A BEAUTIFUL WINE: Rubicon Estate (Now Inglenook) | Cabernet Franc | Rutherford | Napa Valley | California | 2007 | $56 | 95 pts

Aromas: perfumed; lavender; thyme; tea leaves
Character: medium-bodied; elegant, harmonious & plush; medium tannins & acids; subtle oak
Flavors: raspberries; clove; red bell pepper; graphite; black forest cake
Food Pairing: versatile; roasted lamb; grilled salmon; Beef  Stroganoff

Much has been said and written about Francis Ford Coppola’s purchase (in the 1970s) and painstaking resurrection of Inglenook, the grand Napa Valley wine chateau and estate founded by Finnish sea captain and fur trader Gustave Niebaum in 1879.  It’s an intriguing story that’s well worth your time, but we’ll leave it to others to tell.  Our focus now is on this immensely pleasurable Cabernet Franc produced a few vintages ago when the winery was still called Rubicon Estate (it was re-christened “Inglenook” in 2011).  We recently tasted several of the winery’s estate bottlings of different varieties from recent vintages — including the 2007 Cabernet Franc, 2008 Edizione Pennino Zinfandel, and 2008 RC Syrah — and all were delicious; but the Cab Franc distinguished itself among them as a truly exceptional rendering of its variety.

In our experience, Cabernet Franc — when produced as a single varietal wine (customary in areas of France’s Loire Valley; less common in New World wine regions) — can sometimes be austere, green (vegetal), acidic, and even a bit funky.  Such potential unpleasantries help explain why we were so impressed with Rubicon Estate’s 2007 Cab Franc, which we found to be genuinely resonant in all respects:  deeply flavored, harmoniously structured, and seamlessly balanced.  Its aromas are delicately perfumed, hinting of lavender, thyme, and tea leaves; and its flavors suggest ripe raspberries, clove, red bell pepper, graphite, and black forest cake, with just a hint of oak in the background.  Made from 97% Cabernet Franc grown on the estate with a 3% splash of Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine spent 14 months in French (90%) and American (10%) oak.  It’s not a powerhouse red in the spirit of say, Cabernet Sauvignon (which, by the way, is Cabernet Franc’s viticultural offspring); its character, rather, is lithe, elegant, and plush.  This is a beautiful wine and arguably the best single varietal Cabernet Franc we’ve ever tasted.  Versatile with food, it would complement such dishes as roasted lamb, grilled salmon, and Beef Stroganoff.

Availability:  Rubicon Estate produced limited amounts of the 2007 Cabernet Franc, so we recommend asking your favorite wine merchant if she/he can order it for you, or ordering it directly from the winery by calling 800-575-9927 or visiting them virtually at the following link:   http://store.rubiconestate.com/store/tabid/76/productid/35630/default.aspx.  Keep in mind that Rubicon Estate’s most recent vintage release of Cabernet Franc is 2008, which we haven’t tasted but are eager to.  

Visiting Inglenook:  Next time you find yourself in Napa Valley, we highly recommend a visit to Inglenook (the Chateau is pictured here).  The estate is located just off Highway 29, in the hamlet of Rutherford.  It’s pricey, but the setting is breathtaking, the tours are intimate, and the wines are first class.  Learn more at www.inglenook.com.

Side Dish:  In 1995, Inglenook founder Gustave Niebaum’s great-grand niece, Robin Lail, established her own winery – Lail Vineyards – in Napa Valley and produces top-quality wines under the deft hand of winemaker Philippe Melka.  See our review of Robin’s delicious 2009 Blueprint Cabernet Sauvignon at the link:  Lail Vineyards 2009 Blueprint Cabernet Sauvignon.


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