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One Brilliant Bottle

organic/biodynamic/natural wines in Vinland

Coturri Winery Albarello

United States (California)

carignan (40%) grenache (20%) petite sirah (20%), zinfandel (20%)

In Chicago, there are hot dogs…

…and then there are hot dogs!

Nothing but an American wine would do.

Coturri Albarello 2008

There is a juicy earthiness that stopped me in my tracks. Smoke on the nose, bright, fresh, instantly approachable. A nice cut of acidity in the mouth, full of flavor, delightfully unpolished. Naturalness at its Californian best. Like a Chicago-style hot dog – an unabashed blend of multiple ingredients. A workingman’s wine. It ran out way too soon. Bring on more dogs. $

The winery is Sonoma born and bred, located near the village of Glen Ellen in what is known as the Valley of the Moon. For 30 years Tony Coturri has been bringing to the market wine at its natural best, long before natural (organic and sulfur free) wine had much of a profile. Some wine outlets liked to call it ‘hippie juice’ and relegated it to the offbeat netherland of wine shops. It suffered an image problem.

But no more. Natural wine bars have sprung up in many major cities. Whole books on the subject of natural and organic wines have appeared, including Alice Feiring’s recent “Naked Wine”. There is a hard core of wine enthusiasts singing the praises of a natural, non-interventional approach to what goes into a wine bottle. They appreciate the fact that consistency across vintages is not necessarily something to strive for. Variation from year to year can be an exciting prospect.

Take 2008, the vintage of the bottle at hand. It was the year a vast number of wildfires raged in Northern California. The 2008 Coturri vintage is touched by smoke, a lingering secondary characteristic, as well as an element of the terroir unique to that year. It’s a touch of history in the wine.

The roots of Coturri go back to the turn of the last century, with the arrival of Enrico Coturri from Tuscany. He brought with him the culture of wine making. It fell to his son “Red” to first turn the interest to a commericial venture, and to his two grandsons Tony and Phil to enlarge and refine the venture to what we have today. Now Enrico’s great grandson, Nic, is poised to lead it into the decades ahead.

Phil oversees the Coturri vineyards, as well as hundreds more acres supplying organic grapes to a bunch of other wineries. Brother Tony defines himself, not as a winemaker, but as a “custodian” of grapes, a reflection of his hands-off approach. Let the grapes do what comes naturally following their biodynamic cycle in the vineyards. The grapes are gently crushed, the “must” led into open redwood fermentation tanks which are promptly covered by white sheets. Beneath the sheets the naturally occurring yeasts set to work for up to two weeks. The must is retrieved and then basket pressed for a further collection of wine.

Coturri has its own cooperage, producing reconditioned 230-litre French Oak barrels. Here the wine matures for up to two years, during which time the wine is racked several times. The wines are hand bottled, having been neither filtered nor fined. Nor does it see the addition of any sulphur. Coturri produces in total only 5,000 cases annually.

I was very pleased to discover this bottle in Chicago, at an artisanal food and wine shop called Pastoral. I would buy it again in a flash.


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