Like cooking on Thanksgiving, decanting all the wines for a few hours makes quite the aromatic impression as guests arrive: lush perfume of violets, cherries and cedar. A dozen decanters of cabernet franc can do that to a room!
- Karen MacNeil, Karen MacNeil & Co., plus her two assistants, Heather Muhleman & Mike Goshorn
- Rob Sinskey, Robert Sinskey Vineyards
- Aaron Pott, Blackbird, Pott wine
- Jeff Keene, Cornerstone Cellars (former Havens winemaker)
- John Killebrew, former Havens winemaker
- Sara Fowler, Peju Winery
- Unfortunately not available to join us, but kindly contributing their wines: Fritz Hatton (Arietta), John Skupny, and Pam Starr.
Karen MacNeil welcomed us, “I wonder if a great paragraph has ever been written about California Cabernet Franc; if not, I would like to write one.” I fumbled through some effusively appreciative thoughts, grateful for the esteemed company, then silence befell us, and the swirling began. Composite notes on the wines:
Flight #1: Napa Valley Cabernet Franc
- Palazzo Cabernet Franc, 2007 (Carneros) $65 – bright, ‘sour cherry’ expressive nose with a good grain of tannin and high notes of ‘leafy/floral’ character
- Peju Cabernet Franc, 2007 (Napa Valley) $45 – strong oak component, overwhelming nutmeg, a bit grippy (a barrel sample not yet released)
- Robert Sinskey Vineyards Cabernet Franc, Vandal Vineyard, 2007 (Carneros) $40 – elusive nose, but following Wine#2 was tough; hands-down winner in category of understated elegance: bright fruit, orange peel, spicy, coffee, cedar, beautifully balanced, a nice ‘acid lift.’
- Lang & Reed Cabernet Franc, 2007 (St. Helena) $40 – the other end of the spectrum–dark, rich, spicy. Comments were both ‘deeply flavored, ripe fruit’ as well as ‘cooked & raisined.’ Medium body, dusty–definitely “upvalley” to me.
- Crocker & Starr Cabernet Franc, 2007 (St. Helena) $58 – Voted a crowd pleaser – the ‘racehorse in the starting gates’ added Karen – very dark fruit, smooth/viscous texture, chocolate and clove. “Not so integrated, but in balance.” 60% new oak. A winner if you love big & bold.
- Cornerstone Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc, 2007 (Carneros), $30 – earthy, peaty, cedar/cigar with a nice brightness, lighter red fruit, spicy herbal, some found it tannic in finish (“too furry.”)
- Pott, Pantagruel, 2007 (Napa Valley), $75 – Old world contender, intriguing, herbal, green peppercorn, toasty, dustyness, “like a shaved and retoasted barrel” (um, can we tell we’re tasting with winemakers?)
Overall, a great day for Napa Cabernet Franc: gorgeous red fruit, lovely supple textures, balance, and no green-ness in sight. Maybe dried tea leaves, or “leafyness” but not lean, nor green. Karen tasted “an inkling of a story.”
The Proprietary Blends
- Robert Sinskey Vineyards, “POV,” 2007 (Carneros) $38 – strong oak up front, then sourness, hollow middle, finishing with a pixie-stick sweetness, “overly made,” was not expected to improve with age.
- Blackbird Contrarian, 2007 (Oak Knoll), $90 – big, muscular, engaging and mouthfilling, but second sip really compounded the tannins. I couldn’t go back for thirds–winemakers OK with the nature of the tannins, but not the quantity.
- Robert Sinskey Vineyards “Marcien” 2007 (Carneros) $65 – leather, hedonistic, rustic, structure from acidity but not ‘sour’–a balanced offering.
- VNV Tentative Blend, 2007, Price TBD – a real crowd divider and conversation starter: from “aristocratic, layered, exquisite” to “flawed.” Definitely old world character and balance. Some thought this was the Pomerol. I knew it was our wine–the complexity, the interestingness, the “flaw” comment suggested brett? (we tested and there is none!)
- Anderson’s Conn Valley “Right Bank Cuvee” 2007 (Napa Valley) $65 – Sweet, earthy, cocoa-y, but watch out… my notes say: ***BITEY*** (tannins). You can’t get past it. Winemakers all chanted “VA” in unison. “Balsamic, dirty old barrels.” Todd Andersen wasn’t there to defend himself, but he doesn’t need to: this wine was the Robert Parker 97 in the pack!
- Arietta H Block Hudson Vineyards, 2007 (Carneros) $150 – Definitely spent some cash on the barrels – nutmeg, clove, spice, cedar central – complexity, yes, but most of the personality coming from oak
- Palazzo Napa Valley Red Wine, 2006 (Carneros), $60 – Big California fruit, sweaty, funky, balanced, intriguing, lush. Only negative that the fruit was “dulled down by oak.”
- Lang & Reed Right Bank, 2004 (Napa Valley), $80 – a bit of advantage here with the 2004 vintage among a flight of 2007; “One delicious merlot,” I wrote. What’s not to like – big, juicy CA fruit [Note: it’s only 30% merlot, so that’s some nice ripe cab franc in there–I asked John Skupny, it comes from Napa]
The favorites of both flights (bold), are purely subjective, though representative I hope of the panel preferences. In Cabernet Franc varietal wines: Sinskey Vandal Vineyard demonstrating refreshing elegance and beauty of cabernet franc uncompromised by oak or blending, and the big chocolate-covered-cherry crowd pleaser of Crocker & Starr. In the blend category, Virage Napa Valley was quite the conversation starter–earthiness and layered complexity, and what’s not to like about delicious, juicy, rich Lang & Reed “Right Bank.”
If anyone thinks Cabernet Sauvignon must dominate a Bordeaux blend to get dark, rich and full tasting wines from Napa Valley, try L&R Right Bank, Blackbird Contrarian, the Crocker & Starr Cabernet Franc. If it’s complexity you’re after I can’t help but promote my own wine here, Virage Napa Valley, what can I say, I love it… this tasting confirmed for me our place in the Napa Valley Right Bankers lineup.