Posts Tagged ‘cabernet franc’

Kenefick Cab Franc Stands Out

May 11, 2012

I tasted all of the current releases from more than 40 members of the California Cabernet Society and the belle of the ball turned out to be a Cabernet Franc from Calistoga.

The 2007 Kenefick Ranch Winery Caitlin’s Select Cab Franc was outstanding.

Historically, Cabernet Franc is used in Bordeaux-style blends with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. On its own, it can sometimes be a shrinking violet, but not in this case.

Tom Kenefick, Kenefick Ranch Winery

I found the Kenefick Cab Franc ($52) to be the most complete and ready to drink wine of the tasting, which was held earlier this week at the Bentley Reserve in San Francisco.

It was round with sweet red fruit countered by a nice level of tannins. A bit of oak, but not too much, was the crowning touch on this red cherry-scented wine.

Dr. Thomas Kenefick, a retired San Francisco neurosurgeon, is the winery founder and namesake.

Kenefick started his second career with the purchase of vineyards in the northern end of the Napa Valley.

The 125-acre  Kenefick estate features vineyards planted along the edge of the Palisade Mountains.

The retired surgeon picked a great spot, adjacent to the Arajuo Estate, which produces elegant world-class Cabernet Sauvignon from the esteemed Eisele Vineyard.

Kenefick operates mostly as a grower.

He only entered the winemaking side of the business in earnest in 2002 when a couple of his clients opted out of their contracts and he had to find something to do with those grapes.

Entre Nous – Between Us

There was a wave of good Cabernet Sauvignon in the tasting, but one really stood out from the pack.

The 2009 Entre Nous Cabernet Sauvignon from Kristine Ashe Vineyards is a spectacular bottle of Napa red wine. 

Winemaker Phillipe Melka — who also has worked for Lail,Vineyards, Bryant Family, 100 Acre and Vineyard 29 — has crafted a memorable wine here from hand-picked and hand-sorted grapes grown in one-acre “micro blocks” on  the 25-acre Ashe estate in Oakville.

The Entre Nous (which means “between us” in French) is a vivacious mouthful of deep purple juice.

The taste of this $120 wine lingers in the mouth for what seems like forever.

The wine is a swirl of rich red fruits and soft tannins that begs for another sip… and another.


Ghostly Wines for Spooky Times

October 28, 2010

You can perk up just about any holiday with the right wine, so why not drink something different and delicious to celebrate Halloween?

There are a couple of direct connections with the scariest holiday of the year in Wine Country — both spooky events and spook-tacular wines.

First, the wines.

Old Ghost Zinfandel

One of the most on-the-topic-of-Halloween  wines you can get is the Old Ghost zinfandel produced by Klinker Brick Winery in Lodi. I recently sampled the 2008 vintage ($37) and it was great. The grapes come from two low-yielding vineyards planted 89 and 98 years ago. The wine is rich with red cherry and blackberry fruit tinged with an exotic spice note (cinnamon?).

I wouldn’t hesitate to serve this wine alongside something exotic like this recipe from Food Network for pumpkin risotto or the yummy pumpkin curry cooked up by King Thai Noodle at 1635 Park Street in Alameda.

Many experts link today’s trick-or-trick festivities to a Celtic celebration called Shamain, a word that means summer’s end. Have you noticed those long summer days are gone and nightfall is inching earlier and earlier every day?

Those Celts got the last part right when they decided the passing season deserved a unique celebration.

Ghosts in the Pines

There are four wines marketed under the Ghost Pines label from Louis Martini. The name comes from a specific vineyard in Napa (Chiles Valley, actually) that is bordered by whispy pine trees. Today, some of the grapes for the Ghost Pines wines come from that same vineyard, but the finished wines are actually blends made with grapes from other parts of Wine Country.

There are three reds — merlot, cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel — plus a chardonnay. Suggested retail is $18-$25 per bottle.

I picked up a bottle of 2007 Old Ghost Pines Winemaker’s Blend cabernet sauvignon at Lucky’s at a bargain price of $12.95. This wine could easily compete with California merlots selling for $20-$30.

