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John Cesano and Brigette Seebass enjoying a moment at the recent Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush (photograph by Tom Liden)


John on wine – Crush Chef’s Wine Dinner featuring Seebass Family Wines

Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse, a Chef’s Winemaker dinner, featuring the wines of my friends Scott and Michelle Willoughby, their Seebass Family Vineyard & Winery wines. You knew something would end my hiatus and inspire a new wine column for the Journal, and the food, wine, and people gathered on a Wednesday in January has me hunt and pecking, one finger typing, once again.

Seebass wines starts with Brigitte Seebass, a lovely woman who made her way from Germany to Ukiah and bought 100+ acres of Talmage vineyard land and has successfully grown sought after premium wine grapes for roughly thirty years, and is one of Mendocino County’s first female grape growers.

Brigitte’s daughter and son-in-law, Michelle Myrenne Willoughby and Scott Willoughby, joined Brigitte an the farm in 2010 with an eye to making great wines from the grapes Brigitte had been selling to other wineries.

Together with third generation Aidan Willoughby, parents Scott and Michelle, and grand mother Brigitte, Seebass Family Vineyard & Winery is a vital part of the Mendocino wine scene, and a family affair.

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Scott Willoughby told the story of each Seebass Family Winery wine                        (photograph by Tom Liden)

Crush came up with a new traffic plan for the meet & greet reception that allowed attendees a bit more room to mingle comfortably, a smart and welcome change, and offered up a sampling of seasoned meats, cheeses, and peppers to pair with the 2015 Seebass Rosé of Grenache ‘Fantasie,’ made by winemaker Stéphane Vivier.

I like rosé wines, all of the previous Seebass offerings have all been good, but this is far and away my favorite version, which is great because as a barrel sample, unfiltered, not yet released wine, it was already drinking great, showing strawberry, cherry, and citrus peel, and will only be better when bottled and released next month.

Remarkably, fortuitously, wonderfully all four of the Seebass wines poured were my favorite versions from all of the vintages I have tasted, which set the stage for a very enjoyable dinner.

The first seated course brought a trio of dishes to each table: Shrimp Louis salad with traditional dressing, cucumber, tomato, and avocado; Yellowfin Tuna with sesame, chili, mint, garlic, and pear; and Dungeness Crab Cakes with avocado, red pepper, and cilantro.

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2014 Seebass Grand Reserve Chardonnay (photograph by Tom Liden)

The 2014 Seebass Grand Reserve Chardonnay, which recently took a unanimous among the judges Double Gold Medal at the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the largest judging of American wines with over 7,100 entered, was the perfect wine to accompany the first course of food offerings.

The Seebass Reserve Chardonnay is crafted by winemaker Stéphane Vivier from the best Dijon clone grapes from the Seebass estate vineyard, held in oak, about 20% new, resulting in a Burgundy meets California wine, with lemon peel citrus flavored apple and pear notes, and oak and cream from barrel and fermentation providing a round mouth feel.

The three dishes were each delicious. The crab cakes were a nod to the second place award that Crush took at the Mendocino Crab Cook Off last year, and the crispy outside and delicious Dungeness crab inside these not really cake but balls were made even more delicious with a sip of the Chardonnay. The tuna dish was a diced tartare with the additional supporting ingredients only highlighting the flavor of the tuna, again made more delicious through pairing with the Chardonnay. Yes, the Chardonnay made the shrimp Louis salad yummier too, although big shrimp in a great dressing with avocado adding richness is pretty darn great by itself.

The second course brought Seared Scallops with leeks, butternut squash, and risotto; Cedar Planked Wild Salmon, spice crusted, with a Seebass red wine reduction; and Chef’s Vegetables.

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Seared Scallops with risotto (photograph by Tom Liden)

The wine for this course was the unreleased 2013 Seebass Romantik, a Rhone style, unique GSM Blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Merlot. This wine, made by winemaker Greg Graziano, was absolutely a spot on wine to pair with this course, with the multi red and black fruited notes of the wine working perfectly with the caramelization of perfectly seared scallops and spice crusted salmon. The asparagus and broccolini in the chef’s vegetable dish were hearty flavored choices, perfect for the soft but flavorful Romantic.

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Wood Plank spice crusted Wild Salmon and 2013 Seebass Romantic                        (photograph by Tom Liden)

The Crush chefs showed incredible sensibility in making a lighter risotto, with butternut squash and leek, wonderfully delicious, but allowing the scallop to be the star of the dish.

Dessert was Crush’s Tiramisu, served parfait style, many layered and light as a pillowed cloud, with more of a light dusty cocoa note than the strong espresso note expected.

