One of the genuine perquisites of writing a wine column is receiving invitations to organized wine tasting events. Today, I’m going to recap my last four weekends of wine tastings.

Barrel Tasting 101 in Hopland coincided with the last weekend of the Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest and featured winery tasting rooms along Highway 101 from Hopland to Calpella and Ukiah to Redwood Valley pouring barrel samples of wines not yet bottled, providing an opportunity to taste the future, and purchase futures of these wines, while offering up delicious food pairing treats created around Dungeness crab.

Barrel Tasting 101, BARRA of Mendocino (Photo by John Cesano)

This was a joyful weekend for me, as I was able to visit all of my neighbors, and taste many delicious crab treats, as well as get a glimpse of what is coming wine-wise in the future.

Best food spread goes to the team at Testa, with terrific tastes at Barra, Simaine, Seebass, Milano, Cesar Toxqui, and Terra Savia, as well.

This was the second annual Barrel Tasting 101, a great addition to the two Passport events put on by Destination Hopland each year, and saw attendance triple over the previous inaugural event. There will certainly be a third annual Barrel Tasting 101 event in January next year.

Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, ZAP, made San Francisco the epicenter of Zinfandel love, with their multi-day Zinfandel Experience. On Wednesday, I attended Epicuria, a food and wine pairing tasting, featuring over 30 top Zinfandel producers, each sharing a table with chefs from bay area kitchens.

On Thursday, I attended Flights, a seated tasting of three flights of five wines each, moderated by Joel Peterson, featuring winemakers from three distinctly different growing areas in California, Contra Costa County, Amador County, and the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County.

On Saturday, I attended The Tasting, with over 100 producers pouring their Zinfandel, and the folks from the SOMM Journal leading panel workshops exploring lesser known Zinfandel growing areas of California. These workshops included a look at Lake and Mendocino County by Sommelier Chris Sawyer and featuring Lake County’s Jelly Jar Wine Zinfandel and Mendocino County’s Rich Parducci pouring two McNab Ridge Winery Zinfandels. I wrote a piece, running over 4,400 words, with pictures, that you can find archived on johnonwine.com about my three days in Zin-bliss.

Zinfandel Experience, Rich Parducci and Chris Sawyer (Photo by John Cesano)

The 10th annual International Alsace Varietals Festival in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley was held right in the middle of the deluge that saw 3-11” of rain fall, depending on where you were in the county, in just a week. Bacchus, the God of wine, smiled and provided a window of warm weather and sun for the festival.

The main grape varieties of Alsace include Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Gris, with (unoaked) Pinot Noir, Sylvaner, and Muscat also represented.

At 8:30 a.m., the Alsace Fest kicked off with educational sessions, with Glenn McGourty moderating the sessions, including panel tastings of white wines featuring different periods of skin contact and examples of winemaking protocols at Campovida by winemaker Sebastian Donoso; an exploration of single vineyard Pinot Blanc by sommelier Chris Sawyer (this guy is everywhere!) with Randy Schock of Handley Cellars, Jason McConnell of Rivino, and James Wasson of Rein each pouring wine made from Shrader Ranch Pinot Blanc grapes; Christie Dufault leading a food and wine pairing featuring food prepared by her Culinary Institute of America at Greystone team and four very different, but delicious Gewurztraminer from Brooks, Navarro Vineyards, Pierre Sparr, and Husch; Thomas Schlumberger’s tasting of eight Grand Cru wines from his Domaines Schlumberger estate in Alsace, France; and a steelhead trout on cauliflower puree cooking demonstration by Francois de Melogue.

After the educational sessions came the big public tasting, with Alsace variety wines from around the world, but concentrated heavily on the Anderson Valley and Alsace, France.

Thomas Schlumberger poured three additional Grand Cru wines from his Alsace estate, originally planted in 1810; the 11 wines Schlumberger poured that day were the best 11 wines I tasted that day, were revelatory for me, and set a new high bar for tasting of Alsace varietal wines that I will measure all other tastes against.

Another huge treat for me was talking with Master Sommelier Ian Cauble, who I recognized from the movie SOMM — find it on Netflix and watch it — who was pouring at the Wines of Alsace USA table.

I did taste our local Alsace variety wines too, and enjoyed offerings from Handley, Graziano, Navarro, and Lichen very much.

Too many associate these Alsace variety wines with sickly, cloyingly sweet, wines; but the wines I tasted on this Saturday were uniformly drier and more concentrated in depth and character, multi-noted, layered wines, that I will reach for again and again this summer.

Lastly, on Valentine’s Day Saturday, I attended the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition’s public tasting of Gold, Double Gold, and Best of Show awarded wines from January’s competition.

Rather than treat the day, and the tasting, like a press opportunity, I decided to just relax and have fun. Juanita Plaza works with me at McFadden’s tasting room in Hopland, and neither of us had a Valentine, so we decided to go together for a San Francisco getaway, built around the wine tasting and an Italian dinner in North Beach.

The weather was unbeatable, blue sky and warm sun, and the tasting was a treat. We tasted several terrific wines, and even a beer and a cidre (really, that’s how they spell it) from Stella Artois. It was nice to see our friends from Campovida, Rivino, Handley, and Simaine pouring.

Dinner didn’t work out. My brother Tom, by fortuitous coincidence, pulled into town across the bay and arranged great tickets and working passes for the Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull concert that evening at Oracle Arena in Oakland, and we had a blast, up and dancing for most of the show. Thanks Tom, we really appreciated you hooking us up, sorry you were working and we didn’t get to see you. Thanks Juanita for joining me for a fun weekend getaway.

That’s it, four weekends of wine tastings. I have to give thanks to Destination Hopland, Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, and the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for comp tickets. I write about events, encourage you to get out there and attend some, and I’ll continue to do so. I attend as many events as I can, because I consider it continuing education, it helps to taste broadly and refine or renew perceptions about wines and wineries, and sometimes it can just be a great getaway.

I hope to see you at future wine events…like the Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines at Terra Savia in Hopland on April 11, the Passport to Dry Creek Valley on April 25 and 26, or Hopland Passport on May 2 and 3.

ZAP. For Bay Area wine lovers, especially those with a fondness for Zinfandel, those three letters forming that one little word bring an automatic smile. ZAP is short for Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, a wine industry group dedicated to the promotion of Zinfandel wine and the Zinfandel grape, and although they are attempting to brand their January event as the Zinfandel Experience, or #ZinEx, for many their big January event is also referred to as ZAP, as in, ”I’ve got my tickets to ZAP, I can’t wait to get my Zin on.”

#ZinEx is not a single January event, but a series of events held over four days. This year, on Wednesday, January 29, a trade and media tasting event was held away from the crowds at Rock Wall Wine Company in Alameda. I did not attend this event, but my friend John Compisi did attend and I’ll link his recap here for you to read about it.

For me, #ZinEx started Thursday night, at the Golden Gate Club at the Presidio in San Francisco with Epicuria, an evening of wine and food pairings, where top chefs from restaurants, catering companies, and culinary colleges create delicious bites specifically intended to complement the flavors of Zinfandel wine. 32 wineries and kitchens were represented.

Here are some pairings I enjoyed immensely:

2013 Carol Shelton Wines Wild Thing “Old Vines, Mendocino County with Ruth’s Chris Steak House of San Francisco and Walnut Creek’s Double Chop Lamb Lollipops with Veal Demi Glaze.