There’s bit of mocha in the nose that follows through in the mouth along with some restrained tannins that provide the proper edge to the fruit. The broader mid-palate flavors — think juicy ripe cherries — tasted great with a bowl of leftover beef stew.This wine is a mix of 51% Napa and 49% Sonoma fruit.

Tricks, Treats and Tastings

Harvest season open houses are rampant in Wine Country now with some wineries promoting Halloween-oriented special events and tastings. Here are a couple of suggestions for the holiday weekend.

Francenstein Fest at Flora Springs

How do you announce a new wine with an odd name? Throw an event called “Francenstein” to unveil Flora Springs 100% cabernet franc wine called “Ghost Winery.” The party runs from 9 p.m. to midnight on Saturday (Oct. 30) at the winery’s tasting room in St. Helena. Advance tickets are $20.


They will be pouring award-winning wines from the 2008 vintage to celebrate the harvest at Dutton-Goldfield in Sebastopol on Saturday (Oct. 30). The first corks will be pulled at 11 a.m. and the event runs through 4 p.m. Admission is $15. Costumed attendees receive an extra discount on any purchase.

You can score brownie points by congratulating winemaker Dan Goldfield on winning the Winemaker of the Year award from Sunset magazine. Then, ask him for an extra pour of his estate pinot noir. The Dutton Ranch 2008 ($38) is delicious, if you like to walk on the rich cherry side of pinot.

Ridge: 50 Years of Success in Wine Country

September 17, 2010

There may be older vineyards in California, but none have produced the steady stream of high-quality wine like Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello estate in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The winery is best known for its magnificent cabernet sauvignon-based blend of Bordeaux varietals that garners solid praise from critics and consumers who like the restrained power of the dark red juice produced from the ridgetop vines.

Monte Bello Vineyard

The 2007 vintage of Monte Bello is primarily cabernet sauvignon (79% ) with merlot (10%), petit verdot (9%) and cabernet franc (2%). This is a classic blend, ready to drink upon release but it is built to age gracefully over years, even decades. The wine ($135/bottle) is restrained, both in taste and bouquet. This wine is not an oaky blast of fruit, but a smooth, silky “food” wine that just keeps developing more interesting flavors with every sip. There’s a hint of mint and cassis on the tongue with restrained red fruit , finely grained tannins and a pleasant interplay of mineral elements — thanks to the unique blend of soils in the vineyard.

The wine is made from selected lots — 63 batcheds are fermented individually  — and only the highest quality juice makes the final blend. The “leftover” juice is used for the  Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Red. This “baby Monte Bello” wine is treated differently in the cellar. The blend —  52 percent cabernet sauvignon and 48 percent merlot — is aged in both new and used barrels to produce a softer style wine that retails for $30.

Monte Bello Chardonnay

Part of the Monte Bello vineyard, about 18 acres, is also planted to chardonnay which is very good in its own right. It was a treat to find it at a tasting earlier this week.

I got to sample seven Ridge wines, including the unreleased 2008 Monte Bello chardonnay, at Wine on Piedmont , a nifty little wine shop on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. The tasting, seven wines in all, cost $5 — a huge bargain. The store also has an outstanding craft and imported beer selection, including one of my favorite IPA-style beers, Racer 5, from Bear Republic Brewery in Healdsburg.

This finely textured, golden-hued chardonnay — which has not yet been officially released — is aged in air-cured American oak barrels. Only 250 cases of the 2008 vintage ($60/bottle) were produced. Just 2 percent (five cases) have been allocated for retail shops in the East Bay, so the supply is definitely slim. The rest of the grapes from this vineyard are made into the Santa Cruz Mountains estate chardonnay, which I haven’t tasted… yet!

Ridge Winemaking Team (left to right) Eric Baugher, Paul Draper, David Gates & John Olney

It felt smooth on my tongue with a citrus-tinged nose and tropical fruits with sweet oak accents . Like the Monte Bello reds, this wine is aged in American oak, which helped refine the mix of flavors. The wine came alive with a bite of baguette topped with a slice of mortadella.

