Wednesday, March 18, 2009

WBW #55: A North vs. South Cab Franc Faceoff (WN)

At last, a Wine Blogging Wednesday open-ended enough that I can post on Cabernet Franc without needing to do any extra shopping to find the right wine. North versus South, easy. Representing the North, in the red corner, we have the Domaine Lagrange Tiphaine 2006 Touraine-Amboise Clef de Sol, hailing from a latitude of 47° 22' by the city of Tours in the Loire Valley of France. Representing the South, also in the red corner, we have the Yorkville Cellars 2006 Rennie Vineyard Cabernet Franc, hailing from a latitude of 39­­° 19' in Mendocino County, California.

And the winner is . . . . neither! Both wines had a number of positive qualities and expressed varietal typicity, but rather fortuitously for the topic of the month also showed weaknesses typical of their climates despite Mendocino being one of the more northern growing regions in California. The result is essentially a draw, particularly since I wouldn't buy either wine again at the prices I paid.

The Clef de Sol doesn't quite qualify as a stand-alone Cabernet Franc; it's 65% Cabernet Franc and 35% Malbec. Blackberry, iron-like minerality, a little cow pasture, forest floor and black pepper are all present in the bouquet, which in retrospect seems most indicative of the Malbec in the blend. There is no vanilla or woodiness on the nose; this wine probably saw little if any oak aging. Unfortunately, the interesting, pure aromatics do not lead into a particularly enjoyable taste. The wine is mouth-puckeringly tart like grapefruit juice. There's no oak flavor, the wine is fully dry, the alcohol is low and the finish is clean yet slightly ashy. However, I couldn't get past the overwhelming acidity on the attack and mid-palate. It's one of those circumstances that's a pity. I like this style of wine, but a lack of balance does in any wine regardless of whether I like the approach or not.

The Yorkville Cabernet Franc offers essentially the polar opposite on the palate. Although the alcohol level is similarly moderate at 13.4%, the acidity is low at 3.78 pH and the tannins are very light. The sweetness from a bit of residual sugar, 5 g/l (2-3 g/l is around the sensory threshold), thus ends up being the dominant impression on the mid-palate and finish. The bouquet, however, is lovely and very typical of a Cabernet Franc from a warmer growing region. Black cherry, blackberries, chocolate covered jalapenos, a little piney freshness and roses combine to provide a multi-faceted and intriguing nose. There is (yet again) no overt sign of oak, though the wine was barrel aged. In sum, this is a good wine made in style that I prefer, but also has a flaw in the flavor that detracts from the overall impression.

The Clef de Sol and Yorkville Cab Franc are in some sense mirror images of each other reflected across the 43° 20' latitude mark. Both have intriguing aromatics and the winemakers have made an effort to express the fruit with purity and clarity. Neither is particularly tannic. The more northerly wine, though, has very high acidity, which is most typical of grapes grown in cooler climates. The more southerly wine, meanwhile, is lacking in acidity (the slight residual sugar is most likely a wine making choice that is more noticeable because of the low acidity), a characteristic more common in warmer climates. One wine is overwhelmed by its structure, while the other is let down by the lack of structure.

Neither wine is necessarily a bad wine, and I like the approach both producers are taking in expressing the fruit. But both approach the $20 price point and at that price I usually expect better overall balance in a wine.

Domaine Lagrange Tiphaine 2006 Touraine-Amboise Clef de Sol

Score: 79 - 83
Price: $19 from K&L Wine Merchants

Yorkville Cellars 2006 Rennie Vineyard Cabernet Franc
Score: 81 - 85
Price: $17 from wine.woot

No comments: