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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 – Let’s not say goodbye. How about hello, instead?

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, January 7, 2016.

This column is your guide to great wine adventures in 2016, a list of festivals I have attended that I will attend again, these are all must attend events. Cut this column out of today’s newspaper, laminate it, and put it on your refrigerator with kitchen magnets. Refer to it, and buy your tickets to each incredible wine happening, and look for me at each this year. I’ll be the guy with a wineglass and a smile. Cheers!

Jan. 20 – Chef’s Wine Dinner >> Featuring Seebass Family Vineyard & Winery wines at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah. This will sell out at $75 per person. Seventy very lucky attendees will sit down for a multi-course meal paired with about a half dozen wines from Seebass. I will write a recap of this dinner, with pictures, for johnonwine.com. For tickets, contact Crush directly at (707) 463-0700.

Jan. 30 & 31 – Barrel Tasting 101 >> Buy a ticket online in advance for $20, 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, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, McNab Ridge, Milano Family Winery, Nelson Family Winery, Rivino, Saracina, Seebass Vineyards, Simaine Cellars, Sip Mendocino, Terra Savia, and Testa Ranch. For more information, visit destinationhopland.com/store

Feb. 20 & 21 – 11th annual International Alsace Varietals Festival >> There is a full day of events in the Anderson Valley, with many DRY Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Muscat aromatic white wines, starting with an educational session in the morning, the big grand tasting in the afternoon, and a winemakers’ dinner in the evening on Feb 20; and open house tasting at Anderson Valley Alsace varietal producers on Feb 21. For more information, visit avwines.com/alsace-festival.

Feb 25-27 – ZAP’s Zinfandel Experience >> Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) will celebrate their 25th annual Zinfandel Experience with three days of events in San Francisco. The weekend includes a 25 Year Tribute Party, Supper Club, Flights Seminar, Winemakers Auction & Dinner, and Grand Tasting. 2016 Zinfandel Experience is featuring more access to winemaker celebrities, more wineries, and two impressive new venues, showcasing the talents of winemakers, chefs, and artisanal food purveyors. I grew up with Zinfandel, there is a picture of my brother and I crushing Zinfandel grapes in 1972 in my office. I attended this event going back into the 90’s with family. This is a must attend event if you love Zinfandel like I do. The fun kicks off Thursday Feb 25 with a 25 Year Tribute Party with over 60 producers, followed by a Heritage Supper Club dinner, at the Banking Hall at the Bently Reserve. Flights is a seated panel tasting at the the Bently Reserve on Feb 26, moderated by one of my idols, Joel Peterson, and will look whether there are California wines that should be consider Great Growths, similar to Bordeaux’s 1855 Grand Cru classification; later that evening at the hotel is the Winemaker’s Reception, Dinner & Auction. Finally, the Grand Tasting with over 100 Zinfandels at the James R. Herman Cruise Terminal at Pier 27 on Feb 27. I have attended previous ZAP events, and if you love Zinfandel, then this is a must event to attend. For more information, visit zinfandelexperience.com

Apr. 23 & 24 – Passport to Dry Creek Valley >> I LOVE this event, and have attended each of the last three years; tickets sell out and Tickets are sold first-come-first-serve starting Monday, February 1st, 2016 at 10 am, so grab your tickets early. For this one weekend each year, since 1990, Passport guests are welcomed into 45+ wineries throughout Dry Creek Valley, each offering a unique pairing of premium wine, gourmet food and entertainment, and these offerings are amazing with each winery location competing with the other to impress you, and impressed you will be! There is also Prelude to Passport on Apr. 22, with vineyard lunches and winemaker dinners. For more information, visit drycreekvalley.org/events/passport-to-dry-creek-valley/

Apr. 30 & May 1 – Hopland Passport >> I have worked every Hopland Passport going back to Spring 2011 at McFadden, and this will be my first chance top attend one in over 6 years, and I am looking forward to it! Hopland area winery tasting rooms, about 15 in all, pour their wines, offer food pairing tastes, with tours, music, and more. For more information, visit destinationhopland.com/hopland-passport