Yes, that is a Ruth's Chris double lamb pop and Carol Shelton Wild Thing Zin

1995 Old Hill Vineyard from Ravenswood, poured by Joel Peterson; Zinfandel plus 40 other varieties from a vineyard planted in 1862 and replanted in 1885. Paired with a Lamb Merguez Sausage with Mango Chutney, Paprika Spiced Onions and Italian Giardiniera Peppers from Rosamunde Sausage Grill in San Francisco.

1995 Old Hill Vineyard from Ravenswood, poured by Joel Peterson. Zinfandel plus 40 other varieties from a vineyard planted in 1862 and replanted in 1885.

Pacific Fine Food Catering of Alameda stepped up at the last minute, filling in for a fail restaurant, and had every taster talking about their amazing ribs, which I paired with the 2014 Mendocino County Fair wine Competition’s Best of Show Red, the 2012 Artezin Zinfandel, Mendocino County.

Artisan ribs with Artezin Zin. Retasting the 2014 Mendo Wine Comp Best of Show Red Wine

Seghesio Family Vineyards’ 2012 Rockpile paired perfectly with the Seghesio Zin and cherry glazed St. Louis Ribs prepared by their executive chef, Peter Janiak. Perfect smoke bark, delicious.

2012 Seghesio Rockpile with Seghesio Zin and cherry glazed St. Louis Rib

2012 m2 “Old Vine” Saucie Vineyard, Lodi paired with the San Francisco Cheesecake Company’s Dark Chocolate m2 Zinfandel SF Cheesecake and their Wild Huckleberry m2 Zinfandel SF Cheesecake were wonderfully creamy and lovely bites with sips.

2012 m2 old vine Zin with SF Cheesecake Company's treats

I paired a barrel sample of 2013 Andis Wines Amador Zin with Santa Rosa’s Flavor Bistro Sweet Potato Timbale with a trio of Cheeses garnished with Alba Mushrooms and Redemption Glaze and the Presidio Social Club of San Francisco’s Sea Salt Roasted Devil’s Gulch Pork Leg.

2013 Andis Wines barrel sample with Flavor Bistro sweet potato timbale with a trio of cheeses garnished with alba mushrooms & redemption glaze

The 2012 Dry Creek Vineyard Wallace Ranch Estate Zin with the Bistro Boudin of San Francisco’s Braised Beef Stew was my last bite and sip and, with apologies to all the unsipped and untasted treats remaining, I was delighted with everything that passed my lips.

2012 Dry Creek Vineyard Wallace Ranch Estate Zin with Bistro Boudin Braised Beef Stew.
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Friday morning, I attended Flights! at San Francisco’s Four Seasons hotel, a seated panel tasting with an educational component. This year’s Flights! Tasting would feature three panels of winemakers with wines from three different American Viticultural Areas, AVAs, for an exploration of the area specific characteristics, or Terroir based differences, that result in the Zinfandels produced from these three very different areas.

Readying bottles for Flights!

I was seated at a table with Joel Butler, MW. MW is the designation for a Master of Wine, which means that Joel has a remarkable palate and an amazingly encyclopedic knowledge of the world’s wines.

Flights! was moderated by a personal hero of mine in the wine world, Joel Peterson of Ravenswood. Joel told those assembled that, “we’re going to be talking about Zinfandel, the shape shifter. As we go on, you’ll see what I mean,” and, “the driver of difference is place; it has a wider range of growing locations than almost any other grape, we’re going to watch it change colors.”

The first panel focused on the Zinfandel of Contra Costa County, and Joel told us, “Contra Costa County is really sandy…the sands are really amazing. Phylloxera cannot live on sandy soil; these Zinfandel are planted on their own roots.”

Contra Costa

John Kane poured the 2012 Carla’s Reserve from Rosenblum Cellars, and painted a picture of the vineyard near the Antioch bridge, a K-mart, rail road tracks, in the middle of town. The wine was marked by notes of light tar, caramel, cherry, chocolate and salt, and was made using 3-4 styles of yeast, 15% new oak, micro bin small lot whole cluster fermentation, and had Mourvèdre (also known as Mataró) from the field in the blend.

Nathan Kandler poured Precedent Wines’ 2012 Evangelho Vineyard Zinfandel, running 75-80% Zin, with Mataró, Carignane, as well as two white grapevines, Palomino and Muscat, also in the block. Nathan described the vineyard, planted in 1890, with delta drift sands 30-40 feet deep, and said “sandy soils give bright acidity, fruit driven, suave tannins.” The wine tasted of ripe bright strawberry and raspberry fruit. Nathan used no new oak, but used French Chardonnay barrels.

Charlie Tsegeletos offered up his 2012 Big Break Vineyard Zin from Cline Cellars, and described the, “very, very deep sand,” and, “roots penetrating 30 feet.” Charlie told us the, “old vines [were] planted when Woodrow Wilson was in office, when Henry Ford established the assembly line.” With no fining, this was essentially a vegan wine, and the vineyard relies on “dry farming in these near desert conditions and sandy soil.’ The result was a darker, but balanced, multi-noted, meaty wine, plummy with cassis and a touch of mint,

Matt Cline poured the 2012 Three Wine Company Zinfandel, Live Oak, a vineyard with about nearly equal parts Zinfandel, Carignane, and Mataró originally planted mid 1888, with less than 10% Mataró and Carignane remaining today. There is also some Alicante planted perpendicular to the vineyard block. Matt humorously noted, “I’ve been making wines for about 30 years, and I think I’m the only one doing it right. Listening to these new guys, I think they’re coming along.” Matt added the river influenced winds of Contra Costa’s delta to the list of influences, and noted the “many droughts in the last 125 years, and these dry farmed vines in sand just keep going.” Fermenting in the 60’s, cool temperature wise, using a mix of American and French oak, 30% new, the sandy soils and wind resulting in “dusty berry earth,” notes, I picked up herbal blackberry, sweet tart black cherry, and floral raspberry notes.

Last up for Contra Costa County was Shauna Rosenblum, who of course started at her parents’ winery Rosenblum Cellars before creating wines at Alameda’s Rock Wall Wine Company. Shauna poured her 2012 Jesse’s Vineyard, which is also planted to Carignane and Mataró, “old school field blends,” harvested and co-fermented. About the vintage, Shauna shared the words of a sage industry friend, “2012 is a one in a hundred year vintage.” About 2013, she shared, “2013 is a one in a hundred year vintage.” Using multiple yeasts, including sparkling wine yeasts, 15-20% new oak, Shauna let the fruit show. The wine had a dessert custard nose, and notes of pepper, salt, tobacco, cocoa, blackberry, and a raspberry chocolate brownie flavor.

Joel Butler asked the panel about low pH and TA for Contra Costa wine, and Joel Peterson followed up asking if the sandy soil and deep roots or the climate were responsible. Matt Cline suggested the Contra Costa’s grapes are within ½ mile of water, so much cooler than the 1 ½ mile from water people typically think of when they think of Contra Costa locations, and this water is a cooling influence.

The second panel featured winemakers from Amador County. Amador County is made up of granitic soil, and is sometimes rocky, with Joel describing, “decomposed granite, low humidity, high luminosity, with 65 acres of vines 65 years or older.