Seebass’ dessert wine wasn’t strictly a dessert wine, but their 2011 Seebass Old Vine Zinfandel, another Greg Graziano made wine, and was another perfect choice for the dinner, with the light brambly raspberry and pepper notes melding with the chocolate and cream notes of the tiramisu, sip to spoon in the mouth.

 

John and Juanita (photograph by Tom Liden)

 

Seebass Family Winery wines can be tasted and purchased at their Anderson Valley tasting room, located at 14077 Highway 128 in Boonville, across from the Boonville Hotel, or online at http://www.seebassvineyards.com

The next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush will feature the wines of Husch Vineyards, with an Anderson Valley tasting room located at 4400 Highway 128 in Philo, and is scheduled for April 20. To reserve your tickets for this sure to sell out dinner, call Crush directly at (700) 463-0700.

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John On Wine – The Christmas Column

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on December 24, 2015.

As I write this, it is uncertain whether my son, Charlie, will be home for Christmas. He completed training to become a U.S. Army Infantry soldier, graduating from Fort Benning, GA on Friday, December 11, 2015, and was on a bus the same day to Fort Campbell, KY for in-processing with the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Infantry Division.

Charlie could be in-processing for weeks, and is slotted to attend Air Assault school, before joining his unit with the 2nd Brigade, and deploying to the Middle East as early as February.

A holiday block leave is uncertain, and we hope he may be allowed an extended pass to come home, before deployment.

Whether he is home on Christmas day or substantially later, his presents are under the tree and will remain so until he is able to come home for a visit. Needless to say, his mother and I are very proud of Charlie.

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Wine in central to a Cesano family Christmas

I mention this by way of asking you to hold dear the family and friends you are able to bring together, to join, this holiday, and to love them.
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McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, together with Steep Organic Coffee & Tea, held a very successful Toys For Tots toy drive & wine tasting in Hopland on Friday, December 11, 2015. I want to personally thank everyone for your generous donations of new toys, and cash to buy more toys. Tonight, there will be children here in Ukiah, and over the hill in Lake County after the Valley Fire devastation, who will know a little extra Christmas cheer, because of your kindness. Thank you.
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Winter’s cold temperatures, and Christmas’ gathering of family and friends at the table, call out for red wine, and Mendocino County’s various growing regions provide many different choices.

I heartily recommend Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley, Charbono from Redwood Valley, Cabernet from Hopland, Zinfandel from Potter Valley, Malbec from Yorkville Highlands, or one of the many excellent blends, from the county’s flagship Coro Mendocino wines, produced by several different wineries, to a Rhone style blend from Halcon or Campovida.

Of course, some folks only drink white wine, and similarly there are abundant choices, from the aromatic Alsace white varieties of Anderson Valley to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grown inland.

If looking for bubbly, again, there are some of the nation’s best sparkling wines being made right here, from Roederer Estate and Scharffenberger Cellars in the Anderson Valley to Graziano and McFadden, with tasting rooms side by side in Hopland. Be sure and pick up some in the next week for New Year’s Eve too.

Some folks like it pink, and you can’t swing a cat by the tail, because that would be wrong, but if you did then you would likely hit a winery with a great blush wine for your efforts, they are available from every part of our county.

If you are looking for a beverage a little more spirited, I would point you to the many excellent spirits of Germain-Robin and American Craft Whiskey Distillery in the Redwood Valley.

Wine was always a part of holiday gatherings, growing up. Not an intoxicant, so much as the lubrication to make food, friends, family, conversation, fellowship, gatherings more merry.

I hope you will have wine, and wine from Mendocino County specifically, at your table this Christmas holiday.
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It is a bit late to be offering Christmas gift ideas, but for the one or two men who haven’t begun to shop yet, here are some gifts that will save you from shopping at a gas station or convenience store, or worse yet facing the stores crowded with other glazed eyed last minute shopping men:

Tickets to the next Crush Winemaker Dinner. Crush Italian Steakhouse will be building another incredible multi course feast around wines on Wednesday, January 20, 2016; this time featuring the wines of Seebass Family Winery. I already grabbed two tickets, and hope to see you there. Call (707) 463-0700 or visit in person to get your tickets.

Another event ticket: attend the International Alsace Varietals Festival at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds on February 20 & 21, 2016 in the Anderson Valley. Taste aromatic Alsace whites – Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Muscat, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling – from around the county, nation, and world. Tickets are available online at http://www.avwines.com.

