Living in Europe, I am often inundated with questions concerning the California wine scene. After all, we do have the reputation of abounding with new and innovative ideas for wines. In fact, when my stateside friends come for a visit, they are expected to pay tribute to this self-proclaimed Caesar. My friends are quick to bestow unto to me lavish gifts of California wines, especially those up comers to watch. In all seriousness, we enjoy catching up and discussing California’s current wine trends. Not to mention that my guest room is always open to my friends and colleagues alike. We Spaniards have a saying, “Mi casa, es su casa,” My home is your home.
Today, I want to spotlight the wines of one of my favorite California winemakers, Jeff Cohn. I am joined by special friend and fellow sommelier, Elena Boiko. We are also joined by fellow Californian, and wine enthusiast, Randy Morris. Randy is on holiday in Central Europe and I am indebted to him for sharing these lovely wines.
Headquartered in Oakland, California, Jeff Cohen is the proud owner of JC Cellars. If you are familiar with the 2003 Rockpile Road Zinfandel, then you already know why I hold Jeff’s Wines in such high-esteem. When Jeff was with Rosenblum Cellars, he was catapulted to repute with the success of this Zin. That year, Wine Spectator ranked Jeff’s Rockpile Road Zinfandel as 3rd on its Top 100 List for 2003. This was also a mark of distinction for California Zinfandel as no Zin had ever broken into the top ten. Then in January of 2006, Jeff made a move on his own with the launching of JC Cellars. Since then he has been focused solely on crafting some very special and distinctive wines.
What is Jeff formula for success? He searches relentlessly from California’s Santa Barbara region to Mendocino for only the finest fruit and the best vineyards. Jeff also goes to great lengths to combine crème de la crème of California with the age-old French notion of terroir and minerality.
Sonoma’s rugged Rockpile soil is characteristic of producing some of the most complex and profound minerality in all of California. The 2011 Buffalo Hill Syrah is emblematic of the craggy soil in which it thrives. In the glass, it is a deep purple/black highlighted by hues of red. From sight alone, one feels compelled and is drawn to this dark and mysterious wine. On the nose, there is a burst of aroma. The bouquet is abundant in blueberry, blackberry, black pepper, and spice. On the palate, it is dense, rich, and full-bodied with silky tannins. The wine shows good structure, and exceptional minerality that balances nicely with good fruit. The finish is smooth and lingers. The alcohol content is 15% with a bottle price of $30.
“A powerful, explosive, and rich wine,” Randy clearly expressed his zeal. “I am surprised that I am not overwhelmed by the high alcohol content.”
“Very good minerality,” I replied as I took another sip. “This is a wine to be leisurely enjoyed.”
“I am often pleasantly surprised with the caliber of California wines,” Elena smiled delightfully. “I would pair this Syrah with a rib-eye steak, a rack of lamb, and even venison.”
Up next, 2011 El Diablo Vineyard The Fallen Angel. Fruit from the Russian River Valley’s El Dorado Vineyard produces some of Sonoma County’s finest wines. While Grenache is often blended, The Fallen Angel stands alone. This seductive wine is 100% Grenache. In the glass, its deep dark red color is pleasing and inviting. On the nose, the bouquet is alive with aromas of lavender and pepper. There is also a whisper of cherry similar to that found in kirsch. On the palate, the wine is ever so smooth on the tongue, displaying good blueberry fruit as it trails into softer fruit flavors. The finish is strong and juicy yet maintaining its complexity. Grenache has yet find its rightful place in California’s hierarchy of wines, the Fallen Angel is a sure bet to lead the way. The alcohol content is 15.3% with a bottle price of $45.
“I was surprised by how smooth and easy this wine is to drink,” Randy was first to comment.
“Wines produced from El Dorado Vineyard, grapes most always produce good wines,” I paused for effect. “Jeff Cohen has demonstrated time and again that he knows how to create wines of distinction.”
“He certainly hides the alcohol level well,” Elena’s eyes sparkled as she smiled. “Due to the wines spiciness and pure red fruit, it will pair nicely with hearty dishes like cassoulet or less spicy Asian dishes.”
Our next two selections are particular favorites. In 2010 I was first introduced to Jeff Cohn and two of his wines, “Smoke & Mirrors” and “The Imposter,” by friend and Los Angeles wine buyer, Robert Tapia. I was immediately captivated by the distinctiveness of the wines and Jeff’s prowess as a winemaker.
Let’s take a look at a 2012 Smoke and Mirrors. This is an intriguing blend of Zinfandel, Syrah Petite Sirah, and Alicante that delivers. Initially, I had my doubts, but once again, Jeff’s mastery prevailed. In the glass, the wine is dark garnet almost maroon in color. The nose is fresh with the bouquet filling with aromas of cherry, spice, bright earth, with only a whisper of oak coming through. There’s not a lot of wood because the Zinfandel was fermented in cement. On the palate, the wine is a complex array of pure fruit. While flavors of wild raspberry and blackberry dominate, there are notes of pepper followed by hints of cream and cocoa. The finish is medium and pleasurable. Over all, a very easy wine to drink. We did decant Smoke and Mirrors for just under an hour. The alcohol content is 14.8% with a bottle price of $25.
“An excellent blend that surprised me,” Randy chuckled with amusement.
“I must admit that initially I had my doubt’s,” I also broke into laughter.
“This is more of a party or cocktail wine,” Elena spoke softly as she considered the wine. “I would serve it only with a wine and cheese platter.”
Our last selection, 2010 The Imposter, is a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Viognier. In the glass, the wine appears as an opaque black purple. The nose is a wonderful array of aromas. Dominated by blackberry and raspberry, there are hints of black cherry, licorice, vanilla, dark chocolate, and a gentle whisper of herbs and roasted coffee. On the palate, The Imposter is full bodied and concentrated. There is good blackberry and raspberry fruit followed by alluring array of flavors of Asian spices, smoke, and cedar. The finish is distinctive with a big vanilla finish. There a lots of tannins so we decanted the wine for a good hour. The alcohol content is 14.8% with a bottle price of $35.
“When I was first introduced to this wine, my initial reaction was oh, hell no,” I chuckled softly. “After the first taste, my only thought was, hell yes!”
“Another festive wine,” Elena nodded approvingly. “It is big and rich, not syrupy and no raisiny notes.”
I am not the biggest advocate of high alcohol wines, however, Jeff Cohn seems to have found that balance. The Midas Man’s wines are a pleasure to serve with any meal or to simply sit back and enjoy.
Now if I only had a bottle of the 2003 Rockpile Zinfandel … “But that my friends, is a different story.”