Orcio and Dealmaker

The final two wines of tasting from Jeff Cohn Cellars show the two thrusts in his approach to wines.  As stated, “single vineyard Zinfandel and Rhone-centric wines that walk a tightrope, balancing the pure expression of California fruit with the Rhone-influenced winemaking of vintner Jeff Cohn” the last two wines that I had at Fine Wine Source exemplified this concept.  A single vineyard wine and a California blend and both were Zinfandel at their soul.  I should also mention that  Jeff Cohn has a soul and he has found a way to praise his Mother, who believed in him and helped him financially to attain his dream as he has says “the Iris on the label is a constant reminder that my mother, Iris, is celebrated and recognized in every wine we make.”

The Jeff Cohn Cellars Orcio Zinfandel Cassata Vineyard 2015 shows his single vineyard passion with a wine made from Sonoma County.  The wine is seventy-five percent Zinfandel and the balance is Petite Sirah and this wine while the winemaker feels that it has a slight Rhone feel with a side trip to Italy, because this wine has been aged for ten months in Italian terra-cotta amphorae.  Here was a wine that delivered what I thought was a very subtle and interesting Zinfandel with rounded edges and some different spices that I couldn’t totally identify and I attribute it to the amphorae.  The wine had a nice long finish and there were only eighty-five cases made of this wine, so it may prove to be a bit more elusive in a search.

The last wine was the Jeff Cohn Cellars Dealmaker 2016 and here was a wine that had fruit from Sonoma and Amador Counties and beyond, just a big California Zinfandel that actually was blended with twenty percent Petite Sirah and came with a screw-cap.  This wine offered black cherries and black pepper and I wrote “good, all the way around.”  It was the most affordable wine of the group and that was its mission.  It is a dealmaker, because everybody will leave the table happy with the outcome.  I have to admit that it was just a fun and educational way to spend an afternoon.  The best thing is that none of the wines were that expensive, especially considering the passion and the craftmanship involved, and this from a guy that used to shun all Zinfandels, what I probably missed in the last fifty years.

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El Diablo and Smoke & Mirrors

The Jeff Cohn Cellars’ wines that I was tasting at Fine Wine Source were getting better and better with each tasting.  There is just something so gratifying when one is tasting wines with people that know what they are talking about.  I have been to wineries, where the tasting room staff, could not really answer some of my questions.   So, to be with a staff that can talk about the wines, is a plus.  After all the years that I have been in retail, I can tell you, that there are some people that could just as easily sell a necktie as a box of nails in a hardware store, alas most people in retail, have no passion for the product, so it is so gratifying when one finds passion.  I find passion for wine in the staff at Fine Wine Cellars and it is obvious that Jeff Cohn has passion for his wines.  His passion may even increase now that he is situated in the Sonoma region and has a tasting room to show his craft.

I have to tell you about the Jeff Cohn Cellars Grenache El Diablo Vineyard 2015.  Jeff Cohn has sourced from this vineyard since 2010.  The “Fallen Angel” Vineyard is considered the perfect site for Grenache and the vines are from the Chateauneuf-du-Pape suitcase clone and is in the Russian River Valley AVA.  The vines are planted in both parallel and perpendicular terraces to take advantage of the natural climate.  The wine was aged for sixteen months in large neutral oak barrels.  There were one-hundred-fifty-eight cases produced of the wine.   A good nose promising peppers and spices, in a medium bodied wine with more of a red cherry taste and a nice finish delivering more spice.  A very nice bottle of wine.

The Jeff Cohn Cellars Smoke & Mirrors 2015 is a red blend that carries a California AVA and has been part of his portfolio of wines going back to his JC Cellars era.  The wine is a blend of thirty-five percent Syrah, twenty-nine percent Zinfandel, fifteen percent Petite Sirah, fourteen percent Grenache and three percent Carignane.  This was a bigger wine, with a nose of dark fruit and spice, a chewy wine with several layers of texture and nuance with rounded edges and a bit of a sweet finish.  This one would be just easy to drink with friends even before the appetizers come out.

