The Great Grape Hope
By Robert K. Stephen
(WINDSOR, ON) – I have been saying for a few years now that Cabernet Franc is Ontario’s great grape hope for domestic and international prominence in the red wine department. What is inspiring about it is that it performs well solo as it can in The Loire with St-Nicolas- de- Bourgueil or as a blend as with the great Bordeaux’s. In other words it’s versatile and the blends using Cabernet Franc I have had here in Lake Erie North Shore in many ways rescue or at least “compliment” the other grapes in the blend such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from embarrassing themselves with their lack of ripeness hence an indication of a great future for LENS Meritages! Let’s take a look at what Cabernet Franc can do all by its lonesome self as a VQA Lake Erie North Shore (LENS) or can do in a limited blend which enables the wine to maintain its Cabernet Franc VQA designation (85% minimum Cabernet Franc).
The first volunteer is the 2008 Muscedere Cabernet Franc and it’s a 100% LENS estate wine. It is ruby coloured and this hints at a dainty and potentially sensual wine with not a whole lot of power, a hallmark of Cabernet Franc. It doesn’t overpower. This wine is loaded with sweet cherries and maraschino liqueur on the nose. It is very high toned and clear as a bell on this point. On the palate it is as the nose is to the tee. Just a smidgen of tannins gives it a lovely voice but not a big booming one. You really have to ponder about some of the Muscedere wines as they have so much complexity. Not so with this one as it is delightful in its simplicity with not a hint of sourness. This is precisely why it can nullify or compliment the sourness in so many other Ontario red grapes when it is blended with them creating unique international class wines with rather austere character but so good with food. This wine is a truly great LENS Cabernet Franc. It is so drinkable on its own I dare not suggest any food pairing however if I was so bold to suggest I’d say it calls for the sweetest Leamington cherry tomatoes, pecorino cheese and fresh bread. Fabio and Rob’s grandfather would be very proud of this stellar wine. 2010 Canadian Wine Access Awards Bronze Medal. 2010 Shores of Erie International Wine Festival Gold Medal. This is in the running for the Windsor Square red wine of the year. Brilliant! The grapes were handpicked on October 22, 2008 with a total production of 197 cases aged 12 months in French oak barrels.(Muscedere Vineyards Estate Winery 2008 Cabernet Franc, Harrow, Ontario , 750mL, $16., Windsor Square Rating 95/100). A great party wine! Buy a case. Drink within the next two years.
Continuing on we taste Aleksander Estate’s 2008 Cabernet Franc once again a 100% LENS effort which is beet juice in colour full of aromas of those juicy sweet tiny summer Ontario strawberries happily bobbing about in a bowl of artisanal raspberry jello drizzled with melted organic Mexican jungle chocolate. Delicious and delicate. Tannins are regimented hiding behind the lines. On the palate a good coating of rhubarb cherry pie just hanging on the praecipe of bitterness. This is a classic Aleksander Estate wine speaking of structure and discipline. I’d be tempted to buy 6 and try them over the next two years. Uncork this at a party and you will be labelled wine savvy! (Aleksander Estate Winery 2008 Cabernet Franc 2008 VQA Lake Erie North Shore, Ruthven, Ontario, 750 mL, 12.8% alcohol,$14. Windsor Square Rating 91/100).
So far we have been talking about Cabernet Franc’s as having moderate power yet capable of being delicate and disciplined. These boundaries are weakened with a Pelee Island Cabernet Franc which is plummy red in colour exhibiting powerful black cherry and sandalwood aromas. This is not a purebred Cabernet Franc as it is muscular and dusky with Forrest Gump choco aromas. Devilishly inviting. On the palate raw red cherries struggling to make centre stage. This is not a delicate wine and it is almost full bodied and aggressive somewhat along the lines of the Pelee Island Alvar Pinot Noir. Pelee Island shows its daring and masterful blending abilities as in addition to Cabernet Franc in this wine there is 10% Zweigelt and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. Wanna fight with your grilled foods? Put your dukes up with this wine! For the price yet another Pelee Island steal but sorry I can’t say this is a delicate local Cabernet Franc ….but it can win you over with its subtle power and price! (Pelee Island Winery 2009 Lighthouse VQA Ontario Cabernet Franc, Kingsville, Ontario, 750 mL, 13.5% alcohol, $11.95, Windsor Square Rating 90/100).
The last Cabernet Franc is from Erie Shore Vineyard and I am a bit puzzled. Puzzled can be good as it means the wine makes you think. It’s a garnet coloured wine with a real sweet spot of black cherries that explode when the wine is swirled in the glass. There is lots of earthiness and funkiness but it is well woven into the palate yet at the same time there is a slightly sour LENS rhubarb aroma with some pine. I am taken aback by the firm tannins and some bitterness mingled with dark chocolate. Very austere on the palate but after leaving it decanted for an hour it loses its rawness and becomes smoother but has a rather ill-defined finish. I can’t easily pigeonhole or categorize it. One thing I will say is that this wine demands some food and I think if you do not decant uncork it then use it on a grilled beef attack. Listen up….this wine doesn’t get a gold star from this wine critic but it has a bit of a bad boy personality…is this the James Dean of LENS Cabernet Francs? Drink this now. (Erie Shore Vineyard 2007 VQA Lake Erie North Shore Cabernet Franc Reserve, Harrow, Ontario, 12% alcohol,750 mL, $16.59, Windsor Square Rating 86/100).
I think we have to appreciate the diversity of Cabernet Franc in Lake Erie North Shore. It has a broad range of styles and can be pure and delicate as Muscedere produces, disciplined and firm as produced by Aleksander Estate, burly and aggressive produced by Pelee Island or quirky and rebellious as produced by Erie Shore Vineyards. It has an uncanny ability to mask or compliment the other red grapes of LENS yet as a single varietal it can be brilliant. Excuse my ignorance but I think of Brunello or Valpolicella when I have a glass of LENS Cab Franc in my hand. Ciao!
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