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Celebrate Cabernet Franc!

December 4, 2020 2 comments

What do you think of Cabernet Franc? Is that a grape worthy of its own, special celebration?

If I can take the liberty of answering my own question, it is an enthusiastic “yes” from me.

I don’t know if wine lovers realize the grand standing of Cabernet Franc. The grape is essential as part of the blend, in French Bordeaux and Bordeaux-style blends from anywhere in the world. At the same time, Cabernet Franc is perfect on its own, making delicious single-varietal wines literally everywhere – Argentina, Australia, California, Canada, Chile, France, Israel, Italy, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, South Africa, Washington, and everywhere in between.

While classic Cabernet Franc taste profile evolves around Black Currant ( a.k.a. Cassis), the overall expression varies from lean and dry in the wines coming from Loire Valley in France (Chinon, Saumur) to opulent, bigger-than-life renditions from Argentina and California. Another essential taste element of Cabernet Franc is bell peppers, which are typically most noticeable in the Loire wines but can be completely absent in the Californian wines, where bell peppers flavors often considered highly undesirable.

I talked about the history of Cabernet Franc in some of the older posts, so I’m not going to repeat it here. Instead, we can just get to the subject of today’s celebration and taste some wines.

#CabFrancDay holiday was invented about 5 years ago by Lori Budd of Dracaena Wines, a passionate Cabernet Franc producer out of Paso Robles in California and a tireless champion of her beloved grape. To celebrate the Cabernet Franc, I tasted two samples of the Cabernet Franc wines which I never had before, so let’s talk about them. We can even make a competition out of this tasting, a California versus Washington match.

Let’s start in California, at Vinum Cellars in Napa Valley. As soon as I saw a bottle of 2016 Vinum Cellars The Scrapper Cabernet Franc El Dorado (15.18% ABV, $35, 26 months in 2-year-old French Oak) I realized that I have a lot of questions. Who and why is depicted on the bottle? What the mysterious number on the top of the bottle? Is there any reason to use grapes from El Dorado for the Napa-based winery? To answer these questions, I reached out to Maria Bruno, whose cousin, Richard Bruno, is the co-founder and co-winemaker at Vinum, where Maria helps with the winery’s social media and digital marketing efforts. Here are the answers to my questions which give you an excellent introduction to the winery and the wine:

1. Why the wine is called The Scrapper?
A scrapper is essentially a fighter and we call our wine that because Cabernet Franc is a varietal that has quickly been forgotten in the shadows of the more popular Cabernet Sauvignon. Our wine is made for the open-minded, the adventurous, and those who root for the underdog.

2. What is behind the image on the wine’s label?
The image on the front of the bottle is Gene Tunney. He was the 1926 Heavyweight Champion of the World, however, most modern day people have never even heard of him. But have you heard of Jack Dempsey? I’m sure you have. A little history lesson here: Gene Tunney defeated Jack Dempsey for the 1926 crown, and it was the second time he defeated the more popular fighter (no one else ever did that). So to complete the metaphor, if Gene Tunney is Cab Franc, and Jack Dempsey is Cab Sauv we then ask you, which is the better varietal? Because we know who the better boxer was…

3. On top of the foil capsule it says BW 6334. What is the meaning of that?
That’s our California Bonded Winery number. In 1997 we financed our own winery on credit cards and utilized the custom crush space at Napa Wine Company (they are Bonded Winery number 9! Literally, the 9th bonded winery in the state and currently the only single-digit bonded winery still in existence). We sold our first vintage, all 960 cases, out of the trunks of our cars, and here we are over 20 years later… still going strong!

4. Why El Dorado? What makes Cab Franc from El Dorado a special wine?
We source our Cab Franc from a hillside, red dirt soil single vineyard at an elevation of 1,600 feet within the Sierra Mountains in El Dorado County. The grower, Ron Mansfield, has a degree in renewable agriculture and has organically farmed this vineyard (though not certified) using sustainable practices for over 35 years. Ron also grows tree fruit such as peaches, nectarines, apples, and pears We have produced Cabernet Franc grown by Ron for over 20 years, and the 2016 vintage was our 19th. The entire vineyard only produces about 500 cases a year but it’s worth it (because it’s so good). The vineyard is 25 years old and is head-trained allowing more sunlight into the canopy and therefore a reduction in Pyrazines which are responsible for green and vegetal aromas and flavors.

