You might be surprised to learn – as I was – that two of the most expensive red wine grapes in Napa Valley this year are a couple of orphans from Bordeaux.
I’m talking about Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, both of which are used primarily for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon and occasionally with Merlot.
While the suggested market price for Cabernet Sauvignon is $3,900 to $4,800 a ton, on the open market, Franc is selling in the same price range. And Petit Verdot is the cost leader, going for $4,500 to $5,500 a ton.
Before you get carried away thinking that prices for these grapes are out of whack, bear in mind that these prices are based largely on those grapes’ limited supply and the fact they’re in demand.
It’s the latter element – why California vintners would really want these grapes for their blends – that has me baffled.
Here’s why: With a few exceptions, these two grapes rarely make exceptional wines in California. Yesterday I tasted a few Francs, Malbecs and Petit Verdots and was disappointed. I couldn’t imagine any of these wines adding anything positive to a good Cabernet. On top of it, these were expensive wines.
Yes, Franc can add texture and aromatics (and is the most viable of the three grapes as a stand-alone wine--after all it's the dominant grape in Cheval-Blanc and in Loire reds such as Chinon). But the Malbecs (despite their success in Argentina) and Verdots were dark, tannic and angular.
That’s why they’re blending grapes.
But I wonder whether they really help the cuvées with color or structure, or are more of a fashion statement by vintners who want to claim they use the Bordeaux "recipe"?
I used to think the same thing about Merlot being blended with Cabernet. Why add a weedy, herbal wine to a rich, full- bodied Cabernet Sauvignon?