By Chuck Hill
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While best known as secondary grape for Bordeaux blends (accompanying Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot), Cabernet Franc attracts the attention of international wine lovers for red wines of the Loire Valley. Appellations such as Chinon, Bourgueil, Saumur, Anjou and others produce Cabernet Franc wines of distinction that are known for earthy, spicy, floral, cherry and berry flavors with excellent acidity and moderate alcohol. Less fortunate vinifications sometimes have strong vegetative, barnyard and herbal characters that appeal to some tasters but not to others.
Cabernet Franc wines of the Pacific Northwest are most often more bold expressions of the varietal with extracted berry and herb characters that also serve as a canvas for those who paint with expressions of oak barrel. It is this style that has been presented to local wine lovers, and many have found appeal in the power and the glory of big Cab Franc.
Jay Pederson and his wife Karen named their winery after a pristine alpine lake north of Chelan, Washington that has been a special spot for these lovers of the great outdoors. Jay makes the wine during his time off from commercial fishing in the Bering Sea. Tasters were impressed with this wine’s focus on varietal character showing aromas and flavors of dark fruits, ripe plum, field herbs, notes of lavender and hints of bell pepper. It was very tasty with flank steak from the grill.
Grapes for this wine were sourced from the Sundown and Fortmiller Vineyards in the Rogue Valley AVA of Southern Oregon. Aging in French oak gives the wine a complex aromatic profile ranging from vanilla to leather to coffee with underlying rich notes of cassis and cherry. The palate is firm with velvety tannins offering flavors of blackberry, dark fruits, floral notes, barrel spice and vanilla. The winery suggests serving with pepper-crusted steak with blue cheese or with a chocolate dessert.
A perennial favorite with lovers of fine Cabernet Franc, Pat Spangler’s bottling again scored high marks for complexity and varietal character. The nose leads with rich aromas of black cherry, plum, dried herbs and hints of anise. The palate is a moving target of ripe cherry, raspberry, vanilla and barrel spice flavors that complement smoky grilled meats.
Mark Newton crafts his Sogno blend using Cabernet Franc from the Columbia Valley blended with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to create this “dream” wine. Aromas of raspberry, lilac, cherry and cedar lead to a rich palate showing smoky dark cherry, caramel, vanilla and toasty, spicy oak on the finish. It is a Washington wine made for foods from the fire.
Maryhill Cabernet Franc offers clean varietal character with just enough oak influence to add interest and texture on the mouth feel. Earthy notes of dried herbs yield to aromas of plum and black cherry on the nose. The palate offers fruit flavors of cranberry and plum with swirls of white pepper, caramel, tobacco and toasty oak on the finish.
Hearts – Chateau Figareaux
Byron Dooley’s Northwest efforts with Bordeaux varietals begin with this Cabernet Franc crafted from grapes grown on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge. Future plans include the other Bordeaux reds and Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon for the whites. Look for aromas and flavors of sweet cherry, wild mint, barrel spice and a finish of cassis and cocoa.
Cabernet Franc has always been a favorite of Gordy Venneri and Myles Anderson, and it has become a flagship wine of Walla Walla Vintners – this is their 15th Cab Franc vintage. The wine opens with aromas of ripe berry, white pepper and anise with a spanking of toasty oak. The palate is generous with fruit flavors showing the splash of Merlot and half-splash of Cabernet Sauvignon present in the blend. The finish shows the Walla Walla Vintners touch of oak-influenced crème brûlée and smoky cedar.
On the nose, this Cabernet Franc shows the feminine side of the grape offering mint, menthol and floral notes over a core of plum and cherry fruit. The palate unveils rich flavors of plum and cherry with notes of vanilla and tobacco.
The Fries family’s Desert Wind Vineyard is located at the foot of the Saddle Mountains in the Wahluke Slope AVA. Plantings at the site were begun in 1993, and today, 423 planted acres include 14 different varietals. The wine offers aromas and flavors of ripe plum and cherry with notes of vanilla, leather and toasty cedar.
The talented and energetic Garvin family grows fruit for Cliff Creek Cellars at the estate vineyard – Sams Valley Vineyard - near Gold Hill, Oregon. Wines are made at this southern Oregon location by Joe Dobbes, who also owns his own winery, Dobbes Family Estate. (Cliff Creek has a tasting room in the northern Willamette town of Carlton as well.) This Cabernet Franc offers aromas of ripe blueberry with notes of field herbs and earthy spice. The palate is rich with blueberry and loganberry flavors with hints of vanilla, baking spice and mineral.
Winemaker/owner Sara Gagnon crafted this wine from grapes grown at the venerable Bacchus Vineyard near Pasco, Washington. “Extended skin contact during a long, cool fermentation has allowed this wine to be the fruit-forward powerhouse it deserves.” Indeed. Powerful fruit flavors of plum and dark cherry mingle with notes of spice and pepper, corralled by not-overpowering oak and gliding down with silky tannins. Sara suggests enjoying with meat dishes like elk, venison or flat-iron steak.
Wines from other areas
This tempting Cabernet Franc was made from grapes grown at two of Trefethen’s estate vineyards, Main Ranch and Hillspring, located in the heart of the Napa Valley. Look for aromas of cherry and dried herbs with notes of raspberry, tobacco and menthol. The palate is medium bodied, featuring flavors of red fruits and anise and finishing with spicy cinnamon and cardamom. It is a very tasty accompaniment to meats from the grill.
Carmenere is thought to be a relative of Cabernet Sauvignon that was once a blending grape in Bordeaux. For some reason it all but disappeared from France over 100 years ago, and today the most extensive plantings are in Chile, South America. There has been a revived interest in the varietal and it is now planted in several locations in Washington.
This powerful and complex wine makes one wonder why Carmenere was ever allowed to disappear from the vineyards of Bordeaux. Ripe red and black fruits bring aromas of blackberry, cherry and currant to the nose, and flavors of pepper, dark cherry, barrel toast and spice mingle on the palate. It is a perfect companion to meats from the grill or dishes with intense sauces.
Entrepreneur Eduardo Matte founded the Haras de Pirque estate in 1991 as both a wine producing estate and a farm to breed and raise thoroughbred horses. The horseshoe-shaped winery building is unique in the world. This example of Carmenere is deep violet in color with ripe aromas of black fruits – especially black currants – blended with characteristic Carmenere spices. The wine is intriguing though somewhat lacking in complexity.
© 2012 Chuck Hill
© 2012 Chuck Hill