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LET'S BE FRANC (October
5, 2004) Cabernet Franc may be the granddaddy of Cabernet
Sauvignon, but most wine geeks treat it as a stepchild. Sure, Cheval Blanc
and Dalla Valle Maya get respect, but both are blends -- the 2000 Cheval
Blanc, for example, is only 47% Cab Franc.
So what gives? How good can Cab Franc get? Is
it better blended or can it taste great on its own? We spent an evening
over that question and here's what happened:
1994 Horton Cabernet Franc (Virginia). Maybe this was a fun wine
once, but there's nothing to coo about now. Thin and acidic, with a sour
suspicion of fruit.
1996 Serge Sourdais Chinon "Les Cornuelles" Vielles Vignes.
Bell pepper aromas and fairly high acidity on the palate. Not as gone as
the Horton, but too many veggies for me.
*--1990 Gerard Spelty Chinon. A notch up from the Les Cornuelles,
with ripe plum and blackberry flavors. A little stewed on the finish, but
*+2002 Chaddsford Winery Cabernet/Chambourcin (Pennsylvania). Served
blind, this wine snookers the table. Contains both Cabernet Franc and Cab
Sauvignon, I believe -- and they work weirdly well with the Chambourcin.
Violet aromas followed by sweet strawberries. Finishes well. Beautifully
made and compares well to its Loire rivals. Just $14.99 at the winery,
this wine's a bargain.
*++1990 Charles Joguet Chinon Clos de la Dioterie. Seductive
bouquet, say some. Too much brett, say others. I'm with the former folks,
but prepare for a wild ride, reader. Elegant notes of strawberry pie. A
bit more body than the Chaddsford and a slightly better finish. Best Loire
offering of the evening.
2002 Lang and Reed Cabernet Franc Napa Valley. I've enjoyed other
vintages of this wine, but this one doesn't do it. Too many greens on
the attack, and the salad bowl broadens with airing.
*+2002 Veritas Cabernet Franc Monticello (Virginia). Fragrant,
silky and fairly long -- wow! Would have guessed Virginia? Delivers
classic berry flavors with nary a whisper of greenery. Best Virginia CF I
can remember tasting.
1995 Serge Sourdais Chinon "Les Cornuelles." Even more
disappointing than the 1996, with a strange nose of stewed prunes and
vegetables. Green and angular on the palate.
**-1998 Behrens and Hitchcock Cabernet Franc Napa Valley. Now this
is the sexy side of Cab Franc. Lavender and violet aromas, with Damson
jam on the palate. Plainly made from very ripe fruit and carries its
alcohol well. First B&H Cab Franc I've ever tasted -- is it the only
one ever made? Hope Les Behrens will give the grape another go sometime.
**++2001 Wolf Family Vineyards Meritage (82% Cabernet Franc). Complex
aromas of strawberry, raspberry and flowers. No blockbuster, but sensuous
and fascinating, sip after sip. So different from most Napa Cabs, and so
good in its own special way. If the price were right, I'd buy!
*-?1999 Chappellet Cabernet Franc Pritchard Hill Estate Vineyards. Judgment
reserved. Seems to have plenty of fruit, but much of it is masked by
adhesive tape aromas. Alcohol showing a bit too much. May have needed more
time to open.
*++1997 T-Vine Cabernet Sauvignon. Served blind, this ringer
doesn't make anyone guess Cab Franc, but we like it. Soft, fruity and
full. Drink now.
**+1995 and **+1996 Pride Cabernet Franc. If anyone doubted that
Bob Foley makes some of the world's best CF, this pair puts the matter
to rest. We argue a bit over which vintage wins, but I see smiles all
around. The '96 is more tannic and may prove a bigger wine. The '95 is
singing arias about chocolate-covered strawberries. All finesse at
first, with a thundering finish.
*++1998 Pride Cabernet Franc. Lightest of the flight, but
impressive for the vintage. If you're holding any, I'd drink them in the
next year or so. Won't go away, but probably won't improve.
**++2000 Pride Cabernet Franc. Folks look up and says
"ooh," as if surprised that 2000 could threaten '95 and '96. Chocolaty
and primary. Needs decanting. Pride keeps going from strength
**++1995 Viader. I was wondering how Viader would show, coming
right after Pride. Not too shabby! The expected bouquet of violets
blossoms right on schedule and the blackberry Cabernet Sauvignon notes
set off the strawberry Cab Franc flavors to perfection. Great argument
**++1997 Viader. I have almost identical notes for this vintage.
The aromas may not be quite so developed, but the texture is even sexier.
***1997 Beringer Cabernet Franc Howell Mountain "III". Just
when you thought that you'd have to choose between Pride and Viader for
top honors, along comes this stranger and steals the show. I don't hear
any taster disagree. Strawberry essence. WINE OF THE EVENING.
