North Coast Wine Challenge Returns to Great Success, What’s Better Over in Lodi – East or West? Matching Cheese Gifts with Red Wine, Gallo Goes Off Right Tackle and More!

Writing from the edge of the Russian River in Sonoma County

It was good to be out and about again tasting the “Best of the Best” in Santa Rosa as well as visiting another of our favorite places over in Lodi. I admit to taking my eye off the cheese when it comes to aged Cheddar, NFL football will be brought to you by the Gallo folks and two really good recipes in the edition of the Whine, enjoy!

Big Success for North Coast Wine Challenge

The Press Democrat’s North Coast wine challenge is a prestigious, regional competition that only rates wines produced and bottled in six of Northern California’s premier winegrowing regions to determine which wines are considered the “Best of the Best”.

The best wines fortunately draw the best professional wine judges who actually vie for a spot to judge the competition.  These are not just some thirsty wine drinker like me – rather they are experienced retailers, winemakers, distributors, restaurateurs, wine industry professionals, wine writers and broadcasters.

Brandelle McIntosh is the Events and Local Partnership Director for Sonoma Media Investments, owner of the event host, the Press Democrat newspaper.

And as you might imagine she was quite upbeat when I talked with her as the event was winding down. “We’re back after two years and getting bigger so the new location at Luther Burbank Center allows us to spread out but also provides us with plenty of shade,” she offered.

McIntosh explained that the wine challenge is held in April and only the gold or double gold medal winners of the challenge are invited to pour. 90 wineries poured 200 wines throughout the afternoon.

“Attendance was great, the VIP section sold out very well and general admission was close to a sell out with well over a thousand people in attendance”, she stated. “Everybody’s really excited to get back to these events and we had wonderful feedback about today’s food and wine tastings”.

Roth Estate’s 2019 Heritage Red took the top prize. One judge described it as “Rugged yet handsome — a male movie star with a chiseled chin.” Roth Estate Winery has built a reputation as a quality producer of Bordeaux varietals in Sonoma County. The wine is a blend of varietals from regions throughout Sonoma County, including Alexander Valley, Sonoma Coast and Chalk Hill AVAs.

Best of the Best

Best of Show Red

Best of Sonoma County

99 Points

“It’s great to be recognized by our neighbors, community, the trade and my fellow winemakers  for making such a great wine to share with everyone,” said Roth winemaker Michael Beaulac. “This was one of the very first wines that I blended for Roth. I thought the base of roughly 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec would create a richness and depth. Then layering in Petit Verdot and Merlot filled in the aromatics and added complexity. The wine is special because of that blend and because it’s so reasonably priced [less than $30]. It’s a great dollar value.”

Best of Show Sparkling: 2012 Gloria Ferrer Carneros Cuvee

What’s Better Over in Lodi – East or West?

There’s 40,000 acres of Zin in Lodi and no one knows more about those acres and the wine it produces than Randy Caparoso.
He’s a full-time wine journalist and author living in Lodi and is a featured researcher and writer for the Lodi Winegrape Commission as well as columnist for several notable wine and spirits publications and was a founding partner of the Roy’s family of restaurants.
I consulted with Randy in 2018 for my last Woody’s Whine Lodi article – “Oh Lord Stuck in Lodi Again, Yes!” I also followed his detailed monthly column delineating the east and west side vinicultural regions and creating my cause of interest and the question that we went to Lodi to answer; is there a rivalry between east and west side wineries?

“On the east side we usually have a lot deeper sandy loam soils and on the west side they also have sandy loam but they also have some clay as it’s getting close to the Delta with a lot more black dirt”, Klinker Brick Winery owner Steve Felten explains. “The west side has the Delta influence with a lot more moisture whereas the east side is a drier climate.” He points out that, “We do get all of our fruit from the east side as the drier climate gives us a little more concentration of flavors, yet some of our whites do come from the west side.”

As to an east/west rivalry; “The town of Lodi is actually the division point between east and west and yes the railroad tracks do run about parallel to it – but nobody really cares”, he smiled.

