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Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

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Cabernet Franc

Cakebread Cellars - 2006 Dancing Bear Ranch

Cakebread Cellars has been in operation in Napa Valley since 1973. With vineyards spread over a host of appellations they have more than 450 acres under vine in a handful of prime Napa Valley locations. They started out making Chardonnay in their first vintage and that as well as Sauvignon Blanc remain amongst their best known offerings year after year. However their portfolio includes a growing stable of well made reds. That includes no less than 3 distinct Cabernet Sauvignons. Today I’ll look at their Bordeaux inspired blend from Howell Mountain. The Cakebread Cellars 2006 Dancing Bear Ranch was produced using fruit sourced at their estate vineyard on Howell Mountain. The Dancing Bear Ranch is comprised of 200 acres; just fewer than 30 are under vine. This vineyard was planted in 1999. This offering is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (79%), Merlot (17%), and Cabernet Franc (4%). This wine was fermented in stainless steel and barrel aging occurred in French oak over 26 months; 60% of the barrels were new. 2,500 cases of this selection were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $105.

The nose of this wine is a touch reticent at first. But as it gets some air, aromas of bramble, blackberry, thyme and vanilla emerge. Cherry flavors are prominent on the palate and they’re underscored by solid wallops of fig and dark berry flavors as well as a host of spices such as white and black pepper. All of these come together to form a pure burst of flavor that showcases the unadulterated intensity of mountain fruit. Pencil lead, espresso, earth and mineral notes all emerge on the lengthy, layered and rather impressive finish of this wine. This release has firm tannins and solid acidity.

I really like this estate blend from Cakebread Cellars, but it’s still in its infancy. Dancing Bear Ranch is a wine you’re going to want to lay down for maximum enjoyment. However if you’re going to drink it now, I’d recommend decanting it for a solid 5-6 hours as well as pairing it with hearty fare. I went back to this wine after it had been open for a full 24 hours and it was even more impressive than it had been on night one. But if you’re patient, lay this beauty down in your cellar for a decade or so and then pull it out for a special occasion over the following 6-8 years and you’ll be in for some serious gratification. Either way this is a well made wine showcasing it’s pedigree of serious Howell Mountain fruit. This is a terrific addition to the Cakebread line.

Stepping Stone - 2007 Grenache / 2007 Cabernet Franc

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to taste and write about what were then the current Cabernet Sauvignon releases for Cornerstone Cellars in Napa. Both wines were truly exceptional; the Howell Mountain Cabernet was a particularly special bottle. A few months later I had the chance, while I was out in Napa Valley, to taste some of their older vintages as well as what were then upcoming releases. Once again the wines were very impressive. So I was quite pleased to find wines from their second label Stepping Stone on my desk to sample. Today I’ll look at their current releases of Grenache and Cabernet Franc. Stay tuned for a close look at the current releases from their main label soon too. First up is the Stepping Stone 2007 Grenache. The fruit for this wine was sourced in Lake County. In addition to Grenache (96%), a bit of Zinfandel (4%) is blended in as well. 500 cases of this wine were produced and the suggested retail price is $20.

Personally I’ve been drinking more and more Grenache of late. As time has gone on I’ve found it to be amongst the food friendliest of red varietals. This Stepping Stone selection opens with deep, dark berry aromas. Strawberry, rhubarb, blackberry pie and a host of spice notes are all part of the full flavored palate. The dark fruit continues through the finish where it’s joined by black pepper and a final savory note that clings persistently to the back of the throat. Ultimately it draws you in for another sip. This Grenache is framed by good acidity.

The second selection is the Stepping Stone 2007 Cabernet Franc. The fruit for this offering was sourced in Carneros. In addition to Cabernet Franc (90%), Merlot (10%) has been blended in. 500 cases of this selection were produced and the suggested retail price is $30.

When I’m out tasting wine, there are certain varietals whose mere presence on a tasting sheet build up anticipation. Even before getting to them on the list I find myself thinking about them and hoping that they live up to my expectation for that varietal. Cabernet Franc is most definitely one of those grapes. So as you could imagine, I'm glad that the second selection from Stepping Stone is a Cabernet Franc.

This 2007 Cabernet Franc from Carneros leads with leather, plum, blueberry and a hint of eucalyptus in the nose. Continued plum and blueberry combine in a gentle, layered and diverse palate. Cigar box emerges on the finish along with mineral and gentle hints of earth and little waves of spice. This wine has absolutely terrific acidity. Much like the Grenache this Cabernet Franc is a food lover’s delight.

First off these two releases under Cornerstone Cellars Stepping Stone label are delicious wines in their own right. Secondly, each is an excellent examples of Grenache and Cabernet Franc respectively. They also do a fine job representing the regions where the fruit was sourced. While not intended for long term aging like the Cornerstone Cabernet’s these Stepping Stone wines will be delicious for the next 3-5 years. They’re reasonably priced for the quality they offer and both would be solid bets with a wide array of food.