How was the wine? Please allow me to introduce Damsel Cellars first, and then we will discuss the wines side by side.

Damsel Cellars is located in Woodinville, Washington. Just seeing Woodinville on the wine label puts a huge smile on my face, as it instantly brings back the happiest memories of discovering Woodinville some years back. Walking from one winery door to another, and tasting one delicious wine after another, I was hoping to replicate the experience a few months back as I was supposed to have a business meeting in Seattle, but you know how 2020 travel looks like…

Mari Womack, owner and winemaker of Damsel Cellars, got into the wine only 10 years ago, but tasting her wines you would never think so. After working at a number of Woodinville wineries, she started Damsel Cellars, with the sixth vintage on the way now.

The Grapes for 2017 Damsel Cellars Boushey Vineyard Cabernet Franc Yakima Valley (14.6% ABV, $36) come from the Boushey Vineyard in Yakima Valley, located on the southern slopes of the Rattlesnake Mountains. The first vines were planted there in 1980, and the last plantings took place in 2003. The vineyard is located on slopes from 700 to 1200 feet elevation, so the grapes can enjoy a cooler and drier climate.

Now, how did the wines compared? Both wines are 100% Cabernet Franc, which I find quite typical for any wines bearing the Cabernet Franc name. Both wines were similar in the pure black currant expression, and both wines didn’t offer any of the bell pepper undertones. Both wines required at least an hour to come to their senses. Vinum Cab Franc stayed perfectly powerful and polished over the course of 4 days, black currant all the way, a touch of dark chocolate, full-body, a roll of your tongue smooth, and perfectly balanced. Damsel Cab Franc’s power on the first day manifested in black currant notes weaved around expressive minerality, which I usually call “liquid rock” (this is one of the common traits I find among many Washington wines), perfectly balanced and delicious. On the second day, however, the ultra-distant touch of the bell pepper appeared, the fruit gently subsided, and the wine magically transposed into the old world – a perfectly balanced old world wine. In a blind tasting, I would put this wine squarely into the Loire Valley and would be very proud of my decision.

The verdict? I don’t have one. Yep, seriously, These are unquestionably Cab Franc wines, unquestionably delicious, and unquestionably different. Oh well. If I would be really hard pressed to chose one, I would go with Damsel Cab Franc – if anything, for the old world nostalgic emotions – I really drink very little of the old world wines, so I’m always excited to experience them again.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. How is your Cabernet Franc celebration going? Let me know what Cab Franc made you excited. Cheers!

Wednesday Meritage #151

December 2, 2020 Leave a comment

Meritage time!

Why don’t we start with the Top 100 wines list – James Suckling Top 100 Wines of 2020. Having created my own top dozen wine lists, I have a lot of appreciation for all the hard work deciding on the best 100 wines from tens of thousands of potential candidates. But I have to say that this 2020 Top 100 list is full of surprises. I will let you do your own analysis, but here are my observations. The top wine of the year is a Pinot Noir from Patagonia in Argentina. The first time you find Californian wine on the list is in position #31. France – #56! Lots and lots of German, Italian and Australian wines in the top third of the list. Really unique and different. I plan to do a bit more analysis once Wine Spectator releases its own Top 100 list on December 14th.

If you are an obsessed wine lover living in the USA, I’m sure you are perfectly familiar with Last Bottle Wines, a great online source of amazing wines sold at value prices. What I recently learned, courtesy of the search engine, that Last Bottle also has an excellent wine education section, called Last Bottle Sediments. You can learn about Burgundy, Riesling, or many other popular wines – all in a concise, well-written manner. There is never enough good wine information, so check this out.

I’m sure you heard already about China imposing tariffs on Australian wines, some in excess of 212% – this is definitely terrible news for the Australian wine industry, and for the worldwide wine market. In case you are trying to understand what is going on there, here is a very good article from the Wine-Searcher, offering an in-depth exploration of the conundrum.

