John on Wine: Carmenère is the Slash of winegrapes


Carmenère tasted for this piece…thanks!

Guns N’ Roses was the biggest draw in rock music in the 80’s and early 90’s, owing largely to the talent of the individual members of the band. After their last concert, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on July 17, 1993, Axl Rose continued to tour with new band members as Guns N’ Roses, but Slash has not performed with Axl since then. Slash, of course, has continued to play guitar, notably with Slash’s Snakepit and Velvet Revolver.

In Bordeaux, France, red wines are made from a handful of grape varieties, which historically included Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Pinot Verdot, and Carmenère. Like Slash, leaving Guns N’ Roses, Carmenère has largely left France, but has gone on to great things in South America, growing widely in Chile’s Central Valley.

Recently I was sent a review sample of the 2011 Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenère, to mark the 20th anniversary of the rediscovery of Carmenère in Carmen’s estate Vineyards in Chile. Thought to be extinct, the treasured grape was rediscovered on Nov. 24, 1994, and has helped to define Chile’s reputation around the world for distinctive wines.

While Carmenère is wildly popular in Chile, it is still relatively undiscovered in the United States.  Similar to Cabernet Sauvignon in structure, but with the soft roundness of a Merlot, Carmenère is often enjoyed at festive Chilean dinners with steak and other grilled meats.

As Chile’s oldest winery and the place of Carmenère’s rediscovery, Carmen has taken a leadership role within the Chilean wine industry in maximizing the varietal’s nuanced qualities through innovative winemaking techniques. Carmen winemaker Sebastián Labbé notes, “The structure and acidity of our Carmenère stands up to traditionally rich dishes and bold flavors.”

In the U.S., Carmen wines are part of the Trinchero Family Estates portfolio. 2011 Gran Reserva Carmenère is readily available at most shops across the country and retails for less than $20.

Closer to home, Mendocino County’s Yorkville Cellars in the Yorkville Highlands on Highway 128, grows Carmenère grapes and bottles it, as one of their complete line up of Bordeaux variety wines. The good folks at Yorkville Cellars, Deborah and Edward Wallo, and tasting room host extraordinaire Gary Krimont, delivered a bottle of their 2012 Yorkville Cellars Carmenère, Rennie Vineyard, made with organic grapes to me for this piece as well.

From Yorkville Cellars, a primer on Carmenère:

“Before the 19th century’s ravages of phylloxera, Carmenère was a very important grape in the Bordeaux region, especially in the Médoc. During the era of replanting, it was the odd grape out, as it did not take well to being grafted, so much of its former territory was replanted to Cabernet Sauvignon. Before that happened, vine cuttings had traveled across the ocean, as the South American vineyards were rapidly expanding in the 1850s.

Fast-forward to 1994 in Chile, where ampelographer Jean Michel Bourisiquot discovered the truth: Most of Chile’s Merlot vineyards were a mix of Merlot and Carmenère, and usually 60- to 90 percent Carmenère! For nearly 150 years Chilean viticulturists struggled with vineyards that had two distinct grapes interplanted, ones that often ripened three weeks apart! They had assumed that their clone, nicknamed ‘Chilean Merlot,’ was just a difficult grape to work with. Outside of Chile, Carmenère is nearly extinct, with a mere 59 bearing acres (out of nearly 500,000 acres) in California, for example.

Carmenère requires more heat to ripen than the other varietals planted in Bordeaux. It is still in the process of being examined using the tools of modern viticulture, but this much seems clear: It can produce outstanding grapes given eight to nine months of sun, but not too much daily heat, if it gets some rain, but not during ripening, and if the vines are well established in soils that have an even balance of clay, loam and sand. Whew! Oh, and it is particular about what rootstock it’s grafted to. Other than that, no problem!

Wines made from Carmenère show a depth of color, and complexity of flavor that can range from herbal to gamey and show elegance and balance. In the best conditions it is said to produce wines that resemble the blends of Bordeaux, all from a single grape. Lower acid and rounder fruit than Cabernet, more structured and exotic than Merlot, often showing hints of roses and smoky, even tarry notes.”

2011 Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenère, Apalta Vineyard — 94% Carmenere, 4% Carignane, 2 % Temranillo. Inky purple color. Berry, spice, earth, cherry, toast oak. Roand and drinkable. Nice acid.

2012 Yorkville Cellars Carmenère, Rennie Vineyard, $36 — 75% Carmenère, 25% Malbec. Inky dark purple black in the glass. Woody berry, floral, spice, earth, cranberry, vanilla cream. Lush and delicious, great finish.

Different wines to be sure, but both were marked by earthy spicy oaky berry fruit, and both cried for a flavorful zesty herbed meat dish.

