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

The Second Annual Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend is so big that it isn’t just Anderson Valley wineries involved.

The wineries along Hwy 128, from Yorkville Highlands up through the Anderson Valley, will be having a Barrel Tasting weekend this Saturday, July 26 and Sunday, July 27 from 11-4 each day.

From the Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting website:

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Enjoy unprecedented access to winery cellars, taste yet-to-be-released wines, and purchase futures of your favorites at a special barrel tasting weekend price! Explore the area, discover new wineries, and enjoy a beautiful summer weekend in Mendocino’s Pinot country!

Participating wineries will feature previews of new wines, from Pinot Noir to Zinfandel, along with current releases. Attendees will receive a logo glass and a wristband, which grants access to the events for both Saturday and Sunday.

Participating wineries for 2014 include: Balo Vineyards, Baxter, Bink, Brutocao Cellars, Edmeades, Elke, Foursight Wines, Goldeneye Winery, Greenwood Ridge Vineyards, Handley Cellars, Harmonique, Husch, Knez, Lichen, Lula Cellars, Meyer Family, Maple Creek, Philo Ridge Vineyards, Phillips Hill, Witching Stick and Yorkville Cellars.

Check out their special offers HERE.

We encourage you to taste responsibly and to book your trip with one of the transportation companies listed below. Designated drivers are welcome to attend the event, free of charge.

You are also encouraged to bring a picnic lunch with you – participating wineries will have limited food, and what better way to enjoy the scenery at one of our beautiful wineries and tasting rooms than to eat alfresco? You can pick up a prepared lunch at one of the cafes listed below.

TRANSPORTATION COMPANIES
Riley Cab Company
Vintage Vine Tours
Mendocino Wine Tours

LUNCH/CAFES

Boontberry Farms (707) 895-3576
Mosswood Market
The Boonville General Store
Lemon’s Philo Market

Why a summer barrel tasting? Aren’t most held in the spring?
The majority of our wineries produce high-end Pinot Noir, and Pinot really tastes best right before bottling time. By holding a barrel tasting in the summer, attendees will be able to evaluate the wines in a nearly finished state, instead of young wines that will change dramatically during the aging process.

So, when you buy futures, you know exactly what you’ll be receiving the next year!

Map of Anderson Valley
Okay, the folks over in the Anderson Valley said it well, but let me say that the wines, the Pinot Noir in particular, produced there is spectacular. Barrel tasting events are an interesting experience for folks new to the format, and a terrific opportunity to take advantage of sizable sales offered on purchases of futures, wines before release, based on tastes at these events for seasoned tasters.

$20 is a more than fair price, especially considering that all of Hwy 128’s winery areas are represented and that each winery is  doing something special.

Here are the specials to be found at each participating winery, with purchase of a $20 ticket:

Purchase yours Here!

ANGEL CAMP – Please join us inside the Balo Winery to taste barrel samples of our 2013 Angel Camp Estate Pinot Noir and our new release, 2013 Les Amoureuses Estate Pinot Noir. We will be offering 20% off and free shipping for case purchase of 2012 Estate Pinot Noir and 2013 futures.

BALO – Come sample our 2013 Estate Pinot Noir and 2013 Suitcase 828 Pinot Noir from the barrel, which is proving to be a stellar vintage. Enjoy a picnic with pizzas from our wood fired oven and play a game of Bocce. Enjoy 20% savings on your wine purchase and sign up for our futures program and Wine Club

BAXTER  – Meet winemaker Phillip Baxter as he personally guides you through barrel samples of his 2013 Pinot Noirs. Compare the vineyards directly with the current vintage and sign up for futures with complimentary shipping. Our stylish tasting room is on the West side of 128 in downtown Philo. 707 895 3173.

BINK is offering barrel samples of 3 different Pinot Noir clones and a daily raffle for a bottle of Reserve Thomas Vineyard Pinot Noir.  There will be summer wine specials as well.  Join the Wine Club and receive 25% off.

BRUTOCAO invites you to “be a king for the day”. All tickets holders will receive a 25% discount. Taste 2013 Primitivo from the barrel and purchase futures at a special price.

EDMEADES invites you to sample two of our 2013 vineyard-designate Zinfandels from the Mendocino Ridge AVA.  We will be pouring wines from both the Perli and Gianoli vineyards paired with small bites.

