The Sun Drinks ~ Sarah Stierch

Sarah Stierch Sarah Stierch is the Food + Drink Editor of the Sun (with occasional visits to other areas of the paper). Stierch has eaten, drunk, and written her way through 13 countries and the hottest food trends and communities in the USA. She's also a racing and travel geek, venturing beyond food/booze to cover subjects that connect to Sonoma Valley, such as IndyCar racing and other wine making regions. Her work has been featured in the Huffington Post, the Independent, Salon, Gawker, Smithsonian and on National Public Radio, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.


Crackin’ 90: Passaggio Wines’ Cynthia Cosco

Posted on April 11, 2016 by Sarah Stierch
Cynthia Cosco of Passaggio Wines (Photo: Passaggio WInes)
Cynthia Cosco of Passaggio Wines (Photo: Passaggio WInes)

Crackin’ 90 is an ongoing series that talks with winemakers about the first time their wine “cracked 90,” with a 90+ score in a leading wine industry publication.

“I mean really, what’s the difference between an 87 or an 88….really?” asks Cynthia Cosco, owner and winemaker of the Sonoma-based Passaggio Wines.

Good question.

Wine scores have been on the mind of Cosco recently. She was recently awarded her first 90 point score from Wine Enthusiast for her Passaggio Wines 2014 Next Generation Sauvignon Blanc ($28).

Cosco entered the realm of winemaking over ten years ago, after leaving her 15 year career in Virginia law enforcement to pursue a passion for wine.

She relocated to California and jumped right in, landing a gig as Lab Manager at Crushpad, a custom crush facility. She eventually became Winemaker at Crushpad.

While at Crushpad, she began making her own wine, launching the Passaggio brand in 2007 with 50 cases of Unoaked Chardonnay.

Passaggio Wines 2014 Next Generation Sauvignon Blanc from Russian River as photographed by wine blogger Cindy Rynning of Grape Experiences
Passaggio Wines’ 2014 Next Generation Sauvignon Blanc from Russian River as photographed by wine blogger Cindy Rynning of Grape Experiences

White wines are stars at Passaggio, one of the few wineries that offers an abundant supply of white wines, including  Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris to more unique varietals like her well-received Trousseau Gris and Chenin Blanc. She also makes reds, including Merlot and Pinot Noir.

She uses grapes from as far north as Lake County to as far south as Paso Robles, supporting small growers.

All of the wines Cosco makes are small production, including the ’14 Russian River Sauvignon Blanc, which is 100% stainless steel fermented. According to Wine Enthusiast it is:

“The result is lively in mouthcoating acidity and refreshing swirls of light-bodied mandarin orange and lime.”

Cosco admits she rarely seeks out reviews from major publications. Small lot producers like Passaggio have become the exception to the “wine review rules,” preferring to seek out more unique opportunities through social media and bloggers, unlike their large production cousins.

She became a fan of wine bloggers early in her winemaking career. Wine bloggers are willing to explore smaller lot producers, which helps to validate a winemaker’s abilities, especially early in their career. “They really do bring out the fun part of making the wine that’s in their glass,” shares Cosco, “It makes for a more enjoyable read.”

This enjoyable read factor presented by wine bloggers is dramatically different than the traditional wine journalist. “…they share their lives, the food they are pairing and the memories they make,” according to Cosco.

The cool thing about small lot producers - they're often in the tasting room. Cosco signs away her last bottle of Barbera rose to a lucky buyer. (Photo: Sarah Stierch)
The cool thing about small lot producers – they’re often in the tasting room if they aren’t in the vineyards. Cosco signs away her last bottle of 2014 Barbera Rose to a buyer. (Photo: Sarah Stierch)

However, she admits that the reach large publications, like Wine Enthusiast, provide is important because the wines are able to a reach a demographic of readers that trust the majors to serve as the tastemakers. It’s validating for the reader to have that stamp of approval.

But nothing beats the viral effect of social media, which Cosco’s wines have experienced. “The public loves reading about the palates of people they can relate to.”

Will the 90 point score impact sales? “Who knows,” but according to Cosco, “bloggers have impacted my sales, for sure.”

In the end, it comes down to a remaining question that Cosco has (and I do, too): “I know people usually tend to look for those wines that are 90 and above, and again, what’s the difference between an 89 and a 90?”

That reflection makes for the perfect time to take a sip of Sauv Blanc, sit back, relax, and join Cosco in her winemaking mantra: “If you’re not happy, you won’t make great wine.”

87, 88, 89, 90 – it’s all about being happy and making great wine for Cynthia Cosco.

Passaggio Wines has a tasting room in downtown Sonoma at 25 E. Napa St., Suite C. 934-8941.

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