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Tag Archives: Cabernet Franc

Warm Reds for Cold Nights, Part 3

Well, we’ll admit that as we write this, it’s sunny and 72 degrees at our home in Northern California. Spring is definitely upon us here. However, other parts of the country as still in the harsh grip of winter. Besides, it was a couple of weeks ago when we opened and enjoyed this sample; on a cold, rainy, winter’s night. Plus, readers in the Southern Hemisphere are headed into winter, and will be needing some Warm Reds for their Cold Nights, soon.

For the third in our four part series of Warm Reds for Cold Nights, we travel to France. When most people think of big red wines from France, they think Bordeaux, Burgundy, or the Rhone. Yet in our ongoing quest for the lesser-known, our travels today take us to the Loire Valley, specifically to the communes that make up the region of Chinon.

The red wines of Chinon are crafted from Cabernet Franc grapes. Many of you may know Cabernet Franc as one of the two parents of Cabernet Sauvignon. (The other half of the greatest marriage in viticulture is Sauvignon Blanc.) Used as a blending grape in Bordeaux and other regions, Cabernet Franc stands, and shines, on its own in Chinon wines.

The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

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Chateau Courday-Montpensier dates back to 1090 AD, though the current castle on the site was built in the 14th century. There are 30 hectares of vineyards at the chateau, all planted to Cabernet Franc. The Chateau du Courday-Montpensier Chinon Rouge 2016 is 100% Cabernet Franc, that spent between 6 and 12 months in barrel before bottling. It is a classic representation of Chinon, quite delicious and food friendly.

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Rather than going with a more traditional food pairing with this Cabernet Franc, we opted for more of a Franco-Asian fusion menu: homemade Thai Basil Beef. The pairing was exceptional, with the exotic, savory beef complementing the rich, hearty wine, and vice-versa.

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Inky purple color. Aromas of ripe blackberry, raspberry, and black cherry. On the palate, fruit forward with blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, and cherry, with secondary notes of licorice, black pepper, and vanilla. Tannins are big and chewy, but melt away with food. Brisk acidity livens the senses and further enhances the food pairing. Excellent this winter’s evening with Thai Basil Beef. Definitely warming and satisfying. Wine Searcher average price: $16.00.

Even if spring has sprung in your neighborhood, don’t overlook the opportunity to enjoy a big, warming red wine with your BBQ or other hearty meal. Until next time…

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photo credit: Robyn Raphael

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Review: Toccata Classico 2015

I first learned about Toccata wines several years ago, when one of their sales reps was hosting a tasting at a wine bar near my home. I happened in, by happy coincidence, and was immediately impressed by the quality, complexity, and character of the wines. Alas, the wines are not widely distributed, so Toccata was difficult to find and enjoy regularly.

The Toccata label is owned by Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards, a family owned estate in Santa Barbara County. I’m fairly certain the Toccata tasting all those years ago was the first Santa Barbara wine I had experienced. Lucas & Lewellen is fairly well known to travellers along Highway 101 south of Paso Robles, as their large estate vineyards are adjacent to the highway, and are well marked with signs identifying ownership and often the variety of grape.

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Photo Credit: llwine.com

Years after that original Toccata tasting, my son started college at U.C. Santa Barbara; another happy coincidence. During the hours-long drives from Northern California to visit, as I passed the Lucas & Lewellen vineyards, I was reminded of the Toccata wines I had enjoyed. When I discovered that Toccata has a tasting room, just a few miles off Highway 101 in the quaint village of Solvang, I was thrilled to be able to enjoy these wines again while also enjoying time with my son, and the beauty of Santa Barbara. Still, once he graduated, and my regular trips to Santa Barbara came to an end, so did my ready access to Toccata.

To my sheer delight, I was recently offered a sample of the Toccata Classico 2015. There was no hesitation in my affirmative response to the offer!  

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Toccata wines are all Italian varieties and styles. Toccata Classico is a red blend made in the Super Tuscan style. The fruit comes from two estate vineyards; Los Alamos Vineyard in the Santa Barbara AVA and Valley View Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. The 2015 is composed of 50% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% each of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Freisa, and Petit Verdot. Here’s what we thought of it:

The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

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Rich, deep purple with ruby rim. Initial nose is vanilla, with ripe red berry. On the palate, flavors of ripe raspberry, blackberry, and cassis, with baking spice, vanilla, tobacco, white pepper, and toasty oak. Firm, chewy tannins, with medium acidity. Rich and full bodied. The finish is long with red and black fruit, oak, and black pepper.

