The SOMM Journal

April / May 2016

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Page 20 of 108

20 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } APRIL/MAY 2016 { one woman's view } WHATEVER IT IS, IT ISN'T CHINON. I remember thinking that a year ago when I met my friend Jeannie Cho Lee, MW, for tea one morning in Hong Kong. "I'm fascinated by Cab Franc," she said. "How would you describe the character of Cabernet Franc in California?" Truthfully, I had no idea. In fact, I'd never heard anyone describe California Cabernet Franc stylis - tically. Jeannie proposed a big tasting to find out. So a couple of months ago, on the day before the Professional Wine Writers Symposium in Napa Valley, Jeannie and I, along with Eric Asimov of the New York Times, Doug Frost, MW and MS and Andrea Robinson, MS sat in my office and spent three hours tasting nearly 40 California Cabernet Francs. We divided the tasting into three parts: Current 100% Cabernet Francs (2012s and 2013s) Current blends based primarily on Cabernet Franc (2012s and 2013s) An older library example of every wine (2001 to 2008) Here is what I took away from the tasting: "It's not the Loire" is right. The fresh, light, vibrant blue violet and licorice flavors that one associates with so many Chinons and Bourgueils were not the flavors that came up again and again in these California versions. Instead, the wines often pos - sessed a resiny, dry forest wildness—I call it a "green blackness"—one part pyrazines, one part tar and tobacco. They were not fruity wines; they were savory and sometimes even salty. In fact, for the best wines, the savoriness and greenness were characteristics every one of us loved. Indeed, maybe Cabernet Franc can provide a way forward, out of the simplistic "green is bad" corner California has painted itself into. One thing was for sure: These wines had a sophisticated dark, dried sagelike character. Canned green beans they were not. Most of us generally preferred the 100% Cabernet Franc wines over the blends (perhaps because the Cab Francness got lost in the blends), and we preferred the young wines over the older ones (have the practitioners of Cab Franc been get - ting better and better while no one's been looking?). Lastly, I think Cabernet Franc deserves a lot more attention—especially in light of the fairly recent DNA finding that the grape, long thought to be a Bordeaux variety, is actually Spanish (Basque) in origin. Karen MacNeil is the author of The Wine Bible and the editor of the weekly intel report WineSpeed. You can reach her at California Cab Franc tasting panelists (clockwise from left): Andrea Robinson, MS; Doug Frost, MW and MS; Eric Asimov of the New York Times; Jeannie Cho Lee, MW; Karen MacNeil. Perfectly Franc For me, the wine of the tasting was: Fisher Vineyards 2009 Wedding Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Sonoma County (~$150; not yet released) But I rated each of these very highly as well: Lang & Reed 2013 "Two-Fourteen" Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley ($48) Viader 2013 "DARE" Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley ($60) Robert Keenan Winery 2012 Cabernet Franc, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley ($68) Chappellet 2013 Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley ($70) La Jota 2012 Cabernet Franc, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley ($80) Crocker & Starr 2013 Cabernet Franc, St. Helena, Napa Valley ($80) Ramey 2012 Cabernet Franc, Oakville, Napa Valley ($125) Hourglass 2013 Blueline Estate Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley ($135) 85% Cabernet Franc, 14% Malbec Arietta 2012 H Block Hudson Vineyards Red Wine, Napa Valley ($150) 62% Cabernet Franc, 38% Merlot CALIFORNIA CAB FRANC: THE STEP-SISTER FINALLY STEPS OUT by Karen MacNeil All prices are suggested retail. PHOTO: JACQUELINE ROGERS

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