Amador

Scott Harvey was up first with his 2012 Vineyard 1869 wine from his eponymous winery. The vineyard is, “the oldest document Zinfandel in the nation,” relying on, “a mining claim identifying one plot corner as being this vineyard planted to Zinfandel,” as the documentation for the claim. Scott described higher altitude planted vines, leading to higher tannins, a warm region, old vines with no irrigation, running out of available moisture at the end of vintage, higher alcohol wines, a touch green, from dehydration of the grapes, the best wines come from grapes picked after the first rain, and a second ripening. The wine showed tea, meat and soil, and raspberry.

Paul Sobon of Sobon Estate poured his 2012 Rocky Top. I visited Sobon perhaps a half dozen times in 2000 and 2001, when matriarch Shirley Sobon would order books and imprinted corkscrews from me, back when I worked for the Wine Appreciation Guild. When Paul described, “pretty intense volcanic mud flow, and solid, solid, solid rock,” I could picture it clearly. Paul also talked about ‘tractor blight’ as some near vertically horse or mule planted vines were taken out by less nimble tractors. 30-35% new oak, 16-18 months, 3-5% Carignane in the mix, the Rock Top showed familiar Amador dry Amador spic, clove, woody, and red fruit notes, almost structural.

Chris Leamy brought the 2012 Terra d’Oro, Deaver Vineyard, Zinfandel. 20 acres, 1881, swailed horseshoe shaped, the vineyard presents many different sun exposures, which makes an already uneven ripening variety an even greater challenge. Chris described Deaver as, “a really high acid vineyard,” that shows Amador clove, allspice, and cinnamon, and tends to tannin. To bring fruit forward, Chris ferments in stainless steel, drains and puts back on top of the skins, presses sooner, so the tannins don’t catch up, seeking balance. The wine showed a nice floral perfume. Chris also spoke to the lack of moisture in Amador vineyards, “because they start running out of water, you just have to make a call and go with it, because then you find – in 2002 – you should have picked 3-4 days ago; you really, really should have picked.”

I knew the next winemaker, Randle Johnson, because his 2012 Artizen Zinfandel, Mendocino County had been judged the Best of Show Red Wine at the 2014 Mendocino County Fair wine competition, and I have tasted it often. Today, he poured the 2012 Artezin, Esola Vineyard Zin. Planted own roots vs. root stock, Randle noted that like Contra Cost’s sandy soil, Amador’s volcanic soil allowed Vitis Vinifera’s own stock to survive Phylloxera. “We have water issues, and Zinfandel loves to set a second crop, but we have the money at esola to cut the second crop which helps with water,” explained Randle, adding,”a little rain, I just love fall rain for any non-irrigated Zinfandel vineyard grapes.” Randle also shared, “we try not to add any Jesus units,” and uses 100% French old Cabernet barrels. The wine through perfume, soft floral, and was surprisingly light in body considering the 15.4$ abv. There was abundant cedary red fruit.

The 2012 Turley Wine Cellars, Sadie Upton Vineyard Zin was shared by Tegan Passalacqua, who said, “Amador does get cool at night,” leading to, “higher natural acidity.” Again, the vineyard is ‘own rooted’ which became a bigger buzzword than ‘old vine’ at the tasting. Planted in 1922 by Sadie Upton, Tegan said, “not once have we had dehydration issue in this vineyard.” 20% new oak. There is Cinsault co-planted, and “we take everything in the vineyard and throw it in the fermenter.” Tegan shared a classic description of Amador Zin, “Tastes like it was poured out of a miner’s bucket,” with natural acidity and tannin from granitic soil. I tasted a bright, ref fruited, rose, tar, spice, cherry, strawberry, raspberry wine. Amador’s “wines are very serious, not for noobies, and demand food,” was a final thought shared by Tegan.

I found all five Amador wines threw minerality.

Chris Sawyer, sommelier and writer, asked about the characteristics shared by Amador Zins, and the panel spoke to a combination of tannins and low pH that allow Amador wines to hold up, reduce oxygen absorption, and retain ‘zinniness.’ They also talked about the advantage that comes with using old vines. “Young wines do not develop the character of old vines. An 85 year old guy knows his neighborhood better than a 12 year old. Young vines do not go as deep and do not pick up [as many] flavors [from the soil].”

The last panel of winemakers represented the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County, the area I visit the most often among the three, largely because I grew up nearby in Santa Rosa, and it remains the closest of the three areas to where I now live in Ukiah. Joel on Dry Creek Valley: first planted in 1869, dominant grape is Zinfandel, cooler than Amador or Conta Costa. Many series of soil, loam, yolo. Warm days, cool nights. Four of this panels wines were on St. George, with only one on own roots.

DCV

The first Dry Creek Valley winemaker was Tim Bell of Dry Creek Vineyard, coiners of the term “old vine” and Tim brought the4 2012 Beeson Ranch Zin. Tim first described the dry Creek Valley, a “long and narrow valley, almost two different regions north and sounth, sixty miles long by two miles wide, warmer in the north, cooler in the south, with a marine influence, fog, and red and brown soils.” About Beeson Ranch, Tim said it is a “field blend vineyard, to me it feel like a lot of soul,” with Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Grenache, Trousseau Gris, Alicante Bouchet, and St. George. In general, Tom said Dry Creek Valley fruit shows, “cherry, raspberry leather, rose petal, with spice laid over the top of it.” About this Dry Creek Vineyard wine, I picked up floral perfume, cherry, raspberry, rose petal, and earth. Tom found, “the wine has distinctive fruit, white pepper, coriander.”

Jamie Peterson, the next winemaker, is no relation to Joel Peterson, but was likely not alone in wishing Joel was his uncle. Jamie poured his 2012 Peterson Winery “Tradizionale” West Vineyard Zinfandel, planted 6’ x 6’ (pre-tractor, which sees 8’ x 8’ spacing) in 1902, and made using, “native yeast when applicable, letting the site express itself,” showing, “lots of complexity and balance,” and, “always ripens a little on the later side, looking at acidity, sugar, flavor,” remarked Jamie about his wine. The vineyard has 5% ‘other’ including Alicante and even Concord. Jammy fruit, spice, herbal, dark cherry, a touch of funk, almost Pinot-esque but on steroids and covered with muscles.

The 2012 Quivera Vineyards Zinfandel, Katz Vineyard was presented by Hugh Chappelle, who described temperature swings in the vineyard of up to 50 degrees, and the soil of the Dry creek Valley as clay loam. “Old vines are truly special…it is just wonderful to capture that in the glass,” enthused Hugh, adding, “deciding when to pick Zin, the lack of uniformity, finding that perfect mix, is quite hard.” According the the Sonoma County assessor’s office, these grapes were planted in 1900, and are a field blend vineyard, including 2$ white varieties. Hugh uses a light touch of oak, “typically French, 20-25% new,” and the wine showed flora rose perfume, and deep rich layered raspberry and chocolate notes.

Glenn Proctor brought the 2012 Puccioni Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel. Of the 40 acres planted by 1911, today just 3 ½ acres are old vine. Relatively warm, by late afternoon that temperature is lost. 7’ x 7’ mule and plow farmed until 1968, “old vine is history; wine is more than the wine; it is the experience, the history,” said Glenn, a fourth generation winemaker, who will see his son become the fifth generation winemaker on the land. The wine had a nice edge, rhubarb, deep reduced strawberry and cherry jam, and herb notes.