ELKE – TBD

FOURSIGHT will offer a special preview of the fantastic 2013 estate Pinot Noirs out of barrel, alongside current releases and small bites.Futures of the 2013 Pinots will be available at a special barrel tasting price.

GOLDENEYE WINERY will be offering the following discounts: 10% off 6 packs and 15% off 12 packs!

GREENWOOD RIDGE – In addition to 2013 barrel samples, we will pouring our 2012 Hundred Point Pinot Noir along with local cheeses.

HANDLEY CELLARS will be offering barrel samples, an exclusive tasting menu as well as Barbeque on the patio.

HARMONIQUE – Meet Winemaker Bob Klindt and owner Moira Conzelman. Preview 2013 Vintage Pinot Noirs and taste the newly released 2009 un-oaked Chardonnay.Karina Lyons of Heritage Oak Barrels will also be on hand to discuss the art of the barrel. Finger foods served

HUSCH VINEYARDSis excited to debut a barrel sample of 2013 Old Vine Heritage. Be among the first to try this special wine and purchase futures at a 20% discount. A barrel sample of our Estate 2013 Pinot Noir will also be offered. Enjoy complimentary tasting from our collection of award-winning wines paired with home-made hummus on the back deck. Relax at one of our picnic tables amongst the vineyard and winery.

KNEZ will offer 2013 Barrel Samples of Cerise and Demuth and discounts of 15% off 11 bottles or fewer, 20% off 12 bottles or more!

LAZY CREEK –  TBD

LICHEN ESTATE will be offering up to 20% savings plus free shipping (on full case purchases) on 2013 Pinot Noir from the barrel.

LULA will be offering futures on 2013 Pinot Noir, a contest each day to win a magnum of our 2012 Pinot Noir, food and fun!

MAPLE CREEK will be sampling out of barrel our 2013 Pinot Noir’s (Weir Vineyard, Yorkville and Anderson Valley vineyard) and our 2013 Estate Chardonnay along with various library wines. We will offer a 20% discount on all wines to the ticket holders and we will have some artisan cheeses to sample as well.

MEYER FAMILY CELLARS invites you to sample our latest barrels of Cabernet and Syrah. On Saturday we’ll have wood-fired pizzas from our earthen oven and on Sunday, local gourmet food-pairings in the tasting room.  Enjoy our grapevine shaded picnic tables, green grass lawn and bocce court.  15% discount.

PHILLIPS HILL – Join the winemaker for a tasting of 2013 barrel samples and current releases paired with some amuse bouche. Futures of 2013 Pinot Noir will be offered at a special price

PHILO RIDGE will offer 2012 Pinot Noir from the barrel with food pairings of Pennyroyal goat cheese, crostini and mushroom cream cheese spread.  Futures pricing on the 2012.

SEEBASS – TBD

YORKVILLE CELLARS will be offering futures and tasting barrel samples our 2012 Richard the Lion-Heart, a unique blend we put together of the six Noble Red Grapes of Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carmenere and Cabernet Franc). You can also taste each of those wines as a separate varietal and be treated as a club member for the day enjoying special savings. Our Wine Club members will receive additional discounts. Organic vineyard tours available.

Did I mention that you get a collectable logo glass for the event at check in? This is another “must do” event brought to you by the folks at the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association.

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John On Wine ­ – The column from Yuma

Originally published June 13, 2014 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper

The 2014 Orange County Fair Commercial Wine Competition, put on each year by the Orange County Wine Society is one of the largest and most respected wine competitions held each year. Entry to wineries is free, where most competitions charge $60 to $80 per wine entered, and this year’s 30th annual event saw 2,323 wine entries. Gold medals were awarded to 345 wines and only 38 wines ­ just over 1-1/2 percent of all wines entered – received the rare special recognition 4 Star Gold Medal, a unanimous vote for Gold from all judges and the equivalent of a Double Gold medal from other wine competitions.

