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Wine Spectator Reviews 2012 Smoke and Mirrors
91 points from The Wine Spectator for our 2012 Smoke and Mirrors? Score: 91 Refreshingly quirky, this offers ripe cherry and spicy nut bread aromas, leading to zesty dried blackberry, cracked pepper and licorice flavors that linger toward ripe tannins. Zinfandel, Syrah, Grenach...

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Wine Spectator Reviews 2012 Smoke and Mirrors

91 points from The Wine Spectator for our 2012 Smoke and Mirrors?

Score: 91 

Refreshingly quirky, this offers ripe cherry and spicy nut bread aromas, leading to zesty dried blackberry, cracked pepper and licorice flavors that linger toward ripe tannins. Zinfandel, Syrah, Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre. Drink now through 2018. 1,257 cases made. 

Wine & Spirits
Wine & Spirits Magazine
Feb 2014
93 Pts

The Isabel Dusi Vineyard sits along Highway 101 in Paso's Templeton Gap - which means that is gets some cooling influence from the Pacific.  The vines here are 60 to 80 years old, dry farmed, the zin interrupted by an occasional vine of carignane. In 2011, these old vines delivered fruit with a heady ripeness that feels vigorous rather than jammy.  A ping of acidity points the fruit toward black raspberry flavors, shot through with scents  of black pepper, pine needles and smoke. A cooling layer of tannin keeps it on the rails and provides plenty of length.  Have this on hand for roast leg of lamb - it's a beautiful example of what zin can do on Paso's sunny, rolling hills.

Ringing in the New Year with Parker Scores on 2011 Wines, The Independent Consumer's Guide to Fine Wine

JC Cellars' Ringing in the New Year with more scores on the 2011 wines with reviews from Robert Parker!

 Words From The Man Himself: 

     Jeff Cohn, one of my favorite winemakers, consistently fashions personality-filled, pleasurable wines from well-known sources and intriguing micro-climates. He also puts together some fascinating blends as this tasting demonstrated - Robert M. Parker, Jr.

The 2011 Zinfandel Landy Sweetwater Springs Vineyard came in at 15.5% natural alcohol, so Cohn was clearly going for maximum ripeness even in 2011. It exhibits a slightly more late harvest character compared to the St. Peter’s Church cuvee, but it is a killer Zinfandel. An inky/ruby/purple color is followed by abundant black cherry and blackberry fruit intermixed with notes of graphite, spice box and earthy undertones. Full-bodied and opulent, this beautiful 2011 should drink well for 4-5 years. 92 Pts.

 The black/purple-hued 2011 Syrah Buffalo Hill Rockpile Vineyard rivals the So Serine cuvee for color saturation. It possesses explosive aromatics of spice, pepper and incense, a full-bodied mouthfeel, a complete mid-section, and a long finish. A tour de force in a challenging year such as 2011, this serious Syrah is accessible now, but should drink well for a decade or more. 92 Pts.

Zinfandel has long been one of Jeff Cohn’s specialties, and his 2011 Zinfandel St. Peter’s Church Vineyard reveals a surprisingly dense, ruby/purple color as well as remarkable concentration and intensity (especially for a 2011), lots of briery, peppery, berry fruit intermixed with a touch of incense, and a full-bodied mouthfeel. This impressive effort is one of the top Zinfandels in this challenging vintage. Drink it over the next 4-5 years. 91 Pts.

The 2011 The Impostor, a modestly priced blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Carignan and Roussanne, comes primarily from Sonoma. Another winner from Jeff Cohn, it offers lots of raspberry, black cherry and licorice-infused black fruits, an attractive, open-knit, round, juicy mouthfeel, medium to full body and a touch of wood. This delicious, hedonistically and intellectually pleasing red can be consumed over the next 4-5 years. 90 Pts.