SRP $29.00 per bottle

Perfect for Italian cuisine, and also fantastic with other genres of food, too. We loved it with Pan Seared Filet Steaks with Gorgonzola and Caramelized Onions. Sheer delight! img_2349

If you are in the Santa Barbara area, be sure to take a detour out to Solvang and visit the Toccata tasting room. It’s well worth the trip!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Photo credit, except where noted, and inspiration by Robyn Raphael

Loder Vineyards

In Western Placer County, near where the suburban housing tracts meet the rural farms and ranches, the Loder family has a small parcel of wine grapes. Ron and Kathy Loder are long-time wine lovers. When they were raising their children, they had grassy fields for the kids to play and practice football. Once the kids were grown, Ron and Kathy decided to plant grapes and make their own wine.

Getting started wasn’t as simple as just planting some vines and waiting for them to produce fruit. Ron was serious about wanting to make good wine, so he contacted U.C. Davis; renown for their viticulture program; and asked for help. Ron and Kathy really, really wanted to grow Cabernet Sauvignon – their favorite varietal wines. However, the experts told them that their microclimate and soil were not suitable. Instead, they were advised to grow grapes more suited to the Mediterranean climate here – Barbera and Tempranillo, and interestingly, Cab Sauv’s parent, Cabernet Franc. In all they have about ¾ of an acre of Estate vines, and they also source other varieties from vineyards around Northern California.

A couple of weeks ago, we were invited to visit and experience Ron and Kathy’s production. The group started with appetizers and wine in the Loder family home, and then Ron escorted us out to the vineyard for an educational tour. One of first things I noticed about Ron is his passion for wine growing and winemaking. Ron enthusiastically talked us through the process, from initial plantings, to waiting the three years before the vines produce wine-quality grapes, to harvest, crush, and production. While in the vineyard, he brought out his refractometer, the instrument used to determine the brix (sugar level) in the grape juice, and allowed each of us to have a look.

Ron is also a humble man, relating the story of his efforts to cheat the process and make wine with grapes from two years old vines. It was a complete failure, and they marked the bottles with an “F”. They still have a few bottles, just as a reminder.

After the vineyard tour, we moved on to the fermentation room and cellar. Robyn even had the chance to punch down some recently harvested grapes that were in the fermentation tank! Then, of course, we got to sample more wine.

Loder Vineyards is not a commercial production, but with the quality of their wines, they should be. Touted as “no headache wine”, Ron uses a minimalist approach, with microscopic amounts of sulfites used, and little other intervention. All of the wines spend nearly two years in oak before bottling. Just a few weekends before our visit, they had just bottled their 2016 vintage.

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A true “friends and family” production, the Saturday following our visit, they would host their annual harvest and crush party. We were invited, but already had plans to be out of town.

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Ron’s vocational background is in commercial building construction. As such, when they first started bottling wine, they used blue painter’s tape as labels; having an ample supply on hand. This tradition continues today, and Ron says if he ever does enter commercial production, his labels will be designed in similar fashion.   

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All of the wines we tasted were well made and complex. Fruit forward without being jammy, with smooth tannins and balanced acidity and oak influences. We tasted Estate Barbera and Tempranillo, some interesting blends such as Tempranillo-Cabernet Franc (Kent’s favorite) and a Barbera-Cabernet Sauvignon. Yes, Ron and Kathy have made connections in the wine world, and source Cabernet Sauvignon from Lake County, so they can make and drink their beloved favorite. We barrel tasted the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is already coming along, with promise to be a fantastic wine!

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We were honored to be invited to this event, and consider Ron and Kathy, and all of the other’s there that evening, to be new wine friends.

Cheers!

  • Text and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Review: Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015 and RANGE Kitchen & Tap

When you live in suburbia, surrounded by big-box chain eateries, you get rather excited when a quality, independent restaurant opens up. And you do all you can to support them, hoping to ensure their success and longevity. So it was a couple of weeks ago, when bored with all the same old, same old places for a Friday evening happy hour, that I checked Yelp (love it or hate it, it still serves a purpose) and spotted a “Hot and New” listing for RANGE Kitchen & Tap.

