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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artevino 2009 Chardonnay Yorkville Highlands Mendocino County $30 GOLD

Artezin Wines 2009 Zinfandel Mendocino County $18 SILVER

Artezin Wines 2007 Petite Sirah Mendocino County $25 BRONZE

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

Barra of Mendocino 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino $20 SILVER

Barra of Mendocino 2006 Sangiovese Mendocino $18 BRONZE

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

Baxter 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Toulouse Vineyard $45 SILVER

Baxter 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino Oppenlander Vineyard $60 DOUBLE GOLD

Baxter 2006 Carignane Mendocino Caballo Blanco $32 SILVER

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

Bliss Family Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino Estate Bottled $10 SILVER

Bliss Family Vineyards 2009 Merlot Mendocino Estate Bottled $10 SILVER

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

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

Bonterra Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino County Bonterra $14 SILVER

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

Bonterra Vineyards 2009 Rosé Mendocino Bonterra $14 DOUBLE GOLD

Bonterra Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir Mendocino County Bonterra $20 GOLD

Bonterra Vineyards 2008 Zinfandel Mendocino County Bonterra $16 GOLD

Bonterra Vineyards 2008 Merlot Mendocino County Bonterra $16 SILVER

Bonterra Vineyards 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino Bonterra $16 SILVER

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

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

Brutocao 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino Bliss Vineyard Estate Bottled $16 SILVER

Brutocao 2008 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Estate Bottled $28 BRONZE

Brutocao 2007 Quadriga Mendocino Hopland Ranch Estate Bottled $24 SILVER

Brutocao 2007 Merlot Mendocino Bliss Vineyard Estate Bottled $20 SILVER

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

Cahill Winery 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Cole Ranch $20 BRONZE

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

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

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

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

Castle Rock Winery 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County $10 SILVER

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

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

Claudia Springs Winery 2007 Zinfandel Mendocino $24 SILVER

DeLoach Vineyard 2007 Pinot Noir Redwood Valley Masut $45 BRONZE

Edmeades 2008 Zinfandel Mendocino County $18 BRONZE

Esterlina 2009 Riesling Cole Ranch $20 SILVER

Esterlina 2009 White Dessert Cole Ranch $28 BRONZE

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

Foursight Wines 2009 Gewurtztraminer Anderson Valley $20 GOLD

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

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

Frey Vineyards Ltd 2009 Chardonnay Redwood Valley Biodynamic $14 BRONZE

Frey Vineyards Ltd 2009 Sangiovese Mendocino Organic $13 BRONZE

Frey Vineyards Ltd 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino Organic $15 SILVER

Girasole Vineyards 2009 Merlot Mendocino $13 SILVER

Girasole Vineyards 2009 Hybrid Red Mendocino $13 GOLD

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

Handley Cellars 2009 Gewurtztraminer Anderson Valley $18 SILVER

Handley Cellars 2009 Pinot Gris Anderson Valley $18 SILVER

Handley Cellars 2008 Pinot Noir Mendocino County $25 SILVER

Handley Cellars 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino $25 BRONZE

Handley Cellars 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley $30 GOLD

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

Harmonique 2006 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Elegance $53 SILVER

Harmonique 2006 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Delicace $55 SILVER

Harmonique 2006 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Oppenlander $55 SILVER

Heron Wines 2009 Cabernet sauvignon Mendocino $14 BRONZE

Husch Vineyards 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino $14 BRONZE

Husch Vineyards 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino Renegade $18 SILVER

Husch Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Anderson Valley Vine One $18 BRONZE

Husch Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino $15 BRONZE

Husch Vineyards 2008 Chardonnay Mendocino Special Reserve $25 SILVER

Husch Vineyards 2009 Gewurtztraminer Anderson Valley $14 SILVER

Husch Vineyards 2009 Muscat Canelli Mendocino $15 SILVER

Husch Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Knoll $38 SILVER

Husch Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Reserve $35 GOLD

Husch Vineyards 2009 Zinfandel Mendocino Old Vines $25 GOLD

Husch Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino $21 SILVER

Husch Vineyards 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino Reserve $35 SILVER

Husch Vineyards 2009 Late Harvest Gewurtztraminer Anderson Valley $20 SILVER

J. Keverson 2007 Sangiovese Mendocino $20 GOLD

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

Jaxon Keys Winery 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino $15 GOLD

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

JK Estates 2008 Pinot Noir Mendocino $13 SILVER

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

Kimmel Vineyards 2008 Chardonnay Potter Valley Kimmel Vineyards $32 SILVER

Kimmel Vineyards 2007 Merlot Mendocino Kimmel Vineyards $38 SILVER

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

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

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

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

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

Maysie Cellars Rosé of Sangiovese Mendocino County $13 SILVER

McFadden Vineyard NV Brut Potter Valley McFadden Vineyard $25 SILVER

McFadden Vineyard 2009 Gewurtztraminer Potter Valley McFadden Vineyard $15 BRONZE

McFadden Vineyard 2008 Pinot Gris Valley McFadden Vineyard $15 BRONZE

McFadden Vineyard 2007 Zinfandel Potter Valley McFadden Vineyard $19 SILVER

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

McNab Ridge Winery 2007 Petite Sirah Mendocino $18 BRONZE

McNab Ridge Winery 2009 Pinotage Mendocino Napoli Estate $20 SILVER

Mendielle Vertu 2007 Merlot Mendocino Destination Valley Vineyard $27 SILVER

Meyer Family Cellars 2009 Chardonnay Anderson Valley $22 BRONZE

Meyer Family Cellars 2006 Syrah Yorkville Highlands $28 BRONZE

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

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

Muscardini Cellars 2009 Barbera Redway Valley Pauli Ranch $38 SILVER

Naughty Boy 2009 Chardonnay Potter Valley Thornton Ranch $13 GOLD

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

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

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino  $13 BRONZE

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Anderson Valley Premiere Reserve $25 SILVER

