Frank Family Wine Club Tasting
I t would be difficult to point to good things that have emerged from our prolonged pandemic quarantine, but virtual wine tastings would be at the top of that list.
Even though few of us have been able to travel to wine country to take part in wine tastings at wineries, the magic of the Internet has brought those tastings into our homes. I have participated in many such tastings and have loved every one.
Frank Family Vineyards is legendary for its on-site hospitality, and now it offers the best virtual tastings for experts and novices alike, at no charge. They usually drink 4-6 wines and often pair them with food. They keep the chatter light, so it feels more like a cocktail party than a university lecture. And they keep the tastings to one hour.
I have several tastings I will write about in the weeks ahead, but I’ll start with their most recent one, which looked at wines included in their fall wine club shipment. Like most wineries, they offer several different club memberships, sending out a sample of wine several times a year.
Their main fall offering included three vineyard-designate Cabernet Sauvignons, a Zinfandel and a Petite Sirah. It was a great combination, and because I bought a Coravin for a tasting this summer, I was able to sample all of the wines without wasting any. The Coravin keeps the unused wine sealed, allowing me to drink it weeks later.
All of the wines were very drinkable now, but will be great to set aside for some bottle aging.
The first wine we tasted was the 2017 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Calistoga. I thought it was the smoothest and softest of the three Cabs we had. Director of Hospitality Liam Gearity had similar thoughts.
“This is a great choice,” he said. “It has a riper, more fruit driven taste and a richer mouthfeel than other Cabs. The Calistoga has ripe, bright fruit with a little spice on the nose. You get a