May 20-22 – 19th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival >> This festival is a three day event including a Technical Conference & social BBQ in the vineyards on Friday, Grand Tasting on Saturday with 50+ wineries participating, many elegant winemaker dinners on Saturday evening, and open houses at all area wineries on Sunday. For more information, visit avwines.com/19th-annual-anderson-valley-pinot-noir-festival/

Jun. 17-19 – A Taste of Redwood Valley >> This traditional Father’s Day weekend tasting event kicks off with a Winemakers’ Dinner event Friday night, and tasting at eight local winery and distillery locations throughout Redwood Valley over the weekend. For more information, visit atasteofredwoodvalley.com/events.html

Jun. 18 – Pinot Days SF >> I have been offered tickets each of the last four years, and invariably a last minute conflict prevented me from attending. I will rectify that this year, and look forward to choosing tastes of Pinot Noir wines from over 100 producers. Held at City View at the Metreon, many of Anderson Valley’s best wines will be showcased. For more information, visit pinotdays.com

Jul. 9 – Annual Party at McFadden Farm >> Here’s another event I’ve worked that I’ll simply attend and enjoy this year. Guinness McFadden opens his 550 acre farm at the north end of Potter Valley to 220 paid guests, $85 or McFadden Wine Club $70, for an amazing party, with overnight camping, swimming, farm tours, roast whole pig and lamb, tons of farm fresh vegetable dishes and salads, live music, dancing, and more wine than should ever be poured if overnight camping was not available. This event sells out! Get your ticket by calling the tasting room at (707) 744-8463. For more information, visit macfaddenfarm.com

Jul. 23 & 24 – Anderson Valley & Yorkville Highlands Barrel Tasting Weekend >> I would love to rename this event BT128, but branding is important, and the two growing regions probably like the named recognition. For two days, from 11-4, Anderson Valley wineries and their neighbors in Yorkville Highlands invite you to enjoy unprecedented access to winery cellars, taste yet-to-be-released wines, and purchase futures of your favorites at a special barrel tasting weekend price! For more information, visit avwines.com

Aug. 4 & 5 – Mendocino County Wine Competition >> This is the nation’s oldest continuously held wine competition, and I love attending the awards dinner, where all of the winners are announced, and I can see my friends from throughout the county and celebrate their well deserved recognition. The award dinner is open to the public, and a great way to show your support for the county’s winemakers and grape growers, as well as taste some delicious medal winning wines. For more information, visit mendowine.com

Sep. 10 – Winesong Charity Auction & Tasting >> Tickets go on sale Apr. 1. Stroll through the lush Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens while enjoying vintages poured by about 100 world-class wineries from Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa, and beyond, and food from 50 of Mendocino County’s finest food purveyors, and enjoy various music groups as they play; then head to the Auction Tents with lively bidding for over 200 lots. This is a benefit for the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation. The day before, on Sep. 9, there is the Pinot Noir Celebration presented by Winesong and Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association hosted by Little River Inn. For more information, visit winesong.org

There are other events that I will attend, numerous winemaker dinners at Crush in Ukiah and throughout the Anderson Valley throughout the year, the September blending party at Testa Vineyards & Winery in Calpella, October’s Fall Hopland Passport and the World Championship Abalone Cook-off in Fort Bragg, and November’s A Taste of Redwood Valley bring your own glass tasting and sale weekend.

This is it, my last weekly wine column written to deadline. Sure, I’ll still write for johnonwine.com; and I’ll surely send recaps of each of these events, and whatever else demands to be written, to the Ukiah daily Journal, so you might still see me occasionally in the newspaper; but this is it, the final official piece for now. Instead of a goodbye, this list of events allows you to find me easily – I’ll be at them all, so come up, introduce yourself, and say hello. Cheers!

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John on Wine – A Taste of Redwood Valley…and bourbon…and mushrooms!

This piece ran originally as a wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, October 19, 2015

This weekend, on Saturday, November 21 and Sunday, November 22, the wineries and distilleries of A Taste of Redwood Valley will host their 13th annual Holiday Wine Sale & Artisan Faire.