These are the wines using Mendocino County grapes that earned one of these highest awards:

McFadden 2011 White Riesling Mendocino County, Potter Valley, Late Harvest;

Navarro Vineyards 2012 Syrah Mendocino;

Paul Dolan Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County, Certified Organic;

Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Ltd. 2012 Chardonnay Mendocino Ridge, Limited Release, Botrytised;

Yorkville Cellars 2011 Sparkling Wine “Cuvee Brut”, Mendocino County Rennie Vineyard & Randall Hill Vineyard Certified Organic The Yorkville Cellars. Sparkling Brut was also selected as the Best of Class wine in the Premium Sparkling wines category. I should have a list of all the gold medals out of Orange County, plus results of the 2014 California State Fair are due soon and I’ll post more top awards from both of these competitions as I receive them.

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Last night, as I write this, I was backstage at The Joint at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas for the last show of Guns n’ Roses’ residency. Andrew Dice Clay did a surprise guest set before Nic Cage announced the band and Axl Rose and the gang took the stage at midnight playing nonstop until just past three in the morning. I saw many things that would make wine tastings considerably more interesting if incorporated in our tasting rooms. With elevating platforms, laser lights, pole dancers, pyrotechnics, and confetti cannons, I am confident that inland Mendocino winery tasting rooms could quickly outdraw Napa tasting rooms. I’m pretty sure the show would be the talk of Hopland Passport for years to come.

Now, and as you read this, I’m in Yuma, Ariz. with my brother visiting our stepfather. I was at a super-sized supermarket today and visited the wine aisles. Underneath a sign for Syrah and Petite Sirah were Riesling and Moscato, and the entire Zinfandel section was stocked with pink wines. I’m not in wine country anymore. There were no wines in two long aisles with a Mendocino County appellation. With temperatures well over 100 degrees all week, I do understand the pink and white wines in place of red wines on the shelves here; folks are going to drink a whole lot more chilled wines — maybe even wine with ice cubes — than big dry red wines. It is already plenty dry enough here in the desert. I have to be honest, there is very little wine forecast for me this week, but plenty of Bloody Marys and Budweiser.

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Recently, I wrote about the June 28 dinner at the Little River Inn to celebrate the release of eight 2011 vintage Coro Mendocino wines. Since then the menu was sent out, and it looks so good that I had to share it with you: Dinner menu prepared by Chef Marc Dym, hosted by the Coro Mendocino Winemakers.

Passed Appetizer Course – Taste a showcase of each winery’s sparkling, white and rosé wines with a trio of chilled shooters: tomato consommé w/ grilled steak and chives; sweet pea pureé w/ Dungeness crab & truffle oil; and cucumber vichyssoise w/ gulf shrimp and lemon oil during the cocktail hour.

Soup Course paired with the 2011 Coro wines from McFadden Farm, Clos du Bois Winery and Testa Vineyards – Seafood cioppino terrine: Dungeness crab, green lip mussels, and fish with traditional San Francisco cioppino garnishes.

Middle Course paired with the 2011 Coro wines from Brutocao Cellars, Golden Vineyards & Parducci Wine Cellars – Smoked duck breast salad: local greens, Mission figs, burrata cheese, almonds, Dijon & balsamic reduction

Entrée Course paired with 2011 Coro wines from Fetzer Vineyards & Barra of Mendocino – Confit pork osso buco: slow cooked pork shanks with saffron risotto, grilled broccolini & fennel tomato demi-glace.

Dessert – Sable Breton biscuit with warm blackberry compote and Penny Royal Laychee fresh goat milk cheese.

Seating is limited; Reservations are required. The cost is $500 per couple, so call the Little River Inn to secure your place at the dinner, (707) 937-5942. Every time I write $500 for dinner, I cringe. Every time I mention it in my tasting room to new folks, they cringe. Then I explain that the $500 is for two dinners, a couple, and includes one complete set of the Coro wines. Eight bottles of 2011 Coro Mendocino at $40 makes for a $90 dinner per person, for five amazing course, complete with spectacular wine. Maybe if you tell em John sent you, they’ll pour the three time Double/4 Star Gold Medal winning bubbly during the cocktail hour. Coro dinner – it’s a bargain.

