In case you missed it, this past Sunday (December 4th) was International Cabernet Franc Day and as such, the indefatigable Lori Budd of Dracaena Wines, the undisputed champion of the variety, asked me to participate in an online tasting of several bottles of the oft neglected grape. It is perhaps most often used as part of a blend (other than in the Loire Valley), but as the six wines I tasted this weekend show, it is more than capable of being the star of the show.
2015 Leah Jørgensen Cellars Blanc de Cabernet Franc Mae’s Vineyard, Applegate Valley Oregon: Retail $30. As many of you may know, almost all juice that comes from wine grapes is clear—it is the contact with the skins during fermentation that gives a red wine its color. While making a white wine from red grapes is common practice with sparkling wines, it is rare with still wines, and this is the first such Blanc de Noirs that I have tried that was not made from Pinot Noir. Initially, this wine threw me for a loop, for on the nose, it certainly comes off as a white wine with red apple, white grape, and a bit of cinnamon. On the palate, however, the flavors are more reminiscent of a red wine; red berries, a bit of green pepper, and yes, some citrus (and really great acidity). It took me a while to get into this wine, which I would guess might have been one of the reasons behind making it. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
2015 Leah Jørgensen Cellars Cabernet Franc Southern Oregon: Retail $25. “With a whimsical nod to France’s Loire Valley.” Ripe blackberry fruit, with a healthy dose of earthy notes leads to a well-balanced palate: not overly fruity nor jammy, with tasty red fruit, a touch of forest floor, and well-balanced acidity. After taking a bit of time to open up, this wine really delivered—even more so on the second day of being open. There are a ton of great wines coming out of Southern Oregon, a region that I feel will soon be emerging from the shadow of its northern “big brother.” Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2015 Chateau Niagara Cabernet Franc: Retail $30. After the Jørgensen White, I opened this next. Why? Honestly? Well, I am not a huge fan of the label and I honestly thought the wine could possibly be worse (I know, I know, “don’t judge a wine by its tacky label”). But something funny happened on the way to my little judgment ceremony: the wine is not that bad! In fact, I would venture to say that this is actually quite good. Dusty dark berry fruit with a bit of campfire smoke starts it off, followed by a really fruity, yet complex palate. This will never be confused with, say, Chinon, but that is good since it is not from the Loire Valley. This is just another data point that convinces me that Cab Franc should be ”the” hardy, cold winter grape variety. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2014 Glorie Farm Winery Cabernet Franc Hudson River Region: Retail $19. Way back in the day, I was a French teacher and basketball coach at a boarding school in the Hudson Valley. That first summer there I ventured off to Europe to lead bicycle tours, which eventually led me to both my wife and my blog (notice please, the order in which I placed those two outcomes). The school was in the town that was shared by perhaps the most widely known winery in the appellation and although I did visit a couple of times, well, I did not venture beyond that singular outpost. Based on this wine, I might want to consider a trip to my old “stomping grounds.” While this wine is a bit smokey and green on the nose, it is a wonderfully restrained wine that does harken the wines of Bourgueil and even Chinon: a dash of fruit with depth and myriad flavors, this is both tantalizing and intriguing. Hudson Valley has come a long way since my days of pacing the bench and this winery requires more scouting. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2012 St. Supéry Cabernet Franc Rutherford Estate Vineyard Napa Valley: Retail $65. 94% Cabernet Franc, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. St. Supéry is one of the first wineries I ever visited in the Napa Valley and memories of that encounter have lasted the score of years since. The first was the area in the tasting room where they had several stations set up to smell the various aromas found in wine. The second was what the tasting room attendant said to me as I reached for some water to rinse out my glass between wines: “Whoa! Do you want your wine to taste like water or taste like wine?” Ever since I have been saying the same to others. This wine? Wow. What a nose: blackberry, raspberry, vanilla, and hint of mocha and smoke. On the palate? Giddy-up. Luscious fruit, good acidity, and layer after layer of depth. There is a bit of grip (tannins) on the finish, suggesting this beauty has plenty of time ahead of it. But why wait? Outstanding right now. 91-93 Points.
2013 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc St. Helena, Napa Valley: Retail $60. 100% Cabernet Franc. Initially, rather subtle, even shy, as it required a bit of coaxing to show itself. After some time in the glass, hints of raspberry, but plenty of spice—I had no doubt that this wine would live up to the lofty expectations I have for the brand. Whoa. Layer after layer of fruit with a mélange of spice, earth, and tannin. This was honestly slow out of the gate, but after a bit of time? Holy cow. This is not the wine to drink as an introduction to Cab Franc. In fact this might be the single worst example of Cabernet Franc that you could ever show anyone. Why? Simple. After drinking this wine the bar will be set far, far, too high. Every other CF can only hope to to come close in comparison. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.