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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

Involtini. A flavorful pinwheel of meat and stuffing. I hadn’t had any in over twenty years. It took me a long time to realize that I was going to get to eat it again for Christmas dinner, even as I rolled my hands up to help cook it.

Seventeen people were coming for Christmas dinner and my mother-in-law Joan’s house. When I left Ukiah on Tuesday to take my son to visit with grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins, I thought Joan was cooking a turducken and I was thrilled. I almost cooked a turducken for Thanksgiving, but went traditional banging out the perfect turkey; so my joy at trying this remakable ballotine was nearly palpable.

Turducken is a Lousiana specialty where a turkey is boned and stuffed with a boned duck, which was previously stuffed with a boned chicken, all further stuffed with cornbread and sausage stuffing; and a ballotine is a protein, meat, fish or fowl, that has been boned, stuffed, rolled, tied, and cooked.

When I arrived Tuesday, Joan told me that turducken was off the menu, she did not remove the poultry from the shipping container, thinking that there was enough dry ice to keep it well for several days. Sadly, most food is shipped with only enough dry ice to get it safely to your door and such was the case here, the turducken was unfrozen and not cold on the outside, and as it was poultry that meant that there was surely spoilage.

Joan told me that we would be having a “brah-zhule” on polenta. I didn’t know what a “brah-zhule” was, but didn’t confess to my ignorance.

On Wednesday, Joan and I started prepping Christmas dinner. I love cooking with Joan, she is a great cook, and our backgrounds do not overlap, so I always learn a ton cooking with her. Joan asked me to pound out some already thin carne asada meat, either flank or skirt steak, so that each steak was larger in surface area. I pounded each piece of carne asada until it was about twice the original surface area.

Meanwhile, Joan combined garlic, flat-leaf parsley, grated Pecorino Romano cheese, pine nuts, and bacon. Joan spooned the mixture onto the meat, rolled it up, and I tied each ballotine with cooking string.

With a flash of comprehension, I realized that “brah-zhule” was similar to what I knew as involtini. A check on the internet, and I find that braciole and involtini are the exact same food item and oddly has two names.

Traditionally, instead of spooning a lump of the stuffing mixture onto the meat, and wrapping it by rolling and tying, the stuffing is usually spread thinly along the surface of the meat, then rolled and tied. The only difference is that the involtini/braciole, when sliced, will present a pinwheel of meat and stuffing when prepared in the traditional manner.

Joan made meatballs and browned them, then put them in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Next, she browned and added to the pan both sweet Italian and hot Italian sausages, some boneless pork shoulder, and the involtini.

We covered the meats in an Italian red sauce of tomato, wine, onion, garlic, herbs, and spices, and set it in the oven to cook most of the way, just needing a little oven time on Christmas to reheat and finish.

On Christmas day, Joan set about cooking polenta in a crock pot, using a recipe by Michele Anna Jordan found in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20091215/LIFESTYLE/912149959/1309

Polenta is a cornmeal mush with butter and cheese, and is to Italian cooking what rice is to many other cultures. Put it on a plate, and top it with what you have available. Peasant food become fancy.

Okay, here’s the thing; I grew up eating a lot of involtini in Italian red sauce over polenta. I grew up in an Italian family, and the men hunted. Weekends would find twenty or more Italian men up at a 13,500 acre ranch, hunting by day and cooking by night. This is a dish I ate in endless variety growing up, the meat and stuffing changing, almost always cooked by men. Imagine the scene in the Godfather where Clemenza is teaching Michael the art of making spaghetti sauce for twenty, or the scene from Goodfellas where, in prison,  Paulie is slicing garlic with a razor blade paper thin for tomato sauce. That’s how it felt growing up. Men cooked, not all the time, but almost always better than the women.

Other treats cooked up for Christmas dinner included my take on a Rachael Ray recipe potato dish: I cut up 1 1/2 pound each of baby fingerling heirloom potatoes, baby ruby gold potatoes, baby dutch yellow potatoes, and baby South American purple potatoes. I cut each baby potato in half length wise, then cut them from one end to the other into 1/4″ slices. I put the six pounds of sliced potatoes into a roasting pan.

To 6 cups of heavy cream, I added a stick of butter, 4 cloved of crushed fresh garlic, and 4 sprigs each of sage, rosemary and thyme. I cooked over a medium flame, stirring constantly for about 20 minutes, deeply infusing the cream with flavor. I strained the cream, adding about two ounces of microplaned (super finely grated) Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and poured the super flavored cream over the potatoes.

