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Parent, Secret Power, Unsung Hero

December 10, 2017 5 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!

Daily Glass: France, New Jersey, Oregon

April 25, 2015 18 comments

Old York Cellars WinesGlass of wine (or two, but who’s counting) is a standard daily routine at our house (most of the time anyway). Hence these “Daily Glass” posts, where I talk about those “everyday” wines. What I’m trying to stress here that it is really an “everyday” wine phenomenon, as opposed to the wine dinners, birthday, holidays and other special occasions.

In today’s post I want to talk about my recent “everyday” wine experiences, which included wines from France, New Jersey and Oregon. I’m sorry, what are you saying? You never heard of the New Jersey wines? Really? Okay, fine, you got me. New Jersey wines are not my everyday wines either. But the wines are made in New Jersey, and some of them are pretty good wines, I have to admit.

Anyway, let’s talk about those recent “everyday” wines – shall we?

Domaine Rolet Chardonnay Arbois AOC JuraLet’s start with the two wines from France. First, 2005 Domaine Rolet Chardonnay Arbois AOC, Jura (13.5% ABV, $20?) – yes, a pretty rare bird – the wine from Jura. I got two bottles few years ago at  the store in Massachusetts.  This was my second bottle, and while I’m sure the wine would still can go on and on, I thought that 10 years should be good enough to open it. After initial whiff of oxidation on the nose (quite typical for Jura), the wine opened into delicious, balanced Chardonnay. White fruit on the nose, touch of vanilla. Clean acidity, Chablis-like minerality, touch of lemon and Granny Smith apples, perfectly fresh and balanced. Drinkability: 8-

Chateau Lilian Ladouys Saint-EstépheNext wine was really an unexpected treat. I have to admit – I rarely drink Bordeaux. Inexpensive Bordeaux often under-delivers. And I really don’t want to experiment with $50 wines; $120+ wines are out of my league for the everyday consumption. But with this particular wine, the story was much simpler – “try before buy” is the best thing since the sliced bread, people! Stopped by my local favorite wine store, Cost Less Wines, for the traditional Saturday tasting. Lester, who usually runs the tastings, poured the wine from the decanter and warned me – “you might not like it”. 1994 Chateau Lilian Ladouys Saint-Estéphe (12.5% ABV, $15) – this is just a tasting, how bad can it be? First smell – amazing, mature wine with complex, fragrant bouquet. First sip – wow, dried fruit, hazelnut, spices, distant hint of cinnamon, fresh acidity – a perfect package. Turns out that the first bottle opened for the tasting was somewhat off, this is what prompted Lester’s warning. This wine was decanted for 2 hours, and it was perfect – I don’t know how much life it still has, but considering the way it was drinking, it definitely has a few more years to enjoy it. Drinkability: 9

And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for – New Jersey wines. Let me ask you something – what would be your expectations of the New Jersey wines? Yes, New Jersey is better known for its humongous malls, Jersey Shore or evenly spaced, monotonically numbered highway exits. Wines? Not something people would readily associate with the Garden State. I also had sad prior experience with one of the New Jersey wines, which I simply deemed “undrinkable”, so when I was asked if I want to participate in the virtual tasting of New Jersey wines, my first inclination was “thank you, but no”. After a second (or a fifth) thought, there was “well, may be?” moment, so I said – sure, will be glad to.

You would understand my skepticism even better if I will tell you that the wines offered for the tasting were not anything less than the classic varietals – Chardonnay and Merlot. I’m very particular with the flavor profile of both, as from my experience, it is very easy to screw up the respective wines. Okay, so the winery in point – Old York Cellars. Vineyards at Old York Cellars were planted in 1979, and the winery was first to produce commercial wines in New Jersey in 1981. Today winery produces about 6,200 cases from the 18 different grape varieties with Vidal Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Marechal Foch been most popular among the customers. We learned these and many other interesting facts during the #VirtualVines twitter session with winemaker Scott Gares, who had been making wines for more than 20 years – “it’s the family business” he twitted.

Old York Cellars ChardonnayNow, let’s talk about the wines. First, 2012 Old York Cellars Chardonnay (under 12% ABV, $18). When I just pulled the cork and poured wine into the glass, the first sip was simply not good. There was lots of salinity and soap, so my first thought was “here we go again” (referring to my prior experience with NJ wine). Oh well, let’s see what will happen. 30 minutes later, it was totally different wine. Touch of vanilla showed up on the nose. On the palate, the wine opened up into a clean, classic Chardonnay, plump, medium to full body, vanilla, apples and touch of butter on the palate, excellent balance. Don’t know why the wine started like it did, but the transformation was very impressive. I was upset when the bottle was finished, would love to have another sip. Drinkability: 8

Old York Cellars MerlotNext wine was 2013 Old York Cellars Merlot (15.5% ABV, $18). From get go, this was one tasty wine. Dark fruit on the nose (without characteristic cassis though). On the palate, very interesting smoke and spice, with undertones of mudrooms and forest floor, and well present sapidity. A thought provoking red wine. Full bodied and concentrated, with excellent balance. What was also very interesting is that at 15.5% ABV, the alcohol was extremely well integrated – it was not showing on the nose or on the palate. Drinkability: 8-

So here are two wines which greatly exceeded my expectations – you know, it is the sip of the wine which becomes an ultimate truth. Perception holds a lot of power in the world of wine – but more on this later in the separate post. For now I can only recommend that if you will have an opportunity, try the Old York Cellar wines – at least I plan to continue doing that.

Brick House Pinot Noir OregonThe last wine for today – 2011 Brick House Vineyards ‘Cuvée du Tonnelier’ Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge, Oregon (13% ABV, $45). Lately, I come across many wines made with biodynamic grapes – most of them are really good wines, but I’m still trying to form an opinion if those are just lucky accidents or a trend. Also, label specifically says that the wine is made with Biodynamic® grapes – Biodynamic with upper case and registered trademark symbol next to it – is “Biodynamic” like “Champagne” now? Anyway, the wine was delicious – a classic Pinot Noir nose with smoke and mushrooms, bright fresh fruit on the palate, very clean, round, perfectly balanced – a new world wine, yes, but perfect finesse and elegance. Biodynamic or what, but it was one tasty wine.  Drinkability: 8

And we are done here. Have you had any of these wines? Have you ever had wines from New Jersey? What do you think of Biodynamic wines? If you are willing to talk, I’m ready 🙂 Cheers!

Note: Old York Cellars wines where supplied as a media sample. All opinions are my own.

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