Okay, now – who likes corked wines? Yep, I don’t know too many (any?) wine lovers who do. You know how it goes – you fetch the bottle from the cellar for dinner with special friends. You pull the cork, you pour a little taste, and the first whiff of air from the glass makes you cringe – you smell wet basement. Your well-thought entertainment ideas and joy of sharing a special bottle are all trashed – the wine can go only directly into the drain. Or not? According to the research conducted by French scientists, a plastic wrap of specific qualities can actually remove the cork taint from the wine.  Before you sigh with relief, read the article – the experiments were conducted on the wine barrels, using very specific cling wrap – but who knows, maybe your kitchen staple can have a brand new use now…

Last but not least – the grape holiday is coming! This coming Friday, December 4th, we will be celebrating one of the tastiest grapes in the world – Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Franc is one of the main grapes in Bordeaux and California, but Cabernet Franc really has no country borders in its appeal, as there is hardly a wine-producing region, never mind the country, which doesn’t produce a delicious Cabernet Franc wine – Argentina, Australia, Chile, California, Washington, Oregon, New York, Canada, France, Italy, Israel, South Africa – we can go on and on. A few years ago, Lori Budd, who makes delicious renditions of Cabernet Franc in California under the Dracaena Wines labels, founded the Cabernet Franc Day to celebrate the noble grape. Don’t stay aside, join the festivities – get the bottle of your favorite Cabernet Franc, and share your happy moments with everybody.

To finish, a couple of interesting stories from the Wine Spectator. First, here you can read about a special around the world voyage of two barrels of Sherry on board the Spanish ship, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation. This journey should take 12 months and 44,000 miles. Upon return, the Sherry, produced by Gonzales Byass, will be bottled and commercially sold in some quantities, and it is expected to improve due to maritime influences. And here you can read about a special Port release by Taylor Fladgate, to commemorate the release of the 3rd movie in the Kingsman franchise. Special edition Kingsman Port spent about 90 years in the oak barrels, appropriately priced at $3,800, and packaged in a crystal decanter. I’m definitely looking forward to watching the movie when it comes out in February 2021, but as for the Port – Christmas is around the corner, so can I hope for a present from a kind soul?

That’s all I have for you today. The glass is empty, but the refill is on the way. Cheers!

Parent, Secret Power, Unsung Hero

December 10, 2017 6 comments

You just read the title of this post. What do you think we will be talking about? Of course, it can be a story about a person who had all those great qualities – but this is the wine blog, right? Can all those qualities belong to a grape?

Let’s see. Parent – this is simple. When two grapes are crossed, they will give birth to the new grapes, and, of course, we can call both of the original grapes parents. Unsung hero? This is typically someone who can quietly come to the help of others and solve the big problem or save a life. Apart from saving a life, a grape can be very instrumental in assisting others to do their best, bringing out their best qualities while remaining literally unknown. For example, helping to make delicious wine as part of the blend. Now, the secret power? Every once in a while a person can be on a secret mission and save the world, all alone, “solo” – James Bond meets Wonder Woman, anyone? Okay, okay, I’m only talking about making delicious wines, all by itself, solo.

Now, as we are talking about the grape, can you think of one which would fit this description? There are thousands of grapes used in winemaking, so theoretically, there is more than one grape which will fit this profile, but I would dare to say that one grape might stand above others in all these roles. Know what I’m about to say? There is a good chance you do – you probably guessed it already – I’m talking about Cabernet Franc.

Cabernet Franc grapes, as shown in Wikipedia

It is hard to tell when Cabernet Franc became known as a grape variety. It is definitely old, probably not as old as Chardonnay, which can trace its history all the way to the 11th century, but still older than most other grapes. While Cabernet Franc is typically associated with Bordeaux and Loire, it appears that it originated from the Basque Country in Spain, from where it spread through the south of France and reached Bordeaux.

How Cabernet Franc is a Parent? Based on DNA research, Cabernet Franc was a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Carménère – a good group of kids, isn’t it?