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A simple, bring your own tasting glass complimentary wine and spirits tasting event, you’ll find live music, great discounts, arts & crafts, and holiday cookies, light fare, and more as you go from location to location throughout Redwood Valley.

Participating both days, visit Barra of Mendocino/Girasole Vineyards, Brown Family Wines, Frey Vineyards, Giuseppe Wines/Neese Vineyards, Silversmith Vineyards, and Testa Vineyards on either Saturday or Sunday.

Participating on Saturday only, visit American Craft Whiskey Distillery, Germain-Robin Distillery, and Graziano Family of Wines on Saturday or miss out.

Again, this is a free event, just grab your tasting glass and visit Redwood Valley for a great time, and stock up on wines for Thanksgiving dinner and beyond, at a great savings.
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Bourbon

The Nation’s Best Bourbon might not be made anywhere near Bourbon County, Kentucky

Recently, I tasted Crispin Cain and Tamar Kaye’s new straight bourbon, and it was stunning. What a wonderful alternative to mass produced crap. Clean, pure, candied sipping heaven. I also got enough quotes for a stand-alone column around that one taste, so look for that in the future. In the meantime, remember American Craft Whiskey Distillery Low Gap Bourbon; find it, buy it. If visiting American Craft Whiskey and Germaine-Robin Distilleries on Saturday, November 21 during the 13th annual Holiday Wine Sale & Artisan Faire, bring a glass for complimentary tasting, and a credit card for a one day sale!

If you miss Saturday’s tasting and sale, you can still make an appointment to taste and purchase at the distillery’s retail location, by calling (800) 782-8145 to set a time and get directions.
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After my bourbon tasting, I attended the Barra Vineyards winemaker’s dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, as a guest of Charlie and Martha Barra. Thank you!

The five course mushroom themed dinner was held in association with Visit Mendocino’s Mushroom and Wine Festival.

The Crush Chef’s Wine Dinner series recaps are among the most commented upon, a favorite among those who read my column, and this is not one of those dinners. Instead of being Crush’s event, featuring a winery, this was Barra’s event, held at Crush, and a brilliant choice as Crush has amply demonstrated an ability to prepare and serve a meal to highlight a winery’s wines.

Crush manager Kevin Kostoff welcomed the fortunate guests to Barra’s winemaker’s dinner, introduced his brilliantly able staff. Owners Doug and Debbie Guillon were introduced, and Doug explained that the wine dinners at Crush are served ‘family style’ with wine, food, and conversation passing freely. Charlie and Martha Barra were introduced, and Martha told the guests, “we are just very pleased that Charlie, at almost 89, is here with us, and we want to commemorate his 70th year in the vineyard tonight.” Winemaker Owen Smith introduced the six wines served, and Chefs Steve and Jason introduced the food dishes, almost too numerous to count.

The reception meet and greet appetizer course paired the 2014 BARRA of Mendocino Pinot Noir Rosé with a Mushroom Pâté.

One of four tables filled with happy Barra Winemaker's Dinner guests

One of four tables filled with happy Barra Winemaker’s Dinner guests

The seated first course paired two wines, the 2010 BARRA of Mendocino Pinot Grigio and 2014 BARRA of Mendocino Chardonnay with Dungeness Crab Lettuce Cup – Thai influenced flavors complemented by pickled shiitake mushrooms; Wild Mushroom Bisque – with thyme, roasted garlic, Parmesan; Porcini Mushroom Arancini – with tomato reduction sauce and fresh basil; and Kobe Beef Mushroom Tartare – accompanied by crispy shallots, toasted popover boats and Dijon drizzle.

2013 Barra of Mendocino Pinot Noir

2013 Barra of Mendocino Pinot Noir

The second course had two more wines, the 2013 BARRA of Mendocino Pinot Noir and 2011 BARRA of Mendocino Petite Sirah, for Braised Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie – made with onion reduction, chive, potato purée; Slow Roast Veal Shoulder – served with a mushroom Marsala reduction; Heirloom Polenta – mascarpone, fontina, rosemary; and Haricots Verts – with cippolini onions, portobello, and sea salt.