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Hess Collection - 2006 19 Block Cuvée

hess 19 blockI’ve been fond of wines form Mount Veeder for many years now. But over the last year I’ve made a more concerted effort to try more of them. While I think a wide array of varietals shine up on Mt. Veeder the classic Bordeaux grapes are amongst those I feel stand out most often. Today I’m going to take a look at a selection from Hess Collection. They’re the largest winery on Mt Veeder by case production. Within their size though they do a wide variety of things; both small and large production wines are part of their portfolio. Their estate boasts 310 acres of vineyards which are sustainably farmed. Today I’ll look at one of their blends. The Hess Collection 2006 19 Block Cuvée is produced from estate fruit. The vineyard site the fruit was sourced from ranges in altitude from 1,300 to 2,000 feet. Fruit was selected from 19 blocks within the vineyard, thus the name of the wine. This selection is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (69%), Malbec (11%), Syrah (10%), Merlot (5%), Petit Verdot (3%) and Cabernet Franc (2%). Oak aging was accomplished over 18 months in French oak; 50% of the barrels were new. Just over 14,000 cases of this selection were produced and the suggested retail price is $35.

Leather and cherry notes are prominent on the nose of this Mt. Veeder blend. A host of berry fruit, (particularly blackberry) along with spice, and cigar box are part of the palate. Somewhere around mind-palate, dark, rich unsweetened chocolate notes kick in. The finish is nice and lengthy with black pepper, mineral notes and cherry that keeps echoing. This wine has a firm tannic structure that softens with some air, as well as firm acidity.

This is a very well rounded wine. While this selction is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, the other varietals shine through and create a very cohesive blend that makes this offering a clear case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Though this wine also includes Syrah, stylistically it drinks like a Napa Valley Bordeaux or Meritage style blend. For a suggested retail price of $35 this wine over delivers in spades. With over 14,000 cases made it should be easy to locate too.

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Dinner With Kim Longbottom & Renae Hirsch of Henry's Drive

Last week I had the opportunity to have dinner with Kim Longbottom and Renae Hirsch of Henry's Drive. This Padthaway Australia producer has a vast repertoire of wines; some appropriate for everyday drinking and others for special occasions, gift giving or cellaring. I'd met Renae last year (read that report here) and at the time she had only been on the job a short while. WithParsons_Flat_Bottle_big this followup meeting I was looking forward to learning how things had progressed for her at Henry's Drive. And of course I was also happy to be meeting proprietor Kim Longbottom. The first two wines we tasted were both Chardonnay based. First up was The Postmistress Blanc de Blanc. This sparkling wine is 100% Chardonnay and when it makes it to the US sometime in 2010 it will retail for $19.99. I found this to be a tasty lighter style of sparkling wine, one I'd consume with Brunch foods perhaps. The second wine was Morse Code Chardonnay. This is one of two varietal entries that will be part of the under $10 tier for Henry's Drive. It's fair to think of it and the Morse Code Shiraz as single varietal counterparts to the two Pillar Box wines. I really enjoyed the clean, fresh, fruit forward style of this 2009 Chardonnay. For a suggested retail of $8.99, this will make a solid choice for everyday drinking when it's released here in the next month or so.

Pillar Box Red is the first wine from Henry's Drive I became aware of several years back. I find that it's been a consistent offering in the value category and also a popular one. In speaking to Renae she indicated that a wine like Pillar Box Red which many people drink and are aware of is one of the selections she feels a bit more pressure in producing since it's had a longstanding reputation that preceded her becoming winemaker. No question to me that she's achieved her goal as the overall quality of this wine and its flavor profile have remained true to the course.

Two wines stood out as overall favorites for me. The Trial of John Montford was one. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (90%) and Cabernet Franc (10%), leads with a big nose of leather, berry and vanilla. Cherry and earth are amongst the dominat notes through the palate and they lead to a lengthy and layered finish. This 2007 selection has a suggested retail price of $29.99. While I think it's quite tasty now, a few years in the cellar will really help it come together into an even nicer package.

The 2007 Dead Letter Office Shiraz was my other favorite of the evening. This selection blends Shiraz from McLaren Vale (67%) in with the Padthaway (33%) fruit. Of the higher end reds in the Henry's Drive portfolio this is the wine that evolved the most dramatically in the glass throughout the evening. The combination of fruit from two sources lends itself to creating a very balanced Shiraz with a multitude of layers. The suggested retail price on this wine is $26.99

In all we went through 10 selections. Beside the wines already mentioned we tasted Pillar Box Reserve, Henry's Drive Shiraz, Henry's Drive Reserve Shiraz, and the Parson's Flat Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon. In speaking with Kim throughout the evening it was clear that the goal is to create full flavored wines with balance. This is a goal that in my opinion they're reaching. Certainly I have my favorites as I indicated above, but the house style in general is one that I have an overall fondness for. This is an Australian producer I gladly recommend; regardless of your wine budget there are Henry's Drive offerings you can find room for.