Wine. Visit any open tasting room, many will be open this morning, and buy bottles or cases of joy. Grab a couple of extra and put them under your tree for when a guest brings a surprise friend to your home. Wine makes a great ‘emergency’ gift.
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Writing a weekly column for you over the last few years has been a blast. For me, I ask from you one thing this Christmas; although you may not know him, please keep my soldier son in your thoughts. Thank you, from Charlie’s mother Lisa, girlfriend Ophelia, and me.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

EDITED TO ADD FOR ONLINE ARCHIVED BLOG POST:

My son, Charlie, did make it home for a ten day leave at Christmas. It was wonderful to see my soldier son at the holiday.

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Wednesday, November 12, 2014, Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah hosted their sixth in a series of Chef’s Wine Dinners, this time pairing with Cesar Toxqui Cellars and featuring mushrooms from start to finish, celebrating the county’s bounty during the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Festival.

Cesar Toxqui

Cesar Toxqui

Cesar Toxqui, owner and winemaker at Cesar Toxqui Cellars, described each wine during the evening, and offered insight into some choices that go into winemaking…and selecting the right wines to pair with a multi-course mushroom dinner.

Ruth Toxqui and Lynn Elhardt

Ruth Toxqui and Lynn Elhardt

Cesar’s wife (and co-owner of Cesar Toxqui Cellars) Ruth Toxqui chatted with Lynn Elhardt (mother of the dinner’s Chef, Jesse Elhardt). Lynn kindly shared that Jesse’s path to Chefdom was as direct as computer science to mechanical engineering to the kitchen. While the path was meandering, the journey led to the right place.

Porcini Bruschetta Bites

Porcini Bruschetta Bites

The Porcini Bruschetta Bites during the meet & greet reception were paired with the 2012 Cesar Toxqui Pinot Gris, which provided a terrific pairing. Made from a toasted baguette, a concentrated tomato jam, herbed ricotta, olive oil, balsamic, micro intensity, and porcini mushrooms, one of the best pairings of the night was the single one of these I brought to the table and paired with Cesar’s Pinot Noir.

Crush General Manager Kevin serving up 2012 CTC Pinot Gris and Porcini Bruschetta Bites

Crush General Manager Kevin serving up 2012 CTC Pinot Gris and Porcini Bruschetta Bites

Kevin was a terrific host for the evening’s dinner, every want was met all night.

Dinner Meet & Greet

Dinner Meet & Greet

Typically folks spend fifteen minutes in the comfortable bar area, allowing late stragglers to arrive, before heading into the special event dining room.

Meet & Greet at the bar

Meet & Greet at the bar

Quite comfortable at the bar, I usually find myself enjoying the first food and wine pairings of the night here at these Crush Chef’s Wine Dinners.

Chef Jesse Elhardt describing the night's dishes

Chef Jesse Elhardt describing the night’s dishes

Chef Jesse’s menus look good, but his verbal descriptions, when he paints pictures with words, well, this is a huge part of the night.

Crush Beverage Manager Nick pouring wines

Crush Beverage Manager Nick pouring wines

It is always great to see Nick, and together with the rest of the Crush team, gave guests a perfect service experience.


Polpette al Vino Bianco

Polpette al Vino Bianco

Veal, parmesan reggiano, brown butter parsnip puree, caramelized onion jus, chive stick. Sound good? It was better. These veal meat balls, this sauce, paired with the 2012 Cesar Toxqui Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, were beyond mere deliciousness. If God is missing his balls, these might be them. They are Heavenly.

Clams Casino

Clams Casino

Shiitake mushrooms, diced, then combined with pancetta, green bell pepper, shallot, house made bread crumbs, asiago, compound butter, and smoked chanterelle mushrooms. Again, paired beautifully with the 2012 CTC RRV Pinot Noir.

A full table of happy dinner guests

A full table of happy dinner guests

Sure, these folks could have eaten food off a pizza truck, outside, in the rain, but why would anyone do that? Chef Jesse Elhardt of Crush and Cesar and Ruth Toxqui of Cesar Toxqui Cellars were the evening’s perfect team, offering up taste sensation after taste sensation to a very appreciative group of dinner patrons.

Broccolini Salad

Broccolini Salad

Broccolini, shaved crimini mushrooms, red onion, fried bread, fresh burrata, pickled mushroom relish, sherry vinaigrette, olive oil, and micro intensity. You know the dinner is great when the vegetable dishes are great. This reminded me of a great broccoli rabe, a perfect vegetable dish to pair against veal, with wine.

 Cesar Toxqui Pinot Noir almost gone, Second course Cesar Toxqui Zinfandel just poured

Cesar Toxqui Pinot Noir almost gone, Second course Cesar Toxqui Zinfandel just poured

Cesar talked about his winemaking, saying, “we’re very small, handmade wines, I’m a hands on winemaker,” and explained that with his wines he, “tries to highlight the year, the varietal, and appelation,” using, “biodynamic, organic, and conventional,” winemaking choices, in that order.

