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2007 Franciscan Chardonnay Cuvee Sauvage

As you might expect from the name, Franciscan Estate relies on native yeasts when producing the Chardonnay Cuvée Sauvage. Most winemakers, at least those in the new world, use commercial yeasts. This creates more reliable fermentations. Since commercial yeasts have specific and well-documented attributes, it also allows the winemaker to better determine flavor profiles, texture, and levels of alcohol and sugar in the wine.

Because “wild” yeasts are reflective of a particular vineyard (or winery), eschewing them in favor of commercial yeasts can be said to reduce the degree to which the wine reflects terroir. Broad use of certain commercial yeasts can also lead to an unfortunate sense of sameness, as opposed to desirable typicity, between wines in a certain category. That said, skilled winemakers can also use commercial yeasts to highlight key attributes of a vineyard making its wines even more distinctive.

The process Franciscan uses to make their native yeast Chardonnay is designed to maximize complexity and, to some degree vintage variation, but not necessarily highlight a specific terroir. The grapes are taken from what the winery considers to be its best lots. Those lots are vinified and barrel-aged separately. This allows each lot to shows its distinct characteristics and reduces the risk of sub-par fermentations affecting large batches of wine. The winemaker then creates the best blend he can, rejecting as much as 90% of the wine in doing so.

I blind-tasted a flight of seven Chardonnays yesterday. Two wines were from Monterey County, one was more generally-labelled Central Coast and the rest were from Napa Valley. Price points ranged from about $10 to $40. All of the wines were well made and good enough for me to recommend. Among those wines, however, the 2007 Franciscan Cuvée Sauvage clearly stood apart as the best and most complex. It’s the only one of the seven which I highly recommend.

The wine is a medium lemon-gold in the glass and offers rich aromas of apple, oak, butter, vanilla, butterscotch, baking spice and marshmallow. On the palate it is full-bodied but both leaner and substantially more refreshing than the nose led me to expect. While the flavors do echo the nose with apple, oak, cream, butter and woody spice there are interesting, pleasantly bitter, notes from the sur lie aging too. The lees and oak also give the wine slightly grippy textural interest. Drink now through 2015. Highly Recommended.

2007-Franciscan-Chardonnay-Cuvee-Sauvage

2007 Franciscan Chardonnay Cuvée Sauvage
Rating: Highly Recommended
Drink: Now through 2015
Retail Price: $40
Blend: 100% Chardonnay
Origin: Carneros
Aging: 14 months sur lie in 100% new French oak
Alcohol: 14.5%

Closure: Cork

The wine tasted was a review sample.

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This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.