The moral of my evening last night is this: It's a wonderful thing to have generous friends.
Lisa and I were tossed unprepared and somewhat googly-eyed into a series of palate-bending experiences, which I will now attempt to relate as best I can. Here's how it all began...
Once again, my phone rang in the early afternoon with a very kind offer of a couple of tickets to a tasting of 'The World's Greatest Cabernet Francs,' after which, we were invited to come on down to a restaurant in Greenwich Village, where, it seemed, 'some decent stuff' would be poured in an informal sort of get-together.
Well, having precious little experience with comparing cab francs side-by-side, it seemed like a golden opportunity to do some important research, all in the name of science, of course, so off we went into the steambath that is enveloping New York.
On first arriving, we were served four (non-blind) Loire Valley CFs, as a sort of palate warmer-upper:
Amirault St. Nicolas-de-Bourgueil 1996: Medium garnet, tending towards purply; fairly light nose... almost no nose... tight and a little green; crisp & tangy, with a good dose of acidity, not too much in the way of fruit. Very tart on the finish, with some surprising but very smooth tannins.
Filliatreau Saumur-Champigny 'Clos Candi-Cuvée Buster' 1997: Deepest color of these four, as well as the richest nose, yet still tight and fairly restrained--candied cherry/black cherry, a bit rounder than the Amirault, but still crisp. Finishes hard and tannic.
Bréton Chinon Les Picasses 1996: Again, medium garnet-purple. Slightly sweeter nose, purplefruit & stony cherry/minerality, aromatically light; tangy, tart, closed, tannic. Fruit fades quickly, leaving tannic bite.
Raffault Chinon Les Picasses 1985: Palest color, pale brick with a slight orange cast; on the nose tobacco & herbaceousness, almost pine needles; in the mouth faded, faded fruit, less aggressive than the other three, but too far off the other end--tart and a bit bitter, soft tannins, just not much going on.
Well, as a starter, these four were a non-starter. Three tight, tannic, fruitless wines and one over-the-hill faded fruitless wine. Still, just a warm-up...
Next was a blind tasting of American Cab Franc--five wines in all:
Wine 1: Medium red, with a slight muddy cast; slightly more lush than the Loires--sweet oak here, tobacco, buttery notes cover the light cherry fruit. Pleasant & smooth, rather light, medium-crisp, light tannins. Kind of a quiet little wine. (Château Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Cold Creek Vineyard 1995)
Wine 2: Medium-light garnet; light nose, menthol note rises up over the cherry fruit & hint of greenness underneath; tangy, smoky cran-cherry & tart herby flavors; fine tannins clamp down. Not oaky. (Schneider Vineyards, North Fork, Long Island 1995)
Wine 3: Medium-light garnet; nose of cherry, herbs and light, sweet oak; smoother and less tart than the others, with lower acidity. Light, muted cherry/berry flavors; smoother and less aggressive, softest wine of flight. (Coppola Napa Valley 1996)
Wine 4: Ditto on the color; hey, here's an odd nose... strange, kind of mediciney smell, can't quite pin it down... iodine? Pine-sol? Medium-bodied, fruit is more forward here, dark cherry, turning tangy and piney on the finish. (Stonefly Napa Valley 1996)
Wine 5: Deepest color, medium-dark muddy ruby-red; plenty of sweet new oak here, buttery popcorny aromas cover the candy-cherry fruit. Muted tastes of tangy cherry/cocoa; buttery notes flow over and around the fruit, but not quite WITH. Pride. (Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa Valley 1997)
Well, having had other Pride wines, I spotted their contribution, which was the group favorite by far. I do like their cab sauv, but I was a little more ambivalent here--the oakiness that I don't mind in the bigger, fuller cab sauv seemed to slightly overwhelm the more delicate cab franc.
Next, we had a blind threesome of wines that weren't 100% cab franc, but cab franc/merlot blends:
Wine 1: Medium garnet; lightest nose of these three; sweet pure fruit, lighter mouthfeel too, rich, smooth, tangy & crisp, slight bitter tang on the finish. (Havens Bourriquot Napa Valley 1996)
Wine 2: Ruby-brownish-brick cast; this nose is richer & different--sweeter, kind of a honey/brown sugar note... is that oak? Slight buttery quality--tangy dark cassis/cherry/cranberry fruit. Rich and fairly ripe, with nice smoky notes, but seems a bit reserved still. (Château Cheval Blanc St. Emilion 1995)
Wine 3: Darkest color of these three; smoky, rich nose, touch of barny earthiness, tomatoey & herbaceous notes; in the mouth rich, but very tight--burst of smooth muted smoky cassis/tobacco/coffee fruit leaps out, then is snuffed under a mess o'tannins. Needs lots of time. (Château L'Angelus St. Emilion 1994)
And finally, to close the evening off, a couple of strays:
La Jota Howell Mountain Napa 1991: Darker muddy garnet; very light nose of cherry/herby/tobacco notes; in the mouth crisp but a bit simple after the last flight, dark redfruit & a bit hot on the finish.
