The differences between Old World wines and New World wines are generally quite noticeable, especially when it comes to Bordeaux varietals. In California, overall warmer temperatures can provide ample ripeness and lush fruit in the wines; whereas in France, the climate isn’t quite so warm and the fruit, as a result, isn’t always quite as rich in the wines. With that being said, both Old World and New World Bordeaux varietal wines need time to age—there is no question about that. These varietals have strong tannins that need to be tamed by time in bottle. Often rustic and gripping upon release, with bottle age, both Old World and New World Bordeaux varietal wines become some of the softest, most elegant expressions of wine in the world. Sought after by collectors in a variety of countries, Bordeaux varietals are the epitome of classic, elegant, age-worthy wines.
In Napa Valley, Sharon Kazan Harris of Rarecat Wines—along with Winemaker Joel Aiken and Paula Kornell—is crafting stunning wines that bring together both a classic touch of Old World charm and New World sensibility. Their latest red wine release, the 2010 Old Toll Hillside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley’s Calistoga appellation, is an astounding expression of its varietal. Blended with just a touch of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot (a total of 11% between the two varietals), this stunning 2010 vintage brings together just a subtle hint of California fruit, textured tannins, ample body and French Bordeaux-like savory characteristics and minerality. With five years from its vintage date, it is just beginning to hit its stride in the glass.
2010 was a tricky vintage for California grape growers and winemakers. The growing season started off relatively mild and wet, and heat waves in late August complicated matters more. Of course, grapes prefer slow, consistent heat throughout the growing season to achieve phenolic ripeness, but ultimately, the quality of the 2010 wines depended on decisions made in the vineyards and the choices made in the cellar. Clearly, the 2010 vintage was a challenge that Rarecat Wines had no problem rising up to.
Tasting Rarecat Wines' 2010 Old Toll Hillside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, the first characteristic one notices is the incredible balance, both in the aromatics and on the palate. The complex aromatics are filled with fruit and savory aromas—currants, red raspberries and black cherry mingle with dark chocolate, pencil lead, fresh tobacco leaf and smoked meat. The palate is equally as intricate with very subtle fruit and balancing savory qualities. The lusciously textured body is full and round, with slightly grippy tannins that one can tell are already receding into the background of the wine; with more bottle age, the tannins will become even more faint and the wine will gain more softness in texture and body. Dark fruit flavors of blueberry are quietly present on the palate with complex notes of smoked meat, wet rocks and olives; as the wine sits in the glass and is exposed to more air, the notes evolve into black cherry, blackberry, white pepper and cocoa. The structure is rather sophisticated with a lot of depth and energy, and the length is incredibly long on the finish. This is a beautiful, elegant and complex wine, and given more bottle age, it will become even more graceful.
Cheers to the Rarecat Wines crew, as they have done an impeccable job with this fabulous new release!
*Originally published on Examiner.
An All-Encompassing Experience
It seems as though you can hardly visit a winery these days without at least considering the option of experiencing a wine and food pairing. From small bites to charcuterie plates to chocolate—there are countless ways in which to pair wine and indulge. For a true fine dining wine and food pairing experience though, complete with a six course tasting menu in an elegant sit-down dining room, look no further than Sonoma Valley’s very own St. Francis Winery & Vineyards.
Founded in 1971, St. Francis Winery & Vineyards has become a highly revered icon in the valley—known for their award-winning wines, stunning gardens, picturesque Sonoma Valley views, onsite fine dining experiences and incredibly friendly service. With so much to offer both locals and out of town visitors, St. Francis truly boasts an all-encompassing experience for everyone.
The Wine & Food Pairing at St. Francis is unlike any other pairing you’ve experienced. It’s a group, sit-down tasting around a gorgeous, open-design round table; guests are encouraged to get to know each other and to chat about the pairings, and there’s even a friendly member of the hospitality staff who warmly introduces each of the six courses. It’s like visiting a fine dining establishment, in which each course is so elegantly introduced and so artfully plated that it feels as though you’re experiencing the work of a masterful artist—and you are.
Executive Chef Bryan Jones, formerly the Chef and General Manager of Sonoma Valley’s acclaimed The Fig Café & Wine Bar, is a true craftsman in the kitchen. A graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco with sixteen years of experience in the industry, Jones brings intricate flavor profiles, an incredible range of textures and stunning, artful presentations to each course of this top-tier wine and food pairing experience at St. Francis.
Six Course Seasonal Tasting Menu
The current six course tasting menu features seasonal ingredients and increasingly more goodies from the onsite garden, as the summer sun ripens their crops. Currently, the stunning preparations include edible flowers and a whole host of delicious culinary herbs straight from the garden.
• 2014 Gewürztraminer & Local Wild King Salmon
Beginning with the 2014 Gewürztraminer, made in a dry style with flavors of stone fruit and tropical fruit, this delicious summer sipper is perfectly suited to the local wild king salmon. The colors and arrangement of this dish are quintessentially summer—bright and whimsical—and the flavors are equally as delightful. The curried whole grain mustard crust of the salmon brings out the natural acidity of the wine, while the Easter radishes complement the fruit flavors, and the beurre blanc sauce provides balanced texture.
