I f you have ever tried a red wine that has been cellared for even a couple of years, you know why wine drinkers buy wine and put it away. Just a little aging usually makes even the least expensive wines just a little smoother.
When it comes to really good wine, letting it age for a few years turns it into something magical. I have known that for a long time, but a tasting this weekend drove home that point convincingly. And I discovered a new way to enjoy those old wines. When you open an older wine you usually have to drink the whole bottle right away because older wines often lose a lot of taste shortly after being exposed to the air. It can be two hours, or five hours, but eventually older wine starts losing some of its taste.
I have tried several storage methods over the years, and they work fine with younger wines. But when I tried to keep an 8-10 year old bottle overnight, it would always go bad.
After trying the Coravin system during a Frank Family Vineyards virtual tasting I’m sold on it. The Frank Family folks made it easy to try the Coravin by adding it to some of their tasting packages.
A couple of weeks ago I noticed they had a tasting of aged wines, and they were selling three older vintages of their Rutherford Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. For a few dollars above the price of the wines they would add a Coravin system. I jumped in and I’m glad I did. I’ll explain why I’m so excited about the Coravin later, but first, let’s go to the tasting.
Frank Family has been hosting some fun tastings on Zoom, and this one was great. We were supposed to sample the Rutherford Reserve from 2008, 2010 and 2012. Actually, everyone else sampled those wines, but my shipment didn’t arrive until two days after the tasting. It’s one of the hazards of shipping now; with all the packages being shipped, sometimes the freight companies get jammed and things slow down.
Luckily, the Coravin arrived early, so I got to play with that. And I had the 2010 and 2012 vintages in my cellar. I have been drinking Frank Family wines for more than 20 years, and have loved them. So I have a few older vintages in the cellar.
The format for this tasting was relaxed and easy going. It was hosted by Leslie Frank, joined by winemaker and general manager Todd Graff; Liam Gearity, director of hospitality and Davie Pina, who manages vineyards for Frank Family and other companies.
They led us through tasting the wines and answered questions we submitted via the chat feature on Zoom. Frank Family has one of the best tasting rooms in California, so this wasn’t as good as being there, but it was a great substitute considering the coronavirus pandemic.
They also gave away four $100 gift certificates for the fastest answers to trivia questions about the wines.
Todd Graff started things off. He chuckled and said the discussion usually starts with Davie, “because it all starts in the vineyard. His hands are dirty and my feet are purple.”
Graff loved the 2008, saying it had some nice dried fruit flavors. “I’d say it has another five years left on it, but I’m enjoying it now,” he said. “The aromatics of the fruit are amazing.
“Cabs over 10 years move from fresh fruit characteristics to dried fruit.”
Pina said the 2008 vintage had a good bit of rain in December and January. “There’s not much soil on this hill (Winston Hill),” he said. “So when you get rain the vines want to grow. So you have to cut out some leaves.”
The Winston Hill vineyard is 35 acres on an eastern slope in Rutherford. It produces some of the finest Frank Family wines, including the Rutherford Reserve Cab. In most vintages they add a small amount of grapes from neighboring vineyards to the Reserve Cab.
Pina said the Winston Hill vineyard has a unique terroir. “There’s always a breeze that comes through and cools off the heat,” he said.
“Our decisions are always made by Mother Nature,” said Graff. “In 2008 we had a relatively early year…It’s easy to pick early and it’s easy to pick late. It’s hard to get the grapes at just the right time.”
All three of these wines were fantastic, and you could see the development of aged wines easily. The 2008 was about at its peak, although the folks at the winery think it will be very good for several more years.
All three wines were a deep ruby red in the glass, but the 2008 had a slight brick color around the edges, a sign that the wine had aged. “I was amazed when I saw the 2010, how red it still is,” said Graff.
He explained that over time oxygen softens the tannins in the wine. “It just takes time,” he said.
