Monday, June 3, 2013

Passaggio Wines 2012 Sauvignon Blanc--In Love Again!

Cynthia Cosco, Passaggio Wines
As I've mentioned in earlier columns, I came across Cynthia Cosco when she was tweeting as a manager of the Crushpad facility in San Francisco and later in Sonoma. I was extremely lucky to decide to show support for my Twitter friend by condescending to buy a bottle of her first wine, a 2008 unoaked Chardonnay under her personal label, Passaggio. I even paid $14 for the wine plus $16 for shipping because I just didn’\'t have time to drive over to The City to pick it up.

Little did I know how transforming this friendly purchase would prove to be. I was completely knocked out by her wine, and converted over to a white-wine enthusiast when I realized that there must be many winemakers trying, like Cindy, to do something fresh and new and flavorful with their white wines. I've never been so grateful for an accidental discovery in my life, and I've been a Cindy Cosco fan ever since. When she set up her full-fledged wine operation and started a wine club, I was one of the first subscribers.

Last year she moved Passaggio from Sonoma to the Wine Works on Third Street in San Francisco’s newly hip Dogpatch district. I went over there a couple of times recently, first for Passaggio’s welcome party, and the following week to the release party to pick up my shipment (I‘ve wised up about shipping).

Just as I had discovered from Cindy just how good a Chardonnay could be, this time I got another knock-my-socks-off experience with a white wine I've never gotten excited about before: Sauvignon Blanc.

2012 Passaggio ‘UNMARKED’ 'Probable Cause' Lake County Sauvignon Blanc $18

Sauvignon Blancs I usually find a little too sharp, especially the popular New Zealand style. But Passaggio's approach is completely different: rounder, without the sharp elbows. This smoothness lets the fruit come forward in a way I haven't tasted in other SBs, and it's wonderful. This SB is more thoughtful, with a longer finish, full and mouthfilling. It's the best Sauvignon Blanc I've ever had, and now I find myself enthused about what this grape can do -- in the hands of a master. I will be drinking a lot of this in the coming year. (I should buy a case of this soon, before she sells out.)

(One of the many wonderful things about wine is discovering new wines, new grapes, and new versions of wines you thought you knew.)

The "UNMARKED" label on this and Passaggio's Pinot Noir are tributes by Cindy to her former life as a Baltimore cop: A percentage of the sales of these two wines goes to a charity for families of fallen police officers.

2011 and 2012 New Generation California Unoaked Chardonnay - $23.
Cindy's 2008 Unoaked Chardonnay was my introduction to this winemaker, and it changed my wine-drinking habits. I had been strictly a Reds guy; whites were simply uninteresting. The 2008 Passaggio Chard changed all that – it was made not only unoaked, but also without malolactic fermentation – which I didn't think was possible. The result was a white wine with wonderful fruit, enormous flavor, and a long, long finish. I was entranced.

I liked the 2009 and the 2010 too, but the 2011 version wasn't quite as thrilling; still good, but leaner. Cindy tells me that  2012 was a great growing year, and as a result her 2012 California New Generation Unoaked California Chardonnay is the proof – a wonderful nose, clean and clear, full of flavor and fruit, and with that unique long finish. The price has gone up to $23, from the $14 of the initial release, but it’s unquestionably worth it. (I should buy a case of this, too….)

2012 Passaggio New Generation California Pinot Grigio $19
Pinot Grigio can be catch-as-catch-can, with lovely aromas and no real taste – a pretty water, in too many cases. Passaggio's version does not suffer from this problem – it has that charming, complex floral-and-pear nose, but the flavor is all there – light grapefruit and pear, a nice level of acidity (good for food), and a nice long finish (another rarity in Pinot Grigio). Great!

2012 Passaggio California "Rose Colored Glasses: Rosé $17

This is a tasty ‘deck’ wine – chilled, it will make a tasty summery drink for hot days.

That’s not to say this is a lightweight or non-serious wine. To the contrary, this saignee-style rosé, co-fermented 65% Merlot from Carneros and 35% Napa Cab, is a good example of what rosé does best: present a complex of brilliant flavors of dark cherry and raspberry and strawberry, nicely touched with a bit of acidity and tannin, and of course with the finish that tells you this wine is well made. If you think you don't like rosé , give this wine a chance to change your mind. It's a delight.

2011 Passaggio UNMARKED 'Code Seven' Pinot Noir,  Napa Valley, Single Vineyard, Fagan Creek, $45
I love Pinot in what I think of as the Burgundy style – light yet flavorful, with a long finish – in contrast to the beefier West Coast style that seems to be trying to make a Cab out of it. This Passaggio is more a Burgundy than an Oregon Pinot, thank goodness, but I wasn't as knocked out by it as by the other wines here. It seemed to me a bit lean, with a nice nose but not enough light fruit flavor. This is not really my style; I find many Pinots aren’t my style, so I'm not hugely surprised.

Bottom Line: This is a winemaker you must watch closely as she proves her talent and her unique perspective in winemaking again and again. I heartily recommend that you try her wines, see if you become, like me, an enthused member of the Cindy Cosco Winemaker Fan Club. Passaggio Wines, San Francisco.

P.S.!! I forgot to mention in my original post that Cindy also took several of us into the back to barrel-sample her upcoming Merlot. It was spectacularly delicious, full of fruit and flavor! I can't wait to taste it from the bottle, see how much of that fruit survives the bottling (barrel samples are sometimes more fruit-forward than the final product).