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John On Wine – A New Zin Tradition

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, August 28, 2014

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

On a sunny Saturday in August, I spent some time in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley at the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) Simply Summer Celebration, an inaugural event billed as “a new Zin tradition.”

A large white tent was set up in the center of Ridge Vineyards’ Lytton West Vineyard and over 125 Zinfandels were poured by the 50 wineries set up underneath the canopy, with Petaluma’s Pizza Politana set up just outside the tent and serving wood-fired artisan pizzas and a mixed green salad for the over 400 assembled wine lovers that day.

I love Zinfandel, but it can be a pretty big varietal, often tending toward high alcohol and massive dense fruit jam bomb flavors. On a hot day, outside, with plenty of sun, surrounded by other tasters, I was pleased to be writing for the Ukiah Daily Journal, as I could focus on the few wines made from Mendocino grapes and sensibly limit my tastes.

First up, I tasted the wine that won the John Parducci Best of Show Red Wine award at the recent 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition, the 2012 Artezin Wines Zinfandel, Mendocino, $17. Pouring it was winemaker Randle Johnson.

Artezin is a Napa winery, part of The Hess Collection, and the grapes for this top medal winning Zinfandel come from all over inland Mendo, including from Laviletta Vineyard on Mill Creek Road in Talmage, Seebass Family Vineyard and Paul Dolan’s Dark Horse Ranch on Old River Road near Talmage, Brown Vineyard in Redwood Valley, and Eddie Graziano’s Rovera Ranch near Calpella, among several others.

The wine was lush, showing clear berry, cherry, spice and herb notes up front, leading to red and purple fruit, including pluots. There is a lot happening in this wine, well integrated, marked by balance and finesse. 14.5% alcohol but doesn’t drink hot, feels like 13.9%.

Randle asked about the Mendocino Wine Competition, and if his award meant that the judges chose it above the best Cabernet Sauvignon, best Syrah, best Petite Sirah, best Carignane, over the best of all of Mendocino County’s red wine varieties, and not just above all of Mendocino County’s Zinfandels – which would be an impressive feat by itself. I told Randle that, yes, his Zinfandel was chosen best of all red wines entered into competition. Randle responded, “this award means more to me than a 95 in Wine Spectator.”

Josh Wagner, an employee at one of Kendall Jackson’s other wine concerns, poured three wines for Edmeades of Philo, between Boonville and Navarro, in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley. I tasted a 2012 Edmeades Zinfandel, Mendocino, $21, a blend of Zin, Petite Sirah, and Syrah, a decent weight wine at 14.7% alc but a little soft in the mouth, without discernable oomph. Next, Josh poured the 2012 Edmeades Zinfandel, Perli Vineyard, $31, a Zin, Merlot & Syrah blend, that tasted like a walk through the black pepper forest, with oak, anise, and plummy meaty raspberry. Finally, I tasted the 100% Zinfandel offering from Edmeades, a 2011 Shamrock Vineyard, with fruit taken at 2,800 feet in elevation. Lighter mouth feel than the Perli, but not dismissible at all. Plenty of flavors, and a wine that begs to be paired with food, where herbs and fruit would pop.

Carol Shelton poured her eponymous wines, and I tasted her 2012 Carol Shelton Wines Wild Thing Old Vines Zinfandel, Mendocino, $19. Carol’s Zinfandel showed brambly bright raspberry and darker blackberry, with herb and black pepper. I worked with Carol from 1993 to 2001, and have an affinity for her wines. Not too big at 14.5%, but certainly not too light. This would be a Goldilocks’ choice wine. 83% Zinfandel , 15% Carignane , and 2% Petite Sirah; the 92% of grapes coming from Mendocino County are from the Cox Vineyard, just north of Ukiah.

Not Mendocino County, but close, I tasted a wine from Chacewater Wine from over in neighboring Lake County’s Kelseyville. The 2012 Chacewater Zin, Sierra Foothills, $20, ran 14.5% alc and had dusty rhubarb, cherry, and oak notes throughout.

Bonus non-Mendo Zinfandel tastes: I tasted the 2012 Barefoot Cellars Zinfandel, Lodi, $7, because winemaker Jennifer Wall had done such a good job with social media marketing, inviting those who ZAP indicated would be attending to come and taste her wines. The Barefoot Zinfandel had smoky, woody, darker color and flavors without being heavy, with a dominant dark strawberry jam note.