Zinfandel Joins the Party

Ridge also produces a string of award-winning zinfandels at a second winery location in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley. This is not your big, brambly, brawny California zinfandel that shakes your tastebuds and demands attention. The Ridge style is more sublime, understated and cool on approach and ultimately fits in better at table with a meal.

Of the four 2007 infandels opened at the tasting — Pagani Ranch, Lytton Springs, East Bench and York Creek — I liked the most fruit-forward of the bunch the best.

My favorite was the Pagani Ranch, made from a Sonoma County vineyard that has been producing stellar fruit for more than a century. Yes, t’s really made from 100-year-old vines, grown in a cool climate area near Kenwood, along Highway 12. Small amounts of other grapes, primarily petite sirah, are included in this tasty field blend that also has drips and drabs of alicante bouschet and mourvedre.

The wine is understated on approach, but the rich fruit shines through. It’s unmistakenly zinfandel, but it doesn’t bowl over your tastebuds. It caresses them.

Wine in Them, There Hills

July 23, 2010

The Sierra foothills may have yielded a lot of treasure since the 49er gold rush era, but today’s bounty is red and white wine from a pair of newly discovered wineries near Placerville.

I hadn’t planned to visit any wineries this past weekend, hoping instead to strike it rich at the casinos on a visit to Lake Tahoe.

My luck was lukewarm at the tables, but it picked up en route home when my friend, David, pulled out a winery map and directed me to turn off I-80 at the Camino Exit and head for the nearest winery.

Luck of the Draw

When we turned into the driveway at Para Vi Vineyards, it was about 90 degrees and getting hotter.

Lesi and Laiken Brown

Two little girls in swimsuits were cooling off in a water-filled wine lug, the plastic boxes used to haul grapes to the winery. Their pet frog rested on a floating leaf, much to the delight of its caretakers, Laiken and Lesi Brown, the daughters of winery owner Tom Brown.

Para Vi Pad Dweller

Brown greeted us like old friends, hardly showing any effects from the wine release party the previous night. The shindig hadn’t broken up until well after midnight, and owner was doing the last few bits of cleanup  when we arrived.

The winery is a comfortable spot and it’s wired for sound and lights used for special stage performances scheduled throughout the year. Two bocce courts draw local teams interested in competition and red wine.

Limited Production, Unlimited Potential

Para Vi (Italian for “with life”) has 13 acres in vines that produce about 3,000 cases of four varietals — zinfandel, syrah, merlot and cabernet franc, each bottled separately. Sales are strictly through the winery, either online, on-site or through the Wine Society. There’s no white wine and no blending program at Para Vi, thanks to Brown’s desire to let his grapes rise or fall on their own merits.

After tasting each wine, I’d have to agree he made the right decision. Each varietal runs to a house style, similar to four brothers who are all different but share a family resemblance. All are finished in 100% French oak.

One common component is a pleasant hint of dustiness and the other is a balance that kept the flavors of each varietal in check and true to the grape.

Every wine is very good but the piece de resistance is the cabernet franc (2006, $62). It sports a rich profile with hints of raspberry and lavender alongside balancing tannins. In the mouth, I tasted milder berries that lingered on my tongue for a nice, long finish. It would be outstanding with any grilled meat dish.

Micro-Green Winery

By chance, I got to taste more foothills-region wine from another, much smaller, winery — La Clarine Farm — that was pouring at my local wine bar, the Alameda Wine Company.

Winegrower Henry Beckmeyer brought along two whites and two reds plus a 2009 barrel sample from his tiny operation in Somerset, CA. All the wines are made “naturally.”  No tilling, no fertilizer, no irrigation and no weeding of the home vineyard that includes tempranillo, syrah, tannat, grenache, negroamaro and cabernet sauvignon.

La Clarine Farm Vineyards

I sampled two red blends from the estate, the 2008 ($22) and the 2009, which is not yet released. Only tiny amounts — less than 100 cases of each — were produced. 

The 2008 tasted of plums with moderate tannins. It was not a heavy wine, but it had good acids that made it a good match for some beef salami from an artisan meat company in Oakland and an organic sage cheddar cheese from Spring Hill Jersey Cheese Company in Petaluma.