Kerry Damskey rounded out the final panel with his presentation of his 2012 Dutcher Crossing Winery Maple Vineyard “Bill’s Block” Zin. The vineyard was planted in 1940 on the Dry Creek bench, by Lytton Springs, in gravely loam; dry farmed, head trained, a field blend with 82% Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah, Carignane, Alicante, and a single Ruby Cabernet vine making up the balance, and co-fermented. Kerry explained, “when you co-ferment, it helps the fermentation to finish. It always gives a nice integration. Maple Vineyard makes itself.” About the temperature, Kerry said, “Dry Creek does get quite warm and really gets cold at night.” 3.7-3.75 pH, not that low, pushes cherry – black cherry flavors, and Kerry uses 30% new tight grain oak, with 10 months in barrel. I picked up notes of black cherry, strawberry pie, basil herb, and cedar.

Cheese and DCV Wines

I love Flights!, because I love learning, and being able to taste how each area produced wines that were distinctively expressing terroir, while winemaking allowing differences, was a terrifically worthwhile way to spend a morning.
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There was a fancy dinner Friday night, featuring large format bottles, and while I found the bottle room, I was not able to attend the event. One day.

Large Format Bottle storage
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For most folks ZAP brings to mind the insane crowds that used to pack first one, then two enormous halls at Ft. Mason in San Francisco. I used to attend these events, and loved them, but started attending in the early trade and media hours and then abandoning the event when the doors were opened to the hoards.

For the last two years, I have attended a much nicer event at the Presidio in San Francisco. Not as crowded, the folks at Zinfandel Advocates & Producers clearly are selling fewer tickets, and the quality of the event has skyrocketed.

The Tasting on Saturday features 116 wineries pouring Zinfandel. I intended to taste all of the wines made from Mendocino County’s grapes, but I pretty much already had, and reviews of those wines have been featured in previous articles in the Ukiah Daily Journal. This Saturday, I simply let myself taste in a more delightedly haphazard fashion, with little concern for where the grapes came from.

First up, I visited the Bedrock Wine Company table. Pouring were Chris Cottrell and Morgan Twin-Peterson (Joel Peterson’s son). I first met Morgan at a previous Flights! tasting panel tasting, and consider him a young superstar winemaker. Great place to start, I figured.

Morgan

2013 Bedrock Old Vine, California – 75.6% Zin with Carignane , Mourvedre, and Alicante. Bright strawberry, lovely cherry, herb, and mint.

2013 Bedrock Evangelho, Contra Costa County – This wine is from the same vineyard that Nathan Kandler presented the day before at Flights! A little closed, a wine to lay down. Deeper sniffs pulled spice, wood, clove, cranberry. Nice acid.

2013 Bedrock Heritage, Sonoma Valley – 1888 vineyard, 24 interplanted and co-fermented varieties. Native yeast and fermentation. No racking until bottling. Loved this wine. Just so multi-noted. Fruit basket roll up. Depth, layers, plenty of tannins, but soft. Ageable.

2012 Ballantine Old Vine, Napa Valley – Frank Ballentine poured his three vineyard blend. Ripe, ripe, ripe fruit. Raspberry and chocolate.

2012 Beltane Ranch, Estate, Sonoma Valley – I first tasted Joy Wesley’s wines when I visited Beltane Ranch last summer, with my friend Serena Alexi. This wine was a little tight then, but has opened up and now shows deep warm pie baking spices, dark blackberry, currant, jam, and herb.

Joy Wesley

2013 Beltane Ranch, Estate, Sonoma Valley – Clearly a year younger, a touch lighter, less deep notes now, redder fruit, cedar, spice, herb, raspberry.

2011 Dashe Cellars Dry rose of Zinfandel, Todd Brothers Ranch, Alexander Valley – Mike Dashe poured me his “very dry” blush Zin, made from 50 year old vines, barrel fermented, and native. Lovely, light, but flavorful, balanced, citrusy, dried mandarin orange, persimmon, spice, herb.

2012 Andis Wines, Amador County – Really delicious, balanced, earthy, dry cherry, raspberry, clove spice, great integration.

2012 V. Sattui Winery Quaglia Vineyard Ancient Vine, St. Helena – First, I should note, the folks at V. Sattui have been very kind to me over the years. I attended their 125th anniversary lunch at the North Beach Restaurant in San Francisco and sat directly across from Dario and Yana Sattui, Dario has been generous with quotes, and V. Sattui Winery regularly sends review samples of new release to me. All that said, these are uninfluenced notes: Firm, dark, deep, rich, cocoa spice, raspberry reduction, soft but abundant tannin, well balanced.

2012 V. Sattui Winery Crow Ridge Vineyard Ancient Vine, Russian River Valley – orange, eucalyptus mint, black pepper spice, cassis, persimmon, integrated, lively.

2012 V. Sattui Winery Black-Sears, Howell Mountain – Lovely nose. Got into a conversation with Jim Goodman, a Zinfandel Enthusiast, then came back and smelled again, “ahhhh.” Cola, cherry, berry, cassis, great drink!

2013 Jeff Cohn Cellars The Imposter, California – A cellar blend…blends work! Chocolate, smooth spice, layered smooth balanced fruit, raspberry and cranberry, really terrifically integrated wine.

2013 The Prisoner Wine Company Saldo, California – I LOVED Jenifer Beloz’s two wines. Saldo is latin and refers to “from here to there” and this wine takes grapes from Sonoma Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Mendocino County, Lake County, Sierra Foothills, Contra Costa County, and Lodi. Three Mendocino County vineyards are Mattern Vineyard, Dark Horse Vineyard, and Tindall Ranch…see, I was able to get some Mendocino County love into this piece. 85% Zin with Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Mourvedre. More Zin than a Coro, but similar. So good. Chocolate wrapped raspberry, cherry, and berry.

Jennifer Beloz

2013 The Prisoner Wine Company The Prisoner, Napa Valley – First, this wine knocked my sock off. 44% Zinfandel, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Petite Sirah, 16% Syrah, 2% Charbono. This Napa blend, based on Zinfandel was just incredibly balanced and so nuanced. What a great wine! Blackberry, cranberry, persimmon, floral, rose, spice. Love, love, love. Jennifer Beloz, the winemaker, is incredibly personable, which was wonderful as well.

1997 Ridge Vineyards, Jimsomare – I walked up to the Ridge table and all I saw was the word Jimsomare and my heart started beating a little faster. I didn’t even see the 1997 vintage date when I asked for a taste. A great vintage, and my son’s birth year, the fruit might be a little in decline, but there was still plenty of bright raspberry and cranberry fruit, and spice. A real treat tasting this blast from the past.

97 Jimsomare

2013 Ridge Vineyards, Barrel Sample, Pagani Ranch, Sonoma Valley – 83% Zinfandel, 16% Alicante. I think the remaining 1% might be love. A terrifically lush and drinkable wine, great berry cherry fruit. Young, will benefit from age.
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To finish my The Tasting experience, I attended an exploration of what Randy Caparoso described as “under-appreciated Zinfandel areas” sponsored by the SOMM Journal.

