By Celia Strong
Silver. Gold. Olive? Really? Interesting. Silver. Gold. Platinum. That would make some sense. Silver or gold anniversary? Makes some sense, too. But, somehow, that “olive” just doesn’t fit. Except in one case. Wine labels. Specific wine labels. So, guess what we are going to do this week? Yep, we’re going to make sense of silver, gold and olive in the same grouping. Aren’t we good! And, off we trip and travel to Sonoma County, California.
For many wine drinkers, Napa County is the one and only source for United States Cabernet wines. Of course, they do make spectacular Cabs, but those of us who have opened doors, or stuck out our glasses to try other wines, know there are plenty of other sources in California for good Cabernet wines. One of them being Sonoma County. Within in the county, there are a multitude of areas with AVA designations. Places like Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Mountain, Russian River Valley, Knight’s Valley and more. Almost every one of the sixteen Sonoma AVAs grows Cabernet Sauvignon. Each of the wines with specific characteristics. Yep. Just like Napa.
The history of wine in Sonoma goes back to as early as 1812. Padre Jose Altimira planted several thousand vines at what is now the city of Sonoma. Years later, in 1854, when California joined the United States, wine grapes were a well established part of the agricultural and economic structure of California. Many of the immigrants who moved into the state were from northern Italy, and other parts of Europe, and they were experienced grape growers and winemakers.
And, quickly now, we are going to get to our winery for this week. The B R Cohn Winery. Bruce Cohn, THE B R Cohn, bought land in Sonoma in 1974. Actually, it was an old dairy. On his land, there was a grove of Picholine olive trees, one hundred and forty-five year old trees. (They still make olive oil from these trees.) Bruce named his property the Olive Hill Estate Vineyards. For about ten years, Bruce sold his grapes to nearby wineries. In 1984, he founded his own winery, B R Cohn, and hired Helen Turley as his first winemaker. (Some of us have heard of Turley Zinfandels?) Bruce still lives on the estate, raised his family there, and still, since 1987, hosts an annual music festival. Even before he got into the grape growing and wine business, Bruce managed The Doobie Brothers. So, the festival is a perfect fit.
The vineyards around the winery are planted mostly with Cabernet Sauvignon. There is some Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. But, it’s the Cabernets we’re interested in today. Three of them. First, let’s look at the B R Cohn Silver Label Cabernet. This wine is blended from grapes from several hillside vineyards located in Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake Counties and their home Olive Hill Vineyard. Each individual lot of grapes is fermented and aged separately. In French oak barrels. Blending is done afterwards which produces a rich and complex Cabernet Sauvignon. The Silver Label Cab is rich with plum, cassis and black cherry aromas and flavors, mixed with cola, cocoa, anise, vanilla and baking spices. Annual production of this wine is about nineteen thousand cases. For $18.99
Stepping up a bit, we come to the B R Cohn Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is a blend of grapes from their best lots in Sonoma and Napa. Basically, the Napa grapes give the wine structure and cassis flavors while the Sonoma grapes, including from the Olive Hill Estate, give elegant, soft tannins and cherry flavors. Again, each lot of grapes is fermented and aged separately. And the barrel aging, still in French oak, is longer, about three years. The Cabernet is fuller bodied (Like gold is heavier than silver?) Plum and black cherry and currant flavors, wrapped in an oaky spice blanket. Firm tannins, and a warm finish – it’s all delicious. About forty-eight hundred cases of this wine get made every year. For $37.99.
Finally, we come to the B R Cohn Olive Hill Estate Vineyards, Sonoma Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon. One hundred percent Cabernet. This wine has a history of excellent scores in wine publications, numerous awards and accolades. Everything we smelled and tasted in the first two wines is here again. Only more of it – fuller, deeper, more intense. The wine is aged for twenty-four months in the best, tight-grain French oak barrels. I could go on and on for a while about it, but this is one wine you have to taste for yourself. They make three thousand cases a year. For $49.99.
Here’s my idea for what we should all do. Find a couple of friends and share the cost of all three bottles. Only one of each cuz you will be working with them. More drinking can be done after the working! Taste (key word here is “taste”) them in order – the Silver Label, then the Gold Label , and, last, the Olive Hill Estate. And you will have the entire lesson. And, on top of it all? You will then understand the silver, the gold and the olive? Phew! Enjoy.