Noted wine writer, Heidi Cusick Dickerson, shared, “What a dinner… Crush chef and crew get a high five and more for amazing flavors and combinations. Not fussy and so mushroomy… exquisite combinations. Well done and I am so happy to have been there to taste Barra of Mendocino wines with such thoughtful creative dishes. I thought the mushroom bisque with the Pinot Grigio would be my favorite and then there was the Pinot Noir and Arancini and then melt in your mouth veal with mushroom sauce, polenta and the Petite Sirah… Heavenly… Thanks to all.”

I’m a sucker for Arancini, stuffed risotto balls, and loved the wild mushroom bisque and the Kobe beef and mushroom tartare when put in the popover boats, but my favorite dish was created at the table by putting some of the rich mushroomy sauce from the slow roasted veal on top of the wonderfully creamy polenta made with chicken stock, cream, truffle oil, and butter.

As for the wine and food flavor combinations, I especially liked how the depth and flavors of the 2014 Barra Chardonnay paired with the richness of the mushroom bisque, and how the richness of the 2011 Barra Petite Sirah went with the rustic and richly flavored shepherd’s pie, but unsurprisingly, to me, it was the 2013 Barra Pinot Noir that paired most beautifully with the broadest array of mushroom based dishes, and especially well with the veal sauced polenta.

The dessert paired the 2014 Girasole Vineyards Muscat Canelli with Truffled Honey Panna Cotta – orange cookie, pear, vanilla bean; this was another wonderful pairing.

Martha and Charlie Barra

Martha and Charlie Barra

At dinner’s end, Martha presented Doug and Debbie with a wood boxed assortment of Barra’s finest wines, in recognition of the incredible job, above and beyond all expectation, done by the Crush crew, both front of house and in the kitchen. I must confess that I was very well stuffed after this incredible dinner.

Barra of Mendocino will be open both days of Redwood Valley’s 13th annual Holiday Wine Sale & Artisan Faire, so visit either day this weekend for complimentary wine tasting and fantastic sale prices.
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CRUSH

The next Winemaker’s Dinner at Crush will be held Wednesday, January 20, 2016, and feature the wines of Seebass Family Winery. Contact Crush directly at (707) 463-0700 to get on “the list” as these dinners sell out early.

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This Saturday, November 7, 2015, I’m attending the BARRA of Mendocino Wines winemaker’s dinner at Ukiah Crush, a five course mushroom themed dinner held in association with Visit Mendocino County‘s Mushroom and Wine Festival. Limited seating is available at $75 per person, contact Barra at (707) 485-0322 for tickets. Call now.

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Of all the newspaper wine columns I write, the Crush Chef’s Wine Dinner series recaps are among the most commented upon, a favorite among those who read my column, and this dinner is sure to be another stellar experience. Again, call Barra at (707) 485-0322 now and grab your tickets, and tell ’em John sent you.

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Charlie Barra at 2014’s Barra Winemaker Dinner featuring Barra wines and mushroom dishes.

Barra of Mendocino and Crush Italian Steakhouse are proud to present their five course mushroom themed dinner on Saturday November 7th at 6pm. This Winemaker Dinner is in association with Visit Mendocino’s Mushroom and Wine Festival. This event will include exclusive Barra wine paired with unique dishes prepared by the culinary staff of Crush Italian Steakhouse. As in the past these events were sold out long in advance so we encourage you to contact Barra at (707) 485-0322 for tickets. Limited seating is available at $75 per person.

I have visited Barra of Mendocino often and they appear in my weekly newspaper wine column with some frequency, and I have attended every Chef’s Wine Dinner held at Crush Italian Steakhouse and the recaps of those dinners have been among the most favorably commented on pieces that appear in the newspaper. This dinner combines two of my favorite things, and will absolutely sell out early, so call now – not later – to try to secure your tickets. I will be happily attending and there is a decent chance that I will be sitting next to Chef Jesse Elhardt, the chef behind each of Crush’s successful Chef’s Wine Dinners.

