Notes Regarding a Cheese Exchange, A Wine Tasting and Hand Sanitizer: You’ll Get It

Writing from the edge of the Russian River in Sonoma County

A Cheesy Exchange 

It took some time searching for local grocery and wine sources after our move, places where I could buy for wholesale or at least somewhat less than standard grocery prices.

We knew the Bottle Barn from previous visits for its huge selection and great prices on wine and liquor as well as Safeway grocery, part of the Albertson’s chain that also owns Jewel, Kroger etc. They are high end – Safeway is where I would normally be pouring wine about now.

My real find though was Smart & Final, a 255 store chain throughout California that pretty much stays to everyday basics and as a result you won’t find 14 kinds of pasta, no beauty department and no drugstore – much more blue-collar and the prices reflect it.

I am usually wary of private label products even in full-service stores but in the case of Smart & Final their cheese selection is quite good and very inexpensive compared to the other stores, I stock our refrigerator with their prepackaged, sliced deli cheeses, Swiss, Provolone and American; saving several dollars a pound. I even found their grated Parmesan to be pretty surprisingly tasty

So I’m pleasantly surprised when I try a piece of their  private label Swiss cheese and since inquiring minds want to know I reached out to their customer service address asking whether their sliced products and piece products come from the same source.

What to my surprise I get a response a few days later. Following is an edited exchange between yours truly and Collette Parker, Product Manager, Private Label for Smart &Final:

All the Swiss is the same; chunks and slices, the cheddar chunk and the 8oz slices are the same, the 1.5# slices are different but from the same area in the Midwest (remember this part). After Labor Day the Swiss will remain the same but all of the sliced cheddars will come from a different supplier than the chunks yet from the same region.

(WW):  Thank you for your response and since they are coming from ” the same area of the Midwest” might I guess that to be a state that begins with a W just north of Illinois, where they do make some pretty good cheese.

As part of our exchange I mentioned a less than positive response to their private label fresh mozzarella and mentioned that I had been associated with the Caputo Cheese Company in Melrose Park just west of Chicago and offered to make an introduction.

Hi Woody, Ha ha, yes you know the area (WIS.) I’m speaking of.  And regards the fresh mozz- I agree with you.  We are changing suppliers and the new product will be on the shelf just after Labor Day.  Please do put me in touch with Mr. Caputo.  I am always interested to see what else is out there.

So while Ms. Parker was obviously cordial in our exchange no one has yet to respond to the Caputo cheese folks as you read this article. Of course, I will keep you apprised as the situation develops.


Lots of Winners But No Tasting 

The 8th annual North Coast Wine Challenge sponsored by the Press Democrat newspaper in Santa Rosa was held earlier in July at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. 1,089 entries from wineries in Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, Marin and parts of Solano counties were competing for titles including “Best of The Best.” The wines were sampled by 24 judges, a smaller group than previous years necessitated by social distancing and all of Sonoma County’s health order guidelines.

The Sangiacomo 2018 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast from the Sangiacomo Family Wines won The Best of the Best, Best of Show White and Best of Sonoma County award scoring 99 out of a possible 100 points and priced at $55 on the winery’s website  but Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa does have it with a $10 discount. I’m told that only 280 cases were made and there is no national distribution so you won’t find this wine outside of the Sonoma/Napa area. 

Unfortunately the huge tasting event held annually as part of the judging will not happen (one of many we’re missing) so without any tasting notes I’ll simply offer some lists of winning wines and judges suggestions.

I also confirmed just prior to deadline that the sparkling wine producer Gloria Ferrer, who is usually a top of the heap winner, did not enter this year’s judging due to “marketing budget cuts as a result of the COVID19”. They were sold earlier this year and I’m wondering if that’s more of a corporate decision. It sure gave Chandon a clear path to several gold metals.      