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A Zin and #Pure Yum

I am sure that a lot of the bloggers are more aware of Jeff Cohn than I am, but after a tasting of his wines at the Fine Wine Source, I have a much better appreciation of his work.  The winery is intertwined with the story of Jeff and Alexandra Cohn and their twenty-five plus years from when they were in Hospitality Management.  For some the siren call of the wine is overpowering and they are not happy until they have their own winery.  When he was a student of Enology, he was used to tasting straight varietals, but his first encounter with a Chateauneuf-du-Pape offered him an epiphany of what a wine can and should be, when it has been expertly blended by a craftsman.   While Zinfandel was a passion, he now had a passion for the Rhone and how he could craft his own wines.

The first wine that I got to taste was the Jeff Cohn Nun’s Canyon Vineyard Zinfandel 2015.  Nun’s Canyon Vineyard is planted with sixty to eighty-year-old vines, and the actual clones that were planted have been lost to history, and the read clay loam and the artistry of the vines evoke the charms of the Southern Rhone according to those that have been there.  Nun’s Canyon Vineyard is in the Moon Valley District AVA of Sonoma Valley.  It is one of the warmest areas, known for its volcanic soil and a very long growing season, it just recently was awarded its own AVA in 2013.  This wine is pure Zinfandel aged for sixteen months in two different neutral French Oak barrel sizes.   With only one-hundred-eighty-four cases of wine produced, this is hardly a bulk wine Zin.  I have definitely gotten over my old aversion to Zin, left over from my memories of home-made “Dago Red” that the old men made in the neighborhood.  Here was a wine with a big nose, lots of spice with fruit and a nice finish, just a good chewy wine to have with food or just with friends.

The second wine of the tasting was the Jeff Cohn Cellars #Pure Yum 2016.  Let us say that I was a little gun shy or reticent about trying a wine called #Pure Yum, initially it sounded like a new energy drink for millennials.  It wasn’t, is was a blend of two thirds Syrah and one third Grenache and thirty percent of the fruit was fermented in whole clusters.  The wine was aged for fourteen months in French Oak, of which thirty percent was new.  This was a fun wine that was big, but velvety with a good nose, good spice and I thought some nice residual heat, just an enjoyable drink.  With two-hundred-twenty-six cases produced, this is another labor of love that scored in the nineties, so it was not a production by the numbers.  I was already geeked for more wine from Jeff Cohn Cellars.

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Two Impostors by Jeff Cohn

I was once again alone at the Fine Wine Source and I was a day late for the special Jeff Cohn Cellars wine tasting.  Though through the wonders of the Coravin system, I may not have heard about the wines first hand from the special guest, I was still able to enjoy the wines.  I thought the opening statement from the internet site for Jeff Cohn Cellars was very eloquent and terse with the statement “single vineyard Zinfandel and Rhone-centric wines that walk a tightrope, balancing the pure expression of California fruit with the Rhone-influenced winemaking of vintner Jeff Cohn.  I was having another private tasting and the employees were joining in with me, so that they could revisit the seven different wines that they were featuring.  Jeff Cohn began as an Enologist and eventually became the vice president of winemaking and production at Rosenblum Cellars and during his stint there he brought them great accolades when their Rosenblum Rockpile Road Zinfandel was rated #3 on the 2005 Top 100 Wines by Wine Spectator.   It was also at this time that he started his JC Cellars which was one of the original urban wineries of the East Bay. In 2006 he left Rosenblum Cellars to be full invested into JC Cellars and in 2012 he changed the name from JC Cellars to Jeff Cohn Cellars and then in 2017 he moved to Sonoma.

I began tasting the wines and I am going to switch around this narrative of the tasting, because when I got to the fifth wine and I saw the name, something in the back of memory switched on, and I responded that the wine sounded like it was part of the Orin Swift line, but I knew that I had, had it in the past.  Several years back at the Earle Restaurant in Downtown Ann Arbor we had dinner with some friends, actually it was The Caller and his wife, back before he was given his special name.  We had Jeff Cohn’s JC Cellars “The Impostor” 2009.  At this time the wine had a California AVA and at the time I remarked that the wine reminded me of a Rhone wine, even though it was a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Viognier.

