Franciscan Estate Cuvée Sauvage with tempura shrimp.
Franciscan Estate Cuvée Sauvage with tempura shrimp.

T he folks at Franciscan Estate pay a lot of attention to the details. They farm responsibly, pay close attention to what’s happening in the vineyards, make wine only in small lots and use only wild yeasts for fermentation.

All of that detail work takes time and money, but it pays off in first-class wine.

Cuvé Sauvage Chardonnay.
Cuvée Sauvage Chardonnay.

The Cuvée Sauvage Chardonnay is a prime example of that. It is a beautiful wine that works well with food. In the glass it is a pale lemon yellow with aromas of pear, apple, honeysuckle with a hint of vanilla.

The first sip reveals a luscious mouthfeel, all silk and velvet. The flavors are layered and complex, evolving over the course of the evening. I tasted apple pie, lemon, pear, honey and citrus with a nice mixture of creaminess and crisp minerality. The finish is long and smooth.

Following traditional practices in Burgundy, France, yeast is not added to the juice after the grapes are crushed. The winemaker lets the native yeasts on the grape take over. The yeasts come in various strains, so as one finishes its thing, another starts, each adding a little something to the wine. This adds complexity to the wine.
“For Cuvée Sauvage, we use exclusively our finest lots from cool Carneros, with the heart of the blend coming from our estate Larsen Vineyard,” says Janet Myers, winemaker. “The Dijon clones planted provide concentrated fruit character, and give minerality, vibrancy, and complexity to Cuvée Sauvage, with consistency year to year of the wild yeast expression.”

The wine is 100% barrel fermented in French oak, 86% new. It is aged sur lie for 16 months.

This is a special occasion wine that is worth spending a few extra dollars for. Just drinking the wine provides its own special occasion.

Winery: Franciscan Estate was created in 1973 and became noticed with its 1975 Cabernet Sauvignon, crafted in small lots and blended together. It began with 240 acres in the heart of the famous Oakville District of Napa Valley.

Founder Justin Meyer crafted wine in small lots, and was responsible for many innovations. In 1985 the winery introduced Magnificat, a proprietary blend of Bordeaux varietals that came to be known as Meritage. (It rhymes with heritage.)

Two years later, Franciscan introduced the first Napa Valley Chardonnay fermented with wild yeast, the Cuvée Sauvage.

In the original Oakville vineyard, Franciscan grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Merlot and Chardonnay mostly come from the cooler southern Napa and Carneros vineyards.

Meyer has been succeeded by Janet Myers as director of winemaking, and she has continued the traditions, including small lot winemaking. The winery has worked to be more environmentally friendly and to cut down on energy use. They say their efforts have led to a 15% decline in water consumption, an energy reduction of 15%, and cut gas usage by 22%. The winery also is certified as Napa Green, which is the wine industry’s most comprehensive “best practices” in land-use and wine production certification.

In the vineyard the winery has created a water reservoir that also serves as habitat for native flora and fauna. They have reduced the use of pesticides by bringing in plants that attract beneficial insects. They also use owl, raptor, bluebird, and bat houses to control vermin.

Cost: $40
Year: 2011
081513sauvagefoodGoes with: My wife Teri and I had this with tempura shrimp, onion rings and a salad. Yum, yum. The full, rich flavors of the wine held up well to the shrimp, which I doused in soy sauce. The unusual combination of creaminess and minerality really added to the meal combination.

Cuvée Sauvage would pair well with most seafood dishes, chicken, cornish game hen and creamy cheeses. Serve it well chilled and let it warm up a bit in the glass.

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