Another 100% Syrah offering is the 2011 Syrah So Serine Rockpile Vineyard. As black as a moonless night, it possesses lots of sweet black raspberry and blackberry fruit with a floral underpinning that made me think of the hillsides of Cote Rotie in the Northern Rhone Valley. The wine possesses good tannin, a slight deficiency in fat and charm on the mid-palate, but a beautifully pure and exciting style. It is a success in this problematic vintage. Enjoy it over the next 7-8 years. 90 Pts.

The 2011 Grenache The Fallen Angel El Diablo Vineyard (100% Grenache) offers the lavender, pepper and kirsch characteristics that define this wonderful varietal that has come of age over the last decade. With good acidity and hefty, but well-hidden alcohol (15.3%), this tasty Grenache should drink well for 4-5 years. 89 Pts.

The 2011 Pinot Noir Lancel Creek Vineyard is an excellent effort in this tough year. Lots of earth, underbrush, black cherry and pomegranate fruit notes hit the palate with a luscious texture, medium body, good acidity for vibrancy, and a nice finish. There is nothing vegetal or angular about this complex, evolved, impressive Pinot. Drink it over the next 4-5 years. 89 Pts.

One of the less expensive wines in this portfolio is the 2011 Smoke and Mirrors, a blend of Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan from Sonoma. At first I thought this might be an homage to our DC legislators. It is simply a creative blend offering lots of raspberry and black cherry fruit intermixed with notes of licorice and lavender. The enticing bouquet is followed by a juicy, succulent, round, full-bodied beauty with a Mediterranean-like personality. Think of it as a Rhone Ranger that offers the reality of good winemaking combined with excellent fruit sources. Drink it over the next 2-3 years. 89 pts.

The opaque purple-colored 2011 Syrah Haley Rockpile Vineyard (100% Syrah) is loaded with intoxicating aromas of blackberries, white flowers and an underlying wood component. The complex aromatics are followed by a wine with a big framework and foundation, but perhaps a slight deficiency in charm and flesh on the mid-palate. Nevertheless, it is pure and ripe, and if it fills out, it will merit an even higher score. It should drink well for 5-6 years.  88+ Pts.

Made from old vine Carignan, the 2011 Broken Compass (15.2% alcohol) is a classic Carignan, which I always find rustic and uncivilized. It is capable of considerable interest, especially when it’s young and not yet had a chance to get even more gnarly. This good, solid effort displays lots of red and dark fruits, plenty of loamy, dusty soil undertones, and the gritty character often found in Carignan. Drink it over the next 4-5 years. 87 Pts.

11 Enticing California Values

This week’s focus is on recommended values from across the Golden State, including zesty Zinfandel blends, refreshing Rhône-style whites and a handful of distinctive rosés. The wines are appealing for their quality and wallet-friendly prices, but are also approachable now, making them good candidates for a relaxed dinner or impromptu get-together.

Zinfandel producers sometimes add a touch of Petite Sirah to their wines to add color and structure, but Saracina winemaker Alex MacGregor takes it a step farther, adding 25 percent Petite in the Atrea Old Soul Red. Meanwhile, Jeff Cohn, of JC Cellars, uses Rhône varieties such as Syrah and Grenache in his Zin blend, Smoke & Mirrors.

California vintners have been making strides with white Rhône grapes, and several blends in this selection are anchored by Grenache Blanc. In the best examples, the grape can produce full-bodied wines with refreshing acidity, as seen in the striking Côtes-du-Rôbles Blanc from winemaker Gary Eberle. The Flux Blanc, meanwhile, is a blend of Grenache Blanc and Roussanne from Cabernet winemaker Mark Herold.

Rosé fans can find smoky and spicy versions from Flux and Eberle here as well. The Grenache-based wines from Anglim and Groundwork will be harder to track down, but offer good bang for the buck.

JC CELLARS Smoke & Mirrors California 2011 Score: 90 | $25

A fun quaff, zesty and jammy, but focused and restrained. This is loaded with black raspberry, toasty vanilla, licorice and bitter chocolate flavors. Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Grenache. Drink now through 2020. 600 cases made.