Beltane Ranch winemaker Kevin Holt poured their inaugural 2012 Beltane Ranch Estate Zin, $44. I visited Beltane Ranch in the Sonoma Valley’s Glen Ellen with my friend Serena Alexi earlier this year. A blend of Zin, Alicante Bouschet, Carignane and Petite Sirah, the wine drank young, with intense flavors of black raspberry jam, herb, and oak supporting the fruit in this 15.5% Alc wine.

I tasted the 2012 Ridge Lytton Springs, as a good guest should always taste the host’s wine. At just 70% Zinfandel with 21% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignane, and 3% Mourvedre, this wine is technically not a Zinfandel, although it is sufficiently Zinny to me and, if grown and made one county north, could be called a Coro. 14.4% in alc and loaded with flavor, plenty of brambly ripe berry and a little firm. This is a wine that can lie down and improve with cellaring.

I recognized plenty of other wine writers, and saw that some of my favorite other Zinfandel producers were pouring, but as the attendance grew to over 400, counting winemakers, I decided to call it a day, and headed home to relax in an air conditioned room. That night, I baked spicy chicken wings and paired them with the 2012 Artezin Zinfandel, the Mendo Best of Show red, and that pairing may have best defined a simply summer celebration and new Zin tradition, as it was perfect.

Here’s a link to the Zin friendly baked chicken wing recipe.

Recently, I took an allrecipes.com recipe for baked chicken wings found online and changed it a little, to suit my taste. I paired the wine with a bottle of 2012 Artezin Zinfandel, Mendocino and there will be a mention of that pairing in an upcoming Ukiah Daily Journal wine column. I promised that the wing recipe would be posted here, online, and consider this a promise fulfilled:

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I yoinked this picture from the Allrecipes site. This looks, pretty much, like the wings you’ll cook.

John On Wine Baked Chicken Wings to pair with Zinfandel

Ingredients

  • 9 tablespoons olive oil
  • 15 cloves McFadden premium garlic, pressed
  • 1 Tablespoons McFadden chili flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon McFadden garlic powder
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 40 chicken wings

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Combine the olive oil, garlic, chili flakes, garlic powder, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add the chicken wings, toss by hand to thoroughly coat the chicken wings.
  • Arrange the chicken wings on raised racks above a baking sheet so they do not lie in rendered fat and oil. I used racks ordinarily used to cool baked goods.
  • Cook the wings in the preheated oven 1 hour, or until crisp and cooked through, turning once midway through cooking

The original recipe was designed to make only 10 wings, which is a waste of effort. My version is for 40 wings, although doubling the recipe to make 80 wings is completely reasonable. Enjoy!

Note: this recipe is simple, and after a day outside at the ZAP Simply Summer Celebration, I wanted simple and something to go with a bottle I was given. To read the review of that wine, the 2012 Artezin Zinfandel, Mendocino, $17, the wine that earned the John Parducci Best of Show Red award at the recent 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition, you’ll have to pick up a copy of the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, August 28, 2014 and read my wine column there…or wait until a copy is archived here. Next Thursday’s wine column will feature a complete recap of ZAP’s new event.

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John On Wine – 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition results

NOTE: This piece will run on Thursday, August 14, 2014 in the Ukiah Daily Journal. Ordinarily I post here, archiving a column, after it runs in the newspaper. Because folks come to my site for news on Mendocino County wine, I have posted here online, before it runs in the paper, today.

The 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition, thanks to the hard work of the competition committee and judges, saw Mendocino County’s best wines win deserved recognition.

To see the complete results, head over to JohnOnWine.com where the awards are broken down three ways.

Since consumers already know what they like, Chardonnay or Zinfandel, Pinot Noir or Sparkling Wine, the first set of online results are broken down by category. Look for the variety of wine that you like most, and the County’s best will be listed with the top awarded wines at the top of each wine variety list.

Wineries want to know what awards they won, so the second set of results are ordered alphabetically by winery.

The third list is for the sports fans, folks who love competition, and lists wines by medal won; first Best of Show, then Double Gold medal, then Gold, and finally Silver.