Even though not strictly a Chef’s Winemaker Dinner, but Barra’s own dinner at Crush, look for a future recap in the Ukiah Daily Journal.

John on Wine – The Last Supper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winemaker Greg Graziano (photograph by Tom Liden)

Winemaker Greg Graziano (photograph by Tom Liden)

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

Insalata Mista - mixed salad (Photograph by Tom Liden)

Insalata Mista – mixed salad (photograph by Tom Liden)

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

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

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

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

John Cesano and Trudi Graziano (Photograph by Tom Liden)

John Cesano and Trudi Graziano (photograph by Tom Liden)

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

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

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

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

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

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John On Wine – Coro, Crush, Coro and Crush

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, April 2, 2015

Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, Coro Mendocino, Crush, Coro, sometimes it seems that I am writing my column about one or the other with a frequency that squeezes other worthy subjects out. There are other great restaurants in Ukiah; Patrona, Ritual, and Oco Time come immediately to mind; but Crush is uniquely suited to host spectacular chef’s wine dinners, with their private dining room and top notch kitchen and front of house team. Anderson Valley is well known as a place where premium Pinot Noir and Alsatian variety white wines are born; inland Mendocino grows some terrific Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux varieties; but Coro Mendocino is the county’s flagship wine, and the cooperative element to the program has me writing about these Zinfandel-centric blends made by different great winemakers with deserved prevalence.

Guinness McFadden makes a Coro wine and, fortunately for me, he was overwhelmed with meetings and sent me to sit with the Coro winemakers to taste barrel samples of the 2013 Coro wines being produced by Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Golden, Graziano, Parducci, Testa, and, of course, McFadden, on March 18.

I tasted through the wines in January, for the second of four blind tastings, with the winemakers, each giving notes of unvarnished constructive criticism on each wine, so adjustments could be made. I tasted them again yesterday, for the third group Coro winemaker blind tasting, and the tweaks made in the intervening two months had every one of the wines positively singing. As an example, Guinness reduced the blend of his wine from 70% Zinfandel to 67%, and increased the Syrah in his blend from 20% to 23%, with the remaining 10% unchanged and given over to Petite Sirah. That small change improved the wine remarkably, providing balance and integration.

Doubly fortunate, I was also able to blind taste the finished, bottled, but not yet released, 2012 vintage Coro wines, to help judge their weight, in advance of the multi course 2012 vintage Coro Release Party at dogpatch WineWorks in San Francisco on June 19 (tickets would make a perfect Father’s Day Gift). Again, the wines of Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Golden, McFadden, Parducci, Ray’s Station, and Testa all tasted wonderful, each their own unique wine, and vintage different from the just tasted 2013 Coro wines.

Triply fortunate, that same evening, I attended a Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, featuring incredible dishes prepared by Chef Jesse Elhardt and his team, and the lineup of 2011 vintage Coro wines.

Rusty Martinson of Testa, Owen Smith of Barra, Hoss Milone of Brutocao, and Dennis Patton of Golden. (photo by John Cesano)

Rusty Martinson of Testa, Owen Smith of Barra, Hoss Milone of Brutocao, and Dennis Patton of Golden. (photo by John Cesano)

The evening started off with passed Gazpacho Shooters of San Marzano (the best) tomato, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and Malden salt; which were the best gazpacho I have ever tasted, and paired perfectly with the McFadden Sparkling Cuvee Brut.

After the ‘meet & greet’ appetizers, the lucky 70 attendees at the sold out dinner moved into the private dining room and took seats. Four Coro wineglasses, appetizer, and main course plates were in place, and the first course wines were poured, all 2011 vintage Coro wines, from McFadden, Parducci, Clos du Bois, and Testa. These four ‘lighter’ 2011 Coro wines were substantial, as was the food from the kitchen: Crush Antipasto with four assorted cured meats, four assorted cheeses, cornichons, olives, peppers, crostini, olive oil, and course mustard; Spicy Lamb Balls with Calabrian chili from Italy, romesco with toasted almonds and hazelnuts, feta, mint, and micro basil; and Seared Day Boat Scallops with a rosemary fig jam, bacon couscous, and a baby kale salad topped with white Champagne vinaigrette.

