Monday, September 12, 2011

Virginia Cabernet Franc

I had my faith in the Virginia winemaking community shaken pretty severely this past Saturday night when several of us sat down to a blind tasting of seven Virginia Cabernet Francs. The tasters reaction tells the tale: after tasting blind, not one of us wanted a glass of any of the Francs to drink. We opened a bottle of Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Technical flaws abounded. One was so contaminated with Brettanomyces that it was undrinkable. Three were overripe fruit bombs with no backing acid or tannins; the grape varietal was indiscernible. One was so tannic we wondered if it was destemmed at all. Two had a nose bereft of fruit, but with hints of latex rubber.

But surprisingly, what I didn't taste was a lot of green fruit. This is a welcome change from prior tastings in which green vegetal flavors predominated. But then, 2008 and 2009 were pretty decent vintages for reds in Virginia. And hopefully we have learned that Franc's crop has got to be restricted.

I hear people state frequently that Cabernet Franc is Virginia's red grape. It is almost a mantra for some of these people. What I do know about the grape is that it is relatively easy to grow, tolerates a cooler climate, ripens early, and crops heavily. Are these people mistaking something that grows easily in Virginia for something that makes good wine?

While our samples did not include a couple of the best Cabernet Francs in the state, it did represent some well known wineries that should have made good wine. And that is scary.

After ten years of seriously tasting Virginia wines, if I had to pick a grape that could become a signature for this state, it would be Petit Verdot. But I wonder. If we can't make good Franc, why would we make good PV?

Winemakers, are you listening? I'm trying to be a cheerleader for the industry with my wine list and its focus on Virginia. But you have to give me something to work with.

1 comment:

  1. Good afternoon Mr.Matthews
    As a winemaker in Virginia, I must admit to be surprised by your, and those of your guests reaction to the Cabernet Franc wines that you tasted.

    I would agree that technical flaws exist in many examples of our wines, as they do in wine regions around the world; but I would venture to say that the best examples [in my opinion] display correct varietal character, and are well crafted wines devoid of any flaws.

    While Cabernet Franc does well in our vineyards, I would disagree that we are crafting wines from varietals that are easier to grow. The winemakers I know are very committed to producing the best possible wines, irrespective of the varietal.
    I would welcome the opportunity to conduct a tasting with you, showcasing [again in my opinion] the Cabernet Franc wines that are truly representative of the place in which they grow, reflecting the correct varietal character.

    I do thank you for your support of our wine industry and appreciate your comments reflecting your recent experience. We are indeed listening and are working hard to ensure that those kinds of experiences and tastings do not happen.


    Stephen Barnard
    Keswick Vineyards