At this competition, I always look to see whether Graziano Family of Wines or Navarro Vineyards, each with seemingly thousands of entries, takes the most Gold in a year. This year was a bit of a push. Navarro took nine Gold Medals or better and Graziano only took seven Gold or better, and while four of Navarro’s wines took Double Gold and only two of Graziano’s wines took Double Gold, one of Graziano’s Gold medal winning wines was also judged Best of Show White Wine – one of the competition’s two top honors. To me it is a tie, certainly both wineries have to be incredibly happy with the results.

Graziano’s Best of Show White Wine was the NV Saint Gregory Sparking Brut, Methode Traditionnelle. The John Parducci Best of Show Red Wine award winner went to The Hess Collection’s 2012 Artezin Zinfandel, Mendocino, a wine available in Napa and made from Mendocino County grapes.

Double Gold wines are wines that received unanimous Gold votes from the panel of judges seated for that flight, and were awarded to Navarro Vineyards (4), Husch Vineyards (2), Handley Cellars (2), Graziano Family of Wines (2), Artezin, McFadden Vineyard, Milano Family Winery, and Zina Hyde Cunningham.

Gold medals were awarded to Handley Cellars (5), Navarro Vineyards (5), Graziano Family of Wines (4), Brutocao/Bliss (3), Greenwood Ridge Vineyards (2), Tahto (2), Saracina Vineyards (2), Husch Vineyards, Jeriko Estate, Lula Cellars, Maple Creek Winery/Artevino, McFadden Vineyard, Meyers Family Cellars, Mud Pie, Philo Ridge Vineyards, Seebass Family Wines, and Testa Vineyards.

The day following the competition, I was pouring for and chatting with one of the judges, Mike Dunne of the Sacramento Bee. Mike shared that one of the biggest surprises of the competition was the strength of the Cabernet Sauvignon. I have previously written that Mendocino County can put out some great Cabernet Sauvignon, but we are not thought of as a Cab growing area. The judges got the message this year, with Husch Vineyards taking Gold, Brutocao taking Gold for the second consecutive year, and Milano Family Winery taking a Double Gold.

The Double Gold medal winning 2007 Milano Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Hidden Hawk Vineyard was moved on for the John Parducci Best of Show Red Wine award consideration, and all of the judges tasted it then. Mike said that the wine was spectacular and many judges were talking about it – while still tasting it blind.

Dessert White was an incredibly strong category, with three Double Gold and two Gold for six entries, and the Double Gold medals spread around to wines made from grapes grown in three different areas of the county.

Some days, a wine just doesn’t drink as well as it should, and without taking away anything from the wines that took higher medals from the judges, I think Navarro’s Rose of Pinot Noir is a Gold medal worthy wine, even though it only earned a Silver. Same with the NV McFadden Sparkling Brut which, after taking a Best of Show at the California State Fair, only took Silver.

What do medals mean? How does a judge decide between voting Silver and Gold? Great question, I’m glad I asked it for you. One of the judges told me that as he tastes a wine, if he would like a case, if it is worthy of spending money to purchase in case quantity, then that wine gets a vote for Gold. If the same wine is tasty enough to inspire a purchase, but only a bottle or two, then that wine gets a Silver vote. Wines that make you want to finish the glass get a Bronze and wines that make you not want to finish the glass get a No Medal vote.

For you, I urge you to head over to JohnOnWine.com and find the complete list of winners, print it, and then go wine tasting, using the list as your guide. Then you can cast your own votes, buying a bottle or case, essentially casting your own vote on Mendocino County’s wines.

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Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, ZAP, is holding a Simply Summer Celebration on Saturday, August 16, 2014 from noon to 3:30 pm at Lytton West Vineyard, 1040 Lytton Springs Road, Healdsburg, California 95448. Tickets are $45 for ZAP members and $60 for non-members, and available on ZAP’s webpage, Zinfandel.org, with over 50 wineries participating, including Artezin who took the John Parducci Best of Show Red Wine award at the 2014 Mendocino County Wine Competition, Edmeades from Mendocino County, and Carol Shelton Wines with their Mendocentric Wild Thing Zin. Tickets include ½ pizza and salad from Pizza Politana and there will be music to enjoy. I’ll be there, I hope you will too.

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John On Wine ­ – Crab, wine & more

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on January 23, 2014 by John Cesano

 

This week, I look back at last weekend, reflect a bit, and look ahead to more events this week.

