One of the problems with wine tasting in a large corporate wine region like Sonoma is just that, you’re going to be tasting wine in a large corporate setting that is completely divorced from the act of making wine, instead focusing on the act of selling wine. While this is somewhat of a necessity for some producers, and an ego boost for others (if you are familiar with some of the elaborate tasting facilities in napa, for instance, you are well aware of what i am talking about), i think it is partly to blame for the status of wine as luxury item in this country.
The “tasting room” at Coturri
With that said my wife and i made a special trip to Coturri vineyards which is hidden way off the beaten path in the Sonoma mountains and is easy enough to miss given the complete lack of signage. this vineyard is available to visit by appointment only, but this didn’t seem to be a problem since it appeared that they only needed to make sure everyone wasn’t busy with the real work of a winery.
The barrels are kept outdoors for primary fermentation during the cold season, and then moved to an indoor cellar.
Immediately upon entry we were greeted by some 4 happy dogs, along with Nick Coturri, the 4th generation winemaker at at the winery. His grandfather came to San Francisco from Italy and worked as a barrel cooper and taught his son Harry the art of winemaking, and so on and so forth (the winery still employs a master cooper). If most of the wine from Sonoma is trying for one thing, these guys are coming from deep left field. it’s not that they are doing varietals that no one else is doing, in fact you could put their line up at any room in Sonoma. Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache, Chard, Zin, Carignane, and Pinot were opened for us. The difference comes in the preaparation and philosophy behind the wines. No sulfites, minimal intervention, low alcohol, biodynamic, natural yeast, unfined and unfiltered (for the most part, they make two chards with one being lightly filtered to control the cloudiness) all hand crafted from start to finish; these guys are what the term “natural wines” was invented for.
All these, while not necessary to make a good wine, really show in what these guys are doing. All of their wines are lighter and more structured than the typical Sonoma wines, and they are definitely more acidic making them a better food wine than most.
5000 cases a year hand bottled
The standouts were two outstanding white Burgundy style chardonnays, one being a more crisp, lean Chablis style (this is the lightly filtered wine) and an intense mineral rich floral unfiltered variety. really smart stuff. the other was the Zin, which is so far off from expected that every dedicated Zin hater owes themselves a taste of this wine. First off this wine has a complex nutty port (i would say almost port if not for the fact that it is unmistakenly port) flavor which is due to a small amount of botrytis that is allowed to set in on the grapes. If you don’t know botrytis, it is a fungus that is known primarily as “noble rot” in winemaking and gets the term noble from the fact that it contributes to both Sauternes and Royal Tokaji. Secondly the wine, despite the fact that it is sweeter, is also medium bodied unlike the palate wreckers that Zin is known for producing, and it has enough tannins to clean up after itself. The other wines tend along the same paths, offbeat, structeured and above all fine when you are expecting big, and thoughtful when you are expecting flash
Apparently these wines are not the easiest thing to get a hold of, but if you are in Sonoma and have tired of too much oak and malolactic, or if you have for thirst for natural wines, or if you are allergic to sulfites, give these guys a call.