John on Wine – The Last Supper

This piece ran today, in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper, but likely with a few selected photographs. This online archive is richer for the photographic contributions of Bryan Elhardt and Tom Liden; thank you both. -John

The Baby Jesse (photograph provided by his father Bryan Elhardt)

The Baby Jesse (photograph provided by his father Bryan Elhardt)

Genesis: In the beginning, April 20, 2013, Chef Jesse Elhardt created a menu to pair with Greg Graziano’s wines for a wine club dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse; Jesse said, “Let there be food”; and there was food, and Jesse saw that the food was good.

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Chef Jesse Elhardt’s last dinner cooking at Crush Ukiah was the Chef’s Winemakers Dinner featuring Graziano Family of Wines (photograph by John Cesano)

From that dinner, the Chef’s Winemaker Dinner series at Crush was born, and begot nights that featured Chef Jesse’s food creations paired with the wines of Saracina (July 2013), Barra of Mendocino and Girasole (August 2013), Bonterra (November 2013), 2010 Coro Mendocino (December 2013), Yorkville Cellars (April 2014), Cesar Toxqui Cellars (November 2014), McFadden Farm (January 2015), 2011 Coro Mendocino (February 2015), and finally ending where he began, with a Chef’s Winemaker Dinner featuring the wines of Graziano Family of Wines on May 20, 2015 and Greg and Trudi Graziano. Chef Jesse also squeezed in a sold out wine club only dinner for McNab Ridge earlier that week.

St. Gregory Sparking Wine for appetizers and Monte Volpe Pinot Grigio for the First Course (photograph by Tom Liden)

St. Gregory Sparking Wine for appetizers and Monte Volpe Pinot Grigio for the First Course (photograph by Tom Liden)

The Graziano Family of Wines dinner was the last supper Chef Jesse would cook at Crush in Ukiah. Jesse will continue with Crush, in Chico and San Diego for a short while before embarking on a 2,600 mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Jesse’s parents, Bryan and Lynne Jackson Elhardt, and Crush owners Doug and Debbie Guillon attended this very special wine & food event.

Chef Jesse talks with John Cesano and Graziano manager Mike Williams before dinner (photograph by Bryan Elhardt)

Chef Jesse talks with John Cesano and Graziano manager Mike Williams before dinner (photograph by Bryan Elhardt)

The incredibly fortunate attendees met in the bar area to enjoy winemaker Greg Graziano’s 2010 St. Gregory Cuvee Trudi (named for his wife) Brut Rose, paired with both a wonton cup filled with Prawn & Scallop Ceviche, with saffron, tomato, red onion, jalapeno, cucumber & parsley; and Fried Colossal Olives stuffed with a mixture of cooked Italian sausage, ricotta, and Gorgonzola, soaked in buttermilk then coated with flour, semolina, and ground risotto, which were incredibly delicious, with a meaty, nutty texture, and a brine saltiness that bordered on addictive, and paired brilliantly with Greg’s phenomenally delicious sparkler, my favorite of all he has yet released.

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The amazing fried colossal olives and Greg’s equally amazing sparkling brut rose (photograph by John Cesano)

Restaurant manager Kevin Kostoff shepherded the diners into the banquet room to find seats, and then welcomed all assembled to a very special evening, introducing our servers Ben & John, beverage manner Nick Karavas, and owners Doug and Debbie, before turning things over to Jesse, who upon announcing, “this will be my last wine dinner in Ukiah,” was greeted with crying and gnashing of teeth.

Chef Jesse breaks the news that this is his Last Supper at Crush Ukiah (photograph by Tom Liden)

Chef Jesse breaks the news that this is his Last Supper at Crush Ukiah (photograph by Tom Liden)

Jesse took bread, gave thanks to Greg and Trudi, and broke the bread, gave it to the patrons, and said, “Take this, all of you, and dip it in Greg’s organic olive oil.”