One of the other pleasures of meeting Kim was getting to hear details I wasn't familiar with about their use of Postal Service terms, names and legends for their wines. Having a story is one thing, but when it's backed by historical fact and reality it adds something to the intrigue of a bottle of wine.

By all means if you have the unique opportunity to spend some time, and taste wine, with these charming ladies I highly recommend it. Some even say they're a couple of Saucy Aussies.

Imported by Quintessential Wines.

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Titus Vineyards - 2006 Cabernet Franc

A couple of weeks ago when I was out in Napa Valley I had the opportunity to visit Titus Vineyards. They're right on Silverado Trail yet if you titus francblink there's a good chance you'll miss them, which I almost did. Generally they're not open for public tastings. On this particular occasion they were hosting a blind tasting of Cabernet Sauvignon. Many other folks in the local wine community stopped by with a bottle of wine. Each bottle was in a brown paper bag and had a number assigned. I didn't count exactly how many there where, or taste every one, but I think it was in the neighborhood of 50 Cabs. It was a fun time and it was nice to say hi to the Titus brothers, who are responsible from some very tasty wines. It put me in the mood to taste and report on more of their selections. Today I'll look at their current release of Cabernet Franc. The Titus Vineyards 2006 Cabernet Franc has Cabernet Sauvignon (11%), Malbec (10%), and Merlot (4%) blended in. Barrel aging was accomplished over 20 months in all French oak; 30% were new. 385 cases of this selection were produced. The suggested retail price for this wine is $36.

I've thoroughly enjoyed and been impressed by each release I've had from Titus Vineyards. If you add that together with the fact that Cabernet Franc is a varietal I particularly enjoy, you can imagine I was excited to taste this wine. Leather, black fruit and an undercurrent of lavender are the most obvious aromas that emerge from this wine. Dark cherry notes are gloriously prominent and downright exuberant throughout the palate of this Franc. Dark chocolate is also present and echoes throughout this wine from start to finish in varying degrees, reaching a crescendo towards the back of the palate as it leads into the finish. Cloves, mineral and earth are joined by hints of tobacco and black tea on an excellent finish that is marked by it's length and lingering remnants of excellent acidity which is present throughout. This wine will pair well with roast meats, mushroom based dishes and other flavorful foods.

I went back to this wine after it had been open for 24 hours and it had continued to evolve and improve. If you store this wine properly it's going to get better in the bottle for the next 5 or so years and drink well for another 5 after that. However, if you're impatient and plan to drink this Cabernet Franc soon, do yourself a favor and decant it for at least an hour. This wine continues the streak of impressive offerings from Titus Vineyards. The hallmark for me has been a combination of brash and exuberant wines loaded with fruit, that are balanced with excellent structure, firm acidity and the ability to age. Another common trait amongst the Titus wines is that they over-deliver on their price points. If I had paid $55 0r $60 for this wine, it would have still been a fair value. At $36 it's a tremendous one.

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Urraca - 2005 Familia Langley Reserva

Many well known wine regions make blends inspired by the well known examples that come out of Bordeaux. These can fall flat when the urracawinery in question is simply trying to imitate a style. However when a producer aspires to make the best blend possible with the fruit available to them, all the while showing off their terroir, they have a much better chance of hitting the mark. Today I'll look at the third wine from Urraca, which is a Bordeaux style blend. The 2005 Urraca Familia Langley Reserva is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (36%), Malbec (36%), Cabernet Franc (17%) and Merlot (11%). Oak aging was accomplished in a combination of French and American barrels over a period of 18 months. The suggested retail price for this offering is $72.

Leather, vanilla, dark brooding berry and hints of espresso bean are all present in the nose. Lots of plum, blueberry, and a host of dark, ripe, heady berry fruit are prominent throughout the full bodied palate along with plum pudding spice. Sweet dark chocolate notes, black tea, mineral, white pepper, cigar-box and ever emerging earth characteristics come together to form an impressively lengthy finish. This blend has chewy tannins, good acidity and excellent overall structure. Pair it with big, bold foods that can match it's combination of power and elegance. The blend may be made of Old World components, but this is very much a New World wine.

As was the case with the 2005 Primera this wine should be decanted for maximum enjoyment if you're going to drink it in the next couple of years. My advice however is to tuck this away in your cellar and forget about if for the next 5 years or so. Then dig it out and drink it sometime over the next 8-10 years. The Urraca wines I have had are all excellent, well made, "high end" offerings. There are a ton of well priced, well made wines coming from South America in general and Argentina specifically. many of these offer value, and sufficient complexity for everyday drinking. The wines from Urraca aim for a different goal, they shoot for greatness. These delicious, complex wines meet their goal. In my opinion these offerings stand with a handful of other Argentine producers as examples of the best wines they offer.

