Sunday, March 1, 2009

WN: Bedford Thompson 2000 Cabernet Franc

I've been meaning to visit the Bedford Thompson Winery for a while. Their tasting room is about a 40 minute drive away and they produce a curious mix of varietals including Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and, my personal favorite, Cabernet Franc. Only in California will you find a single vineyard growing such a diverse group of grapes originating in not only Burgundy, the Rhone, and the Loire, but also Germany! But there's still more to be said about the non-conformist choices this winery has made. According to their website, their current releases all date back to the 2000, 2001 and 2002 vintages. Most wineries in the Santa Barbara area are around the 2006 vintage at this point.

Despite all the intrigue surrounding Bedford Thompson, I'll have to hold off on visiting for a bit. But I did get to taste a bottle of the Bedford Thompson 2000 Cabernet Franc this weekend. This was not your grandma's Cab Franc. This was the sort of Cab Franc that could only come from a unique location in California. If I would have guessed the varietal in a blind tasting, I surely would have pegged this wine as a Syrah. As much cognitive dissonance as this generated, I nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed this wine. I think to be fair the 2000 Cab Franc must be described not as a varietal wine, but as a product of its terroir.

The bouquet opened up with a salvo of blueberry jam. Given the varietal and the age of the wine, this was utterly surprising. Blueberries are just about the last fruit I typically associate with Cab Franc. And while I don't have extensive experience with older wines, jammy fruit is not what I've found in the past. What elevated this wine from pure fruit-bomb to something interesting was the secondary aromas. There was a little meatiness and some espresso. There was also a dried underbrush aroma, like the kind of mountain sage you'd find nestled amongst the chaparral in Santa Barbara. The typical leafy herbaciousness was not present, but in its place were aromas that I could easily associate with a vineyard in the foothills of a mountain range. Also not present was alcohol on the nose. Typically jammy fruit begets alcohol, but here there was just concentrated fruit.

The attack is lush and filled with still more blueberries. But, surprisingly, the acidity and tannins make their presence known. This is not simply a soft, flat, fat fruit wine. The tannins are soft and well-balanced, while there's a great mouth-watering yet creamy finish sustained by the acidity. The alcohol, which was listed at under 14%, was not at all noticeable despite the intense concentration of the fruit. On the pure deliciousness scale, this wine was way up there. Although 8 years past vintage is a significant period of time, the wine had no bricking along its meniscus in the glass and seemed as if it still had quite a bit of life in it. I think if I had tasted this wine in its youth, it probably would have been good, but limited in depth due to the jammyness of the fruit. The winemaker deserves huge kudos for releasing this wine when it had settled into a lively yet balanced profile.

My suspicion is that these grapes are grown in a special vineyard. The varietal is not expressed so much as the location. There seems to have been a Faustian deal made to achieve such intensity of fruit without having high alcohol and deficient acidity at the same time. There's something interesting, perhaps very special, going on with Bedford Thompson and my curiosity is piqued. Could it be that these folks know they have intense wines with the structure to age and are releasing their wines after 7 to 8 years just to prove a point?

Score: 89-92
Price: $22 from Vinhus in Solvang

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