Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Franc Vertical Sings the Blues

Since we were picking up our quarterly shipment from Longoria Wines, we had a chance to taste a handful of wines during the afternoon in Santa Ynez last weekend. As is usually the case, Longoria had a little shindig going on at their tasting room complete with music, appetizers, and library wines. Since they were releasing the 2007 Blues Cuvée, the 1998, 2001 and 2002 vintages of the Blues Cuvée were being poured along side the current vintage. The Blues Cuvée started as a Cabernet Franc varietal wine delivered in stealth under the guise of a proprietary blend. Gradually it came to include larger portions of other Bordeaux varietals, especially Merlot. In the past several vintages, Syrah has been added to the blend, while the sources of Cabernet Franc and Merlot have shifted from the warmer parts of Santa Ynez to the cooler climes of Alisos Vineyard in Los Alamos.

Although the 2007 Blues Cuvée (31% Cab Franc, 27% Merlot, 24% Syrah, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon) was poured last in the vertical, I'll start by saying that it's very young and barrel aromas are still noticeable. Tasted blind, I would be disappointed with this flavor profile. But knowing the aging capacity of Longoria's wines, it's clear this wine needs a few years in a dark, cool spot to come together. The pieces are all there: ripe fruit, complex aromas, refreshing acidity, concentration, depth and moderate tannins.

The 1998 Blues Cuvée was the most evolved of the quartet. While it wasn't exactly tired, the red fruit was starting to lose a bit of its verve, and tobacco and herbal notes were becoming fairly prominent. This was a blend of 88% Cabernet Franc and 12% Merlot from the period where Longoria was blending it as a varietal Franc.

The 2001 Blues Cuvée, in contrast, was quite vivacious and fresh. The cherry and raspberry aromas were very lively, though they had almost pie filling character. Maybe this was due to the age of the wine, or perhaps it's due to the fruit sourced from the warmer portions of the valley. Nonetheless, the flavors has a good freshness and the finish showed a layer of pleasant bitterness not present in the 1998. Could it be the 6.5% Malbec added to the 63% Cab Franc and 30.5% Merlot? Other features I liked included a seam of tobacco percolating underneath the fruit and copious yet mature tannins. This was my personal favorite.

The 2002 Blues Cuvée (54% Cabernet Franc, 46% Merlot) provided a similar profile, but seemingly was the most tannic of the four wines. The fruit sources are split almost evenly between cooler Alisos Vineyard and warmer Westerly Vineyard, and I'm tempted to attribute the structure to the cooler climate fruit. But who knows, it could also be the vintage character.

Seeing how the older vintages have aged, I'll be excited to try the 2006 and 2007 versions again in a few years. The addition of Syrah and different fruit sources begs many questions that can only be answered with time and the contents of a bottle.

One other Franc blend we tasted elsewhere was the Rusack 2006 Anacapa (75% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, 5% Petite Verdot). I have to say, this is a very nice wine, but at $40 (vs. $28 for the Blues Cuvée) it's not an especially good value. Rusack's estate vineyards are in the warmer zone of Ballard Canyon, and the Anacapa has the same sort of profile as the '01 and '02 Blues Cuvées. There's plummy red fruit and a nice herbal note as well as a layer of coffee-like bitterness on the finish. However, most of the fruit was sourced from Lucas Vineyard, and I'm not certain where this vineyard lies as Lucas & Lewellen have a lot of land under vine throughout Santa Barbara County. It's a refined wine and I wouldn't be surprised if it held up well (the pH is 3.49), yet it does seem to have a very 'drink now' profile.

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