Ehlers Estate, Napa Valley - St. Helena, Cabernet Franc, 2015
($65): I’ve got a thing for Cabernet Franc. Generally, I find Cabernet Franc wines to be lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon wines, more red-fruit dominant, more aromatic and flavorful, and more discreet in their tannins. They offer the firm,
authoritative structure of Cabernet Sauvignons while being more finessed.
France’s central Loire Valley, of course, is the epicenter of Cabernet Franc production, expressed through wines such as Chinon and Bourgeuil. Almost everywhere else where Cabernet France grows, it is mainly blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot, as is the case in Bordeaux. Nevertheless, I’ve found many lovely Cabernet Franc varietal wines from California, Washington, and New York, and recently I have been impressed by Cabernet Francs from Chile and Argentina.
Now I must add Ehlers Estate to my list of favorite Cabernet Francs.
Ehlers Estate is a contiguous, organically farmed 42-acre property in St. Helena. The estate dates back to 1886 when Bernard Ehlers bought and re-planted the first ten acres of the vineyard and built the red brick winery that remains today. The property left the Ehlers family in the mid-1920s and, surviving Prohibition, passed through various ownerships until the mid 1980s, when Parisians Jean and Sylvaine Leducq purchased part of the original vineyard land. Guided by the legendary enologist, the late Jacques Boissenot, whose clients have included four of the five First Growths of Bordeaux, the couple gradually built a contiguous estate by purchasing and replanting plots of land that came up for sale. They released the first wines from the reborn Ehlers Estate in the early 2000s.
The 2015 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc is the product of a drought year whose warm and sunny weather resulted in historically early budding and ultimately a small, concentrated harvest. The wine’s concentration of fruit expresses the vintage but nothing about the wine is exaggerated or overblown. It is a firm, structured wine infused with unobtrusive tannins and gorgeous fresh fruit.
The wine’s aromas suggest fresh red berries, black cherry, cranberry and floral notes, along with smoke and vanilla. In your mouth, the wine is dry and full-bodied with enough acidity to lend depth and some juiciness. Firm but ripe tannins are integrated all through the fabric of the wine, an admirable and exceptional characteristic. Leather and dried-herb flavors emerge along with a vibrancy of fresh, beautifully ripe fruit. The wine’s texture is velvety, which is to say that the wine has a soft but substantial feel in your mouth. The finish echoes the wine’s fresh fruit and its leather note.
This wine is entirely Cabernet Franc. But it’s more than just Cabernet Franc fruit: It is the expression of a superior terroir and sensitive winemaking that has allowed the fruit to express itself with its own beauty and grace.