Rich and Chris

SOMM Chris Sawyer led a quick look at Lake County’s Jelly Jar Wines and Mendocino County’s McNab Ridge Winery, using them to talk about the larger areas.

Chris shared that the Lake County AVA is above the fog line, high elevation, with intense sun exposure mitigated by the largest lake in California pulling in cool temperatures at night. Mendocino County is closer to the ocean, hotter, with a maritime channel bringing a diurnal swing draft, and influences are the Russian River and gravelly alluvial and volcanic soils.

2012 Jelly Jar Wines Old Vine, Lake County – Growing up, the jars that jelly came in were called jelly glasses at our house, because they so often served as glasses for red wine at the table. In a nod to the same experience, the folks at Jelly Jar Wines knock the pretension of stemmed glasses, that all too often get knocked over and break, right out of what they do, embracing the wine glass of choice in our past, the humble but virtually unbreakable jelly jar. 50+ year old grapes from the Nova Vineyard on the Kelseyville Bench, up at 1,500-1,600 feet in elevation. Andy shared that the vineyard location and elevation brings frost worries and a late October pick, and the wine is imbued with late growing season attributes. Winemaker Andy Pestoni shared his Goldilocks wine, not too jammy, not too lean, but just right. Dusty cocoa powder, pretty elegant strawberry, raspberry, and dark cherry notes. Soft, smooth, with nice tannin.

2012 McNab Ridge Winery, Cononiah Vineyard, Mendocino – I tasted through all of Rich Parducci’s wines recently, and ran a feature piece on McNab Ridge Winery. I wrote then that I like Rich and his wines, and nothing has changed in the week since that was published in the Ukiah Daily Journal. Rich, and his wines, are a terrific representation of Mendocino County. 35 year old vines, Ed Berry is the grower, rocky volcanic soil, vineyard gone through multiple times for uniform fruit, Chocolate, strawberry jam, and white pepper spice.

2012 McNab Ridge Winery, Old Vine, Mendocino – A little more rocky soil, 75 year old vineyard, about 1½ tons per acre. Minerally, perfumed, rich fruit.

Rich shared a great compliment from Paul Draper, the God of Zin from Ridge, who upon tasting Rich’s Zin shared, “great job, you’ve done justice to these grapes.”
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To say that I had a great time, and am grateful to Zinfandel Advocates & Producers for their media invite, would be an understatement. Thank you!

I love single vineyard Zinfandel, and 100% Zinfandel, but I came to reinforce my greater love for blends, whether field blends or cellar blends, and in much the same way came to really appreciate some of the California blends that took advantage of the very different and distinct notes each different growing area pushed into the vines that grow there, so that the resulting blend was so much better than any individual wine might have been. What the House of walker does incredibly well with blended scotch, often sourcing from 40 individual single malts, winemaker Jennifer Beloz did with her wines at The Prisoner Wine Company. Not alone, there are other winemakers picking and choosing the best grapes for their California blend Zinfandels. Where once California on the label was a way to hide a bad source of grapes, now often it presents an invitation to something wonderful.

I fell in love with wines from Contra Costa County and Amador County, reconfirmed my love for wines from Dry Creek Valley and Mendocino County, and found new appreciation for wines that just said California.

Bottom line, if it says Zinfandel on the label, buy it and enjoy it. You are supporting family farming and passionate winemakers with each bottle you consume.

EPICURIA, the amazing Zinfandel and food pairing tasting is tonight, Thursday, January 29 at The Golden Gate Club in the Presidio of San Francisco, 135 Fisher Loop, San Francisco, CA 94129

ZAP, Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, member tickets are just $105, and non-member tickets are just $130, and are available online through the #ZinEx website.

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Here is what is on the menu tonight from 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm:

Sweet Potato Timbale with a Trio of Cheeses Garnished with Alba Mushrooms & “Redemption” glaze from Flavor Bistro with Alexander Valley Vineyards Zinfandel

Smoked Duck Breast with Caramelized Onions, Bleu Cheese, and Aged Balsamic Reduction from Stanley’s Steakhouse with Andis Wines Zinfandel

Duck Rillette with Black Mission Fig & Balsamic Jam from Estate Chef with Artezin Wines Zinfandel

Tiramisu (made with Zinfandel) and a Delicious Chocolate Pepper Cupcake with Zinfandel infused Bacon from Sonoma Cake Creations with Barefoot Cellars Zinfandel

Sea Salt Roasted Devil’s Gulch Pork Leg from the Presidio Social Club with Bella Vineyards Zinfandel

Lamb Lollipops with Veal Demi Glaze from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse with Bonneau Wines Zinfandel

Texas Wild Boar Chili- Slow-Braised Spicy Chili with Sour Cream, Green Onion and Cheddar from Sauce with Brazin Cellars Zinfandel

Chilled Red Beet Soup, with Zinfandel Creme Fresh from Pegi Ball Catering Company with Carol Shelton Wines Zinfandel

Spicy Olive Flatbread & Fig Soppressata Flatbread from SF Local with D-cubed Cellars Zinfandel

Braised Beef Stew from Bistro Boudin with Dry Creek Vineyard Zinfandel

Duck Tacos with Mole from City College of San Francisco with Four Vines Zinfandel

Pork Tostaditas from Cindy’s Back Street Kitchen with Hendry Zinfandel

Mystery Treat from Trabocco Kitchen with Jeff Cohn Cellars Zinfandel

Baccalou Cumber Rounds & Savory Cream Cheese on Baguette from Breadfruit Tree with Jessie’s Grove Winery Zinfandel

Dark Chocolate m2 Zinfandel SF Cheesecake & Wild Huckleberry m2 Zinfandel San Francisco Cheesecake from San Francisco Cheesecake Company with m2 Wines Zinfandel

Arrabiata Penne and Braised Beef Bourguignon with Bacon and Mushrooms from Estate Chef Charles Nelson with McCay Cellars Zinfandel

Shrimp Cocktail from Swan Oyster Depot with Peachy Canyon Winery Zinfandel

Bisou Group Small Plates from Chez Papa Bistrot with R&B Cellars Zinfandel

Muleheart Farm Fresh Ham Bocadillo from Central Market with Ravenswood Winery Zinfandel

Pastrami Duck Breast from Schroeder’s with Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel

Dried Fig & Marcona Almond Chicken Salad on House Made Bread from Scolari’s Good Eats with Rock Wall Wine Company Zinfandel

House Made Chocolate Salumi with Assorted Cheese and Fruits from Kuleto’s Italian Restaurant with Rombauer Vineyards Zinfandel

House-made Cracker, with Ciccioli, Stone Ground Mustard and Pickled Onion from Longomare with Rosenblum Cellars Zinfandel

Lamb Merguez Sausage with Mango Chutney, Paprika Spiced Onions & Italian Giardiniera Peppers from Rosamunde Sausage Grill with Saddleback Cellars Zinfandel

Slow smoked St. Louis Cut Pork Ribs with a Zinfandel Preserved Cherry Glaze from Winery executive chef Peter Janiak with Seghesio Family Vineyards Zinfandel

Classic Chocolate Salad – spring mixed baby spinach medley tossed with crumble Gorgonzola sundried cranberries brownie crouton crumbs drizzled with a chocolate raspberry rice wine from A Winechef For You, LLC with St. Amant Winery Zinfandel