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Gewurtztraminer Anderson Valley Estate Bottled  $19 SILVER

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Muscat Blanc Anderson Valley $19 SILVER

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Pinot Gris Anderson Valley $19 GOLD

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir Mendocino $19 SILVER

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

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Zinfandel Mendocino $19 GOLD

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Zinfandel Mendocino Old Vine $25 SILVER

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Syrah Mendocino $25 BEST OF CLASS

Navarro Vineyards 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino $35 SILVER

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Navarrouge Mendocino $14 BRONZE

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Late Harvest Gewurtztraminer Anderson Valley $35 SILVER

Oak Cliff Cellars 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino County $35 SILVER

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

Parducci Wine Cellars 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County $11 GOLD

Parducci Wine Cellars 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino County $11 GOLD

Parducci Wine Cellars 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County $11 GOLD

Parducci Wine Cellars 2009 Sustainable White Mendocino County $11 BRONZE

Parducci Wine Cellars 2007 Petite Sirah Mendocino County $11 BRONZE

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

Parducci Wine Cellars 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County $11 BRONZE

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

Patianna 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino Estate Grown Organic Grapes $16 BRONZE

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

Paul Dolan Vineyards 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County $18 GOLD

Paul Dolan Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino County $18 BRONZE

Paul Dolan Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino County $30 SILVER

Paul Dolan Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County $25 SILVER

Phillips Hill 2009 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Wiley $40 BRONZE

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

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

Philo Ridge Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley $24 GOLD

Rock Wall Wine Co 2009 Viognier Mendocino $18 SILVER

Rock Wall Wine Co 2008 Petite Sirah Mendocino $22 BRONZE

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

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

Scharffenberger Cellars NV Brut Mendocino $19 SILVER

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

Stonehedge Winery 2007 Malbec Mendocino Terroir select $15 SILVER

Terra Savia 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino $14 DOUBLE GOLD

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

Terra Savia 2009 Meritage Mendocino Sanel Valley Vineyards $18 BRONZE

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

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

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

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

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

Williamson Wines 2009 Viognier Mendocino County Frolic $34 SILVER

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

Windsor Vineyards 2007 Petite Sirah Mendocino County $10 SILVER

Windsor Vineyards 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County $18 SILVER

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

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

Yorkville Cellars 2009 Semillon Yorkville Highlands Randle Hill $20 SILVER

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

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

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

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

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

It is time for the Sonoma County Harvest Fair at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa again.

Over 150 wineries submit over 1,000 wines. Seriously talented judges of wine taste over three days. Medals are awarded as earned for out and out yumminess.

Tomorrow, Saturday, September 25, from 7 PM- 9:30 PM, the awards will be announced at the Awards Gala. Heather Irwin, who writes BiteClubEats for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat will be an emcee this year. She solicited funny descriptors to add to her arsenal with the best submission winning a pair of tickets to the Gala. I took my shot, and am awaiting announcement of the winner, I would love to go to the event.

EDITED TO ADD: I have indeed won a pair of Sonoma County Harvest Fair Awards Gala event tickets for tomorrow night. Thank you Heather Irwin, ticket angel. I will be accompanied by my good friend Susan Johnson.

Tickets for the Awards Gala are $65 each, or $55 each in a block of 10.

I have attended the Gala several times in the past, usually pouring for either Windsor Vineyards or Adler Fels Winery, but occasionally as a paid attendee. The tension among the wineries is palpable as the awards are announced, with cheers rising when a favorite receives Gold or higher.

I grew up on Sonoma County wines. For better or worse, my palate is a house palate. In blind tastings, I will often gravitate to Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast or Sonoma Valley Chardonnays, Dry Creek Valley Zinfandels and Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley Cab, Merlot, and Fume. I love Sonoma County, and Sonoma County wines, and this event is a celebration of the winemaker’s skill and artistry.

On Monday, I will be attending the Sonoma County Harvest Fair’s  Trade and Media tasting.

On Friday, October 1 from noon – 7 PM and Saturday and Sunday. October 2 & 3, from 10 AM – 7 PM, the Sonoma County Harvest Festival will be open for general admission and tastings. In addition to general tasting, there are special events each day. Friday features special accompanied flight tastings with Ziggy “The Wine Gal” Eschliman and Ray “The Wine Book Author” Johnson.

Saturday features a microbrew tasting. Both Saturday and Sunday feature a Chocolate and Port pairing.

__________

In my last post, I gave recipes for a two part dessert I intended to serve paired, homemade strawberry ice cream and  chili paste brushed sweet and savory banana fritters.

One change I made on the fly was going with 4 cups diced strawberries cooked down with sugar, and 2 cups diced fresh uncooked strawberries, for the ice cream to add layers of different strawberry flavor.

Impatient, I served the ice cream before an appropriate hardening and ripening time, and it was delicious, but the banana fritters were even better in the same way that beignets or doughnuts hot and fresh are absolutely delicious. The OMG moment came when I crowded my spoon with a little strawberry ice cream AND a banana fritter for a mouthful of wow. Strawberry and banana are great together anyway, but the contrasting temperatures, textures, and tastes reinforced what was great in each and made for a breathtakingly delicious bite.

I have a new show off dessert.

I attended Affairs of the Vine’s 8th Passion for Pinot Noir Summit on Saturday, February 27, 2010, arriving at a bit before 12:00 noon and staying through nearly all of the festivities until 8:00 pm. Barbara Drady, Affairs of the Vine CEO offered a full day ticket in a contest which I won.

Barbara Drady, Chief Wine Evangelist & Affairs of the Vine CEO

Held at the first floor of the beautiful multi floor Osher Marin Jewish Community Center, I was welcomed with an event badge bearing my name and the names of the workshops I had signed up for.  Waiting for the summit to officially begin, I mingled with other attendees, chatting with other wine writers I have met at previous wine tasting events and finding a number of people that I have worked with at wineries to play the “whatever happened to” game of catch up with.