 

 

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Here are the Mendocino County gold medal winning wines from the 2014 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge:

Husch, 2013 Anderson Valley Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley 96 points Gold Medal, and Best of Mendocino County, and Best of Show Dessert/Late Harvest
Handley, 2010 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, 98 points Gold Medal
Handley, 2013 Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley 96 points Gold Medal
Handley, 2012 Chardonnay Estate, Anderson Valley 95 points Gold Medal
Navarro Vineyards, 2012 Chardonnay, Anderson Valley 95 points Gold Medal
Masút, 2012 Pinot Noir, Mendocino County 94 points Gold Medal
Naughty Boy, 2012 Chardonnay-Thornton Ranch, Mendocino County 94 points Gold Medal
Yorkville Cellars, 2013 Rosé of Malbec, Yorkville Highlands 94 points Gold Medal
Bonterra Vineyards, 2012 Chardonnay, Mendocino County 93 points Gold Medal
Paul Dolan Vineyards, 2012 Pinot Noir, Potter Valley 93 points Gold Medal
Philo Ridge Vineyards, 2010 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley 93 points Gold Medal
Bonterra Vineyards, 2012 Merlot, Mendocino County 92 points Gold Medal
Carol Shelton Wines, 2012 Wild Thing Zinfandel, Mendocino County 92 points Gold Medal
Husch, 2012 Heritage, Other Red Blends, Mendocino County 92 Gold Medal
McFadden Vineyard, 2009 Reserve Cuvee Brut, Potter Valley 92 points Gold Medal
Navarro Vineyards, 2012 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley 92 points Gold Medal
Paul Dolan Vineyards, 2012 Chardonnay, Mendocino County 92 points Gold Medal
Campovida, 2013 Campo di Stelle, White Bordeaux Blend, Yorkville Highlands 90 points Gold Medal

 
An invitational tasting will be produced and hosted by The Press Democrat on Sunday, June 15, 2014 at the Culinary Institute of America – Greystone, featuring winners from throughout the North Coast. Enjoy Gold Medal winning wines from Mendocino, Lake, Sonoma, and Napa counties.

There is a special promotional code for my readers—$25 off the all-inclusive price of $125. Use promo code: GOLD when ordering your tickets. Tickets are available at northcoastwineevent.com

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John On Wine ­ – Spirits, dinners, passports, festivals, and a movie

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, April 24, 2014, written by John Cesano

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Jack Crispin Cain is the man behind Greenway Distillers, Inc. and American Craft Whiskey Distillery, co-located with Germain-Robin in Redwood Valley. Cain invited me to taste two new Low Gap whiskeys. Crispin also creates Crispin’s Rose Liqueur, Absinthe Superiure, Fluid Dynamics Barrel Aged Cocktails, Russell Henry Gins, and DSP CA 162 Straight Vodka.

Very much a family affair, Cain’s two sons Devin and Crispin Dylan were working on the next lime vodka when I arrived for a private tasting, and wife Tamar is involved in growing the roses for the Rose Liqueur and the herbs for the Absinthe. Tamar will also be the editor of a book due this fall, “Rural Cocktails of Mendocino County” that will be collaboratively written by Brian and Kate Riehl, as well as Jack Crispin Cain, and feature cocktails built around Cain’s spirits.

First up for tasting was a new Low Cap 2 Year Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey made from malted wheat and aged in used Port, Cognac, and Minnesota barrels. The color was natural, from the barrels, and not the darker color you find from whiskeys produced with caramel flavor and color additives. The new Whiskey has a natural perfume of butterscotch and cereal grain, candied wheat, and is incredibly smooth.

Cain’s 2010 Low Gap Whiskey earned a 5 star review and a 100 point rating. Reviewers will need to add another star and a few more points to their rating systems. The flavors of all of Cain’s spirits are pure, clean, with delicate identifiable notes. Cain explained that by using no artificial flavorings, only real fruit and other pure ingredients, and careful distilling techniques with direct fire and a copper onion shaped still, fermentation enzymes and yeasts leaving no sugars, and a host of other refined decisions, the quality of his spirits, already high, will continue to improve and then be maintained indefinitely.

I also tasted a 2011 blended Corn and Barley Whiskey, running 43 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). The flavors are not as direct as the Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey, but more layered at a very subtle level with a little bite on the end; the classic corn whiskey flavor definitely comes through.