Rumor is that Slash may rejoin Axl for a Guns N’ Roses reunion tour. Fact is that Carmenère has found two wonderful homes, in Chile and California, and is doing great away from Bordeaux.

2015 SFCWC Logo

For my 300th post to John on Wine, I find it fitting that I am posting a list of the medal winning wines, each proudly sporting a Mendocino County AVA on the label, recently earning honors at the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the largest judging of American wines in the world with 6,417 entries this year.

While you might be tempted to print this list and taste the top awarded, Best of Class and Double Gold, then Gold medal winning wines, there are several wines that took Bronze medals that are delicious enough that I have purchased them. What may drink like a Bronze on one day, may show Gold quality on another. Pretty much, just about every wine on this list merits a taste.

I have written for years about the quality of Mendocino County winegrapes, and the delicious wines they make. This list is filled with example after example of what I have written about, in newspaper column after newspaper column, and the additional posts that find their way online.

All of the Gold medal winning wines will be poured at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Public Tasting on Valentine’s Day, Saturday, February 14, 2015 from 1:30pm-5:00pm at the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason Center in san Francisco. Advance tickets are $65, and available online now. Tickets at the door are $80, but will probably be unavailable…get your tickets now.

2014 SFCWC Public Tasting Guinness some more

I’m posting this list while it is still news, although a version will also run in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, January 22, 2015, but may have the Bronze medal winners edited out due to space restrictions. Fortunately, online, no such restrictions exist.

Congratulations to all of the wineries, winemakers, and grape growers responsible for these excellent Mendocino County wines:

BEST OF CLASS
2013 Balo Vineyards Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley, $24.00; and
2013 Castello di Amorosa Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley, $39.00.

DOUBLE GOLD MEDAL
NV McFadden Farm Sparkling Cuvee Brut Rose, Potter Valley, $32.00;
2012 Seebass Family Wines Grand Reserve Chardonnay, Mendocino, $34.00;
2013 Angeline Winery Reserve Pinot Noir, Sonoma-Mendocino, $18.00;
2013 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir, Mendocino Ridge, $30.00;
2012 Campovida Pinot Noir, Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County, $45.00;
2012 Roadhouse Winery Platinum Label Pinot Noir, Weir Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, $79.00;
2010 Ledson Winery & Vineyards Estate Petite Sirah, Redwood Valley, $42.00; and
2012 Navarro Vineyards Mourvedre, Mendocino, $20.00.

GOLD MEDAL
2013 Bink Wines Randle Hill Sauvignon Blanc, Yorkville Highlands, $22.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Chardonnay, Mendocino, $19.00;
2012 Husch Vineyards Special Reserve Chardonnay, Mendocino, $26.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Premiere Reserve Chardonnay, Anderson Valley, $25.00;
2013 Seebass Family Wines Family Chardonnay, Mendocino, $30.00;
2012 Artevino Chardonnay, Maple Creek Estate, Yorkville Highlands, $36.00;
2013 V. Sattui Winery Riesling, Anderson Valley, $25.00;
2013 Rivino Winery Estate Viognier, Mendocino, $25.00;
2013 Handley Cellars Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley, $20.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley, $19.50;
2011 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $32.00;
2013 Paul Dolan Pinot Noir, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $30.00;
2012 Balo Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $45.00;
2012 Bink Wines Pinot Noir, Thomas Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $45.00;
2012 McNab Ridge Winery Zinfandel, B Var X Talmage, Mendocino County, $26.00;
2012 St. Anne’s Crossing, Zinfandel, Mendocino, $28.00;
2012 Trinitas Cellars Zinfandel, Mendocino, $28.00;
2011 Sanctuary Wines Zinfandel, Butler Ranch, Mendocino, $39.99;
2012 Graft Wines Conviction, Mendocino, $36.00;
2012 Bonterra Vineyards, Merlot, Mendocino County, $13.99;
2012 McNab Ridge Winery, Merlot, Mendocino County, $16.00;
2012 Seebass Family Wines Grand Reserve Merlot, Mendocino, $38.00;
2013 Kimmel Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Potter Valley, $13.99;
2013 Lucinda & Millie Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County, $14.99;
2012 Brutocao Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Hopland Contento Estate, $19.99;
2012 Urban Legend Cabernet Sauvignon, Gusto Vineyard, Mendocino, $34.00;
2012 Topel Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino, $38.00;
2012 Sunce Winery & Vineyard Alicante Bouschet, Dempel Vineyard, Mendocino County, $28.00; and
2013 Husch Vineyards Old Vines Heritage, Mendocino, $30.00.