The 2009 was more tannic (naturally) and I think it will turn out to be a very good wine. I liked looking at the long, lovely legs that trailed down the glass after I swirled the wine a bit. 

A wine that’s ready to drink tonight is the 2008 mourvedre ($22), made from grapes purchased from the nearby Cedarville Vineyard. This is a complex little garnet-colored wine with an edge of granite and a nose of fresh, light herbs. I wanted a medium rare lamb chop to go with another glass!

Agent Orange

The other La Clarine Farm wine I liked was an “orange” viognier from the 2008 vintage ($22). There’s a touch of fizz, thanks to a small amount of sulfur used as a preservative.

Whole clusters of grapes, stems and all, were fermented together, just like many red wines are processed. The result is a delightful, zingy wine with an enticing aroma that releases after about 15-20 minutes in the glass. There is a layer of honey on the tongue with a very nice aroma of sweet, fresh hay. Unusual and worth a try if you can find any of the 56 case production.

White Wine of the Week

I meant to share several bottles of wine with my friends at Lake Tahoe, but it was so hot that we left the reds alone and only cracked one white wine and it was quite good. I brought the 2008 Saintsbury Carneros chardonnay (2008, $19.99), sent to me by the winery to sample.

I was suspicious, since it was in the trunk of my car over the course of a very hot day, of how it might taste. I don’t recommend the hot trunk treatment, but the wine was no worse for wear.

At our hotel, I iced the bottle down for about 20 minutes and then opened it to toast our weekend fortunes. It was delicious — creamy good with just enough oak to give it structure. The citrusy nose was completed by Asian apple pear tastes and a nice round feel in the mouth, thanks to sur lie aging and complete malolactic fermentation. The wine was also bottled unfiltered.

I liked the ease of a screwcap closure versus a cork, but regretted not being able to bet my friends that I could open the chardonnay with only my shoe. Click here (and scroll to the bottom of the page) to read a recent blog that shows how you can turn a shoe into a corkscrew, too!

California Wine Served up Family Style

August 25, 2009

There were a few surprises, a few new faces and some old favorites at the Family Winemakers of California annual tasting, where more than 300 wineries showed off their current releases.

Cain Vineyard and Winery, located atop Spring Mountain, is one of the most reliable premium producers in the Napa Valley and the winery did  not disappoint with a trio of fine red wines poured at the tasting Sunday (Aug. 23) at Fort Mason in San Francisco.

Cain Five

Cain Five

Cain Five (~$100) is a blend of fruit from both mountain and valley vineyards. The mix is similar to the Concept, described below, but this one is made for aging, if you can resist the pull of its luscious fruit and cocoa flavor profile.

Cain Concept ($50-$60) is a blend of grapes grown in the valley’s benchland vineyards. The winery uses the classic Bordeaux varieties — cabernet sauvignon, cabernet Franc, merlot, malbec, and petit verdot — to produce this somewhat tannic wine that needs a few more years to develop completely.

Cain Cuvee is the “entry level” bottling ($30) with 49 percent merlot and 36 percent cabernet sauvignon along with cabernet franc and petit verdot. This is the most accessible wine in the bunch, thanks to the easy-drinking merlot. Cain blends lots from both the 2005 and 2006 vintages to produce this wine.

Prisoner and Papillon and Pahlmeyer

Another personal favorite, Orin Swift, poured two really good wines — 2006 Papillon ($55), a Bordeaux blend made chiefly from cabernet sauvignon and merlot, and 2007 Prisoner ($35), a uncommon blend of 50 percent zinfandel plus 24 percent cabernet sauvignon, 14 percent syrah and lesser amounts of petite sirah, charbono and grenache. orinswiftpapillon500x367

I found the well-made Prisoner to be a tad lass approachable than previous vintages, but would not hesitate to recommend it to any red wine enthusiast who could wait another six months for the tastes to meld.

I also got a chance to sample the Pahlmeyer proprietary red blend, vintage 2006, which was excellent. This serious, deep purple wine — it’s 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent merlot along with dollops of petit verdot, cabernet franc and malbec — displayed a favorable “racy” profile that stimulated my tired tastebuds even after sampling close to 100 wines. The aftertaste lingered for what seemed like forever, a characteristic that noted critic Robert Parker also mentioned when he gave this $125 wine a 95 out of 100 rating.