I tasted four vodkas from Cain’s DSP CA 162 label. The unflavored vodka has a super clean taste with light wheat notes. The lime vodka, made from an infusion of Malaysian lime and leaf was delightful for the pure candied lime note. The tangerine was a touch lighter in the mouth, delicate, and again showed candied fruit ­ this time tangerine. The citron vodka was bright and round with intensely concentrated sweet fruit.

Cain poured a barrel aged gin, 47 percent ABV, not yet released but gorgeous with a taste between gin and whiskey. The gin was aged in two new Bourbon barrels and one used Cognac barrel. There is a natural sweetness from both the cereal and the oak. Look for this to be bottled and sold as “Russell Henry Dark Gin” toward the end of the year, hopefully before Christmas. Spirits are often blended to make a tasty cocktail. I find that every spirit Cain makes is already cocktail delicious, sipping sweetly straight.

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I attended a Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush featuring the wines of Yorkville Cellars last night. For a recap of the meal, visit my online wine blog http://www.JohnOnWine.com where I will post a stand-alone story with every bite and sip getting its due.

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This weekend, I am attending Passport to Dry Creek Valley, the sold-out event in Sonoma County. Together with my girlfriend, June, I will be an appreciative guest of the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley. The event is sold out. This event always sells out. Next week, my wine column will be a recap of the travels by June and myself through the Dry Creek Valley.

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For those who want a Passport experience, Hopland Passport in Mendocino County is two weekends away, on May 3 and 4, and a $45 ticket online in advance (tickets are $55 if you procrastinate) will allow Passport holders to visit 17 winery tasting rooms — tasting fees waived — to taste wines paired with scrumptious food offerings at each stop. For $2.65 per winery attendees will enjoy wine and food tastes with many tasting rooms hosting live music or fun tours, and with some wineries offering their best sale prices of the year, as well as 30 prizes given away in drawings. Hopland Passport is a must attend wine event. For tickets, go to http://www.DestinationHopland.com/store.

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Individual events at this year’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival are selling out. If you love Pinot Noir, then this is a series of events, a festival, for you. Dinners, tastings and more on May 16 and 17. Tickets available at http://www.avwines.com/anderson-valley-pinot-noir-festival.

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If you have Netflix, I highly recommend the movie SOMM, a documentary following candidates attempting to become Master Sommeliers. The single-minded devotion to a subject, to a goal is impressive, as is the sheer narcissism of most of the candidates. Not always attractive, this glimpse into the highest levels of wine geekdom is nonetheless educational and entertaining.

 

I’ve attended the Chef’s Wine Dinners at Crush Ukiah for Saracina, Barra/Girasole, Bonterra, Coro Mendocino, and last night’s dinner featuring the wines of Yorkville Cellars in the Yorkville Highlands on Highway 128 between Cloverdale and Boonville.

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The evening kicked off at 6:00 pm with a Yorkville Sparkling Brut reception, flutes of bubbly paired with oysters on the half shell and oysters Rockefeller. A Cuvee (fancy word for bubbly blend of varietals) of 51 percent Semillion, 24 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25 percent Sauvignon Blanc, Deborah Wallo, one owner of Yorkville Cellars, suggested a finishing note of English black currant. I pick up a rounder mouthfeel than is typical for classic Chardonnay/Pinot bubblies, with grapefruit and light berry notes. It paired beautifully with the oysters on the half shell, bright citrus and micro herb notes, and a clean salinity, easy to eat and chase with a sip of the sparkling. The oysters Rockefeller were delicious, but not as easy to eat without utensils.

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Assuming everyone in Mendocino County knows each other, I failed to introduce Bob and Deb Perkowski to Deborah and Ed (the other owner) Wallo, but, Mendo simple, they introduced themselves, and of course it turns out they know each other as the Perkowskis have been putting the Yorkville Cellars’ logo on ball caps in their silkscreen and embroidery studio for the Wallo’s tasting room.

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After the welcoming reception, dinner guests were shepherded into the private dining room where two long tables were set. Folks found a seat, and Doug Guillon (owner of Crush Italian Steakhouse, along with his wife Debbie) greeted everyone and explained that tonight would be like a marriage, a coming together of two groups of people who love what they do and are committed to the very best in what they do, the team at Crush and the team at Yorkville Cellars.