Dave Rogers, left, and Thea Dwelle, Wine writer Luscious Lushes, center

We were ushered into a ballroom with tables set up in to create a “U” shape. On the tables were 40 different Pinot Noir. Each of the bottles was completely covered in tape secured aluminum foil, labeled with different color names running from Aqua Marine to Yellow.

Pinot Noir prepared for 3 1/2 hours of blind tasting

Prior to the actual summit, 40 judges tasted many more Pinot Noir that had been submitted to be considered for inclusion at the summit. Tasting flights of eight wines at a time, and no more than 32 wines at a sitting, scores from the judges were totaled and the top 40 Pinot Noir were now available to be tasted by the summit attendees.

Wine bloggers and twitterers were well represented, and the following is a transcript of relevant tweets from my tweeps using the hash tag #PinotSummit:

LarryTheWineGuy Arrived at the #PinotSummit. Now for 8 hours of drinking Pinot. Where to begin?

elizabethdehoff After a quick stop at Whole Foods to pick up gluten-free crackers, I’m at the #PinotSummit! Still can’t believe I did this. :D

elizabethdehoff Just ran into @LarryTheWineGuy. #pinotsummit

LarryTheWineGuy Interesting aromas from the cafe near the #pinotsummit. Pinot and matzo ball soup?

LarryTheWineGuy thirsty crowd at the #pinotsummit. let us in already. mmmm pinot.

JohnOnWine At #PinotSummit recognizing folks from previous tastings, taken pictures, ready to blind taste and make notes.

elizabethdehoff Small world: One of today’s winemakers is Eric Luse, an AP photog I sat next to randomly on a HNL-SFO flight 3 years ago. #pinotsummit

elizabethdehoff One down, 40 to go… #pinotsummit

StevePaulo At #PinotSummit! (@ Osher Marin JCC) http://4sq.com/4AU8c2

SFDoug At the #PinotSummit (@ Osher Marin JCC w/ @brandyea) http://4sq.com/4AU8c2

elizabethdehoff No reviews yet — this tasting is blind. Plenty to come after the big reveal! #pinotsummit

elizabethdehoff Oh man. I don’t know what cheese they’re serving with the blind tasting but it’s really good! #pinotsummit

LarryTheWineGuy Half way thru tasting 40 Pinots at #pinotsummit. Very high level of quality. Wouldn’t kick these out of bed.

elizabethdehoff @LarryTheWineGuy Wow, you are way ahead of me! #pinotsummit

brandyea RT @elizabethdehoff: Oh man. I don’t know what cheese they’re serving with the blind tasting but it’s really good! #pinotsummit << Agreed!

elizabethdehoff GOD, I love Pinot Noir! #pinotsummit

brandyea Some at #pinotsummit blind tasting pondering whether wines assigned colors like gold and burgundy have leg up on pumpkin and lime green.

LarryTheWineGuy Slowly progress is made at the #pinotsummit 24 down, 16 to go. All good. some great. Arguing over which is which.

StevePaulo @elizabethdehoff @brandyea And wedgewood? Wedgewood is a color? #pinotsummit

elizabethdehoff @stevepaulo @brandyea I think it’s the color of the Wedgwood china or something? #pinotsummit

JohnOnWine 27 tasted, 13 left to taste at #PinotSummit.

elizabethdehoff @JohnOnWine I think I’ve tasted 13 and have 27 to go! Ack. #pinotsummit

JohnOnWine @elizabethdehoff clearly you have to drink faster, grab a 2nd glass and stop spitting! #PinotSummit

StevePaulo 28 Pinot Noirs. Stick a fork in this guy. #pinotsummit (and for this who think I’m insane… yes, of course I spit)

brandyea @stevepaulo @elizabethdehoff Yeah, Wedgewood’s a little lost on me, too! #pinotsummit

JohnOnWine #PinotSummit OMG, the INDIGO Pinot is the best, followed by VIOLET, then AUBERGINE. (Note: We had been tasting for over 2 hours, not everyone was spitting, and these three colors were not actual wines to be tasted)

brandyea Heard a guy compare one of the wines to Bob Ross, the guy w/ the crazy hair on PBS’ Joy of Painting. Not sure what that means. #pinotsummit

LarryTheWineGuy Approaching the final stretch at the #pinotsummit Only one clunker so far. This is Pinot heaven.

brandyea Nice try! >> RT @JohnOnWine #PinotSummit OMG, the INDIGO Pinot is the best, followed by VIOLET, then AUBERGINE.

elizabethdehoff OK, the Pinot labeled as “deep purple” is my favorite so far. #pinotsummit

LarryTheWineGuy @johnonwine #pinotsummit You had me going there for a minute. Shuffling thru my notes!

demilove @randyhall – At the #Pinotsummit in san rafael; want a report on it for @Winebizradio?

elizabethdehoff 10 Pinots to go. I’ve given up taking detailed notes, am just writing “Yum!” or “Eh” to simplify, will revisit “Yum!” wines. #pinotsummit

ShaRayRay Still gonna make it to the #pinotsummit!

vintuba At #pinotsummit tasting and taking notes. Some good, some bad, and some ugly

elizabethdehoff I got through 39 Pinots (can’t find the 40th). Lots of spitting! #pinotsummit

LarryTheWineGuy Q: Can one have too many Pinots? A: No. Just finished tasting 40 Pinots. Now ready for more. #pinotsummit

brandyea Made it through all 40. Only poured wine from bottle into spit cup instead of wineglass twice! #pinotsummit

educatedpalates Discovering new stars at #Pinotsummit

JohnOnWine RT @educatedpalates: Discovering new stars at #Pinotsummit <- All the new stars are at my table!

