Posted November 07, 2013 Dark and racy, with an espresso streak running through the core of blackberry, black currant and Maduro tobacco notes. The long, tar- and olive-filled finish remains lively thanks to savory herb and sanguine notes.
This complex wine is juggling a variety of flavors with grace, from berries and currants to tobacco to olives and iron. It’s a complicated puzzle, but its complexity will help us unlock the mystery of this grape.
Malagousia is an ancient grape variety that is grown in Greece. It’s often served as an aperitif or with oysters. But it’s a white grape, and our mystery wine points strongly to a red, which eliminates it from our list.
The next least-likely candidate for our mystery wine is Sangiovese. Wines made from the Sangiovese grape are typically light- to medium-bodied, with red cherry and berry aromas, a hint of rose and a rusticity that is not displayed in our wine. Some of the best examples of Sangiovese come from Tuscany, particularly Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino. The density of our wine and its layers of dark fruits are not characteristic of Sangiovese, which is typically more elegant overall, and so we can move on.
Next on the chopping block is Syrah, a dynamic variety that has many different expressions relative to where it’s grown. Syrahs from warmer climates can show the grape’s rich and savory side, including the berry and olive character in our wine. Other Syrahs, such as those from the Northern Rhône Valley’s Côte-Rotie appellation, will show the raciness of our wine. However, while our tasting note is a close match for Syrah, the note lacks mention of Syrah’s typical big and burly tannins, telling us we should consider other grape varieties on our list.
In that same vein, Cabernet Sauvignon is notorious for its structure. Historically, some wines from Bordeaux’s Left Bank (where the blends are Cab-based) could be aged for decades, and in their youth, big, dry, tannic structure is typical. Although Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are familial relations, Cabernet Franc typically produces light- to medium-bodied, fleshy wines, often featuring bright acidity and a hint of savory herb or tobacco—which sounds much more like our wine.
This wine is a Cabernet Franc.
We have a Cabernet Franc on our hands, and we need to figure out where it’s from. Cabernet Franc is an early-ripening variety, often grown as a backup to the later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon. For example, if Cabernet Sauvignon underperforms in a given vintage in France’s Bordeaux region, winemakers can rely more heavily on Cabernet Franc. Although Cabernet Franc is typically considered the underdog to Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s propensity to ripen early makes it versatile in a range of climates.
Though Cabernet Franc is not typically grown in Spain, it is an authorized grape in four Catalonian Denominaciones de Origen: Catalunya, Conca de Barberà, Penedès and Terra Alta. Spanish Cabernet Francs tend to be a bit gamy, and as our wine doesn’t exhibit these characteristics, we can look beyond Spain. Greece is best-known for its wines made from indigenous varieties such as the aforementioned Malagousia grape and Xinomavro for reds; Cabernet Franc is a rarity there and we can cross it off the list.
Now we’ve narrowed it down to California, France and South Africa. Wines from South Africa are distinctive; the wines reflect the predominantly clay soils and dry heat of the summers with their rustic tannins and flavors of earth. There’s no mention of the tannic structure we’d expect to see in a South African Cab Franc, nor a flavor description of earth or sous bois note, so we move on.
France versus California: There are two prominent distinctions between French and Californian wines: ripeness and body. Californian wines tend to be dense, full-bodied and fruit forward, while French Cabernet Franc is typically more subtle, with a silkier body and a bitter note on the finish. These differences are due to both climate and winemaking technique. The savory herb character on the finish expresses the bitter note we’re looking for to pin this down as a French wine.
This Cabernet Franc is from France.
This wine is racy, young and alive, suggesting a younger vintage, so we can eliminate the two oldest age groups. However, Cab Franc typically sees some time aging and/or fermenting in oak, as well as additional aging in bottle before release. Because of these factors, the 3- to 5-year category is the best bet.
This wine is from the 2010 vintage, making it three years old.
Looking at the appellations on our list, Cabernet Franc is planted generously in the Napa Valley and is typically used in blends, displaying a ripe brambly fruit character. Priorat reds are predominantly composed of Grenache blends, while in Naoussa the predominant grape variety is Xinomavro, an indigenous grape. Some Cabernet Franc is planted in Stellenbosch, but it is not a typical varietal of the region. Adding all these considerations to the fact we’ve decided our wine is from France, our obvious choice of appellation is either Chinon or St.-Emilion, respectively located in France’s Loire Valley and Bordeaux.
When one thinks of Bordeaux, one usually assumes the blend is either Cabernet Sauvignon- or Merlot-based, with Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc playing a supporting role (although Malbec is also permitted in these blends). Despite this assumption, Cabernet Franc is sometimes used as the base grape in Bordeaux blends, most notably from the famed Château Cheval-Blanc.
The main difference between Bordeaux and the Loire Valley is climate. Bordeaux lies in the southwest portion of the country, while Loire is farther north and at a higher elevation. Cabernet Franc flourishes in the Loire Valley due to its cooler climate, where other red grapes have trouble fully ripening. Cool-climate wines are usually leaner in style with higher acidity than wines produced from warmer regions. Cabernet Franc blends from Bordeaux are usually stealthy and need time to open up because of the warmer climate and the tannic support of the permitted blending grapes. This wine is not from Bordeaux. With its lively, racy acidity, hint of herbaceous character and complexity of fruit, this French wine is a classic example of Chinon from the Loire Valley.
This Cabernet Franc is from the Loire Valley’s Chinon appellation.
This wine is the Eric Hérault Chinon Cuvée Tradition 2010, which retails for $14 a bottle and received a score of 92 points. For more information about France's Loire Valley, see James Molesworth’s tasting report in the June 15 issue.
—Morgan Taylor, associate tasting coordinator
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