SILVER MEDAL
NV McFadden Farm Sparkling Cuvee Brut, Potter Valley, Mendocino, $40.00;
2013 Yorkville Cellars Sparkling Malbec Brut Rose, Rennie Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, $36.00;
2013 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino, $18.00;
2013 McFadden Farm Sauvignon Blanc, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $16.00;
2013 Paul Dolan, Sauvignon Blanc, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $18.00;
2013 Campovida Reserva Campo di Stelle, Mendocino County, $36.00;
2013 Yorkville Cellars Eleanor of Aquitaine, Randle Hill Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, $28.00;
2013 Kimmel Vineyards Illuminate Chardonnay, Potter Valley, $9.99;
2013 Girasole Vineyards Estate Grown Chardonnay, Mendocino, $13.00;
2013 Toad Hollow Francines’s Selection Unoaked Chardonnay, Mendocino, $14.99;
2013 Brutocao Cellars Chardonnay, Hopland Estate, $17.00;
2013 McFadden Farm Chardonnay, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $16.00;
2013 Rivino Winery Estate Chardonnay, Mendocino, $22.00;
2013 Handley Cellars Estate Chardonnay, Anderson Valley, $25.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Estate Bottled Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley, $19.50;
2013 Handley Cellars Riesling, Anderson Valley, $22.00;
2013 V. Sattui Winery Dancing Egg Riesling, Anderson Valley, $24.00;
2013 Bonterra Vineyards, Viognier, Mendocino County, $12.99;
2013 Campovida Campo Dos Roble Viognier, Mendocino County, $34.00;
2013 McFadden Farm Pinot Gris, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $16.00;
2013 Philo Ridge Vineyards Pinot Gris, Nelson Ranch, Mendocino, $20.00;
2013 Campovida Rose di Grenache, Trails End Vineyard, Mendocino County, $34.00;
2012 Brutocao Cellars Estate Slow Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $28.00;
2012 Husch Vineyards Estate Bottled Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $25.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Methode a’l Anciene Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $29.00;
2010 Panthea Winery & Vineyard Siren Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $32.00;
2012 Calista Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $40.00;
2013 Castello di Amorosa Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $49.00;
2012 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, Hellava Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $42.00;
2012 Handley Cellars Reserve Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $42.00;
2011 Husch Vineyards Knoll Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $40.00;
2010 Nelson Hill Pinot Noir, Deep End Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $42.00;
2010 Panthea Winery & Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $42.00;
2013 V. Sattui Winery Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $42.00;
2010 Woodenhead Pinot Noir, Wiley Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $60.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Zinfandel, Mendocino, $19.50;
2013 The Organic Wine Works Zenful Zin Zinfandel, Mendocino, $14.95;
2012 Paul Dolan Zinfandel, Mendocino County, $25.00;
2012 Cesar Toxqui Cellars Split Rock Zinfandel, Mendocino, $30.00;
2011 Seebass Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel, Mendocino, $37.00;
2012 Campovida Primitivo, Dark Horse Vineyard, Mendocino County, $36.00;
2012 Wattle Creek Winery, Primitivo, Yorkville Highlands, $30.00;
2012 BARRA of Mendocino Estate Grown Sangiovese, Mendocino, $18.00;
2013 Sottomarino Winery Sangiovese, Mendocino County, $28.00;
2012 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Anna Mac Syrah, Mendocino, $19.99;
2009 Bink Wines Hawks Butte Syrah, Bink Estate Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, $30.00;
2012 Seebass Family Wines Grand Reserve Syrah, Mendocino, $38.00;
2011 Seebass Family Wines Syrah, Mendocino; $43.00;
2012 McNab Ridge Winery Petite Sirah, Mendocino County, $18.00;
2012 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Jon Vincent Grenache, Mendocino, $22.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Grenache, Mendocino, $27.00;
2012 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Estate Merlot, Mendocino Ridge, $27.00;
2011 Albertina Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Zmarzly Vineyards, Mendocino, $28.00;
2010 Rivino Winery Estate Cabernet Franc, Mendocino, $36.00;
2009 Terra Savia Meritage, Sanel Valley Vineyards, $22.00;
NV Bliss Family Vineyards Estate Blissful Red, Mendocino, $9.99;
2012 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Farmhouse Red, Mendocino, $14.99;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Navarrouge, Mendocino, $16.00;
2012 Post & Vine Old Vine Field Blend, Testa Vineyards, Mendocino, $28.00;
2011 Soda Rock Winery Entourage Red Blend, Mendocino County, $26.00;
2009 Bonterra Vineyards The McNabb, McNabb Ranch, Mendocino County, $49.99;
NV Cesar Toxqui Cellars Multiple Vintages Heirloom Cinco, Mendocino, $35.00;
2011 McFadden Farm Coro Mendocino  Mendocino, $37.00;
2012 Topel Estate Blend, Mendocino, $38.00;
2012 Stephen & Walker , Chardonnay Botrytis, Mendocino Ridge, $65.00; and
2013 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Elle Port, Mendocino, $35.00.