The night's main wines paired perfectly with the rich and flavorful mushroom dishes

The night’s main wines paired perfectly with the rich and flavorful mushroom dishes

2012 Cesar Toxqui Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and 2012 Cesar Toxqui Cellars Split Rock Zinfandel (certified organic).

Brussels & Cauliflower Gratin

Brussels & Cauliflower Gratin

Brussel sprouts and cauliflower gratin with housemade bread crumbs, toasted pine nut, and gruyere,

Yukon Potato Puree

Yukon Potato Puree

Yukon potatoes and roasted mushrooms.

Drawing to a winning pair

Drawing to a winning pair

2012 CTC Split Rock Zin and Jesse’s Ragu of Mushrooms

Ragu of Mushrooms

Ragu of Mushrooms

I have written before that Jesse’s 8 hour ragu tastes like 48 hours, with rich deep intense flavors. I’ve enjoyed lamb ragu, beef ragu, and bison ragu from Jesse, but this vegetarian dish, this mushroom ragu is at least as good, if not better than any previous offering. Served with one of the best pastas ever made, a handmade orecchiette pasta, ricotta, basil pesto, and parmesan regianno, this was a show off dish. Cesar’s Zin was also rich, deep, and dark, almost more like a Cabernet Sauvignon, and paired beautifully with the mushroom ragu.

Grilled Certified Angus Beef Skirt Steak

Grilled Certified Angus Beef Skirt Steak

My iPad camera makes this meaty look rare red, but it was perfectly medium rare, and served with a red wine and crimini demi glace, and little crumbles of soft gorgonzola. Another dish created to pair perfectly with Cesar Toxqui’s Split Rock Zinfandel.

My Second Course Plate. I exercised portion control, not my strong suit, especially with food this delicious.

My Second Course Plate. I exercised portion control, not my strong suit, especially with food this delicious.

I am on a diet, I’ve lost 35 pounds, with many to go. At past dinners, you would not see my plate for all the food piled on it. The quality, brilliantly defined flavors, of the night’s dishes made portion control acceptable…if not desirable. I did have three veal meatballs and a second small helping of the mushroom ragu.

Crush Wine Dinner Series devotees

Crush Wine Dinner Series devotees

My dinner mates inspected a bottle of Cesar’s Zinfandel, an organic offering full of flavor.

Dulce Paloma

Dulce Paloma

For dessert, Cesar and Ruth brought their Dulce Paloma, a port like, rich wine, fortified with a little extra goodness from Germain-Robin, the world’s best brandy maker.

Candy Cap Mousse

Candy Cap Mousse

Mushroom dessert? Yep. Candy cap mushrooms throw caramel flavors, and if no one told you, then you would never guess you are eating a mushroom dessert. This was a dual layer mousse, with candy cap, vanilla bean, blue berry, marscapone, fried quinoa, and mint.

Chef Jesse introduces his kitchen team, to a rousing ovation.

Chef Jesse introduces his kitchen team, to a rousing ovation.

At evening’s end, Chef Jesse brought his crew out from the kitchen and individually introduced each team member, and a round of applause, well earned, was given by the night’s diners.

I was asked to introduce the next Chef’s wine dinner at Crush, and tickets began selling immediately after this night’s mushroom dinner for the Wednesday, January 21, 2015 Chef’s Wine Dinner featuring Dungeness Crab dishes during the Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Food Fest with the wines coming from McFadden Farm. California’s best sparkling wine, the Wine Enthusiast magazine 90 point rated white wines, a 95 point Wine X/Just Wine Points Old Vine Zinfandel, and a three time Double Gold or better Late Harvest Riesling…with a bunch of Dungeness crab dishes created by Chef Jesse. $75, food, wine, tax, tip included, get your ticket NOW; they will sell out!

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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John On Wine – Wine Tasting 101

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, November 6, 2014; written by John Cesano

Wine tasting is daunting for some folks. If you have never gone to a winery tasting room, for a wine tasting, the uncertainty of what to expect, can be a little scary, even intimidating.

Beer is simple, you go to the corner store, grab an ice cold six-pack out of the cooler, pay for it, take it home, open a bottle, and drink it. No one is judging you. It is just beer in a bottle, and then in your belly. Food pairings are not much of a concern with beer; chips, nuts, pretzels will all do just fine.

If you watch Frasier and his brother Niles in reruns, then you might think wine is pretentious and that the little rituals might trip you up and make you look foolish. Put any such concerns out of your mind.