Winemaker Greg Graziano (photograph by Tom Liden)

Winemaker Greg Graziano (photograph by Tom Liden)

The first course paired Crispy Veal Sweetbreads with white bean puree, Neuske Applewood smoke lardon, tempura brownbutter caper berry, and chive stick; Insalata Mista with gem lettuce, arugula, grilled radicchio, marinated heirloom tomato, cucumber, marinated artichoke, and red onion; and Bacala All’Amalfitana four day saffron constantly changed water soak, salt cod mini cakes with Yukon gold, housemade bread crumb, lemon aioli, and parsley oil; with Greg and Trudi’s 2013 Monte Volpe Pinot Grigio from 20 acres of Potter Valley vineyards, 100% fermented in neutral French oak barrels, made in the style of the great wines of Friuli.

Insalata Mista - mixed salad (Photograph by Tom Liden)

Insalata Mista – mixed salad (photograph by Tom Liden)

The second course was where Jesse performed his miracle with the fishes. Roasted Snake River Farms Pork Belly and Pork Shoulder Ragu on top of brown butter and aromatics ‘giant’ gnocchi with a reduced Reggiano cream, fried frico cheese for texture, and micro arugula to pair with Greg’s 2011 Enotria Barbera; and a Cedar Plank Wild Scottish Salmon, four pepper spice crusted, with a Petite Sirah reduction, porcini dust, morel, white asparagus, and hazelnut to pair with Greg’s 2011 Graziano Petite Sirah. Also served were Parslied New Creamer Potatoes with roasted red and yellow peppers, coppa, and baby peeled clip top carrots bathed in butter; and Triple Creamed Corn, of corn stock, corn pudding, corn kernel, chipotle compound butter, and micro cilantro.

Cedar Plank Salad, served with Petite Sirah; the miracle with the fishes by Chef Jesse (Photograph by John Cesano)

Cedar Plank Salmon, served with Petite Sirah; the miracle with the fishes by Chef Jesse (photograph by John Cesano)

Let me draw your attention to the miracle: Jesse paired fish with Petite Sirah, and pulled it of magnificently. Petite Sirah is big red wine. Fish is fish, and easily overpowered by big reds, but Jesse added layers of flavor to his Salmon, cooking it on a cedar plank, crusting it in four crushed peppers, glazed it in a reduction of Greg’s Petite Sirah with a touch of dried porcini mushroom dust, and then adding earthy morel mushrooms. The morels by themselves would have been a dish I would happily have enjoyed, and would order if on the menu; sautéed with white asparagus and toasted hazelnuts in butter, with salt and pepper. Building up the salmon, fortifying it, allowed it to pair brilliantly with Greg’s Petite Sirah.

John Cesano and Trudi Graziano (Photograph by Tom Liden)

John Cesano and Trudi Graziano (photograph by Tom Liden)

When supper was ended, before dessert was served, Jesse took a wineglass with 2011 Monte Volpe Tocai Friulano, Late Harvest Dolce Alexandra; again he gave thanks and praise; thanks to winemaker Greg and Greg’s wife Trudi Graziano, his parents Lynne and Bryan, and owners Doug and Debbie; and praise to the entire team of cooks and Crush’s new head chef Steve Lorenz, and then raised his glass, which was met by the crowd in a toast.

When the supper was ended, Jesse took the wine glass, gave thanks and praise (Photograph by Tom Liden)

When the supper was ended, Jesse took the wine glass, gave thanks and praise (photograph by Tom Liden)

Dessert was Monte Volpe Olive Oil Cake, apricot-currant compote, and a fresh ginger gelato with toasted almond crumb that Jesse said he was, “really excited about.” The cake, made from Greg’s olive oil, helped absorb some of the sweetness of his 43% residual sugar late harvest wine, while the fruit compote helped tie the two together. The gelato was a wonderfully delicious bonus, a last gift from Jesse to the fortunate witnesses to his last supper.

I have been fortunate, and have attended every one of Chef Jesse’s winemaker dinners for the public at Crush in Ukiah. While no one is irreplaceable, Jesse brought a high degree of creativity and passion to each dinner, producing different hand made pasta dishes, making uniquely different but always rich ragu sauces, turning ordinary vegetables into entree worthy dishes, and presenting playful and delicious desserts, always allowing the food to showcase the qualities of the wines they would be paired with. Jesse Elhardt is a talent that Ukiah will miss, but we all wish him the best in his new adventures to come.