BRONZE MEDAL                                                        
2013 Bonterra Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino/Lake, $12.99;
2013 Husch Vineyards Renegade Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino, $18.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards, Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino, $18.00;
2013 Bliss Family Vineyards Chardonnay, Hopland Estate, $9.99;
2013 Bonterra Vineyards Chardonnay, Mendocino County, $12.99;
2013 Naughty Boy Vineyards Chardonnay, Thorton Ranch, Potter Valley, $14.00;
2013 Parducci Wine Cellars Small Lot Blend Chardonnay, Mendocino County, $13.00;
2012 Shooting Star Chardonnay, Mendocino County, $13.00;
2013 Husch Vineyards Estate Bottled Chardonnay, Mendocino, $15.00;
2013 Husch Vineyards Vine One Chardonnay, Anderson Valley, $18.00;
2013 Seebass Family Wines, Grand Reserve Chardonnay, Mendocino, $32.00;
2013 Jim Ball Vineyards Chardonnay; Mendocino Ridge, $35.00;
2012 Bonterra Vineyards Chardonnay, Blue Herron Vineyard, Mendocino County, $49.99;
2012 La Follette Wines Chardonnay, Manchester Ridge Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge, $47.99;
2013 Castello di Amorosa Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley, $25.00;
2013 Handley Cellars Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley, $20.00;
2013 McFadden Farm Gewurztraminer, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $16.00;
2013 Philo Ridge Vineyards Gewurztraminer, Ferrington Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $20.00;
2013 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Estate Riesling, Mendocino Ridge, $18.00;
2013 McFadden Farm Riesling, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $18.00;
2013 Route 128 Winery  , Viognier, Opatz Family Vineyards, Yorkville Cellars, $19.00;
2013 Philo Ridge Vineyards Viognier, Nelson Ranch, Mendocino, $20.00;
2013 Campovida Marsanne, Bonofiglio Vineyard, Mendocino County, $32.00;
2013 Via Cellars Tocai Friulano, Fox Hill Vineyard, Mendocino County, $25.00;
2013 Seebass Family Wines Fantasi Rose of Grenache, Mendocino, $16.00;
2013 Bonterra Vineyards Pinot Noir, Mendocino County, $13.99;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $19.50;
2012 Parducci Wine Cellars Small Lot Blend Pinot Noir, Mendocino, $14.00;
2011 Naughty Boy Vineyards Organic Grown Pinot Noir, Potter Valley, $23.00;
2010 Naughty Boy Vineyards Organic Grown Pinot Noir, Potter Valley, $23.00;
2013 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, $34.00;
2012 Balo Vineyards Suitcase 828 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $38.00;
2009 Harmonique The Noble One Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $39.00;
2009 Nelson Hill Pinot Noir, Deep End Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $36.00;
2011 Philo Ridge Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $36.00;
2012 Artevino Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $40.00;
2010 Panthea Winery & Vineyard Pinot Noir, Londer Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $42.00;
2011 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, RSM Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $52.00;
2010 Philo Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir, Marguerite Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $50.00;
2012 Bliss Family Vineyards Estate Zinfandel, Mendocino, $9.99;
2012 Bonterra Vineyards Zinfandel, Mendocino County, $13.99;
2011 Brutocao Cellars Zinfandel , Hopland Estate, $19.99;
2012 Carol Shelton Wines Old Vines Wild Thing Zinfandel, Mendocino County, $19.00;
2012 Weibel Family Vineyards & Winery Zinfandel, Mendocino County, $16.95;
2012 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Mae’s Block  Zinfandel, Mendocino, $24.00;
2012 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Etta’s Block Zinfandel, Mendocino, $22.00;
2013 Husch Vineyards Old Vines Zinfandel, Mendocino, $25.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel, Mendocino, $27.00;
2012 Philo Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel, Firebrick Vineyard, Mendocino, $26.00;
2012 Oak Cliff Cellars Zinfandel, Firebrick Hill, Redwood Valley, $35.00;
2012 Woodenhead Zinfandel, Mariah Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge, $46.00;
2011 Brutocao Cellars Primitivo, Hopland Contento Estate, $19.99;
2013 Sottomarino Winery Primitivo, Mendocino County, $32.00;
2011 Muscardini Cellars Barbera, Pauli Ranch, Mendocino County, $38.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Barbera, Mendocino, $27.00;
2011 Brutocao Cellars Quadriga, Hopland Estate, $19.99;
2012 Route 128 Winery  Syrah, Opatz Family Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, $24.00;
2012 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Estate Syrah, Mendocino Ridge, $27.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Syrah, Mendocino, $27.00;
2010 Simaine Cellars Syrah, Venturi Vineyards, Mendocino, $25.00;
2009 BARRA of Mendocino Estate Grown Petite Sirah, Mendocino, $22.00;
2012 Navarro Vineyards Petite Sirah, Mendocino, $27.00;
2010 Notarius Petite Sirah, Heart Arrow Ranch, Mendocino, $24.00;
2012 Parducci Wine Cellars True Grit Reserve Petite Sirah, Mendocino County, $29.00;
2012 Theopolis Vineyards Petite Sirah, Yorkville Highlands, $36.00;
2012 Graft Wines Grenache, Dark Horse Vineyard, Mendocino County, $32.00;
2012 Bliss Family Vineyards Estate Merlot $9.99;
2012 Brutocao Cellars Merlot, Hopland Bliss Estate, $19.99;
2011 Terra Savia Merlot , Sanel Valley Vineyards, Mendocino County, $15.00;
2012 Weibel Family Vineyards & Winery Merlot, Mendocino County, $16.95;
2009 Artevino Merlot, Maple Creek Estate, Yorkville Highlands, $40.00;
2013 Bliss Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Hopland Estate, $9.99;
2012 Bonterra Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino/Lake, $13.99;
2012 Husch Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino, $23.00;
2010 Terra Savia Cabernet Sauvignon, Sanel Valley Vineyards, Mendocino County, $22.00;
2012 Navarro Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino, $29.00;
2011 Paul Dolan Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County, $25.00;
2012 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino Ridge, $35.00;
2013 The Organic Wine Works Organic A’Notre Terre, Mendocino, $14.95;
2012 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Assemblage, Mendocino, $24.00;
2012 Yorkville Cellars HI-Roller Red, Mendocino, $19.00; and
2011 McFadden Farm Late Harvest Riesling, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $18.00.