I asked Felton if he could distinguish between zinfandels from the east and west side if I poured him a glass, “I don’t know, maybe, it’s a lot of marketing you know and there’s occasionally a friendly feud now and then that’s going on… but it’s all in good fun”.

Macchia Winery doesn’t grow any of its own grapes, rather they source from growers and other wineries in the Lodi region but they do manage and have input on how the grapes are grown and harvested.

Macchia means “the spot” and in 2001 when we started it was our idea to go to the best spot to get the best fruit”, relates Tanya McMahan, who identifies to the whimsical title of, “Chief Fire Extinguisher” (you should see her mother’s title), “We were originally using grapes from Amador County(further east and in the cooler foothills) and from Lodi at about a 50-50 ratio, she explained, “but now we’ve gone to using two thirds from Lodi and one third from Amador as we like to see the difference in the flavor profiles – from the soils and the weather. For example as you get further towards the Delta (the west side) you get that cooler Delta breeze and as you move further away (east) from it that will change the flavor profile in the fruit,” McMahan shared. She offered, without being asked, the perfect example (temperature) as one of the major differences between the west and the east side of Lodi.

Macchia produces 18,000 cases a year, “Mischievous” Old Vine Zin is their biggest seller and available at Total Wine & More stores.

“I don’t agree with that”, quietly states Greg Burns, the owner and winemaker at Jessie’s Grove Winery when I offered that the winemakers we’ve been talking to didn’t really seem to have an issue with whether the grapes came from the east or west side. “They have remarkably quite similar high quality profiles. The Lodi appellation is one of the top regions in California”, Burns emphatically stated.

“While we are water related and soil related and we are different east versus west but the focus of quality is the same”, Burns is quick to point out, “the stigma of being east of the tracks was always meant to be in jest and in fun but there is no longer any consequential value of that anymore”.

“I think the east Lodi and west Lodi appellations is all about their ability to understand and to grow and produce wines from almost every varietal that’s out there, he states. “Who would’ve thought that Lodi could grow and score pretty well in Pinot Noir? I think Lodi since the 1990s, has learned to adapt really well”.

Lodi is really an interesting and quite friendly wine region featuring a laid back atmosphere and very good wine at really affordable prices, you should put it on your list.

I believe my research has been completed.

Cheese Gifts From Friends and What to Drink with Them

So our wonderful friends, Tony and Nancy Esposito recently visited us from Fond du Lac Wis. and were most gracious to send us a selection of aged Cheddar cheese, a two, six and 12 year old from The Widmer’s Cheese Cellars, one of my favorites.

As the photo suggests it turned into quite a tasting event with four wines and even some honey all suggested by a web site that will go unnamed as their advice turned out to be completely wrong.

So somewhat embarrassed and out some wasted cash I turned to the source, Widmer Cheese in Theresa, Wisconsin where we had visited some years ago on a cheese journey that resulted in a feature story for “Woody’s Whine”.

I spoke to a young man named Joey, who turned out to be the same Joey whom his father, Joe Widmer had cut short our interview to go see Joey’s baseball game – ain’t small town life wonderful. Anyway Joey said to basically stick with Cabernet and Merlot and so we did with great success.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Aged Cheddar

Why it works: A bigger, bolder cheese needs a wine that can lift it up, spin it around, and not get winded in the process. Aged Cheddar has a fattiness that matches up wonderfully with the mouth-drying tannins you’ll find in many Cabernets, plus, their respectively bold flavors will match, instead of one drowning out the other.

Pairing Merlot With Cheddar -The bold sharp flavors of cheddar contrast nicely with the rich and smooth characteristics of a Merlot. In this case, the Merlot will really showcase the bold flavors of the cheese, bringing out the sharpness but also the more subtle nutty flavors. As Merlot is a crowd favorite in the wine world, sharp cheddar is also a crowd favorite in the cheese world. You can’t go wrong with this match made in wine and cheese heaven!