A ROSE IS STILL A ROSE
(September 2, 2004) Buried deep in a bin was **+1992 Domaine
Peyre Rose Clos Syrah Leone -- I wine I had loved years ago, having
nabbed it for $14.99. I'd been knocked out by then by its floral aromas,
focus and finish. But how did it age? Well, what do you know --
it's better than ever today! The tannins have fallen away and the fruit's
fabulous. Plums, pomegranates and minerals on the palate beg you to pour
another glass. And yes, those floral scents still serenade.
RICH AND STRANGE
(August 26, 2004) Anything gets boring if you do it the same way too
often, and Iíll admit to being stuck in a mainstream rut lately. So we
wined on the wild side for a bit and hereís what tasted good. I wonít
try to sound too knowledgeable about any of these wines, because Iím
*++2001 Charles Hours JuranÁon
Sec "Cuvťe Marie" may
be best JuranÁon Iíve ever
tasted. (Not that Iíve tasted many!) Comes on something like a young
white RhŰne, with notes of guava
and honeydew melon. Sensual, slippery texture conceals a fair amount of
acidity. Doesnít shrink from the
salad we match it with. Seems a mere pup. Opens with airing. Could merit
a higher score in a few years, depending on how it ages.
**2000 Feudo Montoni Nero DíAvola "Selezione Special" from
Sicily, was hand-carried home by a friend, but I believe you can get it
in the U.S. Joyous juice! Dark and grapey, with a hint of boysenberry,
it reminds me a bit of those delicious Edmunds St. John Durrell Vineyard
Syrahs from the mid-1990s. In fact, thatís what I guess it to be when
it's served up blind. Not much oak showing. Lots of stuffing. Holds up
well through the evening. Itís 100% Nero DíAvola from 40-year-old
vines and I think itís mountain-grown.
***+1995 Domaine LíAigueliere Montpeyroux "CŰte
Dorťe" is not for the
squeaky-clean crowd, but right down my twisted alley this evening. Defines
sauvage and glories in it. Aromas of violets, roasted herbs and
bacon precede an ocean of blackcurrant flavor. Wonder if the 1998 is ready
**+2000 Cortes de Cima "Incognito" comes from the South
of Portugal, was produced by Hans Kristian Jorgensen (whom I figure to be
Danish) -- and itís 100% Syrah. Is that wild enough for you? The
wine is all about lush, ripe fruit. Lots of deep cherry and raspberry
flavors. Doesnít quit on the finish. We guess it to be a Turley Charbono
when it's served to us blind.
Ripe, sexy, **+1998 Cortes de Cima "Reserva" comes on
sort of like California Cab, but itís actually 85% Aragonez (what the
Portuguese call their Tempranillo) and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Once you
know the grape content, youíll be tempted to compare it to a Spanish
Ribera del Duero -- but the wine has a character all its own.
Finally, Iíd like to try **1999 Quinta da Cortezia Reserva one
more time, on its own, to see how it develops. This oneís Portuguese
too, but comes from an area near Lisbon and itís 100% Touriga -- a grape
that usually goes into Port. It really does taste like Port too, except itís
dry and not as alcoholic. So tannic, it needs food to strut its stuff, but
strut it does. Impervious to the artichokes in my salad. Classy wine!
RIC'S ON A ROLL. (August 8,
2004) Got a Chard diehard in your life? We like Kistler as much as the
next folks, but his prices are making this habit expensive. Yesterday,
though, we found a big winner for about half the price. ***-2002 Forman
Chardonnay Napa Valley is made in exactly the same steely, stoney,
non-malolactic style that Ric Forman has been stubbornly championing for
lo these many years. And truthfully, my Chard-loving loved one is a sucker
for oak, lees and butter. But we both flipped for the 2002 Forman.
It's that good, that long, that penetrating.
Ric Forman's recent roll began with his ***2001
Forman Cabernet Sauvignon. I'm a fan of his Cabs year in, year out,
but this one's irresistible. Same blackcurrant flavors and floral notes
that he always brings forward, but bigger. If you liked his '91 and '94,
this one's up in that league.
THE GLORY THAT WAS MONDAVI. (August
8, 2004) It seems only yesterday that I ranked Mondavi Reserve Cab right
up there with my 5 or 6 favorite California wines. But what's been
happening to it lately? Replanted vineyards, a change in philosophy -- or
are the best grapes it used to get going into other wines now? I
don't have a clue, but I sure do wish I had a few more of the amazing ***+1994
Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. We tasted it alongside some
yields up plenty of juicy
blackberry and raspberry flavors, but seems more a little tannic than
when I tasted it a year ago. Possibly that's because we did not
decant tonight. If you're opening one soon, an hour or two of airing
***1992 La Jota 12th Anniversary
***+1994 Dominus makes its usual power statement, stressing
currants, tobacco, a touch of teaberry and a whiff of the barnyard.
But the ***+1994 Mondavi Reserve is taking no prisoners tonight!
It's got the depth of the La Jota, the class of the Dominus -- plus a
fabulous, focused finish that outlasts them both. Previous tastings of
this vintage never revealed quite this much sweet fruit. Maybe it just
needed time. In any case, this one's comparable to the '87 and '91.
Maybe even better?
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