Quintarelli Veneto Alzero 1993: Crikey! Extraordinarily different wine--lush, ripe nose of raisin, brown sugar & a whiff of acetone. Port-like/amarone taste--amarone port cab franc? Sweetish--seems to have some sugar. Really really really good, but a whole different ballpark. Nicely balanced, plenty of acidity to balance the sweetness; sweet, raisiny finish. Wild wine, but???
Apparently nobody knew what to expect from the Quintarelli wine. Turned out to be quite a mouthful, but I didn't notice any particular affiliation with cab franc. The somewhat muddy consensus about the evening's wines was that cab franc got by better 'with a little help from its friends' (merlot & cab sauv), but it was a fine opportunity for us to get a feel for the grape on its own merits, something we'd never be likely to do on our own.
Well, as if that wasn't more than enough vinous fun for any two people for one evening, we wandered down to the Village to thank our more-than-kind benefactor and found ourselves invited to sit down and have a taste or two of the aforementioned 'decent stuff.'
Apparently someone is working on a PhD in understatement...
Caymus Special Selection Napa Valley 1991: Deep, rich red; sweet, rich dry cassis/dark bell pepper, tobacco nose... oh no, I'm in trouble, this is starting to smell like cab franc; fairly crisp & tangy, rich cassis flavor, but a bit green-peppery.
Château Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1978: Pale ruby with a hint of orange; light nose, aromatic menthol & almond; medium acidity, not as crisp as some of these others, but nicely balanced. Round & tongue-coating, soft tannins.
Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese 1967: Amber yellow; sweet honey & stone nose, light gardenia sweetness; light and very soft, with decent acidity but not much overt fruit. Stony, honey, touch round, touch sweet. A nice counterpart to the reds.
Château Lafite-Rothschild Pauillac 1955: Pale brick-red; sweet, light, ethereal nose of cassis & tomato, just a sip, light and tangy, evaporates in the mouth, gone too quickly.
Guigal Côte-Rôtie La Mouline 1980: deep garnet; gorgeous nose of honey, raspberry and smoked meat; in the mouth not quite as lush, but still lovely--cassis, raspberry, pepper; fine tannins.
Château Haut-Brion 1966: Oh, what a nice nose--rich, lush nose of plum, smoky redfruit, violets, not big, but interesting & a pleasure to smell. In the mouth a bit simpler than the nose would indicate, but no slouch. Rich & smooth; round cassis & tar flavors, nice acidity, almost no tannins to speak of. Sweet long finish.
Château Margaux 1988: Matte garnet; violets, cassis on the nose. Smooth, nicely balanced, crisp, but surprisingly tannic. Tannins kind of swarm in on you after a moment and choke off the finish, but tasty nonetheless.
Turley Zinfandel Aida 1994: Medium-dark garnet; surprisingly quiet nose--soft black cherry, pepper, earth; in the mouth crisp and bright, brisk acidity, black cherry with some herby notes under it. The only Aida I'd had before was the '96, and it seemed much more of a monster than this one, which surprised me with its balance and crisp, pleasant fruitiness. Some fine, firm tannins kick in on the finish. Tasty.
Turley Petite --Yow! Corked as corked can get. Too bad, I've never had a Turley PS, but really, it would be monstrously silly to worry about it at this point...
DRC Grands Echezeax 1961: Pale brick, with hints of amber; oh my goodness, another great nose--honey and carrot-cake notes, soft, delicate, rich, sweet. In the mouth tangy and a bit hollow--not as interesting as the nose. A faded beauty, with only crispness left, as well as honey and a slight metallic note. Incredible nose.
Château Leoville-Porferré St. Julien 1990: Deep ruby-red; oh boy, after all these delicate, faded wines here's a young brute: rich, lush, ripe tobacco/cassis/tar nose--a big wine, but really well-balanced; lush fruit, lots of crispness, light but firm tannins. Big mouthful of cassis, tobacco, tar & herbs. Yum. Double yum. A nice note to finish the evening on.
Well, just about the only possible unfortunate thing I can think of about this kind of group encounter with this many interesting wines is that I'd love to give each and every one the time it deserved, getting to know it a bit more. I've always been a slow taster, and my palate, already a bit tired from fourteen cab francs, was on heavy overload by the time the evening was over; believe it or not, there were wines left untasted. Still, that's a silly quibble in the face of such a marvelous opportunity to sample such a broad spectrum of great wines.
Needless to say, we chattered and compared notes all the way home, the heat suddenly seeming not so worrisome after all.