I Love the lamb meatballs, they were incredibly flavorful, and paired beautifully with sips of each of the four Coro wines from the flight. One of the cheeses, a Parmigiano-Reggiano, also was a particular delight when paired with the wines. The scallops, fresh from San Francisco the day before, was a spectacular dish, but honestly would have paired better with the lighter ‘meet & greet’ wines served earlier, as the Coro wines overpowered the delicious but delicate flavors of the dish for me, but easily resolved as I just ate the scallop without the wine, and loved them.

Gracia Brown of Visit Mendocino, Inc. (photo by John Cesano)

Gracia Brown of Visit Mendocino, Inc. (photo by John Cesano)

First plate cleared, wines dumped, new wines were poured, the 2011 Coro wines from Brutocao, Barra, Fetzer, and Golden, and the second food course to impress was brought out; Roasted Whole Filet Tenderloin with spiced crust, roasted mushrooms, a board sauce, and red wine demi-glace; One Hundred Layer Lasagna of fresh pasta, ten hour ragu, béchamel, tomato, reggiano, and fresh herb; Roasted Zucchini Ribbons with garlic chip, basil pesto, cherry tomato confit, and olive oil; and Potato au Dauphinoise with herb infused cream and cheddar bread crumb.

Sips of each of the five wines, I held onto some McFadden Coro, with bites of each food creation, were spectacular. The tender tenderloin of certified Angus beef, a perfect medium rare, cooked in butter, with a peppercorn medley crust was as good as meat gets; The lasagna was 100 layers of red, white, and green, representing the colors of the Italian flag, with the Bolognese ragu providing the red, béchamel bringing the white, and every third layer made from a basil infused pasta for the green; the roasted zucchini ribbons were delicious and provided a bright note for the second course; with the potatoes, made from a 1906 recipe, featuring sliced potatoes infused overnight in an herb cream, a must have seconds dish for me.

Dessert was a Flourless Valrhona Chocolate Cake served with house made toasted almond gelato, chocolate crumb, and spun sugar; and paired with a choice of McFadden Late Harvest Riesling or Brutocao, Dunnewood, or Parducci port. This might just be the best dessert I have tasted at Crush yet. I went with the Riesling, which paired perfectly, once again, with Jesse’s food.

All of the night’s wines were wonderful, and there was quite a bit of talk about how good the 2011 vintage Coro showed. Initially thought a ‘weak’ vintage, every Coro was a stellar food wine, and a testament to each winemaker’s skills and a great showing for the Coro program. Without exception, the 2011 Coro wines were delicious, lovely, and showed great finesse, balance, and flavor, each showing differently that intensity of flavor is not limited to over oaked, high alcohol, fruit jamb bombs. These were elegant wines, all.

The next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush will feature the wines of Graziano, and will be held on Wednesday, May 20; for tickets call (707) 463-0700.

The next Coro dinner will be on Friday, June 19, at dogpatch WineWorks in San Francisco, when the 2012 vintage Coro Mendocino wines are released. Tickets are $700 per couple, and include a gourmet multi course meal, paired with all eight new Coro wines, and each ticket includes the full collection of 2012 vintage Coro wines to take home. There will also be complimentary valet parking for the dinner, which in San Francisco is a huge bonus. For tickets, call Sip! Mendocino in Hopland at (707) 744-8375, and tell them you want to sit at a McFadden table if you would like to hear Guinness tell a five minute story about an Irish priest and a bike, or be less than dazzled by stupid magic tricks by me. Seriously, I have attended two of these dinners and they are the best wine dinner events you can attend, if you love red wine or Mendocino County. With Father’s Day falling on June 21 this year, tickets to this June 19 dinner really are a perfect gift for any wine loving dads.

It isn’t every day that you get to taste a lineup of an entire Coro vintage, doing so with a great dinner makes it all the better experience. Getting to taste three entire vintages in a day, 24 great wines in all, pretty much makes me the most fortunate tasting room manager and wine writer in California.