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Lucchesi Vineyards - 2006 Cabernet Franc

cab-franc-05-frontLucchesi Vineyards and Winery is located in the Sierra Foothills. They have 20 acres under vine; planted to a wide selection of varietals that were found suitable for their terrain. The vineyard itself is a steeply terraced one, with southwestern exposure, maximizing the sunlight hours. I've come across an increasing number of wines from this region that are well crafted, enjoyable, and good values. Today I'll look at the Lucchesi Vineyards Cabernet Franc to see if it falls into that category. The Lucchesi Vineyards 2006 Cabernet Franc was sourced at their View Forever Vineyard. This offering has 5% Merlot blended in. It was aged in French oak (25% new) for 21 months. 278 cases were produced and the suggested retail price is $24.

Plum, berry pie and spice are on full display in the nose of this Cabernet Franc. Throughout the full bodied palate, there is a host of spices; clove, nutmeg, and white pepper, which all accompany the generous wallop of rich, fresh, dark berry fruit characteristics. Towards the end of the mid-palate, chocolate covered cherry notes emerge and carry forward through the long, memorable finish which also features earth, mineral, and black tea reference points. This wine has approachable tannins that give way with some air. Sufficient acidity frames this Franc. This offering will be a good match with hard cheeses, mushroom based dishes, or grilled meats.

I really enjoyed this wines combination of full flavored fruit, indicative of the Sierra Foothills and the true Cabernet Franc characteristics, such as a big nose that shine through. This offering is structured enough to lay down for several years. It's likely to improve in the short term (3-5 years) and drink well for several years after that.

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Lucas & Lewellen - 2005 Santa Barbara County Cabernet Franc

The final stop, for this edition, of the 12 Days of Cabernet Franc is the Santa Ynez Valley. The previous wines I've looked at from Lucas & llLewellen Vineyards impressed me. so it felt like a no brainer to taste their Franc for this series. Lucas & Lewellen has vineyards planted in three distinct regions, Santa Maria Valley, Los Alamos Valley & Santa Ynez Valley. From those vineyards they produce a broad array of releases. The 2005 Lucas & Lewellen Cabernet Franc is produced from Estate fruit sourced at their Valley View Vineyard. This wine is 100% Cabernet Franc. This Franc was aged for 19 months in a combination of 1-5 year old French oak. 650 cases of this offering were produced and the suggested retail price is $26.

The nose of this Franc is big and bright, full of ripe berries and vanilla notes. Those ripe, lush, berry characteristics carry through the palate, along with cherry and spice notes. The finish brings out nutmeg, cloves, and chocolate covered blackberries. This wine has approachable tannins and good acidity.

What I like best about this Cabernet Franc from Lucas & Lewellen is that it's opulent, explosive and an absolute joy to drink. This wine makes for pleasurable drinking on its own, but will be a good match for full flavored cuisine. A cheese burger with caramelized onions and hickory smoked bacon would work perfectly. This offering is best enjoyed over the next 3-4 years when its fruit flavors are bright, bold, and delightful.

And thus concludes the 12 Days of Cabernet Franc.

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Casa Nuestra -2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Franc

nuestraOne more stop in Napa Valley for the 12 Days of Cabernet Franc. Casa Nuestra Winery & Vineyards is located in the northern part of the Silverado Trail. Their annual case production stands at about 2000, and they make close to a dozen different wines each year. CasaNuestra sources some of their fruit, however most of their wine is produced from Estate grown Vineyards. The Majority of their wine is sold by directly through the tasting room (or website) and Wine Club. They produce blends, single varietal offerings and some field blends. Having been to their tasting room I recommend it for the quality and diversity of the wines, as well as an incredibly welcoming atmosphere. The 2006 Casa Nuestra Cabernet Franc is 100% varietal. Casa Nuestra has been producing Franc from the same vineyard since 1986. 300 cases of this vintage were produced and it sells for $38.

Leather, blueberry and vanilla appear on the nose of this Napa Valley Franc. This is a full bodied wine with a rich palate filled with notes of dried cranberry, blackberry, and a touch of eucalyptus. The lengthy finish brings on earth, French Roast coffee notes, bramble and mineral characteristics. This wine has a firm tannic structure and excellent acidity. I paired this with a roast pork loin sandwich and found it to be a very good match. Other meats will work as well.

If you're going to drink this wine in the next year or two decanting is necessary to get the best from it. I'd recommend an hour. If you're patient tuck it away and it'll improve over the next 3-4 years and drink well for at least 4-5 after that. I love the big structure this Franc has, and the potential for aging it shows.

Up Next: 1 More Cabernet Franc!

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Nevada City Winery - 2005 Cabernet Franc

The Sierra Foothills is the first stop today during the final day of the 12 Days 2005-cab-fr-frontof Cabernet Franc. Nevada City Winery has been producing wine since 1980. The birth of their Winery came at the very beginning of a modern growth spurt in Nevada County. In 1980 there was only one small vineyard under vine, today there are more than 300 acres. Their offerings include single varietal bottlings, dessert wines and a host of blends. The 2005 Nevada City Cabernet Franc is 100% Varietal. 355 cases of this Franc were produced and the suggested retail price is $23.

