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Cosentino Winery - Sacramento County


In wine circles Mitch Cosentino has always been known as a vintner on the cutting-edge.

In wine circles Mitch Cosentino has always been known as a vintner on the cutting-edge. In 1981, he was one of the first to bottle a Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine in a traditionally shaped clear bottle. This shrewd marketing strategy has since been followed by dozens of other wineries. Ahead of the mainstream again, his first wine release was a Merlot at a time when very few people had even heard of the varietal. Then in 1982 Mitch introduced yet another radical idea with his successful production of the first commercial premium Chardonnay made from 100% Sacramento County grapes. Under the label of Crystal Valley, Deer Creek Vineyard, this premium Chardonnay was the very first of its kind from that region. Some contend, that marked the beginning of the “fighting varietal” era–that of producing quality wines priced low enough to lure consumers away from mass market jug wines.

By the mid-1980s Mitch Cosentino changed his focus to producing just super and ultra premium wines. In 1985 when other winemakers were concentrating on Cabernet Sauvignon, Mitch made a major commitment to the production of Cabernet Sauvignon’s rare cousin, Cabernet Franc. This varietal up until then had been used primarily for blending purposes. Largely through Mitch’s successful pioneering efforts, Cabernet Franc has become a prominent varietal on its own. He has worked with this grape with nearly thirty different vineyards from ten appellations in four counties over the past twelve years. To this day, Cosentino’s Cabernet Franc remains as the “World’s Most Awarded Cabernet Franc” and the first to be served at the White House. It is the standard that all others are judged by.

Later in 1987, he produced a proprietary red wine he called, “The Poet”. This wine was the first designated and licensed Meritage wine in America. Since its debut at the Monterey Wine Festival in February 1989, every vintage of The Poet has been highly awarded and acclaimed. It is regularly one of the most often written about red wines. His “new” wine won a string of Gold Medals that year, and the few hundred cases he produced were instantly sold, “mostly to other winemakers!” quips Mitch Cosentino.

For those of you who have been down in the cellar too long, Meritage (rhymes with heritage) is a term used by wineries usually to designate their best wine blended from two or more classic Bordeaux variety grapes. To be designated a red Meritage wine, it must consist of two or more of the following varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. White Meritage wines must be a blend of at least two varietals including either Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, or Muscadelle.

The concept of blending is as old as wine itself. Shortly after Prohibition, California winemakers began producing and labeling bottles as single-varietal wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The idea was to create their own winemaking identity that would set them apart from their European counterparts. It wasn’t until the late 1970s and early 1980s that California winemakers began to “re-discover” new dimensions of complexity in their wines by blending and using techniques long associated with the great wines of Bordeaux.

This departure from producing single-varietal wines posed a problem however. Federal regulations stipulate that a wine must consist of at least 75% of the specific grape that is named on the bottle. Meritage wines consist of several varieties of grapes that individually are typically under the 75% threshold. So rather than calling these wines by meaningless generic or confusing proprietary names, a group of California vintners formed the Meritage Association which developed production standards for the participating winery members.

Since those beginnings in the late 1980s, Meritage wines have sipped their way solidly into the American palate. Mitch Cosentino was at the forefront of this movement as he has been with many other endeavors during his winemaking career.

Mitch released his first wines in 1981, working from a rented 2,000 square foot warehouse at Stanislaus Distributing in Modesto, California. Those early winemaking days in Modesto were largely experimental. In a few short years though, his practical experience and guidance from colleagues had steered him directly into the super-premium end of the wine market. By the mid nineteen-eighties Mitch had developed a stellar reputation for making Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay, all made from grapes grown in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. In 1990 Mitch moved his operation lock, stock and barrel, to Yountville, in the Napa Valley. The new winery cost over $1.5 million to build and sits right next to the famous Mustard’s Grill in the thick of Napa Valley activity.

Cosentino wines are by no means widely distributed. With an annual production capacity of just 20,000 cases, the winery’s 16+ different bottlings puts it solidly into the hard-to-find category. Current production includes his famous The Poet red Meritage wine and its partner, The Novelist, a white Meritage wine, and the equally important Cabernet Franc. Other wines produced are two styles of Chardonnay, two Cabernet Sauvignons, a Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel. Since the early 1990s Mitch has embarked on yet another new path, that of exploring the Italian varietals. At last count he is making six different Italian-style wines including this month’s featured Il Chiaretto, a delicious Napa Valley Chianti wine. Also produced is a Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, a Reserve Chianti and several other blended Italian style wines.

One thing is sure. You won’t find Mitch Cosentino resting on his laurels, making the same old thing year after year. This month we offer a taste of the “old”—his classic Cabernet Franc, and a taste of the “new”—his Italian-style Napa Valley Chianti, IL Chiaretto. Both wines you will enjoy immensely.



Mitch Cosentino has received over 500 awards for his winemaking prowess.

Mitch Cosentino, founder, winemaker and President of Cosentino Winery, has spent the past nineteen years filling many roles in the wine industry. His diversified background includes being a winemaker, wine educator, professional wine judge and guest speaker.

Mitch was born and raised in Modesto, California and attended college at nearby Sacramento State. Only 41 years old, Cosentino gained his practical experience from many distinguished colleagues who, teamed with his own stubborn exuberance, are responsible for his progressive application to the art.

A native of California who is aware of and utilizes many of the ideal climate regions in the state, Mitch selects the grapes for his wines on a vineyard by vineyard basis without regard to specific appellation. ‘I strive to make each vintage of each wine better than the last,” Mitch firmly says.

Mitch was the instructor at the Modesto Junior College for 5 years in basic enology and later, wine appreciation. He has also been a guest lecturer at Sonoma State College. A professional wine judge for the past fourteen years, Cosentino is in regular demand at many National and International competitions. Mitch also finds time to offer his winemaking knowledge as a consultant to various retailers, restaurateurs and other wineries. In 1984 he was awarded the Eighth Annual Wine Ambassador by the wineries participating in the Riverbank Wine Festival-by far the youngest ever chosen. He joins the ranks of other distinguished Ambassadors such as Robert Mondavi, Edmund Rossi and John Parducci. As an extension to his wine judging at wine industry competitions, he has participated in wine evaluation panels for the Bon Appetit, Wine & Spirits, and Connoisseurs Guide publications.

As winemaker of Cosentino Winery, he has received over 500 awards for his winemaking prowess. These include winning ‘Best American Cabernet Sauvignon,” ‘Best American Sangiovese,” and ‘Best American Cabernet Franc,” from the American Wine Competition; ‘Best Red Wine in America” from the National Wine Competition; ‘Best Red Wine” in the New World International Wine Competition; and numerous ‘Best of Class” and ‘Best of State” and ‘Best of Region” awards at many other national and international competitions.

Cosentino wines have been served at many prestigious events involving dignitaries such as President Bush, Queen Elizabeth, The Prime Minister of Italy, former Governor of California, George Deukmejian and Senator John Glenn, to name just a few.

‘I won’t settle on adequate, states Mitch. ‘This means that our case production numbers can vary a great deal from year to year for each wine. The goal is to make the best wine, not to make a wine fit into a certain number of cases. I want the art driving the business, not the business running the art.”

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