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Next Edward Wallo described how a visit with his wife Deborah to Mendocino County in the early 80’s led to a return the very next day to look for a “wine place”. Ed is Italian so wine was a natural part of the meal table, and Deborah grew up with clarets in England – a claret is how the British refer to Bordeaux red wines – so a wine life seemed approriate. In 1982, Ed and Deborah purchased a Sauvignon Blanc vineyard, and over the years added Semillon, plus all six of the red Bordeaux grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Canernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Carmenère.

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Today, out of the several thousand wineries in America, Yorkville Cellars is the only winery growing all eight Bordeaux varietals and making a varietally specific wine from each. Oh, and as a bonus, they do it all organically with a healthy dose of biodiversety.

Has anyone else noticed that so far we have a Deb, a Deborah, and a Debbie at the dinner? It means nothing, but I thought it interesting.

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Two wines were poured for our first course, a 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and a 2012 Rose of (Cabernet) Franc.

I loved the Yorkville Sauvignon Blanc, a really great example loaded with varietal yumminess; light grass, minerality, citrus, a touch of white peach, terrific mothfeel, decent size owing in part to barrel fermentation and aging in neutral oak.

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The Rose of Franc was darn yummy too, showing a dry fruitiness, not sweet in the sugary sense but loaded with juicy fruit notes; strawberry, watermelon, a touch of light herb and dust, but a core of juice berry.

Chef Jesse Elhardt described the menu’s first course, which was three dishes, and as always at Crush would be served family style.

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First came an asparagus salad, with the stalks sliced into coins and the spears turned into ribbons, with frisee, baby kale, fried prociuttom fried quinoa, Humboldt Fog goat cheese, a warm bacon vinaigrette, and a last minute tableside squeeze of grilled orange to awaken the aromatics of the salad. The asparagus was prepared in a parsley water infusion to prevent the leeching of color and flavor from the vegetable.

Oh, my, was this delicious (a refrain I uttered over and over again throughout the evening’s meal). I would never have thought to turn asparagus into a salad, and certainly would never have imagined this salad, but I am so pleased that Chef Jesse did. I came back for seconds on this, the flavors clean, distinct, and melding beautifully, the cheese creamy and bright. Taking sips of each wine with this dish was a treat, experiencing how the two wines paired differently but equally well.

Grilled desert artichokes with a spectacularly delicious housemade remoulade (with bright little sliced cornichons) and a smoked lemon accompaniment; and roasted bone marrow.

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Okay, the artichokes were delicious, they taste nothing like mine, and I enjoyed them…but roasted bone marrow!

Chef Jesse didn’t just roast bones for their marrow, first he spent four hours creating a bacon jam, a cooked down essence of bacon, to slather upon the bones, and then he baked them, and then he brushed them with a balsamic demi glace and added some micro greens to the end of each long bone.

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Eating at Crush Ukiah during a Chef’s Wine Dinner is like watching Barry Bonds hitting dingers at a Home Run Derby, everything is a long ball, grand slam, game winning hit.

Plates and glasses were cleared, two new wines were poured, the 2011 Hi Rollr red and 2012 Malbec.

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Chef Jesse described the next round of dishes, the 8 hour lamb ragu, with 5 hours going to the base sauce before 3 more for the actual lamb ragu element. He kept going, but I’ll get to each in a paragraph or two.

Deborah described the next two wines. The 2011 Hi Rollr Red is a blend of seven wines, including Zinfandel, Carignane, and Petite Sirah, three decidedly non Bordeaux varietals. If you are from Mendocino County, think of this wine as a Coro-esque wine. The name of the wine refers to the Boontling (a unique language spoken by the inhabitants of Boonville) term for people from Yorkville who rolled their pant legs up for the horse ride into Boonville on a Saturday night, in days past, to keep them out of mud but then forgot to roll their pants back down upon arrival. A charming story told in a lovely voice, a touch of England still evident in Deborah’s words.

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The 2012 Malbec was the bigger of the two wines for me, a product of increased plantings and a blend of three individual clones of the vartietal. The Malbec is weighty with dark blueberry and chocolate notes, exactly as promised by Deborah in her description.