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John On Wine – Get your tickets now

This post will be published on Thursday, April 9 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper

Every so often, I use my column as an event listing for my readers. Today is one of those days. While certainly not a complete list of wine country events, here are some incredibly worthwhile things to do, and most will sell out in advance, so do not dawdle, get your tickets now.

Saturday, April 11 – The annual Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines – Mendocino County’s best sparkling wines from Elke Vineyards, Graziano Family of Wines, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Parducci Wine Cellars, Nelson Family Vineyards, Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger Cellars, Signal Ridge Cellars, Terra Sávia Winery, and Yorkville Cellars, paired with fresh oysters from Tomales Bay with Mignonette or Somendo ranch lemons, paella Valenciana, assorted cheeses with fresh bread from Schat’s Bakery, strawberries with melted Swiss dark Chocolate, Meyer lemon almond cake, and live music. Tickets are $55 online in advance and TODAY IS THE LAST DAY FOR ADVANCE TICKETS! GET YOUR’S HERE, $65 at the door. This is THE Event to go to if you love sparkling wine and great food, and is happening this Saturday – get your tickets NOW!

Saturday, April 18 – Earth Day at Barra of Mendocino – Join the Barra family in a celebration to honor Mother Earth and the rich bounty of Mendocino County, from 10-5. Be the first to taste Barra’s organic olive oil made from olives grown on the family farm of Bella Collina.  Translated as, “Beautiful Hillside,” this area provides gravelly soil for these trees to thrive right alongside Barra’s prized Petite Sirah and Zinfandel vines.  While you’re at it, taste newly released vintages of organic wines, and enjoy the gardens and scenic surroundings.  For more information:  (707) 485-0322

Saturday, April 25 & Sunday, April 26 – Passport to Dry Creek Valley – Over one weekend, Passport guests are welcomed into nearly 50 wineries throughout Dry Creek Valley, each offering a unique pairing of premium wine, gourmet food and entertainment. Take a vineyard tour for a grape-to-glass look at Dry Creek Valley wine. Sample exclusive vintages, rarely available to taste. Meet winemakers and grapegrowers – the generations of people behind the wine and magical ‘Dry Creek Valley spirit’. Savor exquisite food and wine pairings from acclaimed chefs. I LOVE Dry Creek Passport, will be attending for the third year in a row, and with so many wineries participating, no two Passports are the same. Enjoy! Tickets are $141.38 and available online at www.drycreekvalley.org

Thursday, April 30 – Thirsty Thursday at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland – Tickets are $20, or one free ticket per SIP! wine club membership. Each month offers a different terrific tasting. Last month I enjoyed a tasting of five wonderful Sake paired with delicious Sushi from Oco Time, this month could be anything from a pairing of the County’s best Alsatian whites with the foods of Alsace, or Pinot Noir with mushroom risotto. For more info, and to grab your tickets, call (707) 744-8375.

Saturday, May 2 & Sunday, May 3 – Hopland Passport – Closer to home, Hopland’s Passport event is manageable, and just the right size to be able to visit all the participating wineries without rushing. I’ll be working at McFadden, of course, and think we offer up the event’s best wines and food from our certified organic farm, but there is also proudly offered food and wine pairings at Brutocao, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui, Frey, Graziano, Jaxon Keys, Jeriko, McNab Ridge, Milano, Nelson, Rivino, and Terra Savia. Two day ‘early bird’ tickets are $45 and available at www.destinationhopland.com or $55 at participating wineries during the event. This is probably the best event value of the bunch.

Sunday, May 10 – Mother’s Day Brunch at Barra of Mendocino – Honor the special women in your life this Mother’s Day with a brunch celebration at BARRA of Mendocino Winery.  Enjoy a scrumptious brunch buffet with friends and family. Take in the sounds of a three piece jazz ensemble, stroll through blooming gardens and take family photos. Honor the women in your life with this special day of pampering! Brunch will be served from 10:00 am – 1:00 pm. Reservations are required and children are welcome. $35 for adults/ Special Pricing for Wine Club Members (limit two tickets per member) and $12 for children under 12 years of age. To purchase tickets, please call Katrina at (707) 485-0322, or drop by Barra’s tasting room at 7051 N. State Street in Redwood Valley. My son Charlie took his mother Lisa last year and both reported that it was a lovely event. Do this for Mother’s Day.