Large Format Barrels
Large Format Barrels
The big and small of it all
by Jeff Cohn

Once again, I will state that the opinions being written about are my own and are just a guideline.

I believe that the Rhone Valley, both north and south, produces some of the most interesting and diverse wines in the world. My influences are very French but with a sense of California intensity thrown in. I have a saying that God was a Frenchman who loved to vacation in California.

As we approach the use of large format barrels, one must understand that I really enjoy new oak. I enjoy the way it influences a wine's aromatics, texture and color stability for reds and the overall seductiveness the wood brings to the wine. This being said, I am a realist and I do understand the cost of this (I am married to the world's greatest CPA) and have come to the conclusion that the euro runs my world. Thus the use of new wood has and will be more of a focal point for my winery as well as others. This has put me into a new environment and new experimental stage in my winemaking philosophy. (We never achieve greatness unless we experiment: I need to experiment as often as I can!) This had led me down the path of really reviewing each vineyard I am working with.

As the vineyards have matured, so has the fruit being produced; and although the aromatic and flavors are similar, they change in personality and need to be treated differently. I can compare this to my own children and their clothes. Trust me, they are not dressed in what they wore three years ago; it wouldn't fit and would be out of fashion. These two thoughts or philosophies are similar to winemaking. I am not saying totally change what you do, but modify, understand and dig a little deeper into the vineyard side. You will be surprised.

Yes, the reality is: less new oak for certain vineyards starts to be a bonus for the wine and the wallet. Also, as a winemaker I have begun to understand how each barrel, both old and new from each cooperage, changes the wine during its upbringing and that, during this period of awakening, I realized the use of large format barrels could be part of what I felt some wines were missing.

During my tenure at Rosenblum Cellars, I introduced the winery to the use of Seguin Moreau Muid'Oc 320-liter barrel. I used just two for the Rockpile Zinfandel. I can tell you the cellar staff was not happy about the size. It can be a logistical nightmare for storage. But as time went by and we were able to start tasting the wine compared to the 60-gallon barrels in the program, one could really see how less surface area of wood to wine really affected the wine both in aromatics and flavors and also in texture. It became the go-to barrel for Kent Rosenblum during barrel tasting tours and events.

In the final blend you could also see how the barrels seemed to open the palate but kept it balanced and showcased the minerality of the vineyard. These two barrels became a very important component to the final blend. The next year I ordered 80 large formats from a few different cooperages. Once again this became a logistics nightmare, but the benefits outweighed the negatives for the winemaking aspect.

Characteristics of Large Format Barrels

My thoughts on the large format barrels that I have used:


Foudre (2,271 liters/600 gallons):

The use of a large format of this size is so very different then any other barrel I have ever used before. The surface area is totally different and the thickness of the staves allows less oxidative process than any barrel I have ever worked with before.

Our goal with this barrel was to age a wine in it for nine to 10 months and bottle prior to harvest. This would allow us to produce a very fruit-driven wine with less of an oak influence. What we discovered was that because of the lower surface area-to-wine, the wine's development was much slower and less evolved. This did retain the fruit aspect but also prevented other levels of complexity to be achieved, which we would have gotten in a smaller vessel.

We realized that we needed to blend in other 60-gallon barrels to achieve the level of complexity that was required before we bottled. This may have been due to the short amount of time the wine had spent in this vessel. During the first six months of its first year in use, we also felt that the barrel gave a cedar-sawdust component to the wine that subsided.

We also found that settling is not as fast as when in a 60-gallon barrel, thus an initial racking must be done before one is to bottle to help clarify it. This year we have found that settling in tank for three to four days has allowed us to have a more clarified wine by June. Our experience has also led to our decision not to bottle the wine until after harvest to see what transformations and complexities are gained from the extra time in the vessel.

Seguin Moreau:

Muid'Oc (320 liters/84 gallons):

Due to the thickness of the staves, this barrel has provided us a chance to slow down the aging process on portions of certain vineyards and selected components of our wines. This barrel, in particular, seems to add a level of elegance and finesse to even the most tannic of wines. A subtle crème brûlée note adds just the perfect finishing touch to the wine.

