This is my 18th interview in the James the Wine Guy Interview series. This is the first time I have featured two people at once: Mitch Cosentino and Paul Scotto. It was much needed to represent their latest venture of JMC Luxury Portfolio wines. I very much enjoy writing questions to answer to get to the heart of the matter–wine and much more.
Mitch Cosentino is a well known figure in Napa Valley for producing wines from the Eponymously named winery Cosentino Winery, pureCru Napa Valley. Mitch was founder of the Meritage Association (now known as the Meritage Alliance) and the first to produce a bottle labeled Meritage.
Paul Scotto graduated from UC Davis and went to work for his families wine brands based in Lodi of both Lodi and Amador county wines. Additionally the family has a footprint in Napa as well. Paul and Mitch have partnered to have their take on a Napa Valley wine brand – JMC Luxury Portofolio their collection includes Lost Chapters, 50 Harvests and John McClelland Cellars. JMC Luxury Portofolio’s focus are Napa Valley Bordeaux variety wines
I am intrigued in that I have never had a predictable interview but one where I am delighted to read about the people I am featuring. I always learn something new. I love the art of the interview because it offers a different flavour of understanding the subjects or people that I am featuring.
It is refreshing to taste superb wines from Napa Valley that are easy on the pocket book. Price and quality ratio is a fantastic value that is nearly absent in Napa Valley today. Be sure to check out the JMC Luxury Portofolio website.
Each response is listed with the respective initials of Mitch (MC) and Paul (PS). I hope you enjoy this interview!
Thank you Mitch and Paul for taking time to be interviewed in my series!
JTWG #1 Both of your families have been making wine under your respective labels for a very long time – I understand it is about tradition but isn’t also a vision of both of your styles of winemaking?
MC#1 Tradition can mean different things to each person or family. Our vision is to make wines classic to the grape’s origins. We are committed to bringing out the best balance and character of each varietal in a most age worthy style.
PS#1 One of the biggest reasons Mitch and I work together so well is because we share both tradition and vision. My goal is to make balanced wines that authentically express varietal and vintage.
JTWG #2 The JMC label offers outstanding value and quality – is this one of your tenents of your brand? Reaching to a new group of consumers
MC #2 Too often, value and quality are declared in wines of all price levels. But for us, quality is number one. In my mind, without supreme quality there is no value. While it may be unfair to say that value and quality is a tenet of the brand, it certainly is a result. We may be reaching out to “new” groups for the Scotto family of wines through the JMC Luxury Portfolio, but I personally have been playing to this targeted wine savvy consumer group for decades through every wine I’ve made throughout my career.
PS #2 Yes! At J. McClelland Cellars we strive to always over deliver on our wines. When compared with other competitive Napa Valley bottlings, we feel that our wines really shine both in quality and price. Our wines appeal to experienced Napa Valley wine consumers as well as millennials seeking new wine drinking experiences and great value.
JTWG #3 What does Napa Valley represents to you both?
MC #3 Napa Valley represents the best, most versatile grape region of the new world with the largest potential audience.
PS #3 Having spent much of my winemaking career in Lodi and Amador counties, Napa represents a new and exciting world. I have learned so much from Mitch over the last 6 years, he has opened my eyes to the true nature of Napa’s quality and diversity.
JTWG #4 What is your philosophy on oak and your wines? (New, semi-new, French, toasting profile)
MC #4 Oak is essential for proper aging of most noble varieties. We use both new and “seasoned” barrels to complement the specific varietals and blends we are working with. For me, oak should never mask the grape, it should only be the platform or a complement. My old line is that the barrel is “the black velvet in the jewelry store”
PS #4 Oak is there to complement the wine, NOT to take over the wine. I never want the oak to wear the pants in the wine relationship so to speak. We use oak as a spice to enhance the wine’s flavor and overall complexity.
JTWG #5 What is the aging potential of your wines?
PS #5 Aging potential is essential in the wines we produce and that’s why balance is extremely important. Each variety in each vintage has its own potential on its own or part of a blend. That said, it is not outlandish to declare that each wine in the program should age well for a minimum of a decade including the whites. Many of the reds should approach or exceed two decades.
