirah

15.1% alc. 2007 Vina Robles Petite Sirah, Penman Springs, Paso Robles

15.2% alc. 2007 Rosenblum Cellars Rockpile Road Reserve Petite Sirah, Rockpile $45

 

15.4% alc. 2007 Vina Robles Petite Sirah, Jardine, Paso Robles $26

15.5% alc. 2007 Berryessa Gap Durif, Yolo County

15.5% alc. 2007 Mounts Family Winery estate Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $32

15.5% alc. 2007 Robert Biale Vineyards Petite Sirah EBA (Extended Barrel Aged), Napa Valley (225 cases) $70

15.5% alc. 2007 Robert Biale Vineyards “Like Father Like Son” Syrah/Petite Sirah blend, Napa Valley (350 cases)

18.0% alc. 2006 Heringer Estates Petite Sirah Port, Clarksburg $25/500 ml

18.0% alc. 2006 Trentadue Petite Sirah Port

20.0% 2006 Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah Port, Clarksburg $18

 

20.6% alc. 2006 Langtry Estate Petite Sirah Port, Serpentine Vineyard, Guenoc Valley $25/375 ml

Thanks again to the wineries that responded to my request(s) for information. I will be limiting my tasting, and review notes, to your wines.

I know that I have quite a few readers in the bay area, and a number who will also be attending the Dark & Delicious tasting. Feel free to use this list when planning your tasting order.

Look for me at the tasting, I’ll be the taster zig zagging through the event in an effort to give each winery’s Petite Sirah pourings a fair taste.

Cheers.

A few years back, Susan Johnson and I ate at Kuletos off Union Square in San Francisco. We were enjoying a special meal on the Windsor Vineyards corporate credit card as a reward for doing a special two day tasting in San Francisco for a corporate client.

We brought a bottle of our 1994 Windsor Vineyards Carol Shelton Signature Series Merlot. Both Susan and I are big red fans, generally preferring the power and strength of a Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel to a the softness of a Merlot, but this wine had taken four gold medals, including a double gold/best Merlot award at the California State Fair, and we knew from several previous tastings that this was a monster of a Merlot.

As the Windsor wine was not on the wine list, we asked our waiter about a corkage fee, agreed to it, asked the waiter to bring a glass for himself, and let him do the honors of opening our bottle to breathe.

We noticed that there was a Matanzas Creek Merlot from the same big 1994 vintage that had earned some of the highest ratings for a ’94 Merlot from Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast, 97/100 or above, on the wine list and available at $60, a very fair restaurant price, and as we were staying in San Francisco overnight, we ordered a bottle to taste against the Windsor Merlot.

For our meals, we chose a roast duck breast in a grappa soaked cherry reduction special that seemed made to be paired with our wines.

If you have never eaten at Kuletos, the restaurant is warm and inviting, an upscale yet comfortable Northern Italian restaurant, rich with wood and marble, professional yet friendly service staff, and consistently well turned out food that can be paired with wines by the glass, half bottle or full bottle from their more than adequate wine list.

Having snacked earlier in the day, we chose a selection of cured meats and salumi to start us off, and a deconstructed Caesar hearts of romaine salad dressed in an anchovy and garlic dressing with croutons to share before our duck dinner.

Carol Shelton’s Windsor Merlot opened with a rich ruby red color, and the nose of warm cherry was echoed in the mouth and joined by notes of plum and berry against spicy French oak. There was even a hint of bacon fat, and everyone loves bacon fat. Not overpowering, but perfectly balanced, the iron fist in a velvet glove, this Merlot had loads of gorgeous fruit hanging on a well structured backbone of firm tannins and good acidity, and the finish kept each note in balance with the others as it disappeared over time.

Our waiter was pleased to be invited to taste our wine, and surprised that a wine he had never run across before was so good.

The 1994 Matanzas Creek, reserve something or other, Merlot, Sonoma Valley was simply gorgeous. It is heaven to have two beautiful and delicious wines, at once similar and very different, to experience and enjoy with a good friend, also wine knowledgeable, over foods perfectly matched to the wines.

The Matanzas Creek Merlot showed a garnet color, the nose more like Cabernet with Blackberry and Cassis notes against oak in the front with perfumed floral notes behind. Again, this was a power Merlot, more iron, less velvet, and the tannins were big for a Merlot. Flavors of candied cherry, toast, oak, and creamy vanilla. A Merlot you can eat, thick and chewy, with a long and powerful finish.

The salumi and cured meat plate was a treat, popping bits of tasty meats into our mouth to be joined by a small sip of wine and swallowed.

I don’t know if inviting your waiter to taste two remarkably wonderful wines will have the same effect it seemed to have on our waiter, but that night he made a slew of errors, or helped the kitchen out of their slew of errors, because long before our duck hit the table, we had a soup and two more appetizers, all unordered, find their way to our table. All mistakes, we were told, could we possibly help the restaurant by consuming them?

Susan and I are great friends, we have worked together twice, almost thrice, and have helped each other on our separate employments. We enjoy each other’s company, conversation is never difficult for us, we both love wine and have remained in the industry for many years, and we both love food and have cooked for the other on a number of occasions.

While all of the food was good, and it was nice to taste each course with first one wine and then the other; the highlight of the evening was tasting the wines against and with the grappa soaked cherry reduction sauced duck breasts, crispy skin, and delicious fat, juicy meat and two great wines, either of which would have been perfect. Wine and food flavors marrying delightfully, the union richer, more delicious, than the individual flavors alone.

Susan and I communicated through this course largely by shared moans of pleasure.

We shared a chocolate and cherry cake torte for dessert, and I risked ruining a perfect meal by ordering coffee. Don’t you hate a bad cup of old, unattended, burnt coffee at a meal’s end?

Have no fear, oh blog reader, the dessert and coffee were both perfect. I don’t really recall the salad, or the numerous unordered appetizers, except to say that they were uniformly good. This was one of those perfect meals.

We even saved a glass of the Windsor Merlot and had the waiter prepare a plate from our leftovers for a homeless man who had asked us for change on our way to the restaurant. On that night everyone ate and drank well.

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