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Here’s the taste sensations from the second course: you know a meal is great when vegetables can be elevated into starring roles. Tomato slices…big deal, right? Well they are when topped with compound butter, house bread crumbs, and grated cheese, then broiled. Sweet creamed corn was transformed when Chef Jesse reinforced the corn’s sweetness by creating a corn pudding and blending that back into the dish with the whole corn kernals, and then taking it over the top with the addition of sweet caramelized roasted baby scallops. More than one person commented that they would have felt satisfied with simply of bowl of the best corn you’ve ever tasted in your entire lifetime.

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The two proteins were an herbed rotisserie chicken with a Panzanella salad, and the lamb ragu. The salad that came with the chicken was flavorful, and the chicken was quite tasty, but the depth of flavor in the lamb ragu was attention grabbing.

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Roughly 30 years ago, my first ex-wife took me to a birthday dinner at Clint Eastwood’s Hog’s Breath Inn in Carmel (we weren’t ex’s yet). I ordered leg of lamb, and the kitchen ruined it by slathering it more than liberally in mint jelly, which was not mentioned on the menu. I recount this story because there was mint in Chef Jesse’s lamb ragu and – for me – it elevated the dish, rather than ruining it.

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The intensely flavored lamb ragu was served with a cavatelli pasta, boccoli rabe, kalamata olives, a rustic mint pesto, and reggiano cheese. This weighty and intense dish paired with the Yorkville Cellars Malbec provided my favorite wine and food pairing of the night.

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I had seconds of the lamb ragu. At meal’s end, i waddled, not walked, to my car.

Once again, plates and glasses were cleared, and one of my favorite parts of this dinner series occurred: people talked. Sitting at long tables, surrounded by people you may not have met, over a family style meal, people introduce each other, ask for plates to be passed, talk about wine and food and the county, and become friends for the evening. I bounced around, during the evening from one table to the other, and talked to many people. A little weird for me, over and over I was asked if I write the wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal. It turns out people recognize me, and about half the people attending told me that they came only because they read about the dinner in the column that ran the week before. I was a little humbled, but pleased as my intent in writing the column was to act as a cheerleader for Mendocino County’s wines – and the restaurants that do something special with them. One diner kindly shared that she had a favorite piece, and recounted it; I wrote the piece last year, and to have it remembered to me was touching.

Anyway, more wine and dessert, so I moved back to my seat, and Chef Jesse described the candied orange panna cotta he created with real reduced orange zest for flavor, no artificial ingredients, and how he floated a gelée of Yorkville Sweet Malbec  reduction atop the panna cotta to create a dual layered dessert. There was also a mint leaf and a house made candied orange crisp.
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Ed and Deborah’s son Ben described the night’s final wine, the 2011 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend. 23.6 residual sugar off 45 degree brix grapes, late harvest and botrytis, 74% Sauvignon Blanc and 26% Semillon, this is undeniably a sweet wine. Hearing Ben talk about this wine, his parents, his life, was heartwarming.

I have some bottles of this wine at home, and it manages to be incredibly sweet, but not taste so. This is not a cloyingly sweet dessert wine, supported by much acid, but I liked it best by itself. The dessert, fantastic, was sweet, with notes of honeyed fruit, but tasting the wine after the dessert made clear how much sweeter the wine was than the dessert.

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All night long, in what was an over four hour experience, every bite was a rich flavor explosion, and each sip of wine an exploration of palate pleasing playful pairing. There were no real false notes, plenty of highlights, everything a success.

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I feel bad that I didn’t take a picture of each dish, but I was filling my belly. I also feel bad that I didn’t grab a picture of Ben as he described our dessert wine, and a picture of the entire assembled staff both from the kitchen and front of house as they deserve greater recognition than I am giving them here. A fantastic job by all. God willing, I’ll be attending the next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah again.

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John On Wine ­ – On food and wine pairings, and the next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush

Oroginally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, April 17, 2014
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Wine dinners are one of my favorite things. I’ve written about a handful of Chef’s Wine Dinners at Crush Italian Steakhouse, the Roederer Estate Dinner at Patrona during the Mendocino County Crab and Wine Festival, and about random but delicious wine and food pairings at Uncorked. My recaps of past Passport events, from Dry Creek Valley to Hopland, have focused as much on the food as on the wine, or the interplay between the two.