Friday, May 15 through Sunday, May 17 – 18th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival – Taste the world-class Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs of more than 50 producers from around California and savor perfectly paired foods designed to complement the exceptional Anderson Valley Pinot wines. I had a spectacular time last year, and look forward to attending again this year. If you love Pinot Noir, or even like it, you will be impressed with the incredibly high quality of the valley’s flagship variety. Various tasting, technical conference, and winemaker dinner tickets are available, ranging from $50 to $135 for each event, online at www.avwines.com

Wednesday, May 20 – Graziano Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse – Greg Graziano makes terrific, well priced wines. His tasting room is right next to mine, and I know he has legions of fans for his wines. I’ve written many times about how great the chef’s winemaker dinners at Crush are; they operate like a well-buttered machine. I do not need to see a wine list or menu to know how good this is going to be. I’ve got my ticket already. Tickets are $75, dinner, wine, tax and tip inclusive; call Crush at (707) 463-0700 for tickets.

Friday, June 19 – 2012 Coro Vintage Release Party – Join the Coro winemakers for a gourmet dinner for two paired with our wines and take home a complete set of the 2012 vintage. Seating is limited. Reservations required. $700 per couple. Includes the full collection of the 2012 vintage ($320 value) and complimentary valet service. The 2012 vintage consists of 8 wineries: Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Clos du Bois, Golden Cellars, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Parducci Wine Cellars, Ray’s Station, and Testa Vineyards. Coro Mendocino 2012 Vintage Release Party Friday, June 19th 2015 6:00 – 10:00pm at Dogpatch WineWorks, San Francisco. For the most fun, ask to sit with Guinness McFadden or me, John Cesano; we tell great Irish stories or perform stupid magic tricks, and I’ll leave it to you to guess who does which. Tickets are available at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland; or call (707) 744-8375. Do this for Father’s Day.

Friday, June 19 through Sunday, June 21 – A Taste of Redwood Valley – The weekend kicks off with a Friday night winemaker’s dinner at Barra, tickets are $65, and the fun continues with two day weekend tasting tickets at either $30 in advance or $35 at the event. Three day tickets are discounted at $90. Participating wineries and distilleries include Barra/Girasole, Brown, Frey, Germain-Robin/Craft Distillers, Giuseppe/Neese, Graziano, Silversmith, and Testa. Get your tickets in advance online at www.atasteofredwoodvalley.com

Saturday August 22 – Yorkville Highlands Wine Festival – This family-friendly festival and auction is at Meyer Family Cellars this year. Festivities start at 1pm. Highlights will include tasting scores of award-winning wines made and grown within the Highlands around Anderson Valley.  The price includes a delicious farm-fresh lunch and scrumptious desert, a tempting silent auction where you can bid on rare bottles and hundreds of bargains galore. There’s always the riotous grape stomp along with other wild and wacky games. Advance tickets are $45, or $60 during the event, and available at www.yorkvillehighlands.org

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John On Wine: Mendocino County’s annual celebration of sparkling wines

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sparkling wine, whether French Champagne, Italian Prosecco, Spanish Cava or a California bubbly is not just for New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day and weddings.

The relatively high acidity in a sparkling wine means it can positively sing and dance with a wide variety of foods, cutting through fatty foods like foie gras or roast chicken, or riding parallel to higher acid foods like citrus and tomato. While oysters, salmon and duck are natural pairings, pop the cork on a bubbly the next time you have scallops, chicken, rabbit, short ribs or a strawberry dessert.

Sparkling wine producers have enjoyed the benefit of consumers shopping for bubblies for special occasions, but allowing that notion to stand, the notion that sparkling wine is for special occasions, is bad marketing and does consumers a horrible disservice. Rather than waiting for a special occasion to open a bottle of sparkling wine, and far too many folks have a bottle in their refrigerators for years unopened just waiting for that occasion, consider making the day special by opening bottles of sparkling wine more regularly.