ShaRayRay Finally made it to #PinotSummit (@ Osher Marin JCC w/ @sfdoug) http://4sq.com/4AU8c2

ShaRayRay http://twitpic.com/15q6k7 – Discovering New Stars in Pinot Noir #pinotsummit

StevePaulo Umm who farted in here! #pinotsummit /via @winebratsf Stay classy, Brat ;D

ShaRayRay Hi @jamiebakas. You look like you need a glass of wine!! #pinotsummit

educatedpalates Wine and food pairing at #pinotsummit

elizabethdehoff Attending seminar on global perspectives on Pinot. Burgundy, CA, NZ. #pinotsummit

philular Getting set up @osherjcc for #pinotsummit grand tasting! #hahnwines

elizabethdehoff Burgundy, je t’aime! #pinotsummit

elizabethdehoff @winebratsf really good so far. Which one did you end up in? #pinotsummit

demilove Enjoying the lectures at #Pinotsummit!

JohnOnWine Most important thing learned at #PinotSummit was that my palate is the best. LOL.

ShaRayRay @philular I already left! :( Sorry to have missed the finale of the #pinotsummit

JohnOnWine Thrilled that one of my top 3 #PinotSummit wines is from a vineyard that had not impressed me before. #BlindTastingRocks

brandyea Dark gray = Hahn SLH Estate and turquoise = Lucienne Doctor’s Vineyard. Both 2007. #hahnwines #pinotsummit

brandyea Some faves from the #pinotsummit: Pacific Coast Vineyards 2007 Babcock Estate (gray), Claiborne & Churchill 2007 Edna Valley (tan).

JohnOnWine OMG! #PinotSummit just gave me a best taster trophy! Nah, not really.

JohnOnWine @winebratsf Real #PinotSummit faves: Purple, 08 Left Edge Sonoma Coast, Gray 07 Pac Coast Babcock Vnyd, Dp Purp 07 Deaver Sierra Foothills

brandyea Two last picks from #pinotsummit: Vine Hill 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains and Exhuberance 2007 Sonoma Valley. Nice discoveries.

AnoushBotanical Enjoyed participating in Blind Tastings plus Wine Making & Organic / Sustainable Workshops at #PinotSummit thanks to @myvinespace

LarryTheWineGuy My favorites from the #PinotSummit Elk Cove, Perception, Sonoma Coast, Left Edge, Nicholson Ranch, Artesa. The others were really good too.

LarryTheWineGuy Champagne Pommery had a delicious new cuvee at the #PinotSummit 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier. I like Champagne. A lot.

elizabethdehoff My favorite in the blind tasting at #PinotSummit: Deaver Vineyards Sierra Foothills Pinot Noir (2007, I think). http://bit.ly/cTOTJL

elizabethdehoff @winebratsf Yes! I was stunned that it came from the Sierra Foothills. Heard lots of others liked it too. #PinotSummit

The initial event was the blind tasting of 40 Pinot Noir in a comfortable 3 1/2 hours. I secured a table with Dave Rogers, a friend I worked with years before at Windsor Vineyards, and we would venture forth, find an untasted wine, bring it backk to the table, taste, write notes with a score, spit and dump the remainder into a large plastic cup, and venture forth affair. Conveniently, our table was under great lighting allowing a judgement of each wine’s color and clarity.

Dave Rogers, right, with a high school friend

Each attendee was asked to note their top three wines on a ballot, and the results of the totaled scores, broken down by gender, will be posted no later than March 15, 2010  right here.

Barbara Drady, foreground, Elizabeth DeHoff and Thea Dwelle, background

After the blind tasting, attendees split into groups to attend the workshops they signed up for.

Amy Cleary, twitter @educatedpalates

I attended Discovering New Stars – “An Introduction and tasting of wines from young wineries producing fabulous Pinot Noir,” moderated by C. Jason Mancebo of http://www.20dollarwineblog.com/ fame. The new stars were Mark Ray of Perception Wines, Bradley Brown of Big Basin Vineyards and Ken Post of Mariposa Wine Company. Tables were set with placemats prepared with three wines to be tasted.

Jason Mancebo, $20 Dollar Wine Blog

Mark Ray poured a 2007 Perception Wines Pinot Noir Orsi Vineyard. I try to find and write about delicious inexpensive easily obtainable wines, that is my wine writing goal. Having said that, this is a wine few will taste, and I have to confess a thrill hearing that production is only 48 cases (website says 43), the cost is $53 (website says $52), and the alcohol is 13.8 (website says 13.9). Remembering exact numbers aren’t important, taste is; and this beautiful Pinot Noir tasted delicious, the grapes coming from the Russian River Valley, from vineyards just across the river from William Selyem and Rochioli. It was interesting to hear Ray say he used a clone (114) that is neither his nor the consumer’s favorite when it comes to Pinot Noir, but that the varietal is so site specific that the grapes planted in Bernard Orsi’s loamy and very rocky vineyard just shine. It was a treat to taste a 2007 Russian River Valley from a single vineyard, single clone, only two barrels, and about 45 cases only.

Mark Ray, Perception Wines

Bradley Brown poured a 2008 Big Basin Pinot Noir, Woodruff Family Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountain. The grapes come from clones older than 20 years, planted where regular fog allows harvest a full month later than most other areas, and yields of only 1 ton per acre. The not yet released wine will sell in the low $40’s and runs 14.6% alcohol.

Bradley Brown, Big Basin Vineyards

Finally, Ken Post of Mariposa Wine Company talked about his 2008 CRU Pinot Noir, Santa Maria $35, about grapes from the Derbyshire  Vineyard near San Simeon yielding only 600 pounds per acre, and about grapes coming in at 29° Brix in 2008. I imagined miniscule clusters of sugar bomb raisins. At least one wine was watered back (thank you for having the balls to openly admit to what many do) to a manageable 14.7% alcohol.

