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28 June 2006

Coturri Time Capsule

(Editor's note: This is part of a series of posts by guest authors, who are fellow bloggers or Basic Juice readers.  If you are new to wine blogging, host a blog out in the remote reaches of wineblogistan, a wine maker or you're simply someone who enjoys writing about food & wine; contact me with a post proposal, and we'll see if we can't introduce the world to your handiwork.)

Guest Athor: Paul White of Coturri Winery (California)


1964 Coturri Petite Sirah
Sonoma Mountain, CA

Coturri64_1 An elixir, two-score in age – and rates five stars for its rich deep enticing flavor and lusty texture.  The first time I tried this wine I was totally unprepared and had no point of reference - it was after all a wine as almost as old as me - it was eccentric and special and unlike any other liquid I’d ever tasted.
It is a dark mauve with brick hues along the edges – the wine side of the cork had a constellation of twinkling tartaric crystals – and it dropped an inch of wine diamond sediment. The bottle had tarry deposits splotched & tattooed into the sides of the glass.

A hypnotic scent- old cigar box - saw dust on the floor of a butcher shop - freshly turned earth - protein notes like food - I swirled and left my nose in the glass for a couple of minutes before I tasted it - savoring the moment and trying to identify other aromas – pungent incense burning at a gypsy bizarre - no - but something like that – exotic and expressive - freshly crushed black cherry cola nut. It triggered memories of the 1964 Worlds Fair in Queens, NY – mint leaf, pencil shavings, fruit rollups and flower pedals.  Each time I swirled my glass and took another sniff it changed ever so much, offering up nuances I missed before. I loved it and still hadn’t tasted it yet.

Afraid that the smell of the wine was going to be the best part I let it linger - but when I did taste it was silky round and pure.  It was full bodied and still had a ton of fruit - pleasing ultra ripe flavors of dark plums and blackberry liqueur and great balance.  A 40 year old - unsulfited petite sirah - it continued to evolve for several hours and kept me in a trance. It was still going strong.

This is the first time Tony Coturri made wine - in 1964 when he was 14 years old under the direction of his father - Harry -Red- Coturri and his grand father Enrico - who was then approaching 80 years old

Coturri64_3 The 1964 NY World’s Fair is my earliest memory – I was riding around in a stroller pushed by my siblings from exhibit halls, Blue Chip pavilions, rides and gardens to a observation tower – where I saw the Empire State Building, the newly opened Shea Stadium and directly below The Unisphere a huge globe of the earth.  Consciousness had arrived.  I don’t linger on this memory much anymore as I’m already filling up the gig space in my mind and have better use for the information I collect like - what are the trendiest restaurants serving regional foods in Manhattan – but it came to the forefront again recently when I was tasting for the second time in so many years this forty year old Petite Sirah.

My memory stick can’t go back any further than that nor can I honestly say I have much experience with a wine any older – especially a tiny production – less than 50 cases – in which only a handful of bottles survive.  This is a wine that was completely handmade in the old-world tradition - fermentation by natural yeasts, no chemical additives, no fining and no filtering and only grapes as the single ingredient. 

At the same time that a new world was opening up to me, as I was tasting my first cotton candy- on the other coast - Tony Coturri was going through that particularly unique Italian-American coming of age ritual – he was learning how to make wine.  His father, Harry RED Coturri and his grandfather Enrico were on hand at their Sonoma Mountain property - together these veterans had over 100 years of winemaking experience between them.  Enrico was friends with the winemaker at Italian-Swiss Colony in Asti near Cloverdale – he allowed the Coturri’s to pick the leftover grapes from the estate vineyards after the first crop was harvested.

Enrico learned how to make wine in the 1890’s in Tuscany from monks of Farneta, Italy outside of Lucca. Enrico brought this knowledge to San Francisco just in time for the Earthquake of 1906, and later passed it on to his son – Harry (the Americanized version of Enrico).  Red’s rite of winemaking passage was during the Great Depression and during Prohibition – Tony is still making wines in this fashion and now his son Nic – the forth generation of Coturri winemakers is carrying forth this age-old tradition of wine.

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