The very first time I set foot in Napa Valley more than 20 years ago, Franciscan Estate was one of the producers I visited. In the ensuing years I’ve consumed wine from Franciscan fairly regularly and visited a couple of others times back then. However, it occurred when I was planning a trip out to Napa a few months back that I hadn’t actually been to the winery in a long time. So I scheduled a visit and I’m sure glad I did. I had the chance to spend a few hours with assistant winemaker Marla Carroll. We tasted through both finished and unfinished wines. Mostly what I took away from the visit is how much they’re moving forward. They continue to improve their widely available wines as well as adding some new ones. They also have quite a few offerings that are exclusive to the tasting room and wine club. If you’re looking for solid everyday values from Napa Valley, Franciscan has them. If you want some harder to find higher end exclusives they have those too. Pick some up locally and then next time you’re in Napa head over to Franciscan Estate and taste some of the limited wines they reserve for guests to their room and wine club members.
Franciscan Estate 2014 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($17.99)
Along with the next two offerings this is among of the most widely distributed of the Franciscan wines. It's composed of entirely Sauvignon Blanc. It has no contact with oak. Grapefruit and tropical fruit aromas fill the nose. The mouth-feel is soft and lovely with lots of citrus and stone fruit flavors throughout. White pepper and sour yellow fruits mark the crisp, clean, and refreshing finish. This is a textbook example of Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.
Franciscan Estate 2012 Napa Valley Merlot ($20.99)
This is largely Merlot (93%) with small amounts of Malbec (4%), Syrah (2%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (1%) blended in. Red berry fruit aromas tinged with black light up the expressive nose. There are droves of black cherry flavors and bits of black raspberry on the full flavored and juicy palate. Blackberry, black tea, dusty cocoa, and bits of espresso are all present on the above average finish. This is a fine example of Merlot that expresses good character. Year after year it provides very good value.
Franciscan Estate2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($28)
Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), with smaller amounts of Merlot (9%), Malbec (3%), Petit Verdot (2%), and Cabernet Franc (1%) blended in. Bits of forest floor and cherry emerge from the somewhat brooding nose. Cherry characteristics of all sorts reverberate throughout the palate as well. A ton of spice notes join in as well. Espresso, minerals, chocolate and kirsch liqueur are all in play as well. This has a very solid finish with loads of Cabernet character.
Franciscan Estate 2012 Magnificat ($55)
This Bordeaux inspired blend is what I always think of as Franciscan’s signature wine. I’ve been drinking it going back to the early 90’s and it remains one of the benchmark blends in Napa in the under $100 price category. This vintage is composed of Cabernet Sauvignon (73%), Merlot (19%) , Petit Verdot (3%), Malbec (3%), and Cabernet Franc (2%). Big black fruit aromas are in evidence on the nose. Black plum, raspberry and Bing cherry flavors are all accounted for. Lots of spice notes are in play as well. Savory herbs, dark chocolate and roasted espresso emerge on the persistent finish along with bits of black pepper and toasty oak. This vintage of Magnificat is a fine entry in an impressive lineage of wines. It’s a cohesive offering with all of the varieties coming together to serve the whole.
Franciscan Estate 2012 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon ($55)
This selection is made up of entirely Cabernet Sauvignon from the Oakville appellation. Violet and tobacco aromas are present on the nose along with red berry fruit. The palate is studded with an avalanche of cherries of all sorts. They’re accompanied by bits of cinnamon and peppercorn. The velvety finish shows off earth, pencil lead and continuing cherry elements. This is a precise and lovely expression of Oakville fruit.
Franciscan Estate 2012 Napa Valley Stylus ($90)
Stylus is Franciscan’s top expression of Napa Valley Cabernet. This vintage in addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (92%), some Petit Verdot (5%), and Malbec (3%) were blended in. The aromas here are dark and somewhat brooding with blackberry and black raspberry leading the charge. Black plum, cherry and bits of chocolate sauce do the full bodied palate. Black tea, chicory and earth are all present on the long, somewhat lusty finish. Big, firm, chewy tannins and terrific acidity provide a backbone for excellent aging potential.
Franciscan Estate has been doing a nice job in Napa Valley for decades. It’s good to see them continually pushing the envelope on quality as well new offerings.