On Saturday night, I went to Patrona in Ukiah for a winemaker dinner boasting a very crab-centric menu, because the Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest is going on. The meal also featured the sparkling and still wines of Roederer Estate winemaker Arnaud Weyrich from nearby Anderson Valley. I was thrilled to use the event as a reconnecting date, the first in over 20 years, with a dear friend, June Batz, who will likely be accompanying me to more wine events in the future.

Arnaud visited each table, welcomed guests to the event, and shared some information about the winery, and the night’s wines. Showing far more humility than I would have, he refrained from noting that one of the night’s wines, the Roederer L’Ermitage was named the #1 wine of 2013 by Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Some of the folks attending included Lorie Pacini and Allen Cherry, who are two of the biggest supporters of Mendocino County wines I know, Gracia Brown from Barra and Girasole along with her husband Joseph Love, and Christina Jones, owner/chef of Aquarelle restaurant in Boonville – who is doing her own winemaker dinner tonight, Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. with wines from Handley Cellars.

The three bubblies, Roederer Estate Brut, the L’Ermitage, and a Brut Rose, were everything you would hope and expect, simply perfect when paired with crab egg rolls, crab stuffed chicken, and an orange marmalade crepe with whipped cream respectively.

The two surprises of the evening were a pair of still wines, the 2012 Carpe Diem Chardonnay, barrel and tank fermented, with a majority of used oak, yielding a gorgeously balanced wine that paired beautifully with butter poached crab and avocado, and the 2011 Carpe Diem Pinot Noir, a delightfully characterful wine that went well with pork belly.

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Overheard at Barrel Tasting 101 last weekend: “Why is this Chardonnay cloudy? I think it is corked.”

Whoa there; a wine that is still in barrel, a wine not ready for bottling yet, a wine that has never seen a cork, can’t be “corked.”

Often time, Chardonnay in barrel is held “sur lies” or with the spent yeast of fermentation to provide the wine with a little weightiness or richer mouth feel. Barrel samples of these wines will be cloudy. Similarly, red wine barrel samples are colored, but often not clear. I will write more in advance of the next barrel tasting event I point to.

The most important thing to know about barrel tasting is that wines tasted from barrel are not finished wines, some do not taste particularly good, but will eventually yield delicious bottled wines. Barrel tasting provides clues, hints, at what you might expect from future wines. Some wineries offer cases sales on wines tasted from barrels, wines that are not released yet, but will be released in the future, and these offerings and sales are known as “futures.”

Tasting room folks that I talked to reported an interesting mix of folks attending the event; some who knew what a barrel tasting was about, other folks who were open to learn, and still other folks who were interested in consuming as much wine and crab as they could for $10.

June and I visited Maria and Rusty at Testa Vineyards in Calpella on Sunday, and it was great to see the crew working, pouring wines, serving up tasty treats.

Rusty pulled samples from the barrels in the cellar; I enjoyed the barrel samples I tasted, and thought the Petite Sirah would be great held separate instead of used up in blending. Charbono, Carignane – all my old favorites – tasted great from the barrel. Rusty is usually busy manning the grill, barbecuing chicken or oysters for an event, when I see him, so it was a treat to hear him talk about the wines and wine making.

Back upstairs and outdoors, we enjoyed tastes of current release bottled wines with Maria, paired with mighty delicious crab spread atop a slice of toasted French bread. Well, yum.

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The folks at Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in writing about their Blackberry Shine and Champagne cocktail, the MoonMosa. I’ve written about spirits when I visited with Crispin Cain and the folks from Germain Robin in Redwood Valley, and I work for a place with two Double Gold sparkling brut wines, so, sure, why not?

I received a mason jar of Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine. The packaging is fantastic.

Gary Krimont, a friend and wine industry socialite, helped me evaluate this unique beverage.

First, Moonshine might be pushing it. While the folks at Ole Smoky do produce a few products at 100 proof, the Blackberry Moonshine is just 40 proof, or 20 percent alcohol.

Honestly, the lower alcohol is a good thing, as it made this an easily enjoyed, flavorful sipper. The aroma is pure blackberry pancake syrup, but the flavor is more complex and layered. We mixed equal parts Shine and Brut, and both Gary and I felt that the cocktail was less than the sum of its parts. If you see one on a retail shelf, pick up a jar, and enjoy Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine by itself, it is light enough to drink uncut, and too delicious to dilute.