Fennel Olive Oil Pound Cake from Taste with Terra d’Oro Wines Zinfandel

Hanger Steak with Watercress Aioli and Red Wine Onion Jam on Housemade Potato Chip from Mustard’s Grill with Tres Sabores Zinfandel

Savory Sicilian Cannoli with Wild Boar-Mascarpone Mousse and Marjoram & Mini Tiramisu’ of Angel Wings (fritters) and Espresso Sauce from Canneti Roadhouse Italiana with Three Wine Company Zinfandel

Rolled Housemade Bresaola and Arugula with Lemon Aioli and Parmigiano, Crostini with Housemade Mozzarella, Olive Tapenade & Roasted Tomatoes & Crostini with Housemade Sausage, Caramelized Onions & Roasted Peppers from Winery Executive Chef with V. Sattui Winery Zinfandel

Roasted Beet Salad with Grains and Herbs from Chef Tyler Stone with XYZin Wines Zinfandel

­­John On Wine – Spotlight winery: McNab Ridge Winery

This piece will run in the Ukiah Daily Journal weekly wine column on Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rich Parducci has a famous name, not just in Mendocino County, but in the world of California wine. John Parducci founded Parducci Wine Cellars, and was a genuine icon in the wine industry before his passing.

Together, after losing control of the eponymous winery, John and Rich Parducci started McNab Ridge Winery, and today Rich is both the winemaker and chief salesperson, traveling the country and pouring his wines for buyers.

I met Rich for a tasting of current releases at his beautifully appointed tasting room, a large yellow building with lots of warm wood, comfortable couches, and art on the walls, located on Highway 101 in downtown Hopland.

Let me start off by saying that I like Rich and I like his wines. Here are some brief tasting notes along with conversational snippets from my visit:

2013 Sauvignon Blanc – Grapefruit, pear, melon, grass, ultra ripe. Classic. White Oak Ranch.

Wine inspires conversation, and among the many topics we covered, Rich advocated cunjunctive labeling for Mendocino County wines, as is required in Sonoma County, to better let folks in the marketplace develop a greater awareness of Mendocino County as a wine region. With so much of Mendocino County’s grapes purchased by Napa and Sonoma County wineries for their wines, labeling some of the wines that are made here as Anderson Valley, or Redwood Valley, or as coming from an individual vineyard, rather than using Mendocino County on the label, hurts all the County’s wine makers. Like in Sonoma County, the more specific or smaller American Viticultural Area designation can be used, but only in addition, rather than instead of, the larger County appellation designation.

2013 Chardonnay – 100% barrel fermentation, 100% malolactic fermentation. Cream, butter, oak, nice apple and pear fruit. Napoli vineyard.

Tine’s White – Sweeter, but not too sweet, about 1% residual sugar, nice balancing acid, showing stone fruit nectarine, spicy floral notes.

2013 French Colombard – Rich described this wine, coming from 40 year old, head pruned, old vine Redwood Valley grapes, as “a patio pleaser.” Riesling-esque, Patty, our tasting room host, had my mouth watering as she described pairing it with a lemon grass and coconut scallop soup. Niemi Vineyard.

2012 Pinot Noir – Lighter styled, cherry, perfume, cigar, from a Russian River Valley vineyard near John Ash.

Fred’s Red – A dead solid, inexpensive everyday red wine for enjoying. Blackberry, Raspberry, Blueberry. Spice. Herb. Oak.

I asked Rich, noting the presence of oak in many of the wines tasted, about John’s general preference for minimally oaked or unoaked wines. Rich told me, “a lot of times, I would just do it and beg forgiveness later. John’s style is my style, showcase the fruit. If you mask it with oak, are you really being true to the grape? When you buy it, I want it to be enjoyable, approachable.” Rich has found a nice balance with his wines, and where oak is used it does not dominate the fruit, but adds a layer of flavor or body, in support of the wine.

2012 Pinotage – Smooth red fruit, dark berry, strawberry, rose. Napoli Vineyard.

Rich talked about the 2014 vintage: “some varieties sugar ripened so quick, fruit couldn’t keep up, herbaceous. A little more time, flavors matured.”

2011 Merlot – Soft, lovely Burgundy color, herb, spice, plummy cherry and soft berry.

2012 Zinzilla – 95% Mendocino, 5% Lodi. Spiced raspberry juice. Begging for burgers, brats, any grilled meat.

2012 Mendocino Zinfandel – Darker, pepper, lovely nose. Rich ripe berry fruit mouth.

2012 Cononiah Zinfandel – Lovely red purple color. Bright rich fruit. Oak.

2012 Old Vine Zinfandel – Bar-X Ranch, planted in 1939. Blackberry and raspberry, dusty cocoa.

2013 Old Vine Zinfandel – An early taste. LOVE IT. At 16% alcohol, I would often be a little scared, but this wine has fantastic balance and numbers mean nothing in the face of the lovely raspberry and strawberry fruit notes.

Rich commented, aware of my pleasure, “If you don’t have good grapes, you aren’t going to make good wine…it is the grapes.”

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon – Oh, I wanted a plate of roast beef to enjoy with a glass of this dark red wine. Blackberry, cassis, dusty cherry, toasty oak.

2012 Mendo Largo – This reserve wine from Ruddick Vineyard spent 20 months in French oak, and is very nice, but tight. More bottle time will yield great rewards. Cocoa, thick, rich red.

2012 Petite Sirah – Rich told me, “my favorite is Petite.” This Petite has a great nose, shows tannin, and is decidedly dry. Dark, dark, dark. Earthy, berry and spice jam.

2013 Carisma – Juicy cranberry with a citrusy floral finish. Low achol, 9%. Second bleed off after fermentation on skins. 100% Syrah.

Rich described the Carisma as “a sweet, slightly effervescent red wine, meant to be chilled.”

2009 John Parducci Signature Series Port – Yummm. Sweet, not hot. Deliciously rich and complex. Bonus points for a Port made from Portugal’s grape varieties: 44% Touriga Nacional, 17% Touriga Francesca, 16% Tinta Barroca, 12% Tinta Cao, and 11% Tinta Roriz.

Torte Chocolate Port – Deep, delicious fruit, married to a tootsie roll. A Port blend similar to the one just described, but infused with premium chocolate.

For more information, visit Denise or Patty in the McNab Ridge Winery tasting room in Hopland for a wine tasting, or visit http://www.mcnabridge.com

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Rich is also a Board member of Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, ZAP, the industry’s promotional organization for the Zinfandel grape variety and the wine it makes.

Rich will be pouring at ZAP’s Zinfandel Experience at the Presidio in San Francisco this weekend, on Saturday, January 31, from 11:00 am until 5:00 pm, and I will be there to taste all of the wines made from Mendocino County’s grapes, plus Zinfandel made by some of my favorite producers from outside the area.

The Tasting is a great opportunity to taste an astounding assortment of Zinfandel wine, poured by winery owners and winemakers, and tickets are still available at http://www.zinfandelexperience.com/#!purchase-tickets/cnye with prices ranging from $70 to $170 for a day’s tasting.

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John On Wine – Kicking 2015 off with wine events

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, January 8, 2014

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Here are some events I’ll be attending; I hope to see you at one or more.

