As a former student of Karen MacNeil, one thing I know: we really learn about wine by tasting in context. Comparative tastings not only reveal individuality and differences among wines but the common thread–of the varietal, or region, whatever your theme.
Fascinated by a Cabernet Franc blend, I wanted to try every similar wine–if I could find them–produced in the area. What gave this wine such character? The grape? the unique blend? the winemaker? the region?
Would the ‘up-valley” wines taste richer than the Carneros versions? Would we be able to pick out the Pomerol (real French wine by the master Michel Rolland), which Aaron had kindly contributed.
My plan: first, to taste Cabernet Franc varietal bottlings, and second to try other vintners’ right-bank style ‘proprietary blends.’ And–because word got out and wines kept coming, whatever was left for a third flight. Karen’s fabulous assistant Heather Muhleman designed the flights–nobody but Heather knew the order.
Napa Right Bankers Revealed
I found there’s quite the Right Banker’s Club in Napa Valley. I started looking for Napa Cabernet Francs on wine-searcher, I studied the Cabernet Franc section (yes, there is one) at Dean and Deluca, and I asked Aaron who to call. One good hit led to another. Seriously, after more people than I care to count, including my former business partner, told me “Cabernet Franc is just not marketable, Emily” I found a dozen wines that were right on track. Cabernet Francs and excellent right-bank style blends! I focused on those lead by Cabernet Franc. One had a recent Robert Parker score of 97 (a wine I had to buy, at full retail, because the winery had sold through 1100 cases in a few weeks.) Unmarketable? I think not.
Gratefully, Karen MacNeil my former employer, offered her tasting room for the event, her own interest now peaked by my particular assertions about Cabernet Franc grown in Carneros.
I invited all the vintners to join us and(or) contribute their wines. I love to taste with producers, to put the style in context of intention. I just assumed they would agree and show up! We’re all striving for something; the goals and strategies are as interesting as the results. In any case, what an opportunity for all of us to immerse Karen in beautiful Cabernet Franc as she prepared to update her Wine Bible. (There was scant reference in that first edition on Cabernet Franc in California. Dare I repeat that she wrote only, “Cabernet Sauvignon’s leaner sister, …” Ahem, Karen, Cabernet Franc’s Ancient Mother.)
“Part 2” will describe the wines, the panel, tasting notes, and my view on the shortlist if you wish to taste what we learned. I wish I had a photo of all of us –but the mere mention of it earned eye-rolling. OK, so I’m the enthusiastic idiot in the club.