Thursday, February 14, 2013

Franc, Colorado's Cabernet...

In Europe, wines are named from the regions they come. Bordeaux is known for its cabernet sauvignon and merlot-based wines. Burgundy is synonymous with pinot noir or chardonnay. The Rhône valley is most often thought of as syrah territory. In Italy, Tuscany is known for its sangiovese and Piemonte for nebbiolo. I could keep going on. In New World wine regions, varietal labeling is commonplace. However, many wine regions still have grape varieties in which they specialize. Napa Valley has cabernet sauvignon, the Willamette Valley equates to Pinot Noir and the Barossa Valley is known for shiraz (aka syrah). Even an up and coming region like the Finger Lakes in New York is known for its riesling. Does Colorado have a signature variety?

Merlot and cabernet sauvignon are the most planted varieties in Colorado, but do not make the most outstanding wines, in my opinion. Syrah and riesling make noteworthy wines, but are more recognizable as Rhône and German varieties. What Colorado needs is a grape to call its own. Napa cabernet is endlessly compared to Bordeaux and Oregon to Burgundy and still have to carve out their places in the wine world despite producing world-class wine.

Creekside's new Franc label (much better than the old)!
Last year, I thought of the slogan, "Franc, Colorado's Cabernet." Sure, cabernet franc is found in Bordeaux, Napa and perhaps most notably Chinon and Bourgueil in the Loire Valley of France, but it is still an obscure enough variety that Colorado could make it its own. Luckily, Colorado's winemakers make some pretty good cabernet franc! With a identity to rally around, Colorado wine would be better suited to establish a name for itself. In fact, Creekside Cellars revamped their 2010 Cabernet Franc label with this idea in mind!

So a few weeks ago when I met with Tom Hill, a wine aficionado interested in Colorado wine whom I met on the WineBerserkers forum, I decided to show him a few local cabernet francs. Tom wrote that, "those four were all well-made and interesting renditions of Cab Franc. They didn't have the lush fruit of Calif Cab Francs, but they avoided the strong earthy/herbal/vegetal flavors I find in many Long Island Cab Francs. They had only hints of the earthy/mushroomy character you find in Loire CabFrancs. I guess they were more similar to Wash State Cab Francs than anything." My friend, Bruce Schoenfeld, has stated that he thinks Washington makes the best cabernet franc in the world (perhaps with exception to Cheval Blanc). Personally, I think the moderation of the CA fruit and Loire funk make Colorado cabernet franc some of the tastiest and most balanced examples of this variety anywhere in the world.

The notes below are mine, and I will let Tom comment on his impressions if he desires. And in full disclosure, we tasted these wines non-blind.

2008 Creekside Cellars, Cabernet Franc, Grand Valley AVA

The lightest and simplest of the four. This one is very floral and fruity. The bouquet is full of violets, raspberries and red cherries. There is a good acidity on the palate and the fruit is complemented by hints of cloves and spice. 13.2% abv Sample $35. Good/Very Good

2009 Boulder Creek Winery, Cabernet Franc, Grand Valley AVA

This is a bit bigger and bolder than the Creekside. There are still aromas of raspberries, but a smoky and meaty element is present on the nose. Red fruits, salty meat and leather makes the palate a bit more complex and the tannins are bit more grippy. 14.1% abv Sample $24. Very Good

2009 Canyon Wind Cellars, Cabernet Franc, Grand Valley AVA

My favorite of the four by just a touch over the Boulder Creek. The fruit in this is a bit darker than the Boulder Creek, but with similar leather and meaty characteristics and grippy tannin structure. There is a slight hint of tobacco and a nice mocha undercurrent. Despite the strong tannins, it still provides a smooth texture in the mouth with a moderately long finish. 14.7% abv Sample $29. Very Good

2009 Reeder Mesa Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, Grand Valley AVA

Definitely the biggest and burliest of the group. The higher alcohol also shows itself, but not too much to be overwhelming. The oak is quite apparent with vanilla and dill aromas up front. Beneath that, there is some nice dark red fruit and tobacco. The alcohol shows on the palate as well, but is met with good flavors of dark cherries and strawberries, dark chocolate, tobacco and an interesting bit of orange peel. If not for the oak and alcohol, I might have preferred this one. 15.5% abv Sample $25. Good/Very Good

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