Ken Post, Mariposa Wine Company

I found the seminar more interesting for the different paths to great Pinot Noir these three winemakers took, having started with significantly different starting places. Great wine is made in the vineyard, and it was interesting to hear how each of these three worked with grapes they had.

While the rooms from the first workshop were reset for the afternoon’s second workshop, attendees enjoyed a Cheese Intermezzo with bubbly in the ballroom.

The second workshop I attended was the Food and Wine Pairing – “An exploration of Pinot Noir pairings, what works with what Pinot Noir? Taste for yourself,” moderated by Rick Bakas, Director of social media at St. Supery Winery.

Rick Bakas, St. Supery Winery

The wines were a 2007 Lionheart Wines Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, a 2006 Kendric Vineyards Pinot Noir Marin County, and a 2008 Mariposa wine Company CRU Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Sarmento Vineyards. The foods were salmon with pickled ginger, pheasant pate with sweet chutney, and Manchego cheese. Our room wasn’t really set, and the event was a bit of a clusterfuck. Fifteen minutes into the workshop, Dave Rogers asserted some measure of control, moving up to the front table, grabbing the three wines, and announcing what we were going to be tasting. Eventually, everyone had the three wines and a too small morsel of each food to be tasted with the three wines, and tasting and note taking ensued.

Bakas then asked each table about their food and wine experiences. I found it interesting that some people could be so completely wrong. What I really found is that some people can’t break free of limitations and rules they have read or heard, while others can imagine new, possibly superior, pairings inspired by these pairings. Some could not taste the Pinot Noir for the sweetness of the chutney, while others allowed the chutney’s sweetness to compliment the Pinot Noir and create a more complete whole flavor profile. Some complained that the ginger spoiled the salmon and the Pinot Noir, while others, perhaps more used to pairing Pinot Noir with Asian cuisine, managed the whole quite well.

Second workshops finished, the summit attendees reentered the ballroom that had been reset for the Pinot Noir reception. The wine identities of the wines blind tasted at the summit’s start were revealed, medals were given out to participating wineries, tasty hors d’oeuvre were generously sampled, wineries poured their Pinot Noir and other offerings, notes were compared.

Pinot Noir Reception and Award Ceremony festivities

My top 10 Pinot Noir from the blind tasting were:

9.5/10 points – PURPLE – 2008 Left Edge Winery Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast,

9.0/10 points – GRAY – 2007 Pacific Coast Vineyards Pinot Noir Babcock Vineyards Santa Rita Hills,

9.0/10 points – DEEP PURPLE – 2007 Deaver Vineyards Pinot Noir Sierra Foothills,

9.0/10 points – BLUE – 2007 Mariposa Wine Company CRU Pinot Noir Vineyard Montage Central Coast,

8.5/10 points – AQUA MARINE – 2007 Kendric Vineyards Pinot Noir Marin County,

8.5/10 points – DUSTY ROSE – 2008 Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Noir Williamette Valley (OR) Mount Richmond,

8.5/10 points – LIGHT BLUE – 2006 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Pinot Noir Peterson Vineyards,

8.5/10 points – TAN – 2007 Claiborne & Churchill Vintners Pinot Noir Edna Valley,

8.5/10 points – WEDGEWOOD – 2007 Vine Hill Winery Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains, and

8.5/10 points – YELLOW – 2007 David Bruce Winery Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains.

No wine pours itself, or sells itself. The best winery representative at the summit was Megan Schachern of Row Eleven Wine Company.

I tasted and enjoyed the 2006 Row Eleven Pinot Noir Santa Maria, the 2007 Row Eleven Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, and the 2007 Row Eleven Pinot Noir 100 Barrel Reserve Santa Maria (J. Torres Vineyard,  Bien Nacido Vineyard, and Sierra Madre Vineyard). All three wines were delicious, but I would like to visit Row Eleven in San Rafael and taste again at the beginning of the day instead of the end. Megan shared a wonderful note on the winemaker; Richard de los Reyes puts his phone number on every cork that goes into a bottle of Row Eleven wine.

In addition to Dave Rogers, I ran into former Windsor Vineyards team mates Gordon Harsaghy and Linda Verdone. It was a genuine pleasure reminiscing with old friends.

Linda Verdone receives a kiss from Gordon Harsaghy

My thanks go out to Barbara and John Drady, and all of the volunteers from wineries and Affairs of the Vine, the judges, panelists, and everyone else who contributed to help make this a stellar wine event.

DISCLOSURE: I attended this wine event after winning a full day ticket in an online contest.

CBS has CSI; NBC has Law and Order. Both have spun off myriad incarnations.

FOX has Gordon Ramsey. Hells, Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, Cookalong, and coming later this year Masterchef.

Masterchef is another BBC import, and turns amateur but passionate cooks into cheftestants, competing against each other, until only one is left.

I am going to be attending a casting call in San Francisco later this month, bringing the elements to plate a prepared dish with five minutes preparation – a different thermos for each part of the dish, presentation plate, spoon, tongs, cutting board, knife, steel, towels, napkin.

I’m bringing my involtini on polenta with homemade Italian red sauce, and a bottle of red wine. I think wine is part of a meal, and ingredient of the dish. So I’ll also be bringing wine, corkscrew, and wineglass as well as all of the food pack. I think I may look for a cooler with wheels and handle.

I’m hoping my brother auditions in either New Orleans or Los Angeles, we could be the Masterchef version of Top Chef’s Voltaggio brothers.

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I applied for a fellowship award to attend this year’s Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley, February 16-19, 2010.

On the Symposium  website’s page for Fellowship Opportunities, it says, “awardees will be notified by telephone and or e-mail by January 8, 2010, and their names will be posted on the Fellowship page at the Symposium website…those who are not awardees will be notified by e-mail.”