The big, bright nose of this Franc is filled with black fruit such as cherries and plum, as well as subtle hints of vanilla bean. A core of ripe fruit explodes through the palate which is rich and sensual. Blackberry pie notes are most prominent. Chicory, white pepper and light earth characteristics fill a medium length finish. This wine has a firm but approachable tannic structure that yields with some air.

This is brighter Cabernet Franc whose fruit has some jam aspects to it. It's relatively big through the palate, though certainly not over the top. It's very much California in style and more specifically speaks of its Sierra Foothills origin. This is a very appealing wine, that will please both seasoned wine drinkers with its complexity, and novices with its seductive fruit flavors. I look forward to trying other selections from Nevada City Winery in the future.

Up Next: 2 More Cabernet Francs To Go!

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Imagery Estate Winery - 2005 Cabernet Franc

imagerySwitching valleys, the next stop for the 12 Days of Cabernet Franc is back in Sonoma. Imagery Estate Winery was founded by Joe Benzinger of Benzinger Family Winery, with the intent of showcasing varietals and regions that don't get enough attention. Additionally, each label features unique artwork from a worldwide array of artists. When you visit their tasting room you'll also find a gallery that showcases artwork from all over the world. The pieces on display have either appeared, or will appear on an Imagery label. The 2005 Imagery Cabernet Franc was produced using Sonoma Valley Fruit. This wine was aged in French oak for 19 months. The label features the work of French artist Phillipe Dufrenoy. 669 cases of this Franc were produced, and it sells for $38.

This Sonoma Cabernet Franc has a big, effusive nose, loaded with plum, nutmeg and clove notes. The palate has a host of fruit characteristics, including black cherry, raspberry, plum and cassis. The lengthy finish included chocolate covered cherries, spice, mineral and light cola notes. This wine has firm, but approachable tannins and good acidity. I found it to match well with pork loin and roasted potatoes.

This is a well made Franc that should improve in the short term and drink well for at least five years. It was pretty immediately accessible, but did open up even more with some air.

Up Next: The 12 Days of Cabernet Franc Continues!

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Cosentino Winery - 2005 Reserve Cabernet Franc

c0zNapa Valley's Cosentino Winery is the next stop for the 12 Days of Cabernet Franc. Cosentino, located in Yountville is one of a small handful of wineries I feel the compelling desire to visit every single time I'm in Napa. There are multiple reasons for this, but 2 stand out above the rest. First of all they're a consistent producer of quality wines at many different price levels. Secondly, they have one of the most diverse portfolios of any Winery in Napa Valley. They're best known for their two Zinfandels, Cigarzin and The Zin. Truth be told, Cigarzin was the first of their wines that I had, years ago. Outside of those though, they make a staggering variety of wines, both single varietal and blends. Blending is probably one of the biggest assets Mitch Cosentino uses to great effect. They were in fact the first winery in America to bottle a Meritage. They make several Cabernet Francs, today I'll look at their Reserve. The 2005 Cosentino Reserve Cabernet Franc is 100% varietal. This is a single vineyard offering, with all fruit sourced at the Carpenter Vineyard in St. Helena. This Franc was aged in a combination of one, two and three year old oak barrels for 33 months. 825 cases of this offering were produced and the suggested retail price is $50.

The nose of this Cosentino Franc is filled with cloves, dark berry fruit, leather, and spice notes. Throughout the palate, it's full bodied, rich and mouth filling, with continued leather notes, as well as black raspberry, Cinnamon, and pie crust notes. Plum pudding spices kick in at the back of the mid-palate and continue through the lengthy finish, along with chocolate covered cherry notes, mineral, and subtle cola notes. This is an impeccably balanced wine with good acidity. It drinks nicely on its own and will also match a wide array of foods.

Having had numerous vintages of this particular wine, what I like best is the consistency, and quality it displays year after year. Cosentino has done an excellent  job over the long haul, this Franc continues their track record of well made, complex wines. This Cabernet Franc will improve for at least 5 years and drink well for 5 after that. If you're going ti drink it now, I strongly suggest decanting it for at least an hour, so it shows its best. Either way, I recommend this Franc highly, as I do Cosentino Winery as a whole.

Up Next: More Cabernet Franc!

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Heron Hill Winery - 2 Finger Lakes Cabernet Francs

heron-hill-signToday marks one more stop in the east, during the 12 Days of Cabernet Franc. Heron Hill Winery is a Finger Lakes producer. While this region is often noted for its Rieslings, Cabernet Franc is one of the red varietals, which shine in this cooler climate region. Heron Hill Winery released their first vintage in 1977, and has grown into being a 20,000 case producer. They bottle approximately 20 different releases each year. Since their inception more than 30 years ago they've practiced sustainable methods in all aspects of the winery. I'll look at two of their Cabernet Francs today. First is the 2005 Heron Hill Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc. This wine was aged in oak for 12 months. Alcohol is a modest 12.5%. The suggested retail price for this wine is $14.99.