Some Small Surprises

I’m not normally a fan of viognier, a white grape from France that is gaining traction in California, but the example poured by tiny Skipstone Wines in Santa Rosa really caught me by surprise.

Skipstone Terraced Vineyard

Skipstone Terraced Vineyard

It tasted full , round, and rich, like a good chardonnay, along with a floral nose that was completely enticing. The wine is available at finer restaurants for ~$75 but you can buy it at a discount directly from the winery, provided you are a member of the Skipstone Wine Club.

Respite Wines is another small Sonoma County producer that showed a very good 2006 cabernet sauvigion ($48) from Alexander Valley fruit.  The flavor profile combined ripe raspberry and cassis plus a tinge of smokiness that hung together well on the palate.

Sunset Cellars, which makes its wine at the Suisun Valley Co-Op (click here for a closer look at my recent blog about Suisun Valley wines), poured a killer 2005 syrah blended with regional zinfandel to produce a bargain bottle ($16) of easy-drinking red. This full, round wine tasted of red cherry fruit with a floral aroma (violets?) that was very approachable. Sunset also makse a Green Valley syrah in a bit leaner style that was also very good.

For a good overview of the Family Winemakers of California event, check out this Wine Country Insider video.

Larson Family’s Deep Roots in Carneros

August 7, 2009

In the heart of Sonoma’s Carneros region, there’s a special place where broncos once bucked off cowboys and steamboats used to deliver passengers from San Francisco. Today, it’s home to the Larson Family Winery.

The  5,000-case winery sits at the end of bumpy, tree-lined Millerick Road, right off Highway 121. I knew where I was going and still missed the turn off, so be careful and watch for the Larson Family Winery sign.



I parked in front of the red barn that serves as a tasting room and immediately heard the Larson’s pet sheep, Marshmallow, give out a loud bleat. I learned later she was lonely. The Larson kids had taken the sheep’s buddies — pygmy goats named Blondie, Mission and Tiffany — to exhibit at the county fair.

History in the Shadows

Owner Tom Larson is proud of the historical connection his family has to the land alongside Sonoma Creek that his great grandfather, Michael Millerick, acquired in 1899. In the second half of the 19th century, steamboats navigated from San Francisco to deposit passengers and freight for the overland journey to nearby Sonoma and points farther north.

Later, the Sonoma Rodeo grounds were located here and crowds by the thousands watched the action, which included a prize-winning roping performance one year by August Sebastiani, past patriarch of a proud winemaking family that is still very active in today’s wine trade.

Tom and his father planted his first chardonnay vines here in 1977.  On a recent hot afternoon visit, I watched as the shifting bay breezes carved patterns in the 70 acres of leafy vineyards around the tasting room.

Lazy Dog Day Afternoon

Sunny, Pete and Bubba — the winery dogs — lay in a sliver of shade under a tractor as I walked inside to meet Molly Biss, the tasting room manager, and Lee Sweeney, her assistant.

Larson Family Winery Tasting Room

Larson Family Winery Tasting Room

If this isn’t the friendliest place to taste wine, it’s pretty darn close. It’s kid-friendly, too, with the barnyard animals, a big grassy area next to the barbecue grill and shaded picnic tables plus a bocce court for bigger kids and adults.

For the more adventurous, horseback rides through the vineyards can be arranged through Vineyard Rides.

Back in the tasting room, Molly was busy tidying up the place while Lee poured samples of the 10-12 wines that were open.

I enjoyed the simple Sonoma Red (non-vintage, $20/liter), imagining how good it would be at a summer cook-out. They were out of the Sonoma White, a “summertime in a bottle” type of wine made from chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio and gewurtraminer, but a new batch has been bottled and it should be available for sampling this weekend.larson late harvest chardonnay 2

Larson makes some seriously good wines, too. The 2006 late harvest chardonnay ($35/half bottle) was a delightful surprise. This is a sweet, sauterne style wine. It’s made from shriveled grapes harvested in November after being infected with a virus called botrytis cinerea.