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Saturday is my birthday, and I will be attending ZAP, the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers Zinfandel Experience event at the Presidio in San Francisco. Sessions include a Sensory Tasting, a Terroir Tasting, and a Reserve & Barrel Tasting. Two Mendocino County wineries participating are McNab Ridge Winery in Hopland and Edmeades Estate Winery in Philo, and I look forward to tasting their Zinfandel, plus the Zinfandel wines made by many friends outside the county as well.

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Crab Fest continues this weekend, with the big events moving to the coast.

The Crab Cake Cook-Off & Wine Tasting Competition will take place this Saturday, Jan. 25 from noon to 3 p.m. under the big white tent at the corner of Main and Spruce in Ft. Bragg.

There is an all you can eat crab dinner, with wine, from 6 to 9 p.m., that Saturday night at Barra in Redwood Valley.

A host of winery tasting rooms along Highway 101 inland, and Highway 128 on the way to the coast, will be offering up crab taste pairings with their wines this last weekend of the Crab Fest, so get out and enjoy the bounty of our county.

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John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

John On Wine ­ – January is busting out all over.

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on January 9, 2014 by John Cesano

 

I know the saying is “June is busting out all over,” and I love June, but we’re in January and there are lots of events this month, so here goes:

Patrona Restaurant & Lounge, located at 130 West Standley in Ukiah, is a wine-friendly restaurant that I am finally getting around to mentioning. In their own words, “we serve refreshing lunches and inspired dinners using the freshest Mendocino sourced ingredients. We have a huge Mendocino wine list and a full bar serving the cocktails of your dreams!”

Having eaten there a dozen times in the last six months, I can attest that they have delicious food, a terrific wine list and possibly the best cocktails in Ukiah. I’m a wine guy, but I love stopping in after work to sample whatever brilliantly conceived special cocktail is being offered that day.

Patrona is pairing Roederer Estate wine maker Arnaud Weyrich with Patrona chef Craig Strattman for a very special Crab and Wine Dinner starting at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 18.

The working menu, subject to change, features a crab eggroll in sesame aioli and Roederer Brut; poached crab, green apple and avocado in a saffron curry and 2012 Carpe Diem Chardonnay; chicken and crab with a Winter Pin Nut Pistou and 2004 Roederer Estate L’Ermitage (Wine Enthusiast magazine’s #1 wine of 2013!); pork belly with crab or mushroom pastry in a crab sauce and 2011 Carpe Diem Pinot Noir; and a Crepe and Roederer Estate Sparkling Rose.

The dinner, food and wine, will run $75 per person. For more information, or to secure your spot, call Patrona at (707) 462-9181.

On a related note, Patrona is making Monday a little more magical with a special wine 50 percent discount on all bottles of wine. You can look over your menu, choose the perfect bottle to pair with your food, enjoy the wine at half off, and take any unpoured wine home for later enjoyment.

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Second Saturday in Hopland will take place on Jan. 11th. This January edition of Second Saturday sees several tasting room managers featuring the crab dishes that will be paired with wine over the following two weeks. Visit Ray’s Station, McFadden Vineyard, McNab Ridge, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Graziano Family of Wines, Milano Winery, Naughty Boy, and Rivino tasting rooms to sample delicious complimentary appetizers and wine pairings. Don’t forget to stock up on local wines at the very affordable Hopland-wide January Case Sale event.

The Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest is January 17-26 this year. More than 40 winery tasting rooms throughout Mendocino County, with roughly half along or near Highway 101 and the other half along Highway 128, will be celebrating January’s bounty of the county: Dungeness Crab.

Enjoy the most delectable crab creations, from crab and corn chowder at Milano Family Winery to crab mac and cheese at McFadden in Hopland, and crab and Pennyroyal Farm Laychee Wontons at Navarro to Blini with creamy Crab at Yorkville Cellars along Highway 128. Most of the winery tasting room crab dishes will be served on the weekends, but the many restaurants of Mendocino County, whether inland or on the coast, will be serving up special crab-centric menus during the event, and the biggest event of the festival falls on my birthday (a coincidence, I’m fairly sure) with the 15th annual Crab Cake Cook Off & Wine Competition taking part on Saturday, January 25 from noon-3 p.m.

