Splurge vs. Steal: California Cabernet Franc
Executive wine editor Ray Isle evaluates a $285 Cabernet Franc from California... and a $15 one.
On a recent trip to Napa Valley, I took some time out of my day to visit Ovid, a gorgeous estate atop Pritchard Hill. The winery offers one of the more spectacular views I’ve come across in the valley—a panoramic swoop down the hill and across the whole valley, which when I arrived was entirely masked by fog and an hour later was crystal clear.
Given the overall quality of the wines coming off Pritchard Hill (it’s essentially the A-list address these days; Ovid’s neighbors include Colgin, Bryant Family, Continuum, and Brand), it’s no surprise that Ovid’s are extremely impressive, too. I was particularly taken with the 2013 Ovid Hexameter, whose rich blueberry and black cherry fruit had intriguing notes of toast, black tea and wild herbs—all of the latter not surprising, given that the wine is nearly 65 percent Cabernet Franc.
Cabernet Franc gets little attention in California. Its herbal fragrance can head a little too easily towards the green, vegetal notes that California winemakers typically abhor. But made well it can be a wonderful everyday wine, a touch lighter and crisper than Cabernet Sauvignon; and made brilliantly, as with Hexameter, layered, complex, and able to age for years.
Like I said, I loved the 2013 Ovid Hexameter—a great example of California’s gift for combining ripeness with nuance, and a world-class wine. Winemaker Austin Peterson only makes it in great year, and 2013 is one of those.
However, the 2013 Ovid Hexameter costs $285. It’s also pretty much only available by mailing list, but that’s kind of a moot point for me, as I am not a millionaire. (Dishearteningly, not even close.)
But if you want to delve into Cabernet Franc without spending a week’s paycheck on one bottle, you do have some good options. Here are a couple.
Lang & Reed have been focusing on Cabernet Franc for twenty years now, which would get them points for tenacity even if they weren’t also making really good wine. Their 2013 Lang & Reed North Coast Cabernet Franc ($27) leans towards Franc’s lighter side, with crunchy red cherry fruit and bright acidity; it’s a cold-roast-chicken-at-a-picnic wine if ever there was one.
Even more affordably, look for the 2014 Cosentino The Franc ($15), which for less than twenty bucks offers a lot of spicy Franc character and plenty of ripe, dark fruit. It’s a faint shadow of the Ovid in terms of complexity, but it’s juicy, tasty and a twentieth of the price; for drinking at a summer barbecue with burgers, I’d call that a steal.