The cool climate areas of Mendocino County are perfectly suited for growing grapes that make ultra-premium quality sparkling wines, and at a fraction of the cost of other world class sparklers. In 2013, at years end, Wine Enthusiast Magazine published its list of the Top 100 Wines, and Roederer Estate L’Ermitage 2004 took the #1 spot, the top wine of the year. McFadden Farm took the top honors at the 2014 California State Fair Wine Competition with their Best of Show NV McFadden Sparkling Cuvée Brut, and took a Double Gold with their NV McFadden Sparking Cuvée Brut Rosé. McFadden has taken a dozen Gold, Double Gold, Best of Class, or Best of Show awards with their bubblies in the last two years. Graziano’s Saint Gregory “Cuvee Alexandra” Brut Sparkling Wine was chosen the Best of Show white wine at the 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition. Yorkville Cellars was just one of the 16, out of 2,323 wines entered in the 2014 Orange County Wine Competition to take a Four Star Gold and Best of Class honor, and they did it with their Cuvee Brut. Anderson Valley to Potter Valley, the county’s sparklers are among the best you can taste anywhere.

On Saturday, April 11, from noon to 4 p.m., the Annual Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wine will take place at Terra Sávia in Hopland. There is no better way to taste our county’s bubbly bounty, than having the best gathered in one place, with food pairings and live music.

2014's bubbly tasting at Terra Sávia.

2014’s bubbly tasting at Terra Sávia.

In addition to Roederer Estate, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Graziano Family of Wines, and Yorkville Cellars, there will be stunning sparkling wines poured by Elke Vineyards, Nelson Family Vineyards, Parducci Wine Cellars, Scharffenberger Cellars, Signal Ridge, and, of course, the host winery, Terra Sávia.

There will be an incredibly diverse spread of delicious food to pair with the many sparkling wines being poured: oysters with mignonette sauce or Somendo ranch lemons, paella Valencia, fresh strawberries with dark Swiss chocolate, assorted cheeses and artisan Schat’s bakery breads, and Meyer lemon almond cake.

Oysters being shucked for bubbly pairing.

Oysters being shucked for bubbly pairing.

Not all sparkling wine is the same. Different grapes, different blend percentages, different growing sites, different time spent in the bottle before disgorgement, different winemaker choices. With roughly two dozen sparkling wines, from dry Brut sparklers with crisp apple and grapefruit notes to Rosé sparklers with cherry, strawberry, and watermelon ripe red fruit notes, no two will be the same, and the opportunity to experiment with different sips paired with different foods, will make this a ‘must attend’ event.

Tickets are just $55 in advance online at http://sparklingwinefest.brownpapertickets.com/ or $65 at the door on the day of the event.

The cost of traveling to each of these top producers, and paying tasting fees, would easily be twice the ticket price, and come without the wonderful food pairings and live music. This is a festival you will want to attend.

After last year’s event, with every attendee talking afterward about how much fun it was, the number one comment I heard from others was, “why didn’t I hear about this? I would love to have gone!”

You have your chance now; call your friends and get your tickets today for Mendo Bubbly Fest 2015. I’ll see you there.

Terra Sávia is located at 14160 Mountain House Road, Hopland, CA 95449. For more information, call (707) 744-1114.

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The online ticket store for Spring Hopland Passport 2015 is also open.

Brutocao Cellars, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Frey Vineyards, Graziano Family of Wines, Jaxon Keys Winery and Distillery, Jeriko Estate, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, McNab Ridge Winery, Milano Family Winery, Nelson Family Vineyards, Rivino, and Terra Savia will participate. Enjoy wine and food pairings — and get your passport stamped — at each stop.

Each winery does what they do best; some offer up a fun themed weekend experience, some bring in live music, some offer guided garden tours, while others serve up delicious farm fresh food; while each pours their best wines and offers amazing sales.

Online tickets are $45 through March 31, $50 from April 1 to April 30, and available at any participating winery on the weekend of the event for $55. Online tickets can be purchased at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/hopland-passport-spring-2015-tickets-15912646153

For more information, visit http://www.DestinationHopland.com

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.

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