For more information about everything Crab this month, go to VisitMendocino.com/crabfestival

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Barrel Tasting 101, runs Saturday, Jan. 18 and Sunday, Jan. 19, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, during the Crab, Wine & Beer Festival, and stretches from Hopland to Calpella and Ukiah to Redwood Valley.

The $10 price includes one commemorative wine glass. Each tasting room will be offering crab themed pairings.

Participating winery tasting rooms include: Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Frey Vineyards, Graziano Family of Wines, Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery, Jeriko Estate, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, McNab Ridge Winery, Milano Family Winery, Naughty Boy Vineyards, Nelson Family Vineyards, Parducci Wine Cellars, Ray’s Station, Rivino, Saracina, Seebass Vineyards, Simaine Cellars, and Testa Vineyards.

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Check out Zinfandel Advocates & Producers’ (ZAP) ­ The Zinfandel Experience on Wednesday, Jan. 22 through Saturday, Jan. 25 at various spots in the bay area. If you love Zinfandel, this is your event!

The event kicks off for trade and media at Rockwall in Alameda on Wednesday when Tim Fish moderates a panel that includes Morgan Twain Peterson of Bedrock, Tegan Passalacqua of Turley, and Mike Officer of Carlisle; three Zinfandel powerhouses.

My two favorite events from the past fall on Thursday at The Presidio and Friday at the Four Seasons, both in San Francisco. Thursday features Epicuria, an evening tasting of food from top restaurants and caterers paired with Zinfandel from some of California’s best producers, is an amazing event. Friday’s panel tasting, Flights, is enjoyable for the sit down, off the cuff comments offered by Zinfandel luminaries on a Zin-centric topic, with flights of Zinfandel poured to illustrate points.

Friday evening is the big and fancy event, the Winemaker’s Dinner and Auction at the Four Seasons. Everyone who has attended raves about this event. I have not attended…yet. There is a small chance, space permitting, that I may be able to attend this year.

Saturday is the big day, with the giant Grand Tasting, which has been changed into smaller educational tasting tracks this year: Sensory Tasting, Reserve & Barrel Tasting, and Terroir Tasting. All three events within an event take place at The Presidio. For more information, or to grab tickets to these very limited space events, visit Zinfandel.org.

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January offers many great events, and you’ll see me at a number of them. I know we need rain, and that means the winter cold that comes with it, but this January I find myself wishing I was surrounded by June. I love June’s warmth, and the perfect combination for me, not for farmers but for me, would be to enjoy a little June in January. Cheers!

Last week, I gave away two tickets to the Thursday night, January 27, 2011 Good Eats and Zinfandel Pairing event, kicking off the four event, three day Zinfandel Festival in San Francisco, thrown by ZAP, Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, each year. The lucky winner was, and is, Nancy Howard Cameron Iannios.

This week, you have a chance to win a pair of tickets to the final event of the Zinfandel Festival, the Grand Tasting on Saturday, January 29, 2011, 2:00-5:00PM at Ft Mason’s Herbst and Festival Pavilions in San Francisco. The pair of tickets is valued at $140.

With around 1,000 Zinfandels being poured, learning to spit instead of drink is highly recommended, and because Zin is a big bold high alcohol content, black pepper spiced fruit bomb of a wine, expect some palate fatigue.

It is best to plan ahead, figure which dozen or two Zinfandels you want to taste, then follow your plan – allowing for an extra taste or two to take advantage of wines receiving positive buzz from the crowd. Taste, spit, cleanse palate with bread, repeat. Stop while still sober. Enjoy.

I decided to focus more on the wines from where I live this year in my writing. Sadly, the only four Mendocino County wineries pouring their Zinfandels, so far, at this year’s Grand Zinfandel Tasting are: Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Edmeades, and McNab Ridge. I hope to find wineries from outside the area pouring wines made from grapes from within the county.

I would love to see more wineries from the county pouring, and bringing along their Coro as well.

This year, ZAP is allowing Zinfandel blends to be poured where the companion grapes are ones found in traditional field blends, and these wines will be called Heritage blends. Coro Mendocino is kind of a Mendocentric Heritage, where a participating winery makes a Zin blend, choosing what they feel are the best grapes for blending from Mendocino County’s vineyards to make the best bottle possible. No two Coro are alike, winery to winery, vintage to vintage, but they are all stellar.