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We headed there directly, excited about the prospect of a new place that might suit our needs. We were not disappointed. Our first time in, we really only wanted a glass of wine and some small plates. When we scanned the menu, and saw the plethora of delicious-sounding salads and entrees, we decided to go all in. We were sitting at the bar, which overlooks the prep-kitchen, so we could see everything coming out of the back, and we were amazed at what we saw. We also got to talk with the prep cooks, and Chef Kevin for a few minutes when he emerged from the main kitchen. We learned that RANGE Kitchen & Tap specializes in farm fresh, local ingredients, prepared on site, to create comfort food with a twist. Everything is made there, from fresh ground beef all the way down to the homemade salad dressings and even mayonnaise. That night we split a Ceasar salad (homemade dressing, yum!) and Mom’s Meatloaf. Sliced, then seared on the flat-top for a crispy crust, it was amazing!

Determined to share the wealth, we invited friends Jason and Heather Thomson, to join us for the full meal deal. And although RANGE Kitchen & Tap has put together a very impressive wine list, we decided to bring our own, and open a bottle we’ve been holding onto for a while: Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015, made by friends and fellow wine bloggers, Mike and Lori Budd.

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If you haven’t tried bringing your own wine to a restaurant, give it a go. Just make sure it’s not something that’s already on their wine list. Most places charge a nominal corkage fee (the charge for the server/somm/owner to pull the cork) although some restaurants don’t charge for corkage at all. I’ve often wondered, and have yet to get a straight answer, but with the increasing popularity of screwcap wines, when you bring your own wine closed by screwcap, do they charge you a “screwage fee”? Anyway, not only does BYOW save money, but it’s a great way to share a special bottle with friends.

But I digress…we met Jason and Heather and set about perusing the menu. We decided to start with the Charcuterie Board. The meat selection changes frequently, and each day the offerings are listed on a chalkboard near the kitchen. Tonight’s board was delicious, though I can’t remember all of the meats that our server described.

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Onto the mains, where were delighted with the selections. The catch of the day, which Robyn ordered, was fresh halibut over asparagus and peas. Heather got the fried chicken over garlic mashed potatoes, Jason The Range pizza, featuring daily market fresh ingredients, and I ordered The Shorty flatbread, made with short rib meat that had been cooked sous vide for 36 hours. As you can see, the food looked amazing, and I can assure you it tasted even better! But how would this wide variety of foods stand up to our big, bold red wine?

 

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The Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015 paired magnificently with each and every dish. A well-crafted and food friendly wine, Dracaena is definitely a crowd pleaser. Bold enough to stand up to short ribs or steak, yet restrained and elegant so it complements lighter dishes like grilled halibut just as well.

 

Mike and Lori Budd have a passion for Cabernet Franc. So much so, that they were the driving force behind the annual Cabernet Franc Day, celebrated on December 4th each year. As one would expect, when someone has a passion, their product is going to be sensational. Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015 definitely is that. Here’s my review:

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A truly spectacular gem! Deep, inky purple color. Aromas of ripe blackberry, black cherry, and vanilla. On the palate, there are big, both flavors of blackberry pie, black currant, and chocolate covered cherries, mingled with soft oak and vanilla notes. With a rich, full mouthfeel, velvety smooth tannins, balanced acidity, and a long, juicy finish of black fruit and spice, this is an exquisite wine that pairs well with a wide range of foods, from grilled halibut to a thick steak.

You really should give Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015 a try. It’s available direct from the winery on their website. You won’t be disappointed.

Oh, I almost left out dessert. Silly me. We love crème brûlée. Do you know what’s better than crème brûlée? Espresso crème brûlée! Oh, yes! This stuff is rich, decadent, and delicious. We’d come back in just for dessert!

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If you happen to be in the Sacramento area, I encourage you to make the trek out to the ‘burbs of Roseville and check out RANGE Kitchen & Tap. But before you do, make sure you order a bottle or three of Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc, and bring it with you.

Cheers!

  • Content and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Review: Luke Donald Collection LDC Red, Napa Valley, 2012

Robyn made a great find yesterday at the market! We were picking up some provisions at one of our favorite shops, where in addition to great prices on groceries, they have a wide selection of quality wines at blow-out prices. We refer to this establishment as “Winevana.” You may know it as Grocery Outlet.

At any rate, we wandered into the well-stocked wine department. Alas, our Wine Genie, Jerry, was not working, so we wandered the aisles reading Jerry’s shelf-talkers instead. Suddenly, Robyn stopped, and blurted out “Bordeaux Blend!” She had stumbled upon (not into, thankfully) a display of Luke Donald Collection LDC Red wine. I’d never heard of this label, but when I read Jerry’s description, I agreed with Robyn. We had to take one home with us. Robyn also made a brilliant suggestion: “Let’s open this tonight with our burgers. So we did.

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I’ve never been one to chase celebrity or athlete wines, and frankly, I didn’t know this was such a wine until I read the back label. Luke Donald is a British professional golfer, who partnered with  Bill Terlato of Teralto Wines to create wines of excellence, that reflect Luke’s personality and style.

