Saturday, December 27, 2008

WN: And Now Back to Cabernet Franc . . . .

First things first. Appellation America has a great article titled Terroir Denied: Give Cabernet Franc a Chance that unabashedly argues that with a 15:1 ratio of Cabernet Sauvignon to Cabernet Franc planted in Napa, there is undoubtedly land better suited for Cab Franc being wasted to grow mediocre Cab Sauv. It's a great read and I wholeheartedly agree. Just try finding any wine, even a blend, with a significant portion of Cabernet Franc. You'll have a much easier time finding a mediocre Cabernet Sauvignon that's overpriced because of the varietal, appellation, or both.

What really caught my attention, though, was a quote from wine maker Doug Fletcher: "Cabernet Franc is more in the Pinot Noir camp, in that climate affects the character of the wine more than, say, Merlot is affected by the weather." This is a statement that can neither be proved or disproved, but I have noted that Cabernet Franc is extremely versatile and is quite adept at expressing differing styles. I've had one Cab Franc from the Loire that was incredibly dry, structured and tannic. It was clearly a muscular wine built for aging. A different cuvee from the same producer in a different vintage, however, was much more nimble and had a moderate body. Different soil and different weather conditions made a huge difference between two wines from the same producer. Buttonwood Cabernet Franc from the Santa Ynez Valley, meanwhile, does tend towards a more fruit forward style with rustic tannins, but still gives a hint of the earthy qualities Loire Cab Franc provides.

But what really put the Pinot Noir analogy into perspective for me was the Iron Horse 2005 Cabernet Franc. This was a wine that, stylistically, appropriated the best qualities of an elegantly styled Pinot Noir while at the same time expressing the varietal clearly. The translucent ruby color suggested a medium-bodied wine true to the varietal. The bouquet offered up a handful of ripe raspberries just on the verge of being candied, but without crossing the threshold into Skittles land. And yet there was that unmistakeable undercurrent of fresh and minty herbs. Throw in some roses and you've got a winning bouquet, though the 16% Petite Verdot in the blend might have been largely responsible for the floral aspect. It was definitely warm climate Cabernet Franc as the fruit/veggie balance was decidedly tipped to the fruit side, but Cab Franc it was. As good as the bouquet was, the palate was even better. The tannins were moderate, and the body was silky with just enough heft to be seductive. There was no rusticity or clumsyness; it was a pure charmer that carried its 14.5% ABV gracefully. I know this wine aged in oak for quite a while, but it is just seamlessly integrated. And yet it gets better. This wine has excellent acidity that, while higher than the norm, is perfectly in balance. Thus, it makes your mouth water when you first sip and lingers well after you've swallowed. Iron Horse is best known for its sparkling wines and cooler-climate Burgundy varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, so perhaps it's no surprise this producer would execute a Cab Franc in the voluptuous, nuanced style of a perfectly extracted Pinot so well.

Unfortunately, this is the last vintage of Cabernet Franc Iron Horse will be producing. I'll be visiting Iron Horse in Sonoma after Christmas and they have already sold out of the 2005 Cab Franc. It turns out the T-bar-T vineyard where Iron Horse sources its Cab Franc has been sold to a Napa winery, Kathryn Hall Vineyards. Could it be a case of terroir being denied? Keep an eye on the 2006 vintage and beyond to see if Kathryn Hall keeps the Cab Franc vines alive or decides to produce more Cab Sauv in the flashy, extracted Napa style. (Edit: Hall Winery has commented below that they plan to keep producing Cab Franc from T-bar-T indefinitely and that their varietal Cab Franc wines sell out quickly due to an avid following.)

Score: 91-94
Price: $30 from the winery, but sold out


wnmkr said...

As a matter of fact, Hall acquired the T Bar T Ranch from the Tancer family (former partners in Iron Horse) in 2003. Iron Horse was allowed to continue to source Cabernet Franc for a few years following the sale.

Hall has made a number of vintages of Cabernet Franc since it's inception in 2002 - with the first few vintages coming from the T Bar T Ranch. Although the Cabernet Francs have only been made in small quanities, they have a strong following and disappear quickly. They are only available directly from the winery.

Hall has continued to plant and replant Cabernet Franc at T-T and its other Napa Valley ranches in Napa and plan to continue to make
Cabernet Franc indefinately.
We love it.

Come see us at the winery or give us a call.


Mike Reynolds
Hall Wines

CabFrancoPhile said...

Many thanks for the full story on T-bar-T Cab Franc's future. Knowing that Cab Sauv is king in Napa, I was wondering about what would happen to the Cab Franc, but my worries were unfounded. It's always good to know Cab Franc is going to a good home, the cellars of avid Cab Franc drinkers.


Jim said...

I love the Iron Horse Cab Franc. Unfortunately, I only have three bottles of it left, so I'll be holding on to them for a bit.

I'm also glad to hear that the vineyard itself is still growing cab franc. It'd be interesting to compare Hall's vinification methods against Iron Horse's to see what gets expressed in the wine.

Anyways, I'm a big cab franc fan and am very happy to find your blog!