Seguin Moreau:

Muid'Oc extra toast (320 liters/84 gals): 

Due to the extra toast, this barrel seems to produce a wine with a touch more smoke and sweetness in the mid-palate. Aromatically, this wine is pure magic--subtle in some areas and more intense in others. The get the best results from this barrel, use it in small amounts.

Seguin Moreau:

Demi-Muid (600 liters/158 gallons):

We have decided to use this barrel for wines with higher oxidative qualities and for wines that we plan on storing for longer periods of time (up to three years). During this past year we have concluded that the mixture of thick stave and long medium toasting has only started to integrate and show itself in the wine. This barrel seems to provide depth and concentration but in a soft elegant way.


Syrah (300 liters/79 gallons):

This barrel has that same explosive character that the 60-gallon has but with just a more subtle undertone in the mid-palate but better length in the finish. Aromatically, it is as intense as the 60-gallon barrel, but the focus is not as smoky but a little more gamey and fruit-driven. This is a very exotic barrel.

Liter Désireux:

(300 liters/79 gallons):

We just started using these barrels in large format. The 60-gallon barrels are very hard initially, showing a lot of tannic structure and aromatically lean. One needs patience to truly benefit from these barrels' aging curve of 16- to 18-months or more. In fact, we really like them as second fill barrels even more. The reason we are using the large format for our Syrah program was that I would like to see how the slow integration of these barrels would take compared to the hardness of the 60-gallon. As of this writing the wood actually is a touch softer in the large format but there is still firmness to the barrel that always integrates nicely over time. We will see how the large format changes this phase of development.

Tonnellerie Saury:

(300 liters/79 gallons):

We have been impressed by this barrel, but only with specific vineyards and varietals. For Syrah it seems to work best when working with vineyards that are not too warm or too cool. When this occurs we have produced wines that have aromatics and flavors that are both intense but also show elegance and finesse that is very similar to those of Côte-Rôtie.

Barrels Still Surprise

Areas that we have found surprising and mystifying:

•   As a practice we drain our free run directly to barrel and do not rack unless truly necessary. What we have found is that color stability in larger formats is very different then in 60-gallon. The color is not as stable, but mouth feel seems to be heightened.

•   We have also found that the benefits of the large format are not truly noticed until we put our final blends together. We find that they open the aromatics of the wine up and provide for silkier mouth feel when blended with the rest of the 60-gallon barrels. Remember that we do not rack until bottling and each barrel is a separate entity.

•   Cost savings. Yes and no. There really isn't much of a cost savings on the initial expense, but down the road the large format barrels seem to last longer then 60-gallon barrels as long as they are kept clean. Barrels are expensive and the racks to put them on cost money, also. We have been very happy with the quality that Western Square has provided us. They have taken the extra time to get the measurements of each cooperages' barrels so that they fit properly.

•   This leads to storage problems as mentioned before. Large format barrels take up space and are hard to maneuver and stack.

•   Racking, when needed, is also a little harder. You need to have the right size racking wand for the larger barrels above 350 liters.

Magic aspects of large formats:

•   We find that we are using considerably less for topping. The amount of wine used is as much or a drop less than what we use on 60-gallon barrels. That's a big cost savings.

•   Barrel cleaning. This takes the same amount of time but you just need to monitor the barrel to make sure all areas of the barrels have been washed properly.

•   When using the 600-gallon barrel we find that soaking the barrel with a proxicarb solution for a day helps to get rid of the tartrates, and then soaking the barrel for a couple of days in a strong solution of tartaric acid and KMBS and draining will complete the clean-up process.

In conclusion, the use of these large format barrels has allowed us to add extra layers of complexity to our wines while maintaining the JC Cellars' style. We also feel the initial expense will be justified by how well they will perform not only in their first year but also with second and third fillings. We also hope to save money by having less evaporation/topping wine expenses.  wbm