Here’s my Vivino review, describing what I thought of the wine:

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This is a remarkable Bordeaux-style blend. Definitely New World, with a big, bold profile. Deep, inky purple color in the glass. Aromas explode from the glass on the nose, including blackberry, dark black cherry, ripe raspberry, and mocha. On the palate, flavors of Marionberry pie, ripe blackberry, black cherry, baking spice, vanilla, and toasty oak. A little hot at first but tamed with food. Tannins are firm and chewy, and acidity is medium and balanced. We had it with grilled cheeseburgers with tarragon-Russian dressing. Exquisite! The finish goes on for days, with dark berry and white pepper. 43% Merlot, 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot.

Oh, those cheeseburgers? They were no ordinary cheeseburgers. They were Cheddar BLT Burgers with Tarragon-Russian dressing. If you want to try them, you can find the recipe at Food & Wine. (Click the link!) OK, OK, the picture here is from the Food & Wine website. We’re eating low-carb, so we had these sans-bun in lettuce wraps. They really weren’t photo-worthy, but they still tasted amazing! If you close your eyes, you can almost taste the toasted brioche bun.

Cheddar BLT Burger with Tarragon-Russian Dressing

If you can find this wine, I encourage you to try it. Check your local Grocery Outlet, and maybe you’ll get lucky. This wine averages about $35 on the Internet. We got our bottle at Grocery Outlet for just $9.99!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds, with credit and inspiration to Robyn Raphael.

Roses and Rosé for Mother’s Day

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Today is Mother’s Day in the United States. I am fortunate, in that both of my parents are alive and healthy, in their early 80’s. What’s more, they live in a beautiful retirement apartment complex just a few minutes from my home. Over the years, we have not always lived so close; so many Mother’s Days were spent remotely. So I’m pleased to be able to celebrate this day over a meal and wine with both my mother and dad.

Contrary to popular belief, at least by me, Mother’s Day is not just another “Hallmark Holiday.” Indeed, the day we know today was started in 1908 by Anna Jarvis, to honor the sacrifices mothers make for their children. Hallmark wasn’t founded until two years later in 1910! In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a declaration establishing Mother’s Day as the second Sunday in May. Yet celebrations of motherhood date much further back than that. The ancient Greeks and Romans held festivals honoring the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele. More modern Christian celebrations of “Mothering Sunday” eventually evolved into the holiday we enjoy today.

I like to refer to the community where my parents live as a “land-based cruise ship.” It’s pretty much all-inclusive, with three meals a day, housekeeping services, social activities, recreation, and a shuttle bus for day trips and running errands. In fact, the apartments themselves don’t even have kitchens! Management is always gracious and invites guests for special occasion meals. Mother’s Day is no exception! Lunch is the big meal of the day, and there is always a main entrée, as well as an alternate in case you don’t care for the main. Mind you, these are chef-prepared meals so they’re always enticing and tasty!

Today’s main entrée was marinated flank steak with hoisin sauce, with arepas and artichoke timbales. If you’re not feeling like beef, the alternate was crab cakes with papaya pepper puree and citrus dill aioli. When I come over for special meals, I always like to bring a bottle or two of wine to pair with the meal. After all, I am a wine guy, so my folks appreciate my recommendations! I went in assuming we would all want the flank steak, so I brought a Cabernet Franc; the Le Pré Vaujour Chinon 2016. However, it was possible that my mom would surprise me and order the crab cakes. Besides, this is Mother’s Day, so we have to have a Rosé, right? As you can see in the photo above, we had several Rosés to choose from. In keeping with the Cabernet Franc theme, we opted for the Château De La Roulerie Les Camelias Rosé 2014, a blend of 50% Cabernet Franc and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon.

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Roses and Rosé for Mother’s Day! 

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OK, props to dad, too. Without him, she wouldn’t be my mother! 

As expected, the meal was delicious! We started with a salad of spring greens, micro greens, and Belgian endive with peach-basil vinaigrette. Although we all ordered the flank steak, we opened the Rosé for the salad course. It was an amazing pairing! When the main course arrived, we chugged the remaining Rosé in our glasses to make room for the red wine. Honestly, I was a little apprehensive. I hadn’t realized until I got the bottle home that the Chinon was a 2016 vintage. The grapes in the bottle were on the vine only a few months ago! I needn’t have worried, though, as the pairing was heavenly! For dessert we enjoyed homemade tiramisu and sipped on the last of the Chinon. Yum!! It was a very pleasant and enjoyable way to celebrate the sacrifices my mother made in raising my sister and me. Mainly my sister. (Just kidding, sis!)

