Cabernet who? A look at three distinct Cabernet Francs
There are certain types of wine that always get my attention. Whether at a friend's house, a public wine tasting or at a winery, if someone offers me a taste of Cabernet Franc, my response is sure to be, "yes please."
Cabernet Franc is a tremendous grape, but it really gets short shrift in the U.S. It's mainly used for blending, most often with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. But let it shine on its own, or at least as the starring component (as it often is in France), and Cabernet Franc has the potential for great things. I recently tasted more than 50 Cabernet Francs for a series of reviews I did at Gabe's View. Today I'll present three that stood out, in a variety of price points.
Ironstone Vineyards is located in the Sierra Foothills of California, and 2009 marks 20 years that Ironstone started work on their winery facility. In that time it has become a pretty large producer, whose wines are readily available on wine store shelves in the U.S. Ironstone makes a couple of Cabernet Francs, and the one I'm looking at here is the entry level offering.
The 2006 Ironstone Cabernet Franc has 4 percent Cabernet Sauvignon blended in. Fruit for this wine was sourced in Lodi, and this bottling spent 12 months in a combination of French and American oak. About 10,000 cases of this vintage were produced, and the suggested retail price is $11.
Notes of wild red strawberry dipped in fresh cream fill the nose of this wine. Throughout the palate, this 2006 Franc is medium-bodied, with a host of red and black cherry notes, as well as berry pie crust spices. The finish brings out some subtle cola characteristics, along with leather and tobacco. This wine is soft and approachable, making it a good fit with a wide array of foods. I found myself craving a Cuban panini. This Cabernet Franc is made to be enjoyed in its youth, when the nose and palate are bright, lively and exuberant.
What impressed me about this Cabernet Franc was the amount of varietal character, a good price and wide availability. This is a good wine to use as an introduction to Francs in general.
The second wine is from Cosentino Winery. It's located in Yountville, and is one of a small handful of wineries I feel the compelling desire to visit every single time I'm in Napa. There are multiple reasons for this, but two stand out above the rest. Consetino is a consistent producer of quality wines at many different price levels, and it has one of the most diverse portfolios of any winery in Napa Valley. It's best known for two Zinfandels -- Cigarzin and The Zin.
The 2006 Franc from Cosentino Winery has 10 percent Merlot blended in. The fruit was sourced in Lodi, Mandeville Island and St. Helena. This wine was aged in barrels for 18 months; 5,000 cases were produced and the suggested retail price is $18.
The nose of this wine features a ton of spice and plum notes. Cigar box notes emerge throughout the rich, mouth-filling palate, as well as hints of plum pudding and blueberry. The finish of this wine, which is above average in length and incredibly smooth, has white pepper, leather and firm but approachable tannins. This Cabernet Franc is balanced by good acidity.
Having had several vintages of this particular wine, what I like best is the consistency and quality it displays year after year. Cosentino has done an excellent job over the long haul; this Franc continues its track record of well-made, complex wines. For $18, this selection offers tremendous bang for the buck. It's not built for long-term aging, but should easily drink well for five years. I recommend this Franc highly, as I do Cosentino Winery as a whole.
The third wine is from Peju in Napa Valley. My first experience with Peju occurred during my initial visit to Napa Valley, back in the early '90s. I recall being impressed by both the tasting room and the wine, that first time. Over the years, during frequent trips to California, Peju has become a bit of a regular stop for me. The tasting room is still nice, but it's the killer juice that keeps me going back time and again. I've found the Peju wines to be very consistent in style and quality over time, an enviable feat for any producer.
The 2006 Peju Napa Valley Cabernet Franc has 16 percent Cabernet Sauvignon blended in. This wine was aged in a combination of French (55 percent) and American (45 percent) oak for 18 months; 40 percent of it was new. About 1,846 cases of this wine were produced, and the suggested retail price is $45.
This 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Franc has cloves in the nose, as well as both black and red plum notes. There is an incredible purity of dark fruit throughout the palate, along with cedar and mineral characteristics. Toward the back of the palate, dusty Baker's chocolate kicks in and leads to a finish filled with espresso, earth, toast and cherry pie notes, underscored by a bit of a forest floor element. This wine has a firm tannic structure and good acidity.
What struck me most about this wine is that it has the classic big nose associated with Cab Franc, and the structure most often thought of in regards to Cabernet Sauvignon. It's a little tight coming out of the bottle, and if you're going to drink it now, decanting for about an hour is recommended. If you're patient, tuck it away for a couple of years; it's sure to improve in the short term, and drink well for about five years after that. So while this wine may be priced above the range of everyday affordability, it's a good bet to impress at a holiday, or other special occasion
For me this offering underscores the lovely wines that Peju has been steadily pumping out since its inception, in the early '80s. In my time tasting and drinking wines, the name Peju has come to mean many things to me. The first, however, is quality.
Each of the Cabernet Francs above offers a fine example of this noble grape. The price points and style vary, offering a diversity of selections. Tasting any of these will not only be enjoyable, but will also serve as a fine lesson in well-made Cabernet Franc.