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Saturday, Jan. 10 – Second Saturday in Hopland >> A half dozen Hopland area winery tasting rooms offer up food pairings to go with wines, and usually have at least one wine on a significantly discounted sale price. McNab Ridge Winery has been inviting folks to their Second Saturday festivities since wine was invented it seems, the series has been going on for a long time, and with that kind of commitment they have created a loyal following of wine and free food lovers who make the trip to Hopland a monthly event. The McNab Ridge Winery gathering is so popular that many wine lovers and visitors have no idea that several other winery tasting rooms also offer up food and wine pairings with wine sales each and every Second Saturday throughout the year. Be sure to also visit Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Graziano Family of Wines, Jaxon Keys, and the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland as they participate each month. Brutocao, Campovida, and Milano Family Winery often have something going on for visitors during second Saturday in Hopland as well. For more information, visit www.destinationhopland.com

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Jan. 16-25 – Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest >> Dungeness crab. Wine. Beer. Okay, you had me a Dungeness crab and wine. Wineries along Hwy. 128 and the coast, and inland along Hwy.101, have a brochure for you to pick up. The brochure is filled with events for you to attend, describes special offerings at different wineries, and has two pages to collect stamps with the opportunity to enter a drawing for great prizes of event tickets, lodging stays, wine, and painting classes for the lucky winners. For more information, visit www.visitmendocino.com/crab-wine-and-beer-festival-0.

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Jan. 21 – Chef’s Wine Dinner >> Featuring Dungeness crab and McFadden wine at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah . This baby is sold out. Seventy very lucky attendees will sit down for a multi-course meal featuring Dungeness crab, paired with a half dozen wines from McFadden. I will write a recap of this dinner, with pictures, for the many who didn’t get to attend … Crush never even had a chance to contact their regular email attendee subscriber list from past Chef’s wine dinner series events. Definitely, the premier inland Mendo event of this year’s Crab, Wine & Beer Fest. For more information, visit www.mcfaddenfarm.com

Jan. 22-24 – Lots of Crab on the Coast >> On Jan. 22, Trillium Café in Mendocino will have a crab wine dinner with Navarro Vineyards’ wines and, also in Mendocino, Café Beaujolais will create a crab dinner around the sparkling and still wines of Roederer Estate. On January 23, there will be three seatings for a Cioppino dinner at the Pentecost Hall in Fort Bragg and an All-You-Can-Eat crab feed at the Crown Hall on Mendocino. After the 16th annual crab cake cook off & wine tasting event in Ft Bragg on January 24, the folks at the Crown Hall in Mendocino will have a second day of all-you-can-eat crab dining. For more information, visit www.visitmendocino.com/crab-wine-and-beer-festival-0

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Jan. 24 & 25 – Barrel Tasting 101 >> Buy a ticket online in advance for $15, or at a participating winery during the event for $30, and taste wine from the barrel, before it is bottled or aged, at Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Graziano Family of wines, Jaxon Keys Winery, Jeriko Estate, McNab Ridge, Milano Family Winery, Nelson Family Winery, Rivino, Saracina, Seebass Vineyards, Simaine Cellars, Terra Savia, and Testa Ranch. For more information, visit www.destinationhopland.com

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Jan. 29-31 – ZAP’s Zinfandel Experience >> Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) will celebrate their 24th annual Zinfandel Experience with three days of events in San Francisco. Epicuria is a food and Zin pairing evening on Jan. 29 at the Presidio. Flights is a seated panel tasting at the Four Seasons Hotel on Jan. 30, moderated by one of my idols, Joel Peterson, and will look at three distinctly different growing areas with 15 winemakers; later that evening at the hotel is the Winemaker’s Reception, Dinner & Auction. Finally, The Tasting with over 100 Zinfandels at the Presidio on Jan. 31. I have attended previous ZAP events, and if you love Zinfandel, then this is a must event to attend. For more information, visit www.zinfandelexperience.com
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Feb. 7 – 10th annual
International Alsace Varietals Festival >> There is a full day of events in the Anderson Valley, with many Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling wines, starting with an educational session in the morning, the big grand tasting in the afternoon, and a winemakers’ dinner in the evening. For more information, visit www.avwines.com/alsace-festival.

 

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

John On Wine – All Treats, No Tricks; or Time to Mark your Calendars

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This column was first published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fall is supposed to be about slowing down and winter about rest, but for wine tasters there is no shortage of events to put on your calendar.

Friday, November 7, 2014 to Sunday, November 16, 2014 brings ten days of Mendocino County’s Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest and there are too many wine tasting opportunities throughout the festival’s ten days to fit in this column, but stop by just about any winery and ask for your own over 40 page festival event brochure.
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On Saturday, November 8, 2014 from 10:00am to 5:00pm, there will be a very mushroomy Second Saturday in Hopland, with many winery tasting rooms offering up complimentary wine tasting and mushroom food pairings for their wines, with terrific sales prices for those wines.
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On Wednesday, November 12, 2014, from 6:00pm-9:00pm, I will be at the Rivino Winemaker Dinner at Crush in Ukiah. I’ve written about the Chef’s Winemaker Dinners at Crush where Chef Jesse Elhardt has prepared dishes to showcase the wines of Saracina, Barra of Mendocino and Girasole Vineyards, Bonterra, Coro Mendocino, and Yorkville Cellars. You want to attend this one, held during Mendocino County’s Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest, when the dishes will be inspired by Chef Jesse’s love for mushrooms. Tickets are $65, in advance, include tax and tip, and are a steal at that price. Look to see a $10 increase if any tickets remain at the door. Call 707.463.0700 for reservations.
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For those on the Mendocino coast, instead of inland, on Thursday, November 13, 2014, you can enjoy the Foursight Winemaker Dinner at Ravens in the Stanford Inn. Organic cuisine will be featured with a menu of Amuse Buche crostini with mushroom pate, Appetizer with mini porcini quiche, Salad Umbrian salad with lentil and oyster mushrooms, Entrée wild mushroom risotto with tempura and grilled mushrooms served with truffled cauliflower, Dessert candy cap crème brule with a huckleberry Pinot Noir reduction and macerated seasonal fruit. Four courses, $85, call 800.331.8884 for reservations.
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Another favorite event of mine is on Saturday, November 22, 2014 and Sunday, November 23, 2014 from 11:00am-5:00pm, the 12th annual A Taste of Redwood Valley Holiday Wine Sale and Artisan Faire. Informal, bring your own glass to participating wineries and distilleries for complimentary tastings and take advantage of huge sale prices, often 40% off regular prices, when purchasing your holiday wine and spirits. Frey Vineyards, Giuseppe Wines / Neese Vineyards, Silversmith Vineyards, Brown Family Wines, Barra of Mendocino / Girasole Vineyards, and Testa Vineyards will pour both days, while Graziano Family of Wines and Germain-Robin/Craft Distillers will only participate on Saturday – which pretty much guarantees I will be in Redwood Valley on Saturday to pick up Cognac quality Alambic Brandy and Brandy Infusions from Germain-Robin, and the highest quality artisan Vodka, Gin, and Whiskey I have ever tasted from Jack Crispin Cain and Tamar Kaye at Craft Distillers, which is co-located with Germain-Robin.
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I have to ask you to circle, and underline, and highlight Friday, December 12, 2014 from 4:00pm-7:00pm on your calendar, enter the date into your phone and set an alarm, do whatever it takes, but please join me for McFadden’s 3rd annual TOYS FOR TOTS Toy Drive & Wine Tasting in Hopland. Together with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, and with the Hopland Volunteer Fire Department helping Santa out, toys are collected and given to local children who need a little Christmas cheer on Christmas eve. Come in after work on Friday, bring a toy or a cash donation – which we’ll use to shop for more toys, and we’ll serve up a special wine tasting, food pairing, enter you in a raffle for a basket with over $200 in McFadden Farm goodies, offer up event exclusive sale prices for December gift and holiday table needs, and even reward each donation with a “thank you” box of McFadden Farm wild rice. Last year, we doubled the number of toys we collected over the first year, and we would like to double our toy haul again this year. Please help us.
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There is a 100% chance I will be at the McFadden Farm Winemaker Dinner at Crush in Ukiah on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 from 6:00pm-9:00pm during the Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest. Care to guess what ingredient will be featured in Chef Jesse’s dishes that night? You can count on more words here about this event as we get closer to the date.
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Finally, the 24th annual Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) Zinfandel Experience Tasting Event will spread over two San Francisco locations, three days, and four events from Thursday, January 29, 2015 through Saturday, January 31, 2015. Thursday is the “Epicuria Food & Zin Pairing” event at the Presidio; Friday features “Flights! Forum of Flavor” a daytime seated panel tasting of exceptional Old Vine Zinfandels, and “Zin State of Mind – a Benefit with Taste” a nighttime Winemaker’s Reception and Dinner with Live Auction, both held at the Four Seasons Hotel; and Saturday is “The Tasting” the grand tasting at the Presidio. For more information, visit www.ZinfandelExperience.com. I have attended numerous ZAP events, love Epicuria, Flights, and the Grand Tasting; I have not attended the big dinner, but am sure it is spectacular – as is everything ZAP does.
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I’m sure I missed some important local wine events, but I will be attending – or would love to attend – each of these and felt comfortable suggesting that you put these on your calendar, each and every one promises an unqualified great time to be had.

