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Hagafen Cabernet Franc, Napa, 2007

August 18, 2011 Leave a comment

And now we turn our attention this week back to California, after making an extended stay in other parts of the world. We are looking today at the Hagafen Cabernet Franc, from their vineyards in Napa, California.

What is Cab Franc, you ask? It is one of the more underrated grapes out there (and one of my favorites). Franc’s claim to fame is that it is one of the two parent grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon (whose other parent is Sauvignon Blanc. Get it? Cabernet Sauvignon).

In terms of its general characteristics, Cabernet Franc is not as full-bodied as its Sauvignon offspring. While there is fruitiness to its wines, Cabernet Francs tend to have more cassis and blueberry qualities to it, as opposed to the cherry and strawberry notes that Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits. Also Cabernet Franc has strong herbaceous qualities, and frequently shows aromas of rosemary and even cigar ash (believe it or not, this is a very pleasant quality, and I’m not a particularly big fan of cigars in general, but that’s another story).

2007 was a landmark year in Napa, and many wineries were able to put out excellent-quality wines at each price point, and several wines had age-worthy qualities about them: lots of tannin and acidic structure. The Hagafen Cabernet Franc was no exception.

The tannins were up-front and unabashedly present. While this made for a great pairing with meat (I tried it with my Shabbos chulent this week), I wonder how this would fare in a couple more years (again, this wine probably has some short-term aging potential!). The fruits were richer and more dominant that I tend to like in a Cabernet Franc: the blueberries were bursting with juiciness and a little overly ripe, and yet there was still a nice acidity in the background. The herbal and cigar notes were muted.

All of this leads me to think that this wine was not yet ready for general consumption, and required more age. With age the wine would lose some of its fresh and juicy fruitiness, giving way to more dried fruit qualities and letting the earthier and herbal notes come to the forefront.

While I lack the abilities to age a wine properly (no functioning cellar. Boo, hiss), I am going to keep this on my radar and hopefully be able to nab myself another bottle in six months or so and see how this wine has progressed. Hagafen Cellars is known for its quality California wines, and this is no exception to the rule. At its $45 price tag, it’s not for the faint of heart, budget-wise, but is very much worth the investment for those who can.

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En Fuego Tempranillo, Yecla, Spain 2010

July 15, 2011 7 comments

Serious wine has returned to Sefarad!

Spain has a long and rich history of Jewish winemaking that ended in the 15th century when Spanish royalty decided that the Jews needed to either convert of be expelled. Now, after 500 years of exile, Spain is the home to many wonderful kosher wines.

Tempranillo is indigenous to Spain and is the primary grape in one of Spain’s most famous wine regions: Rioja. Since wine is so much about geography, I am starting to add maps with this post and moving backwards as much as possible. Rioja is highlighted in dark purple in the map below. (Source: Wikipedia)

Rioja Wine region

However, today’s wine comes from the unsung region of Yecla in Southern Spain. This region is known more for its Monastrell (a grape we will hopefully experience in a later posting), but in this case is the home to a particularly delicious Tempranillo. (Source: Wikipedia)

Now, many may look at the bottle and ask me why I am writing a glowing review of such a young red wine (let’s face it, it’s been available for less than a year!)? The reality of the situation is that many (and perhaps most) wines are meant to be drunk young. (This is one place where I may go on my soapbox supporing screw cap wines but since our subject today isn’t one with a screw cap, I will forego it for now.) Young wines are very fresh and have high levels of fruit and usually acid (whether naturally from the grape or added during the fermentation and/or aging). While not the most complex wines, young (or joven in Spanish) are not meant to be these massive, serious, pondering wines that could lead one to spend hours unraveling the wine’s complexities.

Instead, young wines are intended to be bright, refreshing and just fun to drink. And En Fuego is no exception! The fruit and spicy notes are the first things I smelled in the wine’s bouquet. Fresh, under-ripe cherries and a little wooden spice (cinnamon? bergamot?) were first and foremost. But while aromatic, not terribly complex.

So what, then, does aging do for a wine (be prepared, this is a long aside)? Aging in a bottle with a cork in it (again, differentiating from a screw cap wine, which will get its own spot in future post) allows for a minute amount of air into the wine bottle, and this allows the wine to resolve its tannins and acid levels, primarily, as well as allow for more complexity from the wine itself, though this is often a secondary effect of the aging process. Aging used to be manditory for most of the premium-quality wines that were made, and only the so-called “jug wine” could be drunk immediately.

The reason for this is that the wines in these cases were so high in acid and tannin (in the case of red wines), that they were not drinkable in their young state. By allowing the wine to age in the cellar these tannins and acids literally fall out of the wine and form crystals on the bottom. Additionally the overly bright and fresh fruity flavors in the wine subside, allowing for older, earthier qualities to come out of the wine. There’s not much in the way of serious age-worthy wine in the kosher world, so I’ll resort to more famous brands in the treife world. The top-growth Bordeaux wines (What’s a “top-growth” you ask? That’s another topic for another post) used to be aged for 10-40 years (or more!) before they were “ready” to be drunk. In fact, you can still find Mouton Rothschild bottles from the early 1960’s that are drinking very well right now.

How did these wines have such high acid and tannin levels and what’s different between then and now? there are two main issues that differentiate wines from today and wines from yesteryear: the time of picking (which man does have some control over) and the overall climate and environment (which we don’t). To tackle the second issue first: I am not suggesting global warming, but the climate has been on a warming trend, particularly over the last 30 or so years. Warmer temperatures increase sugar and decrease acid; lower acid leads partly to less aging potential.

The answer to the first question takes us back a few years to California. California winemakers started to pick their grapes later in the season, creating wines that were fuller in body (longer growing time leads to more sugar production and thus higher alcohol) and lower in acid (from prolonged heat exposure). These wines became very popular in America and throughout the world, so much so that California exports were often overshadowing more traditionalist European exports, so if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Many European producers would pick their grapes later in the season so that there were lower levels of tannin and acid, thus appealing to the same palates that are buying up so much California wine.

But I’ve digressed long enough; it’s time to return to the matter at hand: En Fuego Tempranillo. My first reaction to the palate was “wow, that’s a lot of fruit,” followed shortly by “wow, that’s a lot of acidity!” But the two are relatively well-balanced, and that’s the key. The acid keeps the wine from tasting too “sweet” and “flabby,” while not making it taste sour. Also, there’s some spice in the wine but not as much as I was getting on the nose; it was more of a light accent than a more dominant character in the makeup. The wine had a relatively short finish, which I expected from the wine (it’s $12.00 on the shelf), but I didn’t expect myself to enjoy it as much as I did.

I had it for two meals: a roast chicken and a chulent. Between the two, the chulent was the better dish with the wine, though I do have to admit that I thought this wine showed best when drunk on its own. Not every wine is meant to be aged (this wine did not have the tannic structure to allow for graceful aging. The acid would fall out too quickly and not taste good after a few years, in all likelihood). If you did want to age this wine, it would probably last a year or two in a cellar, but that’s it. Not the 40+ years some other wines have as aging potential. But it wasn’t intended to do such things. The En Fuego was a simple, fun party wine. Maybe it would have gone better with some mild or nutty cheese, but I didn’t try that route (it’s Shabbos…gotta have meat!). All that being said, I’m a big fan of this bottle and woudl definitely buy again. Note: If you are considering this wine for a party, beware that it is NOT mevushal.