Strawberry, leather, and cedar notes are prominent in the nose of this wine. This Franc is medium bodied, with copious cranberry, and raspberry notes throughout the palate. Cigar box, earth, chicory, and sour berry notes merge on what is a medium length finish. This wine has approachable tannins and good acidity. I drank this along with a pizza topped with Fontina, and Gruyere cheese, as well as Shitake mushrooms. I found it to be a nice complement.

For $14.99 this wine isn't going to break the bank. At that price point, it provides good Cabernet Franc character and enjoyable drinkability. This is a Franc doesn't need to be paired with big foods, and unlike most, will match some lighter items.

The second Franc today is the Heron Hill Winery 2005 Ingle Vineyard Cabernet Franc. This wine is approximately 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, through a field blend. This wine also boasts modest 12.5% alcohol. The suggested retail price for this wine is $24.99.

Immediately upon opening I was taken by the darker, deeper color of this single vineyard Franc in comparison to the other one. It was a bit tight at first and about an hour in the decanter is recommended. Once it opened up, plums, black raspberry and cloves filled the nose. Throughout a rich, robust and mouth filling palate berry characteristics as well as continued spice notes, star. The finish is filled with emerging leather, earth and espresso notes, along with a touch of plum pudding spice. This wine has a firm tannic structure and good acidity. This Franc will pair will with hearty, full flavored foods.

While this wine is drinking well now, I expect it to improve over the next year or so and continue to drink nicely for 3-4 after that.

I was impressed with the distinctions between these Cabernet Francs from Heron Hill Winery. They each have unique characteristics that separate them. Yet both share a connective tissue, which speaks to their Finger Lakes origin as well as the consistency of Heron Hill's winemaking style. I've yet to get up to the Finger Lakes region, but these wines have certainly nudged me in that direction.

Up Next: 2 More Days of Cabernet Franc!

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Yorkville Cellars - 2 Cabernet Francs

Mendocino is today's stop for the 12 Days of Cabernet Franc. An ever increasing number of quality releases are coming out of this area. Today's selections come from Yorkville Cellars. Their vineyards have been certified organic since 1986. Yorkville Cellars focus is on Bordeaux varietals. Their winemaker has been with them close to 15 years, and previously was at La Crema, among others. At Yorkville Cellars he makes two Cabernet Francs. The first wine is a Rosé of Cabernet Franc. The 2007 Rosé de Franc is made from 100% Estate fruit and all varietal. Aging was done for 9 months, in yorkeroseneutral oak. The suggested retail price for this offering is $18.

This Rosé opens with a lovely nose featuring raspberry, rose petals and light hint of citrus peel. Berry and citrus notes continue through the palate. The finish is crisp, clean, spicy, and lingering, with just a subtle pleasing touch of tartness. This wine is dry and has excellent acidity.

Quality Rosé displays attributes of both red and white wines, This Rosé of Cabernet Franc certainly succeeds on that score. It's aromatic, refreshing and well structured. While I drink Rosé year round, having this example from Yorkville Cellars has me pining for summer, or at least spring, which is mercifully around the corner. This wine will pair well with a cornucopia of different foods, and also drinks quite nicely on its own.

The second wine is the Yorkville Cellars 2006 Cabernet Franc. 100% of the fruit is sourced from their Estate Vineyards. 10% Malbec was blended in. Aging occurred in French oak barrels for 20 months. The suggested retail price for this Franc is $25.

Plum, violets and a hint of chicory fills the nose of this wine. This Franc is medium bodied and the palate features extensive Bing cherry, a touch of leather, and copious spice notes. Apricot and light lemon zest notes also emerge. Mineral and continued biting spice characteristics are prominent on the finish.  This wine is balanced and has firm acidity. This selection will be a good match for a range of foods, Paella, specifically comes to mind as an excellent choice.

What I liked about these to Francs is that they are each full flavored, and offer sufficient complexity, and value, for their price points. Good dry Rosé is of particular interest to me, and this example from Yorkville Cellars, is well crafted, delicious and also fun. The 2006 Franc stands out to me specifically because of the apricot and lemon zest components. While subtle, these characteristics strike me as unique. These are the first wines I've had from Yorkville Cellars, they certainly won't be the last.