• 2014 Rosé & House-Made Ricotta Agnolotti
Another fabulous summer sipper made in a dry style is the 2014 Rosé, deliciously paired with a sweet and tangy house-made ricotta agnolotti. This luscious Rosé tones down the tangy elements of the apricots, while the al-dente texture of the ricotta agnolotti brings body and roundness to the wine; the intricate flavors work to enhance the lovely strawberry and watermelon fruit notes in this vivacious Rosé.
• 2013 Pinot Noir & Red Wine Braised Duck
When it comes to Pinot Noir, there is almost no better pairing than duck. Jones created a tender, moist red wine braised duck for the structured, elegant 2013 Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley. Juicy and full of rich flavor, the duck really brings out the earthy notes in the Pinot Noir. The body and texture of the wine are more round and rich with the pairing, and the coriander spätzle and pistachios provide flavor complexity and excellent contrast in texture.
• 2012 Rockpile Red & Grilled Snake River Bavette Steak
Of course, to accompany a Bordeaux-style blend—the 2012 Rockpile Red—none other than grilled Snake River bavette steak was prepared. A tender cut of meat, this bavette steak was seared to perfection and masterfully paired. The 2012 Rockpile Red possesses just the right amount of texture, medium tannins, subtle fruit and rocky minerality to accompany this course. The bavette steak heightens the texture of the wine, while its juicy tenderness helps cut through the fruit flavors, bringing out those mineral components and really strengthening the rustic earthiness of the pairing.
• 2014 Sauvignon Blanc & Blackberry Galette
To finish off an already flawless meal, Jones paired the 2014 Sauvignon Blanc with a delightful blackberry galette, alongside crème fraîche granita. Acting as a palate cleanser, the crème fraîche granita brings a refreshing tartness that prepares the palate for the Sauvignon Blanc and blackberry galette pairing. Delightfully fruity and fresh with a nice crispy pastry, this dessert is a scrumptious way to finish a truly incredible wine and food pairing experience.
Reserve Your Experience
The Wine & Food Pairing experience at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards is hosted Thursday through Monday, and reservations can be made for 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. or 3:00 p.m. For only $60 per person, you will experience some of St. Francis Winery & Vineyards’ finest wines and enjoy a five star meal, all in the picturesque setting of Sonoma Valley wine country. For more information, and to make reservations, call 800-795-6674 or visit www.stfranciswinery.com.
*Originally published in Wine Country This Week.
Exploring Sauvignon Blanc with Franciscan Estate
Sauvignon Blanc is one of Cabernet Sauvignon’s parent grape varities, and undoubtedly one of both the Old and New World’s most well-known white wines. In France and New Zealand, we see this grape express itself with high acid and notes of citrus; and of course with Australia, there is more of a grassy touch than with French Sauvignon Blanc, which expresses classic minerality from its soils. In California, we find styles that emulate the structured, high acid, citrus-driven bottlings from France and New Zealand, some with grassy notes like in Australian Sauvignon Blanc, as well as those that inherently suggest its native, warmer California climate.
Take the difference between a Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc and a Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Sonoma County’s often high acid, citrusy, structured Sauvignon Blancs contrast greatly against many of Napa Valley’s fuller, richer, more tropical fruit driven Sauvignon Blancs. The wine I am sharing with you today is certainly representative of a classic Napa Valley style of Sauvignon Blanc--Franciscan Estate Winery’s 2014 bottling. This wine is an excellent buy for any white wine lover at $17 a bottle. After tasting the quality (of course, always doing so prior to looking at the cost), I was incredibly surprised by its affordability.
To enjoy a well-made Sauvignon Blanc from a warmer climate is akin to getting kissed by the tropic sun. I love the way this wine lures me in with a welcoming invitation to enjoy its ample body, lush mouthfeel, delicious flavors and crisp acidity. I must admit, I’m not the first person to reach for a Sauvignon Blanc when I want to enjoy a white wine. However, I have learned over the years that this versatile grape variety can show itself in many ways—some of which I enjoy very much.
Napa Valley’s classic interpretation of Sauvignon Blanc always seems to include a gentle, tropical essence—no doubt from the valley’s heat. The Franciscan Estate 2014 Sauvignon Blanc is no exception: the nose is rich and full of tropical notes such as lychee, kiwi and mango; honeysuckle, lemongrass, wet rocks and granite minerality linger just above the glass, as well—harkening to those great mineral aromas you find in French Sauvignon Blanc. On the palate, complex flavors of mango, kiwi, underripe strawberry and lemon zest mingle with minerality, overlaying just a kiss of lemon/lime and butterscotch. Talk about flavor profile! I was certainly impressed by the layers of flavor that were all nicely embodied in a rich, silky mouthfeel followed by crisp acidity on the finish.
When it comes to Sauvignon Blanc, there are many approaches in winemaking styles that can yield a fun range of results. Whether you’ve been a Sauvignon Blanc fan for years, or are only just now beginning to explore this varietal, I urge you to taste across regions and to discover what style your palate likes best. For me, a full Napa Valley style is exactly what I want from this stunning grape variety ,and Franciscan Estate’s 2014 Sauvignon Blanc is a beautiful approach to this classic varietal.