How is it an unsung hero? Cabernet Franc ripens at least one week earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. It can reach phenolic ripeness in the years when Cabernet Sauvignon will not, and thus in the blend, it will be a savior – this is why it was always so loved in Bordeaux, an insurance policy of sorts. While the tasting profile of Cabernet Franc is somewhat similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, it is typically softer and less tannic than its more famous offspring, so it makes the blend more approachable.

The Secret Power? When used in European wines, it is often unknown that the wine is made out of Cabernet Franc. For instance, Chateau Cheval Blanc, one of the most famous Bordeaux wines, is made predominantly out of the Cabernet Franc – but this is not widely known outside of the circle of wine aficionados. How about Olga Raffault Chinon? Chinon, a region in the Loire, is one of the best sources of delicious Cabernet Franc wines, but you have to simply know that. Coming to the new world, Cabernet Franc is not so secret anymore, as you can see it on the label, but I still can let you in on one little secret – this is one of the most versatile red grapes you can find. Talking about the United States, for instance, it is practically the only red grape which can consistently deliver delicious red wines both in California and in New York – and we don’t need to be so confined – Washington and Oregon are doing quite well with the Cabernet Franc, and so do Massachusets, New Jersey and even Rhode Island. And let’s not forget Canada, where the grape goes beyond dry reds and offers some of the most stunning dessert wines – Cabernet Franc Ice Wine.

Cabernet Franc AutoCollage

December 4th is when we celebrate this unique variety with the #CabFrancDay. The whole Cabernet Franc extravaganza is a product of obsession of one person – Lori Budd, who singlehandedly started this grape holiday in 2016. Lori expresses the love for the grape not just by talking about it – she also makes her own Cabernet Franc wine in Paso Robles under the Dracaena Wines label. This year I was able to try the Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc at the wine bloggers conference, and I can tell you that while I’m very particular about Cabernet Franc wines (prefer more old world style than new), I really enjoyed Lori’s rendition.

Grape holidays are always fun – you have a good reason to open a special bottle which was stashed in the corner, and share your love for the grape with the world. Cabernet Franc’s celebration is important beyond that simple joy. Take a look at Wikipedia article – it says that Cabernet Franc is “principally grown for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the Bordeaux style, but can also be vinified alone”. The Vins de Bordeaux website says that Cabernet Franc “is the ultimate complementary grape variety”. While this is true, Cabernet Franc is great for blending, this is also the grape which is excellent by itself, and we should recognize and acknowledge that, and change that perception of a “blending grape”.

This year, I had a great experience with beautiful Cabernet Franc wines from all over the world – 1982 Olga Raffault Chinon, Achaval-Ferrer Cabernet Franc from Argentina, Lieb Cabernet Franc from Long Island, New York, Dracaena Cabernet Franc from Paso Robles and many others. But to celebrate Cabernet Franc Day in style, I had an opportunity to open 3 more wines especially for the holiday – for one, representing both coasts of the USA – and, surprisingly enough, representing both styles of Cabernet Franc, the old world and the new world.

2014 ACORN Alegría Vineyards Cabernet Franc Russian River Valley (12.5% ABV, $38, 93% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, 2% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat, 18 months in barrel) was uniquely Californian in style – in many ways. Alegría Vineyards are Certified Sustainable, which is really the way now for many vineyards in California, with a lot of manual labor-intensive effort going into helping grapes to achieve their best potential. All the wines ACORN produces are made as field blends, where different grapes are co-fermented together, according to the century-old field-blend vineyard traditions. The result was beautifully balanced, fruit forward wine, boasting pure cassis flavors, supported by the medley of the red fruit and perfect acidity. The wine was clean and delicious.

Two more wines were a total surprise for me. These two Cabernet Franc wines were both made in New Jersey. I have very little experience with New Jersey wines, and that experience was not necessarily all positive, so yes, I didn’t have much expectation as I was pulling the corks, just a hope that the wines would be at least palatable.

While Unionville Vineyards were planted only in 1987 and the winery opened its doors to the public in 1993, the land where the vineyards a located was a farmland even before the 1850s. As a farmland, it went through many different plantings and such – peach orchard, apple orchard, dairy farm, grains, and horses – but returned to the fruits with the first grapevine plantings in 1987 – this is when the story of Unionville Vineyards started.