Last night, looking at the site’s page for registration, I found the statement, “Fellowship recipients will be notified by January 15, 2010.”

I thought I would know whether the writing samples I provided scored well enough with five judges to earn a Fellowship award by tomorrow, and I was already antsy, anxious, at waiting. Now I think I may have to wait another week before finding out my fate.

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I did win two tickets to a terrific food and wine tasting Friday evening, February 19, 2010 (and yes, I can attend the Symposium and tasting on February 19, 2010), Dark & Delicious 2010 in Alameda, CA. Dark & Delicious pairs Petite Sirah from great producers with foods prepared by some of the top chefs in the Bay Area.

I am hugely excited to taste great wines and foods, I love Petite Sirah, so this is right up my alley. I am also going to get to meet some other wine bloggers, including Eric Hwang. Eric handles social media marketing for Windsor Vineyards, I used to handle tradeshow marketing for Windsor Vineyards.

I think there might be a few tickets left, here’s the link to info: http://psiloveyou.org/dd10/

Thank you Jo Diaz for running a ticket contest.

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The mailman has been busy. I received the winter issue of Washington Tasting Room, an attractive, colorful new wine magazine, featuring beautiful photography and solid written content. Recipes, feature articles on selected wineries, a tasting room calendar of special events, and wine columns make this a worthy stand out magazine. I love that the writing puts me right in some of Washington’s tasting rooms, tasting wines; my wine knowledge is limited to California wines, mostly north coast wines, so any magazine that can educate me while entertaining is a must read.

I loved reading about Yakima’s downtown restaurants waiving corkage fees for folks who bring a wine bought that day from a neighboring downtown Yakima tasting room. The news piece quotes a restaurant owner “We’ll wash two glasses any day to sell more dinners…the program is working. The wineries love it and they’re sending customers our way.”

Thanks to John Vitale for sending me this complimentary copy.

From the Wine Appreciation Guild, I received Dr. Richard Baxter’s “Age Gets Better With Wine.” You’ll read my review when I read it – I’m in the middle of a novel so embarrassingly trashy I won’t share the title. I’ve skimmed Age Gets Better With Wine, and I look forward to getting into it soon; with 20 pages of references listed, it appears to be a solid work, and yet my skim suggested a user friendliness. More later.

Also from the Wine Appreciation Guild, I received a new wine preservation system. I am half way through my evaluation of the product and will post a review over the weekend.

Thanks to the Wine Appreciation Guild.

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Completely not related to wine or food, the mailman also delivered a package from a good friend Mike Jasper. The outside of the package was torn, trampled, dirty, cut, a letter of apology from the post office was included. The contents appear perfect however. Jasper sent me a boxed set of 4 discs covering the complete season one of A&E’s Rollergirls. I think Jasper actually knows some of the girls, and when visiting him a while back, we watched an episode and I was stunned by the “there is room on television for anything” aspect of the show’s existence. I am delighted to receive this fine gift, although it will likely wait some time before I view it.

Jasper also sent the October 2009 issue of Playboy so I could read the feature on the 1970s Oakland Raiders.

While I might read this issue of Playboy for the articles, I’m pretty sure my 12 year old son wouldn’t even glance at the Raider article, so I have to put this away.

Thanks Jasper.

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I was just going to put a pair of tri tips on the grill, when I got a call from my local grocery…my order of pork belly is available for me to pick up. Hurray, this is going to be a great week of eating in the Cesano house.

I’m thinking of trying Top Chef cheftestant Kevin Gillespie’s pork belly recipe.

As always, I’ll let you know how it goes.

One of the most useful tools I have experienced as a wine guy is a wine aroma and bouquet nosing exercise.

When talking about how a wine smells, wine folk break down the scents into two main parts – aroma and bouquet.

Aroma refers to the scents that come from the varietal grape used to make the wine and are often fruit or floral in nature; blackberry, raspberry, cherry, apple, pear, rose, and honeysuckle are all examples of aroma.

Bouquet refers to the scents that come from winemaking choices. Put grape juice in oak barrels instead of stainless steel tanks, put the wine through a second fermentation called malolactic – changing tart apple flavors to round buttery flavors – and the wine you produce may have notes of oak, toast, cream and vanilla, these are examples of bouquet.

Together aroma and bouquet are described as a wine’s nose, as in “that ’97 Cabernet is holding up just fine, it still has a great nose of deep rich blackberry and current, with a little rose and eucalyptus, served up in an oaken bowl.”

While at Windsor Vineyards, I worked with and for a good friend Mary Jean Dubé. Mary Jean used to put on a nosing exercise regularly. She would task several people with a few notes each, and on the day of the tasting she would collect raw ingredient samples from each of the people she had asked to help. Mary Jean would end up with about 40 different aroma and bouquet scent samples; lemon, fresh cut grass, vanilla, butterscotch, rose petal, pepper, and so on.

Mary Jean would pour about 4 ounces of base wine in a 16 ounce glass; the wines couldn’t have much varietal character of their own as that would interfere with the exercise. Gallo hearty Burgundy and Chablis served well, they were red and white, they were made from grapes, they had alcohol, they were wine; but they were almost aroma and bouquet free. They each smelled like wine, and that’s about it.

With 20 4 ounce pours of red wine and another 20 4 ounce pours of white wine in front of her, Mary Jean would start adding a bit of a sample scent to each glass; different red wine glasses would get some blackberry, cherry, oak, tobacco or pepper scenting ingredients while different white wine glasses might get a supplement of apple, apricot, butter, hay, or violet. Putting a petri dish on each 16 ounce glass to act as an aroma/bouquet lid, and the name of the scent in the glass on a 3″ x 5″ card placed answer down under the glass, the exercise would be ready for any and all to test their noses at nosing wine’s noses.

I took part in the exercise at least a half dozen times and loved it every time. It is always good to sharpen and test your senses, find out your weaknesses, and work to become a better wine noser/taster – at least it is if your are working in a professional capacity within the industry.