Now here I was having the Jeff Cohn Cellars “The Impostor” 2014 and the wine has that Deja-vu feeling that I have had it before and this time I can even relay more information about it.  This lovely red blend is a mix of fifty-four percent Zinfandel, fifteen percent Petite Sirah, eleven percent Syrah, six percent Mourvedre, five percent Alicante Bouschet, four percent Grenache, four percent Carignane and one percent Viognier.  The wine was aged for eleven months in a blend of neutral oak barrels and foudres and concrete vats.  The wine had a nice deep color with a beguiling sweetness to the nose, black cherries and a nice long finish.  This felt like a Rhone wine and not a California fruit bomb that so many of the wine authorities seem determined to have.  I enjoy a wine like this, just as I enjoyed his earlier version

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A Barbera and a Zin

It was time again for me to visit the Fine Wine Source for my monthly wine club bag of goodies.  I really think that is what is fun about having a wine club, because one never knows what to expect when one goes there, because we can all easily get into a rut on almost any subject.  When I was selling clothes, it was an easy phenomenon to see men always drift to the same color and patterns of suits consistently, because they didn’t want to put that much thought into the purchase.  Wine is the same way; most people find something they love and most try not to stray too far from that found love.  I even find myself doing that, unless I force myself to try something new, and sometimes it is to my Bride’s chagrin.

The first wine in the selection was the Tortoise Creek “The Chelonian” Zinfandel 2016 from Lodi, California.  I have been having more and more wines from Lodi in the last couple of years, and so far, I haven’t had a bad wine, so that says a lot about the pride of the winemakers.  My initial thoughts originally about Lodi was that it was almost entirely Zinfandel, so for years I kind of side-stepped the area, but I have acquired not only an appreciation for Zinfandel and for the other varietals that we have tried from there, that we would like to one day make a trip there.  Tortoise Creek Wines is part of Master Wines and hence you will see the Tortoise Creek label some from California and some from France.  Tortoise Creek has partnered with the Chelonian Research Foundation for turtle and tortoise research, and starting with the 2009 vintage they donate a portion of the proceeds to this non-profit foundation.  This wine is made abiding to the Lodi Rules that I tend to believe everyone there now agrees to, and the rules may grow in to other areas as well.  This wine is a blend of fruit from the Clements Hills region and Lodi AVA.  The wine is almost all Zinfandel with five percent Tannat and five percent Petite Sirah.  By using a gravity flow system, the fruit is destemmed, but not crushed and they use whole cluster fermentation.  The wine is then aged for six months in oak.  According to all the notes that I have read this wine will offer dark fruit and some vanilla and should work well with most meats, and I think especially barbecues.

The second bottle is Tenuta Neirano Le Croci Barbera D’Asti Superiore DOCG 2016.  The Sperone family has been making affordable wines for four generations, originally in Puglia and in 1983 they purchased seventy-five acres in the Piedmont.  The fruit for this wine came from Le Croci (The Crosses) vineyard and the wine is entirely Barbera.  The fruit is hand harvested and has three weeks of maceration and four weeks of fermentation in Stainless Steel.  The juice is then aged for one year in small oak cask and then an additional six months in the bottle before it is released.  I am sure that this wine will be a nice dark wine with dark fruit tones, a good showing of tannins and a balanced acidity, features that I expect from a Barbera and hopefully some black cherry as well.  This is another wine that will work well with red meats or a good rich sauce for pasta, and who knows maybe both will be enjoyed on the same evening at a party.  Time will tell.

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My Dinner Club at Rocky’s

My dinner club has tried a few new venues and one of them was Rocky’s of Northville.   Rocky goes back to the heady days of the late Chuck Muer restaurants and Chuck Muer had helped Rocky turn Northville Charley’s into Rocky’s of Northville.  My Bride and I have been going to Rocky’s probably since he opened in 1993.  The restaurant has a back room that is perfect for my club, and it was kind of amusing to watch the other members as they were shocked at how busy the restaurant was on a Wednesday night, even without our group, and I was saying that I had never been to the restaurant when they were quiet, which is quite a testament to the chef.  Periodically the restaurant is also home to some “game” nights of exotic meals for the hunters and there is a large Kodiak bear that greets the patrons as they arrive, and the taxidermist did a spectacular job, and it has been there since I can remember, and it may have been there when it was Northville Charley’s, but that was so long ago, I am not sure, and I always forget to ask.