For the most part, wine – to me, and to many Italian Americans in northern California – is food. Wine is just one more ingredient, or dish, among many, in a larger meal, and wine should complement your food and make it taste better.

One of my favorite things about a Chef’s Wine Dinner at a good restaurant, like Crush or Patrona here in Ukiah, is that perhaps six wines will be poured and perhaps ten food dishes will be served, and you are afforded the opportunity to try sips of different wines with different foods to see what pairings work for you, a wonderfully playful experiment of trial and error, or better yet trial and delicious success, over an entire evening…well, that is a great way to be awakened to the wonder of food and wine pairings, surrounded by 70 other people having the same sensory overloading experience, oohs and ahhs, and, as the evening goes on, groans of delighted contentment, everywhere.

The next of these opportunities is next Wednesday, November 12, 2014, when Chef Jesse Elhardt and his team at Crush pair mushroom dishes with the wines of Cesar Toxqui Cellars, at what I consider the premier event of the entire 2014 Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Festival. Surprising no one, I have my ticket already. Tickets are $65 in advance, or $75 at the door, and include food, wine, tax & tip.

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Cesar Toxqui will have his Cesar Toxqui Cellars wines featured at the Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah on Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Similarly, the premier event of the 2015 Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Festival will be the McFadden Farm Winemaker Dinner at Crush on Wednesday, January 21, 2015. This dinner will be a crabapalooza, and as crab costs more than mushrooms, tickets are $75 in advance, and also includes food, wine, tax & tip. There will be no tickets at the door, as this event will sell out.

Contact Crush by calling (707) 463-0700 to make reservations for either of these two great opportunities to play with food and wine!

Visits to winery tasting rooms should be as much fun, or certainly more fun than they too often are, I’ll admit. If you are a novice, and want to feel comfortable, come and visit me at the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland. I’m in most every Tuesday through Friday from 10-5 each day, and my incredible team handles most of the other days. We’re the top rated tasting room in California by the San Francisco Chronicle, because we want you to enjoy yourself, because we give you an experience, and because we treat you with respect.

First things first, wine tasting should be complimentary. This isn’t liquid gold and rubies, it is fermented grape juice, and I am thrilled to do away with the pretension of Napa County for visitors to our humble tasting room. If you value your juice too greatly to pour a taste of it, or don’t know how to add the cost of samples to your cost of goods when setting prices, then Napa County is one county south, then another east. That said, while wine tasting is complimentary, tossing a bill or two in the jar is never frowned upon.

Next thing, and perhaps the most important thing to know: the dump bucket is your friend. I like to pour through all available wines, usually about a dozen, give or take, and if you try to drink a dozen pours then you will be drunk. I pour an ounce of wine in a nice big glass, and if you swirl the wine then you can break free some of the aroma molecules, and put your nose into the glass, and slowly sniff in all the smells. Then take a little sip, and see what flavors the wine has. The wine flavor will taper away, sometimes slowly, sometimes abruptly, and more flavor notes may be found here on the finish. Finally, dump the remaining wine from the glass into the bucket.

I let people experience the wine before I share the notes that the wines present to me. I also tell a little story about each wine, and put our wines in context by describing our farm, our growing choices, the winemaking styles, and much more. A visit with me can often last an hour, and involve a dozen wines, but a mere sip of each wine means less than an ounce consumed and critical judgment is still intact, so wine buying or wine club joining decisions are about the wine and not the result of alcohol making your decisions for you.

Here’s another thing that is important to own: you are the boss of you, you are the ultimate judge of what you like and do not like. I pour Gold medal, Double Gold medal, Best of Class and Best of Show wines. I have wines that professional judges unanimously voted Gold, in competition after competition after competition. I pour great wines, AND YOU ARE FREE TO NOT LIKE THEM. Not everyone likes everything, and with 12 wines to pour, there is a great chance you’ll find one or two, or all 12, to like or not like.

As I pour, I do mention foods that each of the wines I pour pair well with, often sharing recipes, because a wine at first taste that was just good can be the best wine you’ve ever tasted when it accompanies   the right dish.

After running through all of my wines, with the nosing, sipping, and dumping, I always ask visitors if they would like to revisit any wines, because sometimes one sip just isn’t enough. I also like to recommend other wineries to visit based on what my visitors liked most, and perhaps a local place to eat between wine tasting visits.

I write about wine because I do not want anyone to be intimidated by it. I pour wine in much the same way. Nicely enough, there are many other incredibly friendly and fun folks pouring wine throughout Mendocino County, and every one of us would love to pour wine for you. We’re gentle with first-timers; if you haven’t been wine tasting yet, give it a try.