The most memorable wine I tasted at the big Zinfandel Advocates and Producers tasting in San Francisco was not the amazing offerings from Ridge or Bedrock, but the decidedly unfancy Zinzilla made by Rich Parducci for McNab Ridge. How did an inexpensive Mendo/Lodi Zin blend trump the wines from two producers I revere? Simple, I had the cheese of the day in my mouth when I took a sip of the Zinzilla; the pairing was fantastic, the wine made the cheese better and the cheese made the wine better.

Similarly, while tasting the sparkling wines produced by Mendocino County’s dozen top producers a couple of weeks ago was a treat, the real fun came in the random pairings of different foods and bubblies, some pairings were sublime while others were total failures ­ but the fun is in the experimentation. Just like certain foods go together ­ – pork chops and apple, peanut butter and chocolate, and tomato soup and grilled cheese are great examples, there are a host of classic food and wine pairings. If you are Italian and consider wine a food, something that belongs at the table with a meal, then this makes the concept of wine and food pairing natural.

Spicy Asian food sees flames tamed by Riesling or Gewürztraminer, fatty morsels of duck beg to be paired with a big round Merlot, there should be a law requiring that mushroom risotto be paired with Pinot Noir, and magically every soup ever made is made better when paired with a McFadden Coro. There are classic food and wine pairings that fall apart if you personally do not like them, but the trying is the thing; that is where the fun and excitement lie. I fondly remember perfect food and wine pairings from over 30 years ago, and remembering the food and the wine, the vintage, appellation, varietal, and producer of the wine, brings back place and time clearly, who I was with, where I was.

Food paired with wine allows a sort of time machine of the mind to exist, as memory of the specific senses being played from wine and food pairings of a decade ago bring back the past as clearly as memories of last night’s dinner. I remember every food and wine pairing from each of the previous Chef’s Wine Dinners at Crush as Chef Jesse Elhardt and his team served 10 different dishes, from appetizer to dessert with anywhere from four to over a dozen wines, as Crush played host to Saracina, Barra/Girasole, Bonterra, and Coro Mendocino. So many combinations of food and wine possible, so much fun experimentation, finding what goes with what for you. You’ll get a chance to see what I’m talking about next Wednesday, April 23 when Crush features the wines of Yorkville Cellars in their next Chef’s Wine Dinner. Dinner starts at 6 p.m. and tickets are $75, which includes food, wine, tax, and tip (although you can always throw more money on the table for your servers).

Yorkville Cellars is stand-out unique. Every winery is unique with a story to tell, but the story of Yorkville Cellars is easier to tell than most. Located on Highway 128 between Cloverdale and Boonville, Yorkville Cellars focuses on organically growing Bordeaux varietal wines when most along Highway 128 focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, varietals of Burgundy. Yorkville Cellars grows and produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carmenere, Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc, a few blends, plus a sparkling wine made from a blend of three of these varietals.

I do not have a working menu, it wasn’t available as I punched the keys for this column but imagine this:

Yorkville Cellars bubbly is poured as dinner guests gather as a welcome reception wine and it is paired with passed appetizers of salmon in puff pastry bites. Moving into the private dining room, dinner patrons select seats at the long tables and glasses are poured; Semillon and Merlot, and four dishes are laid down to pair with these two wines; Nueske bacon wrapped asparagus, Merlot braised pork ribs, Semillon poached pears, and a wedge salad with gorgonzola and chopped duck confit.

Plates are cleared, and new wines are poured for the second course. Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon in the glasses, and dishes of oysters Rockefeller, fork shredded Cabernet sauvignon braised beef over polenta, lasagna with a 40-hour ragu, and an artichoke heart and wild rice salad.

Served family style, diners interact, asking for plates to be passed, talking about favorite dishes, the wines, and best pairings.

Once again, plates are cleared and a deceptively simple dessert of peach pie with peach ice cream is served, only to be deeply rich in layered flavors, and made more delicious when paired with the Yorkville Cellars Late Harvest dessert wine, a blend of botrytis blessed Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. For $75, you’ll experience six wines, ten food dishes, and enough opportunities for food and wine pairing to create memories that will last decades.

For reservations, and the actual working menu [not my completely made up one], contact Crush Ukiah at (707) 463-0700 and I’ll see you there.

 

 

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