Up Next: 12 Days of Cabernet Franc Continues

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Acorn Winery - 2006 Russian River Cabernet Franc

Crossing valleys, today's stop for the 12 Days of Cabernet Franc, finds me acornlogo1030smlin Sonoma. Acorn Winery was born in 1994 after Betsy & Bill Nachbaur purchased Alegría Vineyards. Some of the vineyards they took over (Zinfandel mostly) date as far back as 1890. Their focus has been on Field Blends and Estate grown wines. Using sustainable practices has also been an important piece of their operating philosophy. Acorn Winery makes approximately 3,000 cases of wine per year. The 2006 Acorn Cabernet Franc is from fruit sourced at their Alegría Vineyard in Russian River Valley. This wine has 4% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot. This Franc was aged in a combination of French, American, and Hungarian oak for 17 months, 54% of it was new. 379 cases were produced, and the suggested retail price is $32.

The nose of this Russian River Cabernet Franc is filled with plum, violets, cedar and a hint of earth. The palate, which really speaks of this wine's origins, has dark berry notes, black pepper, and more toasty oak. The finish has lots of the earth that was only hinted at earlier as well as a hint of chicory and a touch of sour cherry. This wine has firm but approachable tannins and good acidity. Like the other Acorn wines I've had previously this Franc is made to enjoy with food. I had it with Gnocchi in Wild Boar Ragu, which was a tremendous match.

What struck me most about this wine, was its deceptive levels of complexity. The first handful of sips washed over me. After that though, the wine really started opening up, and revealing its subtle and complex layers of both dark fruit, and earth. This offering scores points on two other fronts. It's both an excellent example of Cabernet Franc and a terrific example of the sorts of wine Russian River can produce.

Up Next: 4 More Days of Cabernet Franc!

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Peju Province Winery - Two Cabernet Francs

My first experience with Peju occurred during my initial visit to Napa Valley, back in the early 90's. Back then I recall being impressed by the peju1tasting room, as well as one of their white wines. Over the years, during frequent trips to California, Peju has become a bit of a regular stop for me. The tasting room is still nice, but it's the killer juice that keeps me going back time and again. I've found the Peju wines to be very consistent in style and quality over time, an enviable feat for any producer. I'm glad to look at two of their offerings, during the 12 Days of Cabernet Franc. The first wine up is the 2006 Peju Napa Valley Cabernet Franc. 16% Cabernet Sauvignon was blended in. This wine was aged in a combination of French (55%) and American (45%) oak for 18 months, 40% of it was new. 1,846 cases of this wine were produced and the suggested retail price is $45.

This 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Franc has cloves in the nose, as well as both black and red plum notes. There is an incredible purity of dark fruit throughout the palate, along with cedar and mineral characteristics. Towards the back of the palate, dusty Baker's chocolate kicks in and leads to a finish filled with espresso, earth, toast, and cherry pie notes, underscored by a bit of a forest floor element. This wine has a firm tannic structure and good acidity.

What struck me most about this wine is that it has the classic big nose associated with Cab Franc and the structure most often thought of in regards to Cabernet Sauvignon. It's a little tight coming out of the bottle, and if you're going to drink it now, decanting for about an hour, is recommended. If you're patient, tuck it away for a couple of years, and it's sure to improve in the short term, and drink well for about 5 years after that.

The second wine is the 2005 Peju Rutherford Reserve Cabernet Franc. This selection has 1% Cabernet Sauvignon blended in. It was aged in French oak for 26 months, of which 85% was new. 980 cases of this wine were produced and the suggested retail price is $95.

The nose of this Rutherford designate reserve Franc is filled with black raspberry, plum, and blueberry as a well as gingerbread spice notes. The entire palate is opulent and mouth-filling. Expressive berry fruit and chocolate notes are underscored by classic elements of Rutherford dust. An absolutely wonderful, hedonistic expression of pure fruit continues through the finish, and is joined by black tea, spice, leather, and earth. That finish is incredibly impressive, persistent and lingering. This is one of those wines that continually beckon you back to the glass, for sip after the sip, until you realize the bottle is gone, all too soon.

Everything about this Rutherford Cabernet Franc impressed me, but there are of course highlights. For me it's two things. One is the amazing finish, which quite frankly I can't say enough about. The other, is that this Franc does a fine job of conveying its sense of place.

Both of these offerings underscore the lovely wines that Peju has been steadily pumping out since their inception, in the early 80's. In my time tasting and drinking their wines, the name Peju has come to mean many things to me, the first however is quality.

Up Next: More Cabernet Franc!

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Cooper-Garrod - 2005 Cabernet Franc

The next stop for the 12 Days of Cabernet Franc is back in the Santa Cruzcgarrod-cf Mountains. Cooper-Garrod Vineyards is a small, family run operation. The 120 acres that make up their Estate, have been in the family for over 100 years. 28 of those acres are under vine. They've been producing wine since 1991. The 2005 Cooper-Garrod Cabernet Franc is 100% varietal. The fruit is from Estate vines planted in 1985. Cuttings for that planting date back to a turn of the Century French settler. This wine spent 11 months in barrel. 556 cases were produced, and the suggested retail price is $25.