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The Wines

Château De La Roulerie Les Camelias Rosé 2014

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​Salmon color in the glass. Aromas and flavors of strawberry, red raspberry, and red currant. Bright acidity with medium body. Light and lively. Red berry, including cranberry on finish. Excellent pairing with the spring and micro greens salad with endive.

4.0 Stars (88 – 91 points)

Le Pré Vaujour Chinon 2016

Yes, 2016. ​Very young, but very good! Bright purple color in the glass. Aromas and light mouthfeel are reminiscent of a Beaujolais Nouveau: Fresh raspberry, red currant, and violet, with some spice, and a bit of freshly tilled earth, with just a hint of oak influence. Surprisingly soft and smooth for such a young wine, with lively acidity and medium body. The acidity made it perfect with the flank steak, and led to a long, pleasing finish. Very good now, with aging potential for several years.

4.0 Stars (88 – 91 points)

My hope is that each of you enjoyed celebrating your mother as much as I did mine. Let me know in the comments what you did with your mom, and what wines you paired with it!

Cheers!

 

Review: Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc 2013

Last Sunday, December 4, 2016, was the second annual Cabernet Franc day. There are celebratory days for several popular wine grape varietals throughout the year. However, the regal Cabernet Franc grape had been overlooked until 2015. Enter Lori Budd. She and her husband, Michael, are the proprietors of Dracaena Wines in Paso Robles, California. Much more than a winery owner, though, Lori is a champion of Cabernet Franc. To bring attention to this oft overlooked grape, she established December 4th of each year as Cabernet Franc day. You can read Lori’s story about the creation of Cabernet Franc day here.

Cabernet Franc is a grape many wine drinkers have never heard of. Of those who are aware of it, many know it only as a blending grape used in red Bordeaux wines. Surprisingly few people have experienced Cabernet Franc as a stand-alone wine. That is a shame, and Lori is doing all she can to remedy that problem.

While anybody who has taken even a passing notice of wine is familiar with the King of Grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, many do not know that Cabernet Sauvignon is a naturally-occuring hybrid. DNA testing in the 1990s revealed it is a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.

So what happens on Cabernet Franc day? A lot! Social Media is inundated with hashtags like #cabfrancday, #cabfranclove, and #lovecabfranc. In the wine blogger community, blog posts about Cabernet Franc abound. The day culminates with a Tweet-up on Twitter, with the hashtag #cabfrancday. I participated in the Tweet-up – my first one ever – and it was a lot of fun, and very informative! I had no idea there were so many producers making stand-alone Cabernet Franc, in so many styles.

I’ve had a few Cab Francs before, but haven’t really explored the grape in depth. All the wines I’ve had have been excellent; medium bodied with black fruit, tobacco, and spice, with the classic bell pepper on the finish. It is a very food friendly wine, and pairs well with basically anything you would serve with Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

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Cab Franc Loves Beef Tips and Mushrooms!

To celebrate Cabernet Franc day, I had the good fortune to receive a bottle of Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc 2013, from Beth, the Traveling Wine Chick. The Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc will blow your mind! It is crafted from 100% Cabernet Franc aged in 100% French Oak, and is rich, deep, and full bodied.

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Look at That Color!

From the Ehlers Estate website:

A beautiful, 100% Cabernet Franc with great structure, firm, mature tannins, and compelling flavors. Black and red berries, black cherry, toasted coconut, browned butter, and slight vanilla, this wine is pure Franc from a stellar terroir. Mouth-filling and built to last, with a long chewy finish, this is a perfect change-up to your best Cabernet Sauvignons. Off the charts.

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Here’s what I thought:

A delicious way to enjoy #CabFrancDay! Deep purple with a ruby rim. Aromas of ripe raspberry and soft cedar and pencil shavings. As the wine opens up, I got a whiff of bell pepper, too. On the palate, this is a juicy, balanced delight. Ripe raspberry, blackberry, cedar, and spice. Tannins are soft and smooth, with vibrant acidity that makes my mouth happy! The finish is long and satisfying, with black and red fruit. Outstanding!

5 out of 5 stars (95+ points)

Retail: $60

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With such famous lineage it is surprising that Cabernet Franc is so often overlooked and forgotten. If you haven’t tried this grape on its own, please go to your favorite wine shop now and buy some. Then join us every December 4th for the annual #cabfrancday festivities!

Cheers!