Le Nez du Vin and other aroma and bouquet nosing kits are commercially available to make nosing exercises easier to put on. A variety of aroma and bouquet essences are available in a collection of bottles within a kit; kind of like a chemistry set’s collection of chemicals.

Visiting some Oregon wineries a couple of months ago, Nancy Iannios reminded me of the existence of the UC Davis Wine Aroma Wheel by Ann Noble. I had a friend who likes wine, but isn’t “into” wine, that was going to visit wine country and wanted to spend a week together learning about wine. The wine aroma wheel is the best simple tool to help someone begin to find the magic that is wine tasting.

Essentially, the wheel helps you figure out what you are smelling, breaking down into 12 separate categories that are then further broken down into sub categories. An aroma might be defined as fruity as opposed to woody. Looking at the fruity section of the wheel, the scent might be further defined as berry as opposed to citrus or tropical fruit. Within the berry fruits, the scent might be further defined as strawberry as opposed to any of the other berry fruits. The strawberry smell was always there, you were smelling it, you either didn’t know you were smelling it or couldn’t precisely identify it. The aroma wheel helps you identify the different aroma and bouquet notes in the glass of wine you have in front of you.

ZAP, Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, have a Zinfandel specific aroma wheel.

Alder Yarrow has a downloadable aroma card here on his Vinography.com site available in either color or b&w.

Funniest note you’ll find often in Sauvignon Blanc (also known as Fume Blanc): Cat Pee. If you’ve drank Sauvignon Blanc and enjoyed it, you may be surprised the next time you taste and nose your favorite Fume. Often there, right next to a smell of hay or straw, will be the unmistakable scent of cat pee. Sometimes winemakers blend in up to 25% Semillon in an attempt to disguise the cat pee aroma. It isn’t really off putting. If you liked the wine before, you should still like it – just maybe with some wry amusement or chagrin each time you smell it.

Wine elites waxing poetic over scents of cat pee. The industry can do with a lot less of that and a lot more regular folks who happen to love wine, sharing their love and knowledge through their blogs.

Wine. Just four little letters, wine; but thousands of books have been published on the subject, with hundreds more written every year, countless magazines, periodicals, and trade publications are printed monthly, and writers opine in columns appearing in the newspapers of nearly every city in the world each week.

Wine. What insightful and new bits of information and wisdom do I have to share, that hasn’t been imparted, shared, by numerous others before?

I will likely add nothing new, and yet my experiences, uniquely my own, may trigger memories of similar experiences you hold; and a particular bottle, and the place you tasted it, and the people you tasted it with, may come back to you as clearly as yesterday. Maybe it was yesterday.

I am wine geekier than most. Experienced, a professional’s palate, around wine all of my life, with developed preferences, I am a Frasier Crane without the pretentiousness, without the snobbiness.  Raised on Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, I love big rich red wines; ideally with a ton of structure supporting accessible forward fruit. If an old friend showed up with a box of chilled white Zinfandel, something I personally have never bought for myself, I would work up a menu to feature the crushed-strawberry-over-ice notes it might have, pour myself a glass, and enjoy time shared with a friend.

The blackberry currant of a Cabernet, or the brambly raspberry and black pepper spice of a Zinfandel, breathed in through my nose buried in a large glass; the wine swirled, aroma molecules breaking free, traveling up my nose, aromas, bouquet, analyzed, information passed on to the brain for comparison with similar previous smelled items. Judgement, memories triggered, new memories being formed.

I love smelling wines. I can happily swirl 4 ounces of wine in the bottom of a 16 or 20 ounce glass, and inhale the wine, breathe in the smells, experience the changes as a newly opened wine’s tannins and alcohol heat flush dissipate and the fruit comes forward. I love to let a wine breathe in my glass, “nosing” it over and over.

I often open a wine to be used at dinner, either in the food as a part of the recipe, or as an accompanying meal beverage – or more often as both. I love wine, I love food, and I love to pour myself a glass of wine to smell and inspire me as I prep a meal’s ingredients. I often spend an hour just breathing in a wine before tasting it.

I have a picture that hangs over my desk, and has hung on the wall of each of the wine industry related offices I worked in over the years; in the picture are an 11 year old me, and my then 7 year old brother, crushing grapes by foot. Any fan of Lucy Ricardo’s I Love Lucy trip to Italy can recognize instantly what my brother and I are doing. I love the picture, because it demonstrates how far back wine reaches into my life.

While I grew up with, and always loved, wine, one of the first wines that made me sit up and take notice was the 1976 Simi Cabernet Sauvignon. As I didn’t turn 21 until 1982, I found it too late and had to purchase the wine as a library release directly from the winery. I think I was spending $50 a bottle 25 years ago. I couldn’t afford much back then, but somehow I managed to always have a couple of bottles on hand for years until the winery ran out.

Fifteen years later, my dad asked me to watch his house when he went on vacation to Italy; and tucked away, I found a bottle of 1976 Charles Krug. I invited a wine loving friend up to the house for dinner, planning to showcase the Krug. Robert Mondavi is one of my wine industry heroes, he is a God, having changed California winemaking for all wineries, not just the winery he created in his own name. Mondavi left his family’s winery, the Charles Krug winery, to make his own wines his own way, and in doing so paved the way for everyone else, including Krug, to make better wines. I looked forward to tasting the ’76 Krug Cab, a winery from a historied family, from an area known for growing great Cabernet grapes, from an incredibly good vintage. Would it have held up? Would it be faded? Would it be vinegar?

Typically, I opened the wine while prepping dinner, and was not thrilled with the nose, it seemed muted, very closed, possibly dead. As time went on, the alcohol flush disappeared, but all that was left was a tannic edge without much fruit. The wine had gone, sadly faded. I sniffed and sipped at 30 minutes, an hour, two hours, three hours. Nothing.