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John On Wine – Nodding to Cliché

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, December 18, 2014 by John Cesano

John On Wine – Five Holiday Gifts for the Wine Lover in your Life

Buying Christmas gifts is fun, but sometimes it can be challenging. Here are some recommendations from a wine lover to you for any wine lovers on your gift list.

5. A book on Sake. Sake Confidential, a beyond-the-basics guide to understanding, tasting, selection & enjoyment, by John Gauntner. Available online at www.amazon.com/Sake-Confidential-Beyond-Basics-Understanding/dp/1611720141.

I know wine well, generally, but there are huge gaps in my knowledge. I am good with California wines, and obviously know Mendocino County wines well, but I do not know the over 3,000 wine grape varieties of Italy and I am nearly as ignorant about Sake.

Sake is really more like beer than wine, brewed and fermented rice alcohol. I have a friend, Fred Albrecht, who dines out often, and loves Japanese food. Fred is Sake knowledgeable. When out together, Fred orders Sake for both of us or, where wine is the better choice, he usually seeks my input.

John Gauntner’s book on Sake is both informative and entertaining, approachable and useful. No book will turn anyone into an expert, but armed with knowledge of Junmai, Namazake, Ginjo, Nigori and more, the real fun begins: slightly educated tasting leading to experience based learning and genuine knowledge. I own and love this book.

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4. A wine preserver. Savino Wine Preservation Carafe. Available online at www.savinowine.com. I have written about a variety of wine preservation tools. The idea of wine preservation is that rather than have deterioration between glasses because of oxidation after a bottle is opened, the wine can be protected and used the next day, or for a family who finish a bottle perhaps a second bottle may be opened and then protected rather than finished.

Vacuum pumps, using a valved stopper to suck air out of a bottle only create a pressure differential and not a real vacuum – harmful oxygen is still inside the bottle, and the pumping strips wine of aroma and flavor, and should be avoided.

Savino is a simple, elegant, attractive and effective wine preserver; a cylindrical carafe with a floating cap that rests upon the wine, blanketing it from harm at any remaining level. I own a Savino.

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3. A wine aerator. Zazzol is the one I use. Available online at www.zazzol.com. Some folks, rather than trying to maintain a wine between glasses, are more interested in hastening the ‘breathing’ a wine needs, so as to have the wine open more quickly, so the enjoyment can begin sooner. A wine aerator is a device that increases a wine’s exposure to air so it may be thus enjoyed. There are many aerators on the market, but I recommend Zazzol because I own a Zazzol, it works, and it comes attractively packaged.

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2. Wine. Available at winery tasting rooms up and down Hwy 101 inland and along Hwy 128 toward the coast, here in Mendocino County. Please, if you can, visit a winery tasting room and buy your wine gifts, or wine club gift memberships, direct. I have lots of wine, but have found that there is no such thing as owning too much wine.