PS #5 Our wines have different aging potentials, but on average, they will age a minimum of 10 years.
JTWG #6 I know you let your wines age a bit prior to releasing–is that another tenant of your wine making philosophy?
MC #6 In a way, yes. We want each wine to show proper development prior to release. because we make wine with structure and precise acid balance, they need time to blossom.
PS#6 We are never in a rush to release our wines. We’ve sold out of a vintage and still held off from the release of the next until we feel it is ready. Time in the bottle is the final chapter – a critical time when the wine’s balance really comes together prior to release.
JTWG #7 You source your Chardonnay from Oak Knoll–did you find this to be optimum for your Chardonnay program?
MC#7 – Yes. It’s an excellent area for this grape and it gives us what we want in varietal character, balance, potential richness and the ability to develop further with age.
PS #7 – Mitch brought this grower to us through his extensive contacts. It is great to be able to work with such beautiful fruit from a site he is so familiar with. The grapes come in with naturally beautiful flavors and balance. Our aim is to let the exceptional fruit shine through in the finished wine. We accomplish this by eschewing malolactic fermentation and through minimal intervention in the cellar.
JTWG #8 Is 50 Harvests label your Tête de cuvée?
MC#8 I would say yes, given its expression of the Scotto family’s history and commitment to California viticulture. We chose to tailor the 50 Harvests brand to the deep, traditional roots of Bordeaux and the belief that each varietal in the Meritage blend must enhance the expression of the others. The cépage may vary from vintage to vintage but our stylistic vision remains the focus.
PS #8 The 50 Harvests Napa Valley Meritage Red Wine Blend is crafted to be a Bordeaux-style wine. In making the blend we hand-select the barrels that we feel will make the very best wine of the vintage. Each year both the percentages and varietals might change — always with the goal of crafting the best possible wine.
JTWG #9 What is your favourite dish to enjoy with your wines?
MC#9 I am not a “one food” person and I enjoy making wines for a wide range of cuisine. Thus I make different wines to complement many dishes. That’s a reason why chefs appreciate my contributions to the many winemaker dinners I participate in throughout the year. Working together with the chef, and sharing my knowledge of each wine being poured, they have a clear path in being able to get creative with each course.
PS #9 Momma Scotto’s rigatoni with meat in a red tomato sauce.
JTWG #10 Will you add sticky or sparkling wines to your portfolio?
MC#10 Possibly a bubbly, experimenting for now, but not ready to commit. It has to be at a very high level to do so.
PS #10 We are currently making Charmat style sparkling wines out of our winery in Lodi.
JTWG #11 What makes for the best Cabernet Sauvignon?
MC#11 It all starts with pristine fruit and that’s why I spend countless hours in the vineyard long before harvest. Then it relates to determining the desired blend of fruit, structure and balance through the proper vinification techniques I’ve learned over many years of winemaking, along with careful barrel aging and judicious blending.
PS #11 BALANCE from the beginning to the end. I love when the wine flows through my pallet with a roundness from start to finish. At the very end, I really enjoy a Cabernet that lingers, teasing me to want another sip.
JTWG #12 Favourite wine moment?
PS#12 Hard to decide really. Meeting the Baron Philippe Rothschild in April of 1980 at the announcement of his impending collaboration with Robert Mondavi was one. A 1986 vintage First growth Bordeaux tasting with the big five plus Cheval Blanc in 1991. Or maybe winning The Best American Cabernet Sauvignon in 1986 with all of the commercially made Cabs made in the US at that time. Or seeing Four various sized bottles of my 2000 Secret Clone Cab sell for $100,000. at the Auction Napa Valley in 2002. There are more but that is a peak.
PS #12 I will never forget when Mitch and I first met, and I referred our Bordeaux blend as a Mer-i-tauge! He looked at me with the weirdest look and said would you say Her-i-tauge and I said no, it would be Heritage. He said exactly, don’t ever pronounce it like that again it is Meritage!
JTWG #13 Best books on wine?
MC #13 My book covering 40 + years in California winemaking in its most critical era. In the process of writing currently.
PS #13 I really enjoyed the book “Sense of Place”
I have more interviews to come. Leave your questions and comments below and also whom you would like to see me interview next.
James the Wine Guy
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