Newsletter #262 - In Defense of Cabernet Franc

27 Aug 2015

MichaelPinkusWineReview Newsletter #262

            August 27, 2015

  • WineReview: In Defense of Cabernet Franc

  • Grape Guy’s Picks of the Bunch: New and Noteworthy Wine

  • Weekly Wine Video Series:  A Recap of The Week in Videos

  • Bi-Weekly OWR Updates:  Additional Articles and more

  • Wine Event Spotlight:  See What's Going on in Wine Country

WineReview:  In Defense of Cabernet Franc

In my last newsletter I reported on the first ever Pinot Noir vs Cabernet Franc ThrowDown Challenge held August 1st at Wellington Court, where Pinot Noir narrowly inched out Cabernet Franc to take the crown as Ontario’s red grape of choice (read the full article here).  But how did this happen? For decades Cabernet Franc was king and Merlot its Prince, Pinot Noir was a mere glimmer in people’s minds – sure it was being made here, but Cabernet Franc ruled Ontario’s vines, hearts and minds.

Now before we all jump to conclusion about a movie’s effect on the popularity of a grape variety – allow me to state that a 2009 study put the whole “Sideways Effect” myth to rest, stating that while the movie did help the rise in popularity of Pinot Noir, it did not significantly affect Merlot.  But that in no way affected us here in Ontario – it was mainly a California / US issue because it is hard to compare California Pinot Noir to anything we make here in Ontario.

Now before I am accused of discounting Pinot Noir’s victory as a popularity contest, and am also accused of being anti-Pinot Noir let me say this:  Pinot Noir makes up 6% of the wines in my cellar (some would say that is not enough) but I have myself only recently found the joys of Pinot Noir (within the past decade) … conversely I have forever been in the Cabernet Franc camp (which, as of today, only makes up 7% of my total cellar holdings) – I would also say this applies to many Ontarians – quality Pinot Noir for us is still fairly new, but Cabernet Franc was forever.

Pinot Noir itself is not a new grape by any stretch of the imagination – some even offer it up as the oldest of the noble, vitis vinifera varieties … but one of Ontario’s biggest problems is that is has always wallowed in the deep end of the “too many varieties pool” which has gotten this industry into some trouble over the years (but that’s another story for another time).

Then along comes wineries like Le Clos Jordanne, Coyote’s Run, Flat Rock Cellars, and more recently Westcott, 16 Mile Cellars and Domain Queylus, and that’s just to name a few in Niagara – if you cast your gaze east to Prince Edward County you can thrice the number of those specializing in Pinot Noir.  Now I dare you, name me half a dozen wineries specializing in Cabernet Franc … I’ll wait.

You can easily name wineries making good Cabernet Franc, I bet you can even name a couple making great Cabernet Franc – but are they really specializing in it?  What I mean by that is this: are they producing clonal projects based on Cabernet Franc (a la Flat Rock Cellars)? Are they trying different soil type variations (a la Coyote’s Run)? Are they making specific vineyard designated Cabernet Franc (a la Clos Jordanne)? Have they totally dedicated their winery and vineyards to producing “great” Cabernet Franc (like any number of Prince Edward County wineries)? And are there new wineries coming on board the Ontario landscape devoted to making Cabernet Franc their flagship wine (a la Westcott, 16 Mile Cellar and Domaine Queylus)?

Pinot Noir has gripped and engulfed this province like no other red grape before; while wineries still make Cabernet Franc and some, very good Cabernet Franc, I would have to say the focus these days has shifted to Pinot Noir, with Syrah being the next big thing waiting in the wings – though I doubt many wineries will devote themselves entirely to Syrah (#foolhardy).  Pinot Noir may be the heartbreak grape and may have stolen the hearts of many a winery, winemaker and owner – but it breaks my heart to see my beloved Cabernet Franc put out to pasture as the “has-been” grape – the way I see it any way.


Grape Guy’s Picks of the Bunch:  New and Noteworthy Wines

Coyote’s Run 2013 Pinot Noir, Black Paw Vineyard - $32.95 (W)
The typical Black Paw Pinot Noir is a little more robust than its Red Paw counterpart … but this year I did not get to try them side-by-side as the Red Paw isn’t quite ready … but the Black Paw still seems to be quite the bruiser.  Nose is earthy and smoky with blackened-cranberry and sour cherry aromas.  Flavours lie in that realm as well: dark-fruited with earthy, smoky cran-cherry and toasted notes.  Finish is where the acidity kicks in with some smoked-raspberry … but there is a delicate side to this wine, more so than usual – and it’s very welcoming.  Price: $32.95 – Rating: ****

Honsberger 2012 Cabernet Franc Reserve - $55.00 (W)
This 500 case winery splits its production pretty evenly between Riesling and Cabernet Franc (200 each) with a little Rosé for weddings (100 cases) – this is currently their only reserve and makes up a mere 25 cases of their total production: bottled unfiltered, from a single barrel, neutral oak, for 28 months has brought about good fruit integration that straddles dark and red fruit with vanilla, cedar with a kiss of oak and good skin derived tannins … this wine should integrate nicely within the next 2-3 years and be enjoyed for another 7-8.  Price: $55.00 – Rating: ****+

Huff Estates 2013 Pinot Noir, Quarry Road - $30.00 (W)
It’s been quite a year for Huff, especially at the Ontario Wine Awards: a gold for sparkling and one for this here Pinot Noir from Tawse’s Quarry Road Vineyard.  It’s not often that you see a Tawse vineyard on someone else’s bottle but Lanny (Huff) and Moray (Tawse) struck a ‘deal’ to swap some fruit.  The result for Huff (besides the gold medal) is a delicate cherry, raspberry and cranberry number that also contains elements of white pepper and an elegant / refined spiciness on the finish.  Price: $30.00 – Rating: ****

Karlo Estates 2012 Cabernet Franc - $24.00 (W)
I would call this a pretty textbook version of Cabernet Franc, and why not, a hot vintage like 2012 is going to ripen the big reds as well as the medium and light bodied ones (but the bigger reds really benefit), the key is to know when to pick ‘em.  This is the right blend of smoky tobacco, raspberry, firm but pliable tannins and a cigar box finish.  Drink over the next 6+ years.  Price: $24.00 – Rating: ****

Keint-he 2012 Pinot Noir, Queenston Vineyard - $30.00 (W)
Another Niagara sourced wine from Keint-he, makes you wonder whether they are actually growing their own fruit – but winemaker Ross Wise seems to like using it and does an excellent job with it – so who can fault him.  From the hot 2012 vintage he has given us a fruit forward wine that’s backed by an earthy (pinot-esque) quality.  Nice black cherry, white pepper, spice and acidity.  Price: $30.00 – Rating: ****

Norman Hardie 2013 Cabernet Franc - $25.00 (W)
Now that Norm has found a steady stream of Cabernet Franc in the County he can make this delicate beauty every year.  Not the powerhouse fruit forward version you find out Niagara-way, this one shows more of the feminine side of the grape: violets and raspberry on the nose, making it exceptionally fragrant – palate has a nice texture with violets and black cherry along with hints of pepper and spice … there’s a low 11.1% alcohol, so as not to be heavy on the palate, and then finishes with a little tobacco leaf linger.  Price: $25.00 – Rating: ****

Availability legend:  W (Winery) – L (LCBO/Vintages) –  OL (On-Line)

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