The Reserve Cabs have a high percentage of cabernet sauvignon in them, with the rest petit verdot, merlot and cabernet franc, the amounts varying with the vintage. The three vintages in this tasting were 93-95 percent cab.
Pina said the 2010 season was a cool, long season. “It didn’t ripen as fast as you would like,” he said. “But it had a long hang time and we picked later.”
I thought the 2010 was exquisite, fresh, full of bright fruit flavors, with great complexity. I picked up notes of blackberry, cherry, chocolate and some minerality. Everything was in balance.
Graff said the wine is made to a family style that looks for balance. The wine spends about 20 months in oak barrels, 50 percent new barrels and 50 percent once used barrels. Gearity thought the 2010 wine especially showed some secondary notes from the oak.
What I especially like about these wines, and Frank Family wines in general, is the oak doesn’t overpower the other flavors. It adds some interesting nuances, but it doesn’t smack you over the head with oak. That’s all part of the balance Frank Family works for.
The 2012 vintage was bright and vibrant, full of black fruit flavors. It had some real depth.
“This vintage was our Goldilocks year,” said Graf, “not too hot, not too cold and lots of crop. I think this one will run for a long time.”
The wine certainly didn’t show signs of being anywhere near its peak. For people who aren’t sure they would like aged wines, this would be a good one to try. It tasted bright and fresh, just like a newly released wine.
I often struggle with California wines more than 8-10 years old, but that was not a problem with these wines. The two I tasted seemed like they could stay at their peak for another 5-10 years.
Frank Family polled the Zoom participants and they liked the 2012 vintage best, followed by 2010 and then 2008. I preferred the 2010.
Graff, who has been winemaker at Frank Family for 17 years, said the tasting showed the depth of the wines. All were complex, deep in flavor and interesting to drink.
Pina was asked what he thought the 2020 vintage might be like, and he shrugged his shoulders before saying it looked really good so far.
“It depends on how the rest of the year goes, but we’ve had a couple of 100 degree days,” said Pina, whose family has been in Napa Valley since 1857, “and right now we are having rain.”
It’s a sure bet that however the weather turns out the rest of the year, the Frank Family team will make the most of it. They simply don’t make wines that are anything less than outstanding.
I later finished the 2010 bottle with turkey burgers that I fixed for dinner. It probably was a little too big a wine for the burgers, but neither Teri nor I minded. It made for a great dinner. I’ve saved the rest of the 2012 for another night.
Frank Family will have another only tasting this Saturday, June 6. The topic will be how to make a cheese board like a pro. It will be a Zoom meeting at 5 p.m. EST, led by chef Christina Machamer. Register at the Frank Family Vineyards website to get the link to the Zoom meeting.
On June 19 at 7 p.m. there will be a virtual tasting entitled Fathers of Frank Family. Proprietor Rich Frank will be joined by Winemaker Todd Graff, Director of Hospitality Liam Gearity, and Wine Educator Tony Zepeda as they taste through four select wines. Registration is also through the Frank Family website.
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Now, back to that Coravin.
What I liked about it is that it is easy to use and does a great job preserving the wine. Although my wife and I usually can finish a bottle that we open with dinner, there are times we might want to try two or three different wines with dinner. The Coravin allows you do to that without wasting any wine.
The device has a long needle that you push through the cork of the wine bottle. The needle is hooked to a small canister of argon gas. After inserting the needle, you tilt the bottle to pour and press a button to inject some of the gas into the bottle. That pushes the wine out into your glass.
The argon is inert and heavier than oxygen, so it forms a seal to keep oxygen from spoiling the rest of the wine. People who have used it say it will keep the wine fresh for weeks or months. To store the rest of the wine you merely pull out the needle and put the bottle back in your cellar.
I think that will let me sample several great wines at one time, without losing any of the wine. I can also spot check some of my older bottles to see if they are ready to drink.
The Frank Family folks said that’s how they use the Coravin.
“You may want to sample a wine to see if you want to drink it and then make a judgment call,” said Gearity. “We do that in the tasting room.”