Our meeting that night did not offer any “game” and there was not even an offering of duck, which is one of the specialties of the house, but it was off of the regular spring menu at the moment according to our server.  Rocky’s is one of those old-guard establishments that still pride themselves on house made bread rolls that may not be totally photogenic, but they are truly well made and delicious, and this is from a non-bread eater normally.  The House Salad for the group was similar to a “Michigan Salad” without the cheese and it was served with a Raspberry Vinaigrette, except for one order with Italian dressing to accommodate one pain in the arse member, and you can all guess who that is.  The menu for the evening was a Grilled Atlantic Salmon with Rice Pilaf and Fresh Vegetables, Breast of Chicken Piccata with a Lemon Mushroom Caper Sauce and Rice Pilaf and Fresh Vegetables and a New York Strip Steak with a Red Wine Sauce and Mashed Potatoes and Fresh Vegetables.  Coffee and the traditional dessert of a Chocolate Sundae on Vanilla Ice Cream followed, and since I can remember that has been the dessert of choice, because of deference to our old Club Secretary, who had replaced his Father in the same capacity and between the two men, they almost covered perhaps the eighty of the over one-hundred years the club has been in existence.

As I told you, there was a rebellion by the some of the members who are tea-totalers who objected to having to pay for the drink part of the menu when they were hosts and eventually made the bar tab subject to each member.  Another member and I and sometimes others will take advantage of this change and order an interesting bottle of wine, which we would never have done, when it was on someone else’s dime and we would have stuck with the more prosaic by the glass offerings.  My fellow club member when we were at the previous meeting was concerned that the selection might not be good as he had never been to Rocky’s and I assured him that we would find something to please him, as well as myself.  Now my fellow member always chooses a Pinot Noir, because that is his wine of choice, and I being the proverbial pain in the arse always tries to make him stretch with the wine selection, as he lets me choose, even though we split the price of the bottle.  He looked at me, like I was mad when I suggested we have a Merlot, and I told him that original growers in Napa Valley thought this winery was mad for wanting to grow Merlot as well, and I got him interested, because I knew the history.   As you may have guessed we were having Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley 2014.  Duckhorn started in 1976 and their first vintage was in 1978 with eight-hundred cases of Cabernet Sauvignon and an equal amount of Merlot.  They have one-thousand acres of Estate property and they also buy additional fruit as well, like the agreement they had with Three Palm Vineyard which eventually became an exclusive property for them.  Duckhorn has expanded into other parts of California for their different label collections and have even ventured into Washington State and in 2016 Duckhorn Vineyards along with their five other labels were bought by TSG Consumer Partners, so it will be interesting to see if they maintain the quality that so many expect.  This particular vintage was blended with some Cabernet Sauvignon and the fruit is a mix of estate and contract purchases within the valley.   The wine was aged for fifteen months in a mix of new and used French Oak barrels.  It was pure pleasure to watch my fellow club member as he tasted and put his arms around this wine.  For their opening wine of this collection, they really deliver a product that has dark fruit and cherries with balance tannins and a great aftertaste.  I am sure that my friend will look at Merlot in a different light from now on.

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After seeing An Armenian Trilogy, we had reservations at a new restaurant that had opened up called Marrow.  It is located in an area now known in Detroit as West Village, to me it is just outside of Indian Village, but I am an old Detroiter.  The concept or conceit of the restaurant is that it is a butcher shop and a restaurant and for a bonus, an interesting wine list, because the owner also owns a wine shop in Downtown Detroit, that as of yet, I have not visited.  We really enjoy this type of concept when we visit the kids in Las Vegas, so we were going to give it a try, even if I was a bit hesitant, because they had a mission to be a full utilization restaurant, so tip to tail, and fruit to root, and they have an Oriental or Asian or whatever the current nomenclature and Politically Correct term is, influence on the dishes.  I am a guy that grew up with a Southern European bent to my diet, so I get a bit gun shy, but my Bride enjoys it all, and complains that I won’t eat certain dishes, but the restaurant did pass my no-MSG requirement.

