Thursday, November 7, 2019

Comparative Cabernet Franc - Colorado vs Virginia

"I'm not a huge enthusiast of the sexual stereotyping of wines but even I can see that Cabernet Franc might be described as the feminine side of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is subtly fragrant and gently flirtatious rather than massively muscular and tough in youth. Because Cabernet Sauvignon has so much more of everything – body, tannin, alcohol, colour – it is often supposed to be necessarily superior, but I have a very soft spot indeed for its more charming and more aromatic relative, Cabernet Franc." -- Jancis Robinson
Whereas Cabernet Franc is mostly known from its Bourdeaux (St-Émilion and Pomerol) and Loire (Chinon) homes, this black-skinned wine grape has been widely planted in the United States - particularly in wine regions such as the Finger Lakes, Long Island, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Colorado.

Colorado Case Club Wines
These regions provide challenging conditions for grapevines such as short growing seasons, frost, and humidity. Cabernet Franc's relative thick skins and loose clusters allow the grape to withstand humidity; yet frost and short growing seasons are still detrimental since the grape buds and matures earlier than say, Cabernet Sauvignon. These conditions heighten the inherent green vegetal character of Cabernet Franc due to the increased presence of the chemical pyrazine in these unripened grapes.  Winemakers can attempt to compensate for this overly green vegetal character by increasing oak treatment - in many cases leading to overly oaked and dull wines.

Virginia Case Club Wines
During the BevFluence Experience Denver, we sampled several Cabernet Franc wines, a few from the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board and another from the Virginia Wine Board.  This provided a small, yet interesting, sampling of comparative Cabernet Franc.  The grapes from the Colorado wine were sourced from the Grand Valley located on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains - basically a high altitude desert at over 4,500 feet with sunny days and cool nights.  In Virginia, the grapes were also grown on the western slope of a mountain range, in this case, the Blue Ridge Mountains and between 1,000 and 1,400 feet above sea level.  Besides elevation, another difference is the lush green environment and potential humidity common to the Commonwealth.

Out of the four wines sampled, two were very similar - one each from Colorado and Virginia.  Both were luscious, full-bodied, velvety, finishing with lifting acids and firm tannins. Both wines were devoid of the inherent green vegetal character and while receiving some oak, neither was overly so.  Two home runs from uniquely distinct regions.

BookCliff Vineyards 2015 Grand Valley Reserve Cabernet Franc ($26.99)
In 1995, John Garlich and Ulla Merz purchased a ten-acre peach farm just outside of Palisade in Colorado's Grand Valley AVA and quickly planted grapevines on six of these acres. They sold off most of their initial grape harvest but soon established the winery and named it after the Book Cliffs, a series of desert mountains and cliffs in western Colorado and eastern Utah. They also strove to produce 100% Colorado-grown wines and have slowly increased their holdings to 37 acres planted with 14 different varieties. The Cabernet Franc grapes were harvested from the estate vineyard that benefits from sunny days and cool nights at this high altitude desert. It's easy to see how this wine won Best of Show in Colorado's 2018 Governor’s Cup Wine Competition.

Glen Manor Vineyards 2015 Cabernet Franc ($31.99)
Around the same time as the establishment of BookCliff, Jeff Raymond White planted vines on a parcel of land that had been in his family for over a hundred years and which was originally part of a larger land grant owned by Lord Fairfax of England. Chief Justice John Marshall eventually purchased a share of these holdings and through various sales cascaded to Stephen Clifton Lawson (Jeff’s great-grandfather). Since 1995, White has planted his Cabernet Franc in different lots experimented in slope, soil, exposures and canopy cover which eventually lead to two plantings that combined to produce this Governor's Cup Case Club wine.


Wine About Virginia said...

So, any word which the participants preferred?

WineCompass said...

There was an equal mix of those who preferred one wine or couldn't determine a favorite. They were so similar.