Top Value Wines from the North Coast Wine Challenge

* Wines to note

*Ferrari-Carano 2019 Pinot Grigio: Russian River Valley, 95 points. ($16)

Husch 2019 Chenin Blanc: Mendocino, 95 points. ($16)

*Simi 2019 Sauvignon Blanc: Sonoma County, 97 points. ($13.99)

*Karah Estate 2018 Pinot Noir: Sonoma Coast, 97 points. ($20) – We are wine club members

Jaxon Keys 2018 Syrah: Ana Mac, Mendocino, 97 points ($24)

Trig Point 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon: Alexander Valley, 97 points. ($24)

*Carol Shelton 2017 “Wild Thing” Zinfandel: Mendocino, 94 points. ($19)

Pedroncelli 2016 Wisdom Cabernet Sauvignon: Dry Creek Valley, 96 points (also wine club members)

SIMI 2016 Landslide Cabernet Sauvignon: Alexander Valley, 95 points

Dry Creek Vineyard 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon: Dry Creek Valley, 91 points

Rodney Strong Vineyards 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon: Sonoma County, 91 points

Rodney Strong Vineyards 2017 Estate Vineyard Chardonnay: Chalk Hill, 98 points Russian River Valley,

SIMI 2018 Chardonnay: Sonoma County, 95 points

*** Sauvignon Blanc: Dry Creek Vineyard 2019 Sauvignon Blanc: Dry Creek Valley, 98 points. $20 list but you’ll find it at $15 or less.  

A little blending and a touch of some oak make this a seamless wine from start to finish; this is an elegant and refined Sauvignon Blanc and was the runner up to the Best of the Best Sangiacomo 2018 Chardonnay

*SIMI 2019 Sauvignon Blanc: Sonoma County, 97 points

*Ferrari-Carano 2019 Fumé Blanc, North Coast, 92 points

*Domaine Chandon California NV Reserve Pinot Noir Rosé: Sonoma/Napa Counties, 98 points

*Domaine Chandon California 2014 Brut: Yountville, 93 points

News and Notes from the Judges

Judge Bill Hayes, longtime wine buyer and manager for BevMo! said the biggest consumer trend right now is high-acidity wines that are food-friendly and lend themselves to pairings. “Sauvignon blanc is really taking off, along with rosés,” he said. “People are getting into spicy and savory food, and the Sauvignon Blanc is easy to sell because of the price point, value and food-friendly aspects.”

Judge Mick Schroeter, director of winemaking for Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards said, “Consumers are looking for high-quality wines at a good value and a lot of Sonoma County wines sit in the $15-to-$40 price point, and that’s where there’s been tremendous growth.”

As for this year’s harvest, Schroeter said the crop is looking to be average to below average, which is good news for quality. “We still have another six weeks, but so far the weather has been ideal,” he said. “There’s fog in the morning, and it’s not too hot in the afternoon, so it looks to be another classic vintage in Sonoma County.


Between the coronavirus and the Trump tariffs, the French wine market has collapsed. So winemakers are — sadly — sending their excess product off to another life as hand sanitizer.   

The tanker truck pulled up, and it was time to let it go. The decision to send the wine to the distillery had been made weeks ago. And so some of the succulent and subtle white wine for which this region is famous, nurtured on the stony, sunbathed Alsace slopes, will be boiled down for its alcohol and will wind up as – hand sanitizer. In Alsace alone, over 6 million liters of wine, or about 1.5 million gallons, will end up like this.

The economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus, combined with the Trump administration’s 25% tax on French wines in the trade war dispute with Europe, and has collapsed the wine market.

“COVID is a catastrophe for us, as export is blocked. There’s very little going on outside France. The American market is blocked.”

Like other winemakers there is no room in his cellar to stock unsold wine. “We can’t keep stocking what we haven’t sold and the wine vats must be emptied for the new production”.

“This is not exactly the destination we had in mind when we made this wine,”



You Need To Get Out More

McDonald’s Corp. reported a 68% drop in net income for the second quarter ended June 30, the first quarter to show the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Guest counts remained negative, particularly at breakfast. The chain has been losing ground in the morning since before the pandemic. The all-day breakfast menu is still on hold.

In what Dunkin’ Brands CEO Dave Hoffmann called “a good scrubbing of the portfolio,” the parent company of Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins said they would close up to 800 underperforming Dunkin’ locations in the United States and up to 350 locations abroad.        

Nation’s Restaurant News

That’s my Whine and – I could be wrong…

My take on a recipe and production notes for Shrimp Burgers with an Asian flare can be found elsewhere on the site, enjoy! 

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