We really were not hungry after enjoying popcorn and California bubbly at the cinema, and I think our waitress took umbrage with us, that she wasn’t going to load us up with an assortment of small and large plates.  I really wanted to try an appetizer of the Roasted Bone Marrow, which I grew up with, but it is not my Bride’s favorite dish and we were going to be sharing our dishes, so we picked accordingly.  I am sorry but Glutinous Rice Dumplings and a plate of Corned Tongue did not hit my comfort food list and both sounded like something too radical for me to even be adventurous with; and I know that I am a pain in the arse when it comes to dining, it is a good thing that I like wine.  We decide to split two dishes.  The first was Tallow Fried Brussel Sprouts with crispy onion, lime, Gochujang Sauce (a fermented chili paste), a 7-minute egg (sous vide) and Sesame Togarashi (a blend of sesame and peppers).  When the dish arrived, we were told to just break the poached egg and mix the Brussel Sprouts with everything else in the bowl and eat.  We split an aged New York Strip Steak, which was the beef of the day and it was served with local Sunchoke, “Horsey” cream, Kimchi and Charred Ramps; we both agree that the “Horsey” cream could have used some Wasabi, as the horseradish that they used was extremely mild, and my Bride thought that the Kimchi was mild as well (I can’t tell you, because I passed on fermented cabbage, yes I am boring).   I was surprised that after we placed the order, I had to chase our waitress to the back of the restaurant, because I wanted to tell her how we wanted the steak prepared, because she hadn’t asked, and she just looked at me like I was from another planet  and she told me that they only do the steaks “medium-rare” which was how I was going to order it, but her attitude was chafing us.

We both continued our wines for the evening with a bubbles theme.  My Bride had Domaine Gouffier Cremant de Bourgogne Chardonnay Extra Brut 2016 and alas the label did not photograph well, from the locations we had next to the windows as evening was beginning to fall, and we tried it with two different phones.  I could not find much about Domaine Gouffier, but they do offer many choices in the Burgundy region, including some of the villages.  The Cremant de Bourgogne is designation for the sparkling wines of the region and it can be white or rosé and the area that these grapes can come from is huge, I understand that the variety and quality will not always be the same, but this wine was fresh and tasty and both of the sparkling wines were a great segue to the steak.  I had Domaine Serol Turbulent Gamay Rosé Cote Roannaise NV of the Loire Valley.  This type of wine is called a PetNat and officially known as Methode Ancestrole, because they cannot call it “champagne.” The winery is a family estate that spans five generations and it was a delicious delicate sparkling wine with a very pretty pink shade and the Gamay showed itself quite well here.  With our entrée we enjoyed Domaine du L’Echevin Cotes du Rhone Villages Saint-Maurice 2016.  In the pecking order of the Cotes du Rhone, the Cotes du Rhone Villages is a step above the basic, and then if the actual village is named that it another increment above, but lower than a named appellation in the region.  Vines were already growing and recorded in the Fourteenth Century and Saint-Maurice received their appellation in 1967.  The estate is named after a former owner who was an Echevin (Mayor of Lyon) in 1586.  The wine is a blend of sixty-five percent Syrah and the balance is Grenache.  Each parcel of land is harvested and placed in separate Stainless-Steel vats for a long maceration period with no addition of yeasts or additives.  Half of the juice is aged in concrete and the other half in French Oak.  The juice in the barrels are racked every two to three months for a period of ten months or so, and then that juice is repressed and mixed with the juice that was left in concrete and another set of barrels that contained some of the free-flowing juice from the original crush.  The different juices are then blended for a month and a half and then are bottled, and the bottles rest for six months before they are released for sale.  I have a built-in bias for the red wines of the Rhone and this wine delivered a full taste of the Rhone with the peppery spice that I so enjoy with a steak.  It was a very interesting, educational and enlightened day for us.

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