To be in consideration for the pair of tickets to the Grand Zinfandel Tasting, name a Mendocino winery that produced a Coro Zin blend in 2010. Leave your submission as a comment to this post. Contest entry submissions will be accepted through noon California time, this Thursday, Jan 20, 2011. I will randomly pick, and announce, a winner Thursday afternoon or evening.

Good Luck!

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I was contacted by the folks who make sure that Korbel CA Champagne, and Bollinger Champagne, separately but within a day of each other, about running a piece related to bubbly as we get closer to Valentine’s Day.

Thanks to the marketing folks at Brown-Forman and Terlato Wines, that is exactly what will be happening. Owing to my commitment to focus on wines from Mendocino County this year, I hope to include a bubbly from either Roederer Estate in Philo or Rack & Riddle from Hopland too.

Brut Rosé will be my focus for the upcoming piece. I just wanted to give you all a “heads up” so you could start thinking ahead about the perfect romantic beverage for Valentine’s Night.

Here are a dozen possible wine gifts for the holidays; call ‘em John’s dirty dozen, or John’s twelve gifts for the twelve days of Christmas, or whatever you want. They are presented in no particular order. If you click on the name, you will be taken to a webpage where you can find out more about the product, or order the item. Cheers!

Vindel X Glass

21 oz., Set of 4,

Sale Price $10.72

Available from the Wine Hardware Stores, Napa, Sonoma, Walnut Creeek, South San Francisco and online. Wine glasses without the stem means no broken glass stems and fewer accidents as sweeping hands (I’m Italian and there are lots of sweeping hands in a family conversation) move above these stem free wine bowls. Nice shape, nice size, nice weight, nice glasses. GREAT price, buy 8 or 12 at this price.

Vinturi

Wine Aerator

1 at $39.95, 2 or more at $29.95 each

Available at the Wine Hardware Stores and online. I have written in wonder as just opened, closed nose, not ready to drink bottles are transformed by this amazing little device. Just hold it over your glass, pour your wine from the bottle through this aerator, the wine bubbles, burbles, breathes, and in just seconds the wine in your glass is drinkable, open, enjoyable. I am skeptical of gizmos and gadgets, but this is an amazing wine tool for the impatient.

Forge de Laguiole Rosewood Handle Corkscrew

$160

Available at the Wine Hardware Stores and online. In Laguiole France there is a Forge, the Forge de Laguiole, and artisans produce the most amazing cutlery and corkscrews in the world. There are a number of folks who sell knock off junk from Thiers France or Asia with a Laguiole name. IWA (International Wine Accessories) tried to pass off just such a mass produced cheap knock off using video of hand crafting from the Forge to sell their inferior items – some people believe lies and deception are just marketing tools in service of sales. Not inexpensive, but heirloom quality, hand crafted corkscrews from the Forge de Laguiole run from $160 to over $200, and are the ultimate gift for the wine connoisseur in your life.

Private Preserve

$9.59

Available online and in better wine shops. This magical gas in a can is heavier than oxygen and doesn’t so much displace all of the oxygen laden air in an opened bottle of wine as it sinks below the oxygen laden air and blankets the wine from oxygen, protecting and preserving wine (and oils and vinegars) between glasses. Keeps wines yummy, keeps oils from going rancid and vinegars from going musty.

Sideways

$11.99

Available online, and possibly the sale table at Blockbuster. A lot of wine folks mock this movie, and it interesting to note (if you are a wine geek) that the featured character Miles’ treasured Cheval Blanc often possesses a considerable percentage of Merlot, a varietal which Miles detests. That said, I love this movie. There is one passage that brings tears to my eyes, for what I think is a beautiful expression of the wonder of wine. Walk in the Clouds and Bottle Shock together don’t reach the greatness of this best wine movie ever.