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1. Tickets to a wine dinner. I have written about the wine pairing Chef’s Dinners at Crush Italian Steakhouse that featured the wines of Saracina, Barra/Girasole, Bonterra, Coro, Yorkville Cellars, and Cesar Toxqui Cellars. Each one was an amazing experience. The next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah will be the feature inland event of the 2015 Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Festival, and showcase the wines of McFadden Farm. The dinner will be Wednesday, January 21, 2015 at 6:00 pm, and tickets run just $75 for food, wine, tax, and tip. Tickets are available online at www.mcfaddenfarm.com/Crush-Winemaker-Dinner_p_102.html.

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Regular readers know that I have gone to every Chef’s Wine Dinner, and I am certainly going to this dinner as well. I love Dungeness crab, and Chef Jesse Elhardt’s menu will be crab-centric with our coast’s bounty featured in reception, first course, and second course dishes. The only course likely to miss the kiss of crab will be dessert.

McFadden, of course, produced the California State Fair Wine Competition’s Best of Show Sparkling Wine, so a McFadden bubbly will start the night off as the reception wine. The first course of food, three or four dishes served family style, will be accompanied by Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer. The second course, with another three or four dishes, will be accompanied by Pinot Gris and Old Vine Zinfandel. Dessert is individually plated and will be accompanied by Late Harvest Riesling. To be clear, that’s a twice Gold Medal winning bubbly, three 90 point Wine Enthusiast magazine rated whites, a 95 point Just Wine points rated red, and a three time Double Gold or higher awarded dessert wine. Oh yeah, and Chef Jesse’s crabtastic menu.

Even though I manage McFadden’s tasting room, all the ticket money goes to Crush Italian Steakhouse to buy fresh crab. We keep nothing, and I have to buy my own ticket…although Guinness will end up covering that one. There is no conflict of interest in this recommendation.

How good a gift do I think this is? I have bought five tickets; four to give to my regular crew at the tasting room for Christmas, and another for my evening’s date, Kim Smith – who used to write for this paper. This may be the best wine dinner I attend in 2015. Over half of the 70 available tickets are already sold, so do not delay. This is my number one recommendation as a gift for wine (or Dungeness crab) lovers.

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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John On Wine – More Mushroom Meals, and a Turkey Meal Nears        

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, November 14, 2014

Thanks to the good efforts of Visit Mendocino, the local tourism group that brings visitors to Mendocino County for events, who then stay in our inns and hotels, their Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest continues through this weekend.

Last week, I wrote that one of the best ways to experience the magic of wine was through great wine dinners, and I wrote that Crush has the edge in putting on Chef’s Wine Dinners, like last night’s dinner, pairing the wines of Cesar Toxqui Cellars with mushroom dishes (for a recap of that dinner, visit JohnOnWine.com online where I’ll be posting an online exclusive within the week), or the next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush, on Wednesday, January 21, 2015, when Chef Jesse pairs crab dishes (thanks again Visit Mendocino for your Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest!) with highly rated and multiple Double Gold medal wines from McFadden Farm. Well, I should have made clear that Crush, by virtue of the restaurant’s layout has an edge, but there is one winery with a similar advantage: Barra of Mendocino.

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Barra of Mendocino can host an event, rain or shine, in their own facility, which is both a tasting room and event center all at once. Barra does so with frequency, and this Saturday, November 15, from 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM, Barra is hosting their Annual Winemaker Dinner which will feature five courses of mushroom dishes paired with delicious wine. Tickets are $80, or $55 for Barra wine club members (707) 485-0322 to get your tickets, tell ‘em I sent you, and I will see you there!

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The evening will be Moulin Rouge themed, think Parisian cabaret with great food and drink.

Here is the menu for Barra’s spectacular mushroom dinner:

L’ Apértif: Mushroom Pate’, Charcuterie, French cheeses, green olives, and baguettes served with Zinfand el, Chardonnay, Sangiovese;

L’ Entrée: Wild mushroom bisque with puff pastry square filled with brie served with Pinot Noir;

Le Plat Principal: Thick brined pork cut with wild mushroom gravy, sugared sweet potato crisps, haricot verts and slivered almonds served with Cabernet Sauvignon;

Le Formage: Wild mushrooms, apples, butternut squash and burrata served with Chardonnay; and

Le Dessert: Ocracote fig preserve cake with candy cap mushroom ice cream served with choice of Port or Muscat Canelli.

I will post a recap of this dinner on an exclusive online post at JohnOnWine.com within the week.