My friend came for dinner, we ate and glanced wistfully at the bottle that never opened up. As I plated dessert, I tried the 76 Krug Cab one more time. Oh My God. a wine aged under dubious conditions for twenty five years, left open to breathe for over 4 hours, finally opened to show off the most amazing array of fruit and leather and herb and spice. Rich, deep and full, our dinner wine became the sweetest non-sweet dessert wine ever.

I remember during barrel tasting weekend in Sonoma County tasting a Zinfandel at Preston Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley. I was stunned by the flavors, still in the barrel, with lots of growing up yet to do, I was tasting what I thought of as the best Zinfandel I had ever tasted. I was so excited to taste the Zinfandel that would be made from this barrel. When at last the finished wine was blended and bottled, I tasted the newly released Zinfandel and was shocked.

Traditionally, Zinfandel may be blended with some Carignane, just as Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended with some Merlot. There are certain blendings, classic, that are accepted as appropriate and often result in a wine superior to the unblended wines otherwise made. Lou Preston chose to blend the best barrels of Zinfandel I had ever tasted with Cabernet, producing a wine that tasted like no other Zinfandel I had ever tasted. I was horrified, crushed, mourning the loss of what I had imagined.

Ignoring the label, putting aside expectations of what a Zinfandel should taste like, and what this Zinfandel could have tasted like, but tasting this wine as simply a red wine, and asking myself if I liked it or not, I found that I did indeed like it. I liked it quite a bit. I often took visiting friends by the Dry Creek Store for sandwiches, then to Preston Vineyards to buy a bottle of this Zinfandel, and over a few games of Bocce on the grounds of Preston Vineyards I would recount the tale of this wine from barrel to bottle, as I experienced it.

Another powerfully memorable wine is the 1995 Kistler Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast, near where the Russian River empties into the Pacific Ocean. The Chardonnay seemed to hold every note in the nose and mouth that I had ever experienced in all other Chardonnays combined. It was all there: oak, toast, cream, vanilla, apple, pear, tropical and citrus, clove, caramel, butterscotch, and so much more. It was like tasting 1.5 Liters of flavor crammed into a 750 milliliter bottle. It was like magic, I have never experienced anything quite like it before or since.

I was in a restaurant in the foodie Buckhead section of Atlanta and saw the ’95 Kistler Chardonnay on the wine menu at $60 which is about the same as it cost on release in a store; remembering the magic, with great happiness, I ordered a bottle. The wine came to the table at perhaps a single degree above freezing, all of the amazing notes locked in by cold. This was a truly sad wine experience, to me it seemed criminal. I would much rather have enjoyed the wine at room temperature with the notes flying out of the glass than frozen and unable to escape.

From the 1973 vintage, Mike Grgich made Chateau Montelena a Chardonnay that won first place among the Chardonnays and white Burgundies at the famed 1976 Paris tasting using fruit that was purchased from the Bacigalupi vineyards in Sonoma County. I had a chance to taste wines made by California winemaker of the year Carol Shelton, using these same grapes, but from the superior 1995 vintage, for Windsor Vineyards. I had a stocked cellar of 360 bottles of wines at the time, I did not need more wine, but I found myself buying cases of this incredible Chardonnay.

Carol Shelton made wines that featured the flavors of the fruit, allowing the grapes and what they had experienced while on the vine to express itself in the bottle. One of the most consistent, approachable wines Shelton made year between the years of 1995 and 2000 was her Murphy Ranch Chardonnay for Windsor Vineyards. Legend, true or not I don’t know, is that Carol was able by contract to pick fruit from the Murphy Ranch in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma County before the vineyard owners could harvest the remaining grapes for use in their own Murphy Goode Chardonnay. All I know is that the Carol’s Murphy Ranch Chardonnay made up the largest portion of my collected Chardonnays during this time. I bought bottles from Murphy Goode each vintage as well to do a sort of horizontal tasting, same wine, same grapes, different winemaker.

I could write about the differences of the Chardonnays; the Kistler, the Montelena, the Windsor Bacigalupi Vineyard, the Windsor Murphy Ranch, The Murphy Goode; or about the different areas the grapes come from: Napa or the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Coast appellations of Sonoma County; or about the different vintages the grapes were grown: the late frosts and early rains or the perfect long and warm growing seasons. It is all of this and more that makes wine endlessly fascinating to the wine geek in me; but suffice it to say that wine is alive, it changes, even twin bottles, cellared well, can taste different months apart.

I could write endlessly about wines, and the wineries and vineyards of my family home in Sonoma County, California. I could tell you about learning that wines change by vintage as my first wife and I had a favored wine become a least favored wine when the last bottle of one vintage was consumed and the first bottle of the new vintage was tasted. I could share that Sonoma County with half the wineries of Napa County wins twice as many Gold Medals in National and International wine competitions – and the wines cost less.

I could write about the lesser known wines of the county I now live in, Mendocino. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown in the Anderson Valley; the similarities and differences of these grapes when compared with the grapes from the better known Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, the sparkling wine of Roederer Estate in the Anderson Valley compared to the California Champagne of the Russian River Valley’s Korbel. The lusciousness of Handley’s Anderson Valley Pinot, or the commitment to organic and sustainable farming practices of Mendocino County wineries – even wine giant Fetzer, located just off the 101 in Hopland. One of the most exciting one man wineries I know of is in Ukiah, where John Chiarito’s head pruned vines produce artisanal Italian varietals, Negroamaro and Nero D’Avloa, as well as gorgeously dense Petite Sirah and Zinfandel.

Mostly, when I write about wine, I want to share with you a memory; the taste of the wine, where I was, what I was doing, and who I was doing it with.

There are books dedicated to recommended pairings; red wine with meat, white wine with fish. I have found that any wine is best paired with friends.

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.

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