Next, I microplaned five more ounces of Parmigiano-Reggiano into a large bowl, then spead the cheese on top of the potatoes. I cooked the potatoes at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes. Better than Rachael’s recipe, more flavorful, it came out just fine; think of an Italian rustic potato au gratin dish.

There was sweet potato wrapped marshmallow, on a pineapple ring, topped with a cherry, a spiral cut ham, a perfectly baked salmon with lemon, butter and herb, stuffed zucchini, baked oyster, green bean casserole, salad, french bread, and more. It was all great, but for me, it was all about the involtini.


For my first pass through the chow line, I ladled polenta onto my plate, on top of the polenta I put meats, the involtini, some meatballs, some pork shoulder, and some sausage, and on top of the meat I ladled Italian red sauce.

I also poured myself a glass of the 2008 Folie à Deux Ménage à Trois, a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. With raspberry notes from the Zin, cherry from the Merlot, and blackberry from the Cab, this wine was loaded with rich juicy red fruit notes, and was a great wine for dinner as each food could find a different element of the wine to pair with. Inexpensive, only about $12 a bottle, I was impressed throughout the meal with this wine’s versatility and deliciousness. Honestly, better with food than without.

I spent quite a while with my first plate at dinner, scooping a little polenta, a bit of meat, and some sauce into a perfect bite, sipping a little wine, the emergent whole so much better than the sum of its parts. Each bite a joyful experience, and a trigger to memories of times spent with my father, my brother, and a bunch of old Italian men many years ago.

My second plate was a tasting of the other dishes. While good, some great – I have to get the stuffed zucchini recipe – none, for me, matched the magic of involtini, sauce, and polenta.

I had a glass of bubbly, Korbel’s first sparkler, their Sec. Korbel Sec is made with French Colombard, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, and is a little sweeter than most bubblies, but not cloyingly so. It was nice to have bubbly on hand. One of Joan’s daughters (my son’s aunt) got married last week, and a grandaughter (my son’s cousin) will have a baby next month on or near my birthday. There were many reasons to be enjoying bobbly, but any day that ends in “y” is a good day to drink bubbly – no reason needed.

For Christmas, I received an electric pepper mill, an oregano dipping oil, a “green” water bottle, and a stack of old Cook’s Illustrated magazines, from the folks who produce America’s Test Kitchen on PBS. I am really looking forward to reading the food magazines, they look chock full of ideas for me to try out.

I was pleased to see my son’s face as he opened his presents. He listened to the rock songs featuring saxophone that I loaded onto his new iPod, is ecstatic about getting an XBox 360, and is old enough to be happy about getting new clothes.

It was great seeing family, it is nice that I am friends with my son’s mom, my ex-wife, and that her family still consider me their son-in-law, brother-in-law, or uncle. It was great getting to cook, and getting to help cook. It was fun learning that involtini is also known as braciole.

One of the best Christmas gifts I received were the memories of times spent with my father, triggered by food. My father passed away in 2008, but he was alive in my memory as I cooked and ate Christmas dinner.

Okay, last night I watched Showtime’s Dexter say he was thankful for yams when sharing Thanksgiving dinner with the Trinity killer’s family; then I watched Lauren say she was thankful for canned yams when sharing Thanksgiving dinner with the Bennet family on NBC’s Heroes.

I am a foodie, but I don’t like yams. I am thankful that I do the cooking most every year at Thanksgiving so that I don’t have to eat around the yam dish on my plate.

As a foodie, I am thankful I am not Andrew Zimmern who has eaten bull’s rectum and testicles soup in the Philippines; bull testicles in Spain;  chicken uterus, black-bone chicken testicles in Taiwan; goose intestine in New York City; civet feces coffee, bull penis in Vietnam; snake penis, fried deer penis, yak penis in China; boar’s testicles in Minnesota; bull penis soup in Bolivia; and braided intestines, cow’s butt sandwich, fresh bull testicle and scrotum stew in Chile.

At least Anthony Bourdain can wash down the occasional freakish menu offering with a drink or twelve, but Zimmern is a recovering addict/alcoholic and is making the choice to swallow so much shaft, balls and ass sober.

I am not really one of those, “let’s all say what we are thankful for,” kind of Thanksgiving dinner Dads. I love to cook. I love that there is a holiday all about cooking and family. I love that people eat my food. I love trying new recipes. I am not a traditionalist. I love the insanity of 5-7 dishes all coming up at the same time for 12-16 people, the high-wire risk of having no repeat dishes year to year.