We found the six year old Cheddar to be a nice match with the Merlot and the 12 worked well with the Cabernet. Both wines over powered the two year old that we thought would be better as a snack or melting cheese.

Cook’s note: Aged cheddar does not melt well due to its dry character and it’s best to use a cheese aged a year or less for burgers or any other melting needs and grating will help it melt better.

Gallo Kicks Off With NFL

For decades, rivals have looked with envy at Anheuser-Busch’s stranglehold over Super Bowl alcohol advertising.

With its iconic images of Clydesdale horses and happy Dalmatians, the giant brewer’s Budweiser and Bud Light brands long dominated the biggest night on Madison Avenue.

With A-B giving up its long-held exclusivity over alcohol advertising, Gallo might not be the only alcoholic beverage buying commercial time on the Big Game.
The floodgates could open on Feb. 12, 2023, with in-game commercials from rivals like Molson Coors and Heineken. Both brewers declined comment for this story.
Gallo signed a deal to become the NFL’s “Official Wine Sponsor” earlier this month.

Spokeswoman Krista Noonan told Front Office Sports the winery is considering advertising on Fox Sports’ telecast of Super Bowl LVII, given A-B’s decision to surrender the exclusivity it has held since 1989.

“We are always evaluating our media plans and potential opportunities. Given this new information, we will assess if a Super Bowl commercial fits with our overall strategy,” she stated.

Gallo, for example, could use the year’s most-watched television event to tout its Barefoot wine brand. When Gallo and the NFL announced their partnership, the winery said Barefoot would “kick off” an extensive marketing campaign running from NFL Kickoff through Super Bowl.
“Gallo is thrilled to be uniting America’s most loved winery with America’s most popular sport,” said chief marketing officer Stephanie Gallo in a statement.

If the big game does turn into the Alcohol Bowl, the beneficiary from these new beer, wine & spirits advertisers will be Fox, which is charging around $6 million for 30-second spots.

“Gallo Hardy Burgundy on two, ready – break!”

Now You Can be a Grate Full Dead Wine Head

Delicato Family Wines’ Gnarly Head has teamed up with the Grateful Dead to release two new wines, set to hit shelves late this summer. The new releases are a Lodi-appellated Zinfandel featuring a version of the Dead’s Skull and Roses artwork on the label and a California Cabernet Sauvignon featuring the band’s Steal Your Face (lightning bolt skull) logo. The Old Vine Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon both carry a suggested retail price of $12 a bottle and will be sent to distributors in July, with a planned retail launch for September.

“Would you care for some Zin for your bong?”

A Simple Wine for a Man Who Can Afford So Much More

I first met Bud Schwarzbach maybe 40 years ago when he hosted a seminar on his travels through Bordeaux at the Famous Liquor Store in Springfield Illinois. The store, part of a small chain that his family owned, is based in Chicago and the suburbs and now operates under the name of Vin Chicago.

I was reacquainted with him and his son about eight years later when we, my lovely Peggy and I, who I met at a wine tasting in that very store are in fact now married, living our first house in Chicago close to his store in Forest Park, a near western suburb of Chicago.

He has always been a wealth of knowledge and always helpful to an aspiring wine drinker. I thought you’d enjoy his thoughts on his favorite wine, I was quite surprised myself with him being able to select from a vast source.

Bud Schwarzbach:

Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2020

I have been in the wine business for over 60 years, and it surprises a lot of people that the wine I drink the most is a fourteen dollar Côtes du Rhône! Over the past decade, I think have put more bottles of the Saint Cosme on our table than any other red. It always delivers pure flavors and a just-right structure that tastes good on its own and – most importantly – makes the food taste good. I love sharing this wine with friends. It’s a great lesson that wine does not need a big price tag to be outstanding.



That’s my Whine….and I could be wrong
My recipe for Pasta Baked with Mushrooms, Marsala Wine and Two cheeses and Mamas Jiffy Corn Casserole are just clicks away, enjoy!

Woody Mosgers, cooks, caters, writes, drinks and matches wine and food in Santa Rosa Sonoma County at