2019 Estate Selection
First a word on cabernet franc or ‘cab franc’ as it’s often called. For the most part, cabernet franc is used as a blending grape; this is true in the US as well as in France. With one glorious exception, most varietal cabernet franc wines can be somewhat forgettable. That exception is Chateau Cheval Blanc, in Saint-Emilion, whose primary wine is a blend containing about 50% cabernet franc and 45% merlot (the rest is cabernet sauvignon).
The challenge with cab franc is that, like all red gapes only more-so, it must be fully-ripened to reveal all its glory. If you make a varietal red wine from cab franc grapes that are anything less than fully ripened, you will have a one-dimensional end-product that tastes OK but doesn’t have any kind of ‘Wow!’ factor. It will probably also be relatively tannic with a short finish.
But if you do fully ripen it: Wow!!
Lenz has had cabernet franc since the early 1980s. Some of our cab franc vines are 40 years old. But we too have generally used it as a blending component in our merlots and our cabernets. Until 2017. In 2017, Thomas Spotteck, our winemaker, made a 100% varietal cabernet franc from super-ripe grapes. It was delicious. But sadly, there wasn’t a great deal of it and it rapidly sold out. Based on the vineyard ripening conditions in 2018, we elected not to make a varietal cabernet franc. But in 2019 we did.
Interestingly, these cab francs were barrel-fermented. This is unusual. Why? Because red wines are almost always fermented in stainless steel tanks, using the entire grape, including the skins, seeds and pulp. If you put all that inside a small oak barrel, it’s almost impossible to get all the solids out. But not if you take one end off the barrel, stand it on its other end and ferment in the (now) open-ended barrel. This fermentation technique allows control over the process while adding softness and complexity to the resulting wines.
And so to the 2019 cabernet franc……
How is it? In the glass it has a deep red color - - not as inky as a ripe cabernet or merlot but more similar to a ripe merlot. On the nose, it has traces of mint, as well as dark red cherries, violets and cardamom. But it’s also “woody and earthy”.
On the palate, the core is red plum (not black plum - - this is a mid-range fruitiness that is just plain delicious). Other notes include pomegranate, raspberry and ‘plum-cherry’; mixed-berry-pie. The wine has a very soft mouth-feel; it is really velvety. It has well-integrated French oak that imparts a vanilla hint to the flavor profile.