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Another fun mushroom and wine experience will be at Yorkville Cellars on Highway 128 in the Yorkville Highlands. Yorkville Cellars focuses on the wine varieties of Bordeaux, France; Malbec among them. Coming up this Friday, November 14 through Sunday, November 16, from 11-6pm each day, you can experience. “Malbec Four Ways for Four Days”:  an inaugural Malbec Rosé, Malbec table wine, Sweet Malbec and a new release of Sparkling Malbec Brut Rosé. The Malbec grapes come from Yorkville’s own certified organic estate vineyard. Nicely enough, there will be tasty and tantalizing mushroom themed appetizers and desserts to pair with the wines.

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For all of the fun mushroom themed events going on through Sunday, pick up a copy of Visit Mendocino’s 44 page brochure made just for the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest, available at nearly every winery tasting room in the county, or go to http://www.visitmendocino.com/mushroom-wine-and-beer-festival online.
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Looking forward a couple of weeks, to Thanksgiving, I was wondering what you do with wine at the holiday. What wines do you serve? Do you bring wine as a hostess gift to be shared with the meal. I wrote a piece last year about what wines go best with Thanksgiving dinner, and over the years, I have brought, and my family has enjoyed, every possible imaginable wine, from sparkling wines to dessert wines, and rosés to huge reds, with whites from dry to sweet as well.

I think that any wine, if good, makes a dinner better, and I have plenty of very good wine to bring to any dinner; but I also think some wines do better with Thanksgiving fare than others. Personally, I think that lighter, low alcohol red wines are great, because they are less likely to overpower the turkey. Blends are a good choice, because each grape gives up different aromas and flavors and with a basket of notes to pull from, different foods can pull different notes to pair with, each differently, from just one wine. Blends are chameleon-like, going with many things well, and I particularly like Rhone varietal blends, both red and white.

I have had inexpensive blends, Trinchero’s Menage a Trois at $7.99 as an example, that tasted good and went spectacularly well with a holiday dinner. There is nothing wrong with good tasting food wine that is affordable.

Here’s the thing, I know what I like. Let me know what wine you like to share at Thanksgiving. Email me at JohnOnWine@gmail.com and you may find that you help write my next column, or a portion of it, for me.

Cue the banjos.

I wrote in the newspaper, and online, and spread the word about a dinner that will not be happening…sort of. Rivino was to be the featured winery at next Wednesday’s premier event, for me, of the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest, a Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah featuring mushrooms, of course, and the estate wines of Rivino.

I love Crush’s Chef’s Wine Dinner series, have attended them all (Saracina, Barra of Mendocino/Girasole, Bonterra, Coro Mendocino, and Yorkville Cellars). I think Jason and Suzanne at Rivino make enjoyable wines, and they have a large and loyal following. After the dinner was announced, the folks who put on both the Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest every November and the Crab, Wine & Beer Fest every January, Visit Mendocino, arranged for McFadden Farm to be the featured winery at Crush’s Crab themed dinner in January. Of course, I was going; of course, I was writing about it; and, of course, I was spreading the word.

I’ve got some good news and some bad news, which do you want first?

Umm, the bad news.

Okay, the bad news is that there will be no Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush featuring the wines of Rivino next Wednesday.

Okay, what’s the good news then?

The good news is there are two dinners next Wednesday. Crush will be having a Chef’s Wine Dinner, but the winery being featured will be Cesar Toxqui Cellars. I recently wrote a piece about Cesar and Ruth Toxqui, and their wines and new tasting room location in Hopland, and I am equally thrilled to be attending and tasting their wines at the dinner I have a ticket for.

Jason and Suzanne will also be having a mushroom themed dinner, cooked by the team from Pagan Fire Pizza, and will host it at their winery.

I wish they were on different nights, so I could possibly attend both, like Barra of Mendocino’s mushroom themed dinner to be held at 6:00 pm on Saturday, November, November 15 – which I am gleefully attending.

Menus change, pairings change; there are often additions or other edits made at the last minute, I guess incorrectly at vintages based on what is on a website, so consider what follows to be working menus, and possibly incomplete. For your consideration, please find both of the Wednesday, November 12 menus from Crush/Cesar Toxqui Cellars and Rivino/Pagan Fire Pizza, and the Saturday, November 15 menu from Barra of Mendocino:

CHEF’S WINE DINNER Featuring CESAR TOXQUI CELLARS

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 6:00 pm

MEET AND GREET

Porcini Bruschetta Bites – toasted baguette, tomato, herbed ricotta, olive oil, balsamic, micro intensity
Featuring 2012 Immigrant Chard and Pinot Gris

FIRST COURSE

Clams Casino – shiitake mushroom, pancetta, green bell pepper, shallot, house made bread crumbs, asiago, parsley
Polpette al Vino Bianco – veal parmesan reggiano, brown butter parsnip purée, caramelized onion jus, chive stick
Broccolini Salad – shaved crimini mushrooms, red onion, fried bread, fresh burrata, pickled mushroom relish, sherry vinaigrette, olive oil, micro intensity
Featuring 2011 Pinot Noir and 2010 Grenache