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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John On Wine – Spotlight Winery: Cesar Toxqui Cellars

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 16, 2014

The only constant is change, and owners Cesar and Ruth Toxqui have changed addresses, moving their Cesar Toxqui Cellars tasting room to a new location in the Hopland Schoolhouse Plaza complex, in the building next to Brutocao Cellars, at 13500 South Highway 101, Hopland, CA 95449.

With about 1,000 folks descending on Hopland this weekend, for the 23rd annual Fall Hopland Passport wine and food weekend festival, Cesar and Ruth are hopeful attendees will find their way to their beautiful new tasting room.

I visited and tasted the open wines being poured as part of the day’s Tasting Flight on a Saturday when last minute painting details were being finished and pictures hung on walls.

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2010 Chardonnay, $18, 13.8% alc. Made using Jeriko’s Dijon clone Chardonnay grapes, there are notes of oak, butter, apple and lemon, in balance, in this wine. After time in tank to allow greater fruit expression, this Chardonnay spent 10 months in three year old – semi neutral – French oak. Think of a fruit forward, butter scotch loaded Chablis on steroids.

2011 Zinfandel, Immigrant, Russian River, $24, 14.3% alc. There is a lot going on in this wine. Bright strawberry and cherry fruit meet dusty cocoa, rose petal, and brambly raspberry. This wine has many flavors and enough of each to allow it to pair with a wide variety of foods.

MV Ruthless Red, $18, 14.5% alc. The MV stands for multiple vintages, instead of the regular NV for non vintage; this is a new Cesar Toxqui unofficial but more descriptive designation. There may be a percentage or two of this or that in the blend, but roughly speaking this wine is 50% Zinfandel. 25% Syrah, and 25% Sangiovese. “This wine makes you want to sit outside on your porch and contemplate the meaning of life,” is how Cesar described the wine that features a fiery portrait of his wife Ruth on the label. In addition to the abundant fruit notes that this medley of grapes offer up, I picked up undertones of cola and a sinuous vinous character with enough acid to provide both structure and balance for the flavors.

2012 Zinfandel, Split Rock Ranch, $32, 14.3% alc. Cesar told me that, “this label celebrates our 10th anniversary in business,” and that he may make another special label Zinfandel ten more years from now, to celebrate 20 years in business. With grapes sourced from John Mattern’s Split Rock Ranch, this Zinfandel shows depth, structure, with soft but noticeable tannin, and a lot of flavors, almost drinking more like an Alicante Bouchet, Petite Sirah, and Carignane blend, with a little bite on the end. Blackberry, mocha, raspberry, black pepper, fennel bulb, cherry, minerality, and oak are all on display. Tasting with me, Cesar shared as he tasted this wine, “this is a really big Zin, this is the one I’m really proud of…(tasting) oh yeah!”

MV Paloma Dulce Port, $18/375ml or $32/750ml, 19% alc. Another multiple vintage release, this is a solera style port, meaning that a little from each release is held and blended into the next release, which has a little held and blended into the release after that, and so on, with the resulting port being something tied to all previous and future vintages. Wine, flavored with a bit of brandy from Germain Robin, this is a richer, sweeter, more intense wine, a port, and lovely, nicely balanced between aromatic cedar, cherry, tobacco, and apple.

In addition to the wines tasted, Cesar also produces and sells Muscat Canelli, Viognier, Chard Vino Vianco, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Grenache wines through his tasting room.

One of my favorite wine events is the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) Zinfandel Festival held each January in San Francisco. Every producer shows up to pour their Zinfandel, and crowds of thousands descend upon the offerings at a Grand Tasting. I have been fortunate, and attended seated panel wine tastings, wine and food pairing tastings, and sadly had to turn down an invite to the big dress up meal because of a conflict, but attend every ZAP event I can. ZAP honored Cesar Toxqui’s Zinfandel at the 2010 Zinfandel Festival, calling it the Year’s Best Zinfandel out of many hundreds being poured. Cesar knows how to make great wine.

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I have tasted many wines, different varieties, different vintages, different vineyard areas, from Cesar Toxqui Cellars, and Cesar makes interesting wines, never boring, unique, not cookie cutter, by exercising choices during winemaking. I like most of Cesar’s wines, dearly love some, and there are a rare few that I do not like – although someone else certainly will; in all cases, Cesar makes wines I respect. I respect the choice he often makes to allow a wine to display more character, rather than smooth that character into a more approachable or drinkable edge. Tasting wines at Cesar Toxqui Cellars is exciting, and I am happily surprised, as Cesar’s winemaking choices are less predictable than ordinary.

To taste the full range of Cesar and Ruth Toxqui’s hospitality, pick up a ticket to Hopland Passport this weekend, then taste an array of delectable fruit infused cheeses paired with our new Orange Muscat , Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay, before the new release of 2012 Zinfandel, new Heirloom V, and of full line up of other red wines with a mixed meat BBQ grill trip, wild boar sausage, and chicken. Be sure to enjoy the chocolate ganache and Paloma Dulce Port for dessert.

Hopland Passport tickets can be purchased during this weekend at any of the 14 participating wineries for $55; for more information, visit http://www.DestinationHopland.com/Hopland-Passport ; and for more information about Cesar Toxqui Cellars, call the tasting room at (707) 744-1071, Thursday through Sunday between 11:00 and 5:30, winter hours.

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