This year I am cooking for just my son and myself. We will have more than enough food for his mom, my ex-wife. Most importantly, we will have plenty of left over turkey for sandwiches on Friday. Note to self: buy sandwich fixings tomorrow for the long holiday weekend.

I am using an Alton Brown brine on our turkey, then cooking it in my Popeil Showtime rotisserie (set-it-and-forget-it) grill. I am doing a Rachael Ray gratin potato dish and Paula Deen cornbread stuffing. Instead of my own delicious pies, I am doing a Nancy Iannios pumpkin creme brulee.

I worked for Tom Klein years ago when he owned both Rodney Strong and Windsor Vineyards. I will be enjoying a 2007 Russian River Valley Rodney Strong Pinot Noir with Thanksgiving dinner. Wine Spectator gave the Russian River Valley appellation, 2007 Pinot Noir vintage a 98/100 rating. I am thankful that Tom and Rick Sayre make consistently delicious and affordable wines, and that having worked with them, I have the confidence to choose their wines in any, not just this classic best ever, vintage.

All around me is change. I have a good friend up north who has left her job rather than complain about it, and is in search of a better job. I have an old girlfriend out east who has left her job and will be starting a new one. I am looking at changing my job. I am good at what I do, I make money for my business, for myself, but I would like to travel less often and spend more time with my son. I will be trying to find a job where I can use my wealth of real world experience, the education behind my marketing degree, and my newfound web 2.0 skills to help a winery in the north coast (Sonoma, Napa, Lake or Mendocino county) of California. I would love a hybrid position involving social media marketing, traditional marketing, tasting room and/or wine club work, trade show marketing, and more.

I write without thinking about someone reading what I write, and I usually disable comment leaving for my blog, so I am always surprised when I read a comment left on facebook, twitter, a forum or e-mail about my writing. I know people read what I write, usually 100 people, but sometimes as many as 300 and more. Knowing you are out there, having you write back to me, does influence my writing a touch. I am thankful anyone finds my writing at all; more thankful some of you like my writing.

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My son is 12 years old. He is 5′ 9 1/2″ tall and 170 pounds on a lanky muscular frame. I knew dating sasquatch would produce a tall child. Charlie has been at basketball tryouts the last two days, trying to make his school’s 7th grade team. As the tallest boy at the tryouts, and with a year of league play, we are reasonably confident he will make the team. I am thankful that my son has such an affinity for a game I never played, or was interested in playing; it is good for him to be good at something that is his own.

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I had an Apple iMac screen damaged by careless family while I was away at work about a year ago. I found a used flat screen monitor and have used it to mirror what would have been viewable on my iMac screen. This last weekend, I bought a used iMac with more guts, a perfect screen, and the newest Apple OS. I was able to move all of the info in my old computer to my new one effortlessly using migration assistant, and now I have both screens viewable to spread my work over. An extra 750 GB hard drive, for a 1 TB total, speakers, and high speed internet access completes the coolest computer system I’ve ever had. Better than I could have imagined, I am thankful for my totally cool and powerful home work and play space.

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I will be writing more, perhaps much more with a business slant, but certainly more on a personal basis as I travel less. I will probably move my personal writing to a dedicated website, and I’ll certainly let you know if I do make that change. I plan to write more about wine and food from the perspective of an industry professional with real world experience and as a born and raised resident of California’s premier wine growing area. I also want to give reviews of wine accessories and wine books. I want to make more use of video entries as well. Look for a more wow experience sometime early in 2010. I’ll be thankful if you follow me with my writing. Thanks.

Okay, Thanksgiving is a special holiday. As my Aussie cousin-in-law pointed out, no cards, no presents, just great food and family.

Here’s a way to make cranberries interesting:

John Cesano’s Cranberry Chutney

2 tbsp. butter

1 small shallot, finely chopped

1/4 c. orange juice

4 c. fresh cranberries

1 c. sugar

1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar

1 c. unpeeled, cored and diced Granny Smith apple

1/2 c. golden raisins

1/4 c. chopped walnuts

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 tsp. allspice

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp. vinegar

Saute shallot and apples in butter over med high heat about 3 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, about 20-25 minutes, until cranberries give up juice and mixture begins to thicken. Some like to serve warm, I prefer to chill at least two hours in refrigerator and serve cold as a counterpoint to all of the hot dishes.

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