The Corker

$10-$17.95

Available online (sort of) and at art and craft shows. This is the best bottle stopper ever. One size fits all. No flavor transfer bottle to bottle. Easy to Use. Wines don’t leak on their side in the fridge. Champagnes (and two liter sodas) stay bubbly upright in the fridge. Oils and vinegars stay yummy longer. Break it by accident, or through clumsy mishap, and they fix it for free. I often pair this with Private Preserve (above) for long term storage of liquids with great effect. Online is difficult because these guys are on the road all the time, and because their website sucks. Best thing to do is find the Corkers you want online, over 100 decorative images can be seen online, and send an email directly to Fred, the cork boss. Let him know the corks you want, he’ll send you a quote, you send him credit card info, he sends you cork; weird, but it works, as they don’t really have operators standing by, bins of separated corks, item numbers, or a shipping department. They are old school crafters and artists in a studio. Corkerguy@aol.com is Fred’s email to get the ball rolling.

Been Doon So Long

$29.35

Available directly from the author through the book’s website. You can even get signed, first edition, copies of the book. I was lucky enough to get a review copy of this book just before I was going to buy it, unexpected, unsought, but incredibly welcome. This was, far and away, my favorite book of the year, and I read a ton. I reviewed this book earlier this year, and simply gushed with praise. The author, Randall Grahm, is a winemaker I revere, and a brilliant writer who used his prodigious writing skills in marketing service of his wines. This book is a collection of those writings, a greatest hits if you will. Parody, satire, wit and a reinvention of literature’s most famous works. This book brought me great joy. I imagine anyone who loves wine, literature, or ideally both will cherish this book.

Wine Shield

$5.95/6 pack

$29.95/50 pack

Available from the Wine Hardware Stores and online. This is one of the quirkiest, oddest, yet brilliant and effective wine preservation concepts ever. Each individual package contains one flexible plastic floating disc, self adjusting for interior bottle width, that can be inserted into a bottle and floats on the surface of the wine protecting the wine from oxidation. Great for a stocking stuffer, I reviewed these positively this year in an earlier article and think they are great for packing away in a suitcase for traveling wine lovers – perfect for wines in the hotel room.

Wine country flavored Oils and Vinegars

$10-$125

Available from Tres Classique and online. Wineries typically have olive trees and make and sell olive oil, because the harvest, press, and bottling schedule is complementary for wine making operations. Many wineries produce and sell their own oils and vinegars. Terra Savia and Saracina are two of my favorite local wineries producing olive oils. There is a company in wine country that doesn’t make wine, but concentrates strictly on the most delicious gourmet flavored oils and vinegars. I have purchased cases and cases and given away dozens of bottles over the years, often paired with a Corker above, and everyone has loved them. From individual bottles of Lemon Splash, aged Balsamic and Truffle infused oil to gift boxes containing an assortment of delicious treats, Tres Classique is a wine country favorite of mine.

Vivid Wine Decanter

47 oz

$39.95

Available from Wine Enthusiast online. Face it, most people don’t have a decanter, and although largely unnecessary, they are cool. This one is a great size, shape and price. Winner, winner, duck with cherry reduction dinner.

Modularack

$15.97-$300

Available from Wine Hardware Stores and online. These are a cool, at home, solution for wine bottle storage. These precut wood pieces can be fit together to make a freestanding wine rack, and as your wine collection grows you can just add more levels. The Wine Steward, a great wine shop in Pleasanton California, uses double deep Modularack with optional display topper wine storage and display in their store in a richly handsome manner.

Tickets to 2011 ZAP Zinfandel Tasting

Jan 29, 2011 Grand Zinfandel Tasting $70

Jan 27, 2011 Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing, Jan 28, 2011 Flights, Jan 28, 2011 Evening With The Winemakers Dinner, and the Jan 29, 2011 Grand Zinfandel Tasting $500

Available online. Almost a year ago, back in January, I wrote some pretty good pieces (modesty and humility are overrated – no one wrote a better recap) about attending three of the four tasting events. Each event was incredible. I grew up with Zinfandel, it is one of my favorite wine varietals, and the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) Zinfandel Festival is one of my favorite events each year. Tickets to the Grand Zinfandel Tasting is a must, but if you are fortunate enough to be well off, go for full immersion and buy tickets for all four events.

Thanks for perusing my 2010 list of 12 favorite wine related gifts for this holiday season. Any, or all, would make great gifts for a wine lover. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, and feel the touch of Christmas spirit and cheer.

Disclosure: I worked for Wine Appreciation Guild (Wine Hardware Stores are WAG’s retail outlets), sold The Wine Steward their floor racks, sold Corkers for Fred, and applied to market ethically for VWE (parent company of IWA).

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