The nose of this Franc opens with a bevy of berry fruits, and a hint of spice. Blackberry and black raspberry jam are prominent through the palate, along with black cherry, and pie crust spices. A touch of earth, and a bit of bramble, are present as well. The finish is above average in length. A host of spice notes dominate, but are also joined by sour cherry, subtle leather, and a gentle hint of tea. The last sensation is a hit of mineral that tickles the back of the throat and lingers.

What I liked best about this Cabernet Franc is that the palate is full of rich and persistent fruit notes that are also restrained and never go over the top. This is a mouth-filling wine, which could be enjoyed alone, but will perform better with food. Pot Roast comes to mind as an excellent accompaniment. This Cabernet Franc should drink well for the next 5-7 years.

Up Next: 12 Days of Cabernet Franc Continues!

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Clos du Bois - 2005 Alexander Valley Cabernet Franc

cdbThere are, of course, wineries of all sizes. The next selection for the 12 Days of Cabernet Franc, comes from a Winery of the humungous variety. As far as wineries go, Clos du Bois is a juggernaut. They started in 1974 and have subsequently become a very well known name in wine. While the average consumer likely knows them for the host of wines they make in the everyday drinking price range, Clos du Bois makes wines in a number of brackets. The 2005 Clos du Bois Alexander Valley Cabernet Franc was sourced from two specific parcels. This offering isn't available in stores and can only be acquired through their tasting room or website. 450 cases of this Franc were produced and the suggested retail price is $40.

Blackberry and plum note star in the nose of this Alexander Valley Cabernet Franc. Throughout the palate, dark, fleshy plum dominates the fruit characteristics, while fruitcake spice notes underpin them. Black tea notes kick in towards the back of the plate and lead into the finish. Leather, chicory and sweet dark chocolate fill a finish that is smooth and a bit above average in length. This wine is an excellent match for Corned beef, Pastrami or other smoked, cured meats.

What I liked best about this wine is its accessibility. For a wine that should age well for several years, it's ready to go, and expressive, from the first pour. It's also a well layered, fairly complex wine that does a good job showing off its Alexander Valley roots.

Up Next: The Cabernet Franc Keeps Coming!

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Gundlach Bundschu - 2006 Cabernet Franc

Today the 12 Days of Cabernet Franc swings back west, Sonoma to be exact. Gundlach Bundschu has a storied history that reaches back as conheadfar as 1858, when it started as Rhinefarm. Far more recently, in 2001, they made the decision to focus exclusively on the production of Estate Wines. They also use sustainable practices, considering themselves caretakers of the land. The 2006 Gundlach Bundschu Cabernet Franc has 8% Syrah blended in. Fruit was sourced from a single block that was planted in 1999. This wine spent 15 months in French oak, with 35% of it being new. 743 cases of this offering were produced, and the suggested retail price is $38.

What was immediately obvious about this wine, is that it needed some time to really open up. It was pretty tight out of the bottle, and decanting for at least an hour, is my recommendation, two wouldn't hurt. After that though, it really began to express itself. The effusive nose showed plum pudding and fruitcake spice notes as well as dark berry fruit. The medium bodied palate, was filled with cherry, leather, and light bramble notes. The finish is a terrific one, featuring berry, building earth (increases as it opens up), spice, and a touch of chicory. This wine is well structured and has firm acidity. An excellent food wine.

This 2006 Franc from Gundlach Bundschu has the elements that I most think of when this great varietal comes to mind. The big, expressive nose, and solid core of fruit, really shine through. This wine is very enjoyable now, after decanting. However my recommendation, if you can wait, is to lay it down for a year or two. That should be enough time to really bring everything together, so this wine is at it's peak.

Up Next: The 12 Days of Cabernet Franc Continues !

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Truro Vineyards - 2006 Cabernet Franc

trurofrancThe next selection for the 12 Days of Cabernet Franc takes me about 3,000 miles east to Cape Cod. Truro Vineyards has a history dating back 15 plus years. Current owners, the Roberts family acquired the winery in 2007. Beyond the approximately 10 wines they currently make, plans are afoot to eventually source grapes from other regions. The 2006 Truro Vineyards Cabernet Franc was fermented in open vats and given prolonged skin contact. The wine was aged in American oak for 20 months. The suggested retail price for this wine is $15.99.

The nose of this Cape Cod Franc is filled with Cranberry and violet notes. The palate is medium bodied with continued cranberry notes along with red raspberry and vanilla. White and black pepper emerges on the finish as well as nutmeg. The finish is medium in length. This wine will be a good match for pineapple glazed ham.

One of my goals when I selected wines to taste for the 12 Days of Cabernet Franc was to reach into some regions that aren't the first I would think of. I was curious to see what was going on with Cabernet Franc in some diverse areas of the US. I'm glad to report that I found several fine examples from less obvious regions. I really enjoyed this selection from Truro. It's well priced at $15.99, providing true character and a medium bodied, easy drinking palate. It reminds me more of Old World Cab Franc then it does California Franc.

Up Next: The 12 Days of Cabernet Franc Continues!

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