SECOND COURSE

Grilled C.A.B. Skirt Steak – roasted oyster mushroom & yukon potato purée, red wine & crimini demi glacé, chive
Ragu of Mushrooms – handmade orecchiette pasta, ricotta, basil pesto, parmesan reggiano
Brussels & Cauliflower Gratin – house made bread crumb, toasted pine nut, gruyere
Featuring 2012 Split Rock Zin and Heirloom Cinco

DESSERT

Candy Cap Semifreddo – vanilla, mascarpone, macerated blueberries, fried quinoa, mint
Featuring port-esque Paloma Dulce

Wednesday November 12th @ 6:00 pm
$65 in advance , $85 at the door (includes tax & tip)
Call Crush at (707) 463-0700 for reservations
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Mushroom Winemaker Dinner at Rivino

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 6:00 pm

Come and enjoy an intimate dinner in our Vineyard! We are busily working on winterizing our tasting area so that we will have a beautiful space for this evening. It looks like rain on that night which will create the perfect cozy candle lit ambiance for this event.

Enjoy a mushroom inspired dinner with Suzanne and Jason. The menu will be an artful creation perfected by Mitch of Pagan Fire Pizza! On the night’s menu, expect:

The best Mushroom Risotto you have ever tasted; and
Wood fire roasted, boneless mushroom stuffed quail;
Featuring Rivino’s Estate Wines

Candy Cap Creme Brulee
Featuring shared samples a soon to be bottled White Port; a Viognier fortified with Germain Robin Brandy, the Brandy created from Rivino Viognier grapes as well!

Wednesday November 12th @ 6:00 pm
$75 each, $65 for Wine club members (limit two each)
Call the winery at (707) 293-4262 for reservations

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Barra of Mendocino can host an event in their own facility, which is both a tasting room and event center all at once. Barra does so with frequency, and on  Saturday, November 15, from 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM, Barra is hosting their Annual Winemaker Dinner which will feature five courses of mushroom dishes paired with delicious wine.

The evening will be Moulin Rouge themed, think Parisian cabaret with great food and drink. I will wear a suit, with tie. You don’t have to, but dress up is fun sometimes.

Here is the menu for Barra’s spectacular mushroom dinner:

L’ Apértif: Mushroom Pate’, Charcuterie, French cheeses, green olives, and baguettes served with Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Sangiovese;

L’ Entrée: Wild mushroom bisque with puff pastry square filled with brie served with Pinot Noir;

Le Plat Principal: Thick brined pork cut with wild mushroom gravy, sugared sweet potato crisps, haricot verts and slivered almonds served with Cabernet Sauvignon;

Le Formage: Wild mushrooms, apples, butternut squash and burrata served with Chardonnay; and

Le Dessert: Ocracote fig preserve cake with candy cap mushroom ice cream served with choice of Port or Muscat Canelli.

Saturday November 15th @ 6:00 pm
$80, or $55 for Barra wine club members
Call the winery at (707) 485-0322 for reservations
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More recently than my write up of Cesar Toxqui Cellars, in fact it is appearing in today’s weekly wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal – soon to be archived here, I wrote about the spectacular opportunity that these special multi course food and wine dinners present; you get to play with your food and no one will frown. Try a taste of each dish with each of the wines poured, and find what works for you, and what doesn’t, and even try to imagine what foods might pair even better with the wines you are tasting. Grab a ticket to one or two of these great dinners – I’m attending two; sadly, we can’t attend all three.

On Saturday August 2, 2014, the Yorkville Highlands Growers and Vintners Association will again host the Yorkville Highlands Wine Festival in the scenic hills of southern Mendocino County. For the first time there will be wineries from the neighboring Mendocino Ridge as well.  This year’s host venue is the beautiful Meyer Family Cellars at 19750 Highway 128, Mile Marker 34 between Yorkville and Boonville. Festivities start at 1pm.

Tickets are $45 each if purchased online today or $50 each online from July 31 on. There are discounts available for children and designated drivers.

Highlights will include tasting award-winning Yorkville wines made and grown within the region, delicious regional cuisine, a tempting silent auction, grape stomp, and other wild and wacky games. Plan on visiting Yorkville this Saturday for this delightful celebration of Yorkville Highlands wines.

Look for Bink Wines, Halcon Vineyards, Judson Hale Winery, Le Vin Estate Winery, Lone Oak Ranch Vineyards, Maple Creek Winery, Marietta Cellars, Meyer Family Cellars,  Route 128 Winery, Theopolis Vineyards, and Yorkville Cellars from the Yorkville Highlands, plus additional wineries from the Mendocino Ridge appellation

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