Some wines, like my favorite of the tasting — a violet-scented cabernet franc  ($24.99) — are made in such small amounts that they are only available to wine club members. The wine club at Larson offers some of the biggest discounts I’ve seen — 50% off for some wines — along with invitations to special events (Santa visits during the holidays) and special rates for the winery’s rental property, a four-bedroom, two-bath 1890s farmhouse with all the modern amenities.

Coming Up This Weekend: Eighth Street Wineries Open House

Just a few minutes drive from Larson Family Winery will take you to Sonoma where a group of eight small wineries will open their doors for a special tasting this Saturday (August 8). The cost is $20/person to taste wines from Anaba Wines, Enkidu, MacRostie Winery, Parmelee-Hill Wines and Vineyards, Talisman Wines, Three Sticks, Tin Barn Vineyards and Ty Caton Vineyards. Most of these boutique properties are not generally open to the public.  Tickets are on sale at MacRostie, a top-rated winery whose pinot noir and chardonnay I have enjoyed for years.

Collective Wine Wisdom

June 12, 2009

So, you’ve been to the wine country a few times. You’ve tried some of the major brands and driven back and forth to visit several of the larger, well-known wineries.  Where do you go next?

Park the car in downtown Napa and spend an hour or two at the Vintner’s Collective.

Vintner's Collective

Vintner's Collective

This is another world of smaller winemaking operations that aren’t open to the public. Many of these winemakers operate on a shoestring, without a tasting room.  There’s no marketing or advertising  budget , either.

In many cases, restaurant wine buyers and collectors who are “in the know,” scoop up these gems and re-sell them at substantial mark-ups. It’s hard for an  individual wine lover to learn about — much less purchase — these little treasures, unless they stop by the Vintner’s Collective in downtown Napa.

The VC is a multi-winery tasting room inside an old stone building on Main Street. There’s not a vine in sight, but wines from 18 boutique wineries are poured daily on a rotating basis. They charge $25 for tasting six wines. And, while that may seem like a lot, the quality and price of the wines available make for a high-value experience.

There’s no telling what wines will be open, or who might drop in.  On a recent mid-week afternoon, three couples from New York, Ohio and California and an investment advisor from Danville shared the wooden bar. The atmosphere was friendly and fun.

The pourers, like Chris Briseno-Morgan, know their stuff and explain the pedigree behind every taste that’s poured. Chris held court like a wine-pouring ringmaster. He practically bounced from guest to guest, offering new samples, answering questions and giving hotel and restaurant suggestions with a smile that never wavered.

Everything he poured was a winner. Here’s a rundown of three of  my favorites:

Esmerelda Pinot Noir

Herrera Pinot Noir

2006 Herrera pinot noir “Selection Esmerelda” — A smooth, beautifully sleek and elegant single vineyard wine ($95, Russian River Valley, Sonoma) made by Mi Sueno Winery.

Clark-Claudon Cabernet Sauvignon

Clark-Claudon Cabernet Sauvignon

2004 Clark-Claudon Vineyards cabernet sauvignon, Napa Valley — A complete and exciting cabernet ($75)  that everyone in the tasting room swooned over. A second taste later in the session was even better!

Vinoce Vineyards

Vinoce Vineyards

2005 Vinoce Vineyards proprietary red, Mount Veeder, Napa — A deeply colored and more challenging wine ($60) — made from 60 percent cabernet franc, 25 percent cabernet sauvignon and 15 percent merlot — that really showcased the delicious cabernet franc fruit. Imagine dark cherry fruit integrated with fine tannin and an aftertaste that lingered for a full minute.

The Vintner’s Collective was started seven years ago by owner Garrett Murphy, a Bostonian who spent time in France before settling in Napa. As a wine insider with serious Napa connections, Murphy had the inside line on up-and-coming winemakers who needed an outlet to showcase their wines.

A symbiotic relationship was born and it continues today through sales to visitors who stop by for a sample or join the wine club to receive regular shipments of these hard-to-come-by wines. Wine club members taste for free and also get invitations to periodic food and wine pairings, winemaker appearances and other special tasting events.