2014 Unionville Vineyards Amwell Ridge Cabernet Franc New Jersey (13.6% ABV) had dark garnet color in the glass. Intense nose, a touch of sweet tobacco, black currant. On the palate, interesting salinity first, following by clean acidity and then herbal notes. Mint, anise, a touch of blackcurrant – excellent Cab Franc rendition.

Beneduce Vineyards is located in the same Hunterdon County as Unionville Vineyards. Chardonnay, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer are the main white grape varieties at Beneduce Vineyards, and the list of reds includes Pinot Noir, Blaufränkisch and, of course, Cabernet Franc.

2014 Beneduce Vineyards Cabernet Franc Hunterdon County (12.5% ABV) had dark garnet color in the glass. Fresh and crispy on the nose, with a touch of green bell pepper, dark chocolate, black currant – very impressive, Chinon-Style. Beautiful palate, with a touch of tannins, black currant, layers, well integrated, refreshing.
If there is anything I want you to remember from this post, it is that Cabernet Franc power goes well beyond blends, and Cabernet Franc wines are well worth seeking from anywhere in the world.
What is your view of the Cabernet Franc? Do you have any favorite Cab Franc wines? Do you prefer old world or a new world style? What is the best Cab Franc wine you ever had? Cheers!

#WineChat, #WineChat, #WineChat, #WineChat!

December 4, 2015 Leave a comment

I guess you are thinking that I accidentally fell asleep at the keyboard, and the same word was repeated multiple times in the title. Or may be I’m working on the new wine riddle. Well, no, I’m not asleep and I’m not good at creating riddles. But over the next few days, there will be 4 different #WineChats or #WineChat style events which I would like to bring to your attention.

Lazy Bones Cabernet Franc Paso Robles

First, on Friday, December 4th (which is today!), we will be celebrating Cabernet Franc, one of the noble grape varietals and one of the “parents” of the Cabernet Sauvignon. This #CabFrancDay celebration is started by Lori and Michael of Dracaena Wines, and the culmination point of the celebration will be a live #WineChat on Twitter, starting at 8 PM Eastern time. The celebration is easy to join – pour yourself a glass of Cabernet Franc (you got lots of choices – Bordeaux, Loire, Languedoc, California, Australia, New York state, Oregon, Argentina and many other regions), open Twitter and chat away.

Finger Lakes Wines Sparkling and Dessert

Next virtual event will take place on Wednesday, December 9th, 7 – 8 PM Eastern – Finger Lakes Wine Alliance will conduct its traditional Sparkling and Dessert Wines tasting. The event will take place on Twitter using hash tag #FLXwineVT, together with the live broadcast on UStream. 6 wineries will participate in the tasting – Damiani Wine Cellars, Fox Run Vineyards, Glenora Wine Cellars, Lakewood Vineyards, Standing Stone Vineyards and Thirsty Owl Wine Company.

Left Coast Cellars Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir

After you and your fingers will take one hour break, it will be a time to join a #WineChat! At 9 PM Eastern, Luke McCollom, General Manager, Viticulturist and Founding Wine Maker of Left Coast Cellars from Oregon will be discussing “the advantages of a single vineyard estate”. All you need to do to join the conversation, which I’m sure will be very interesting (I published a two-part interview with Luke McCollom a short while ago – part 1 and part 2), is to open Twitter and join the conversation with the hash tag #WineChat.

Frescobaldi Wines

Last but not least, on Thursday, December 10th, there will be a virtual tasting of 700 year old Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi’s “CRU wines from its signature estates (Castello di Nipozzano, Castello di Pomino, Tenuta di Castelgiocondo, Tenuta di Castiglioni)”. The tasting will start at 1 PM Eastern (was originally scheduled for 2 PM), and it will be done as a live broadcast over UStream. Tasting will be conducted by Lamberto Frescobaldi, President and 30th generation of Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi. Join in!

I hope you will find time to join at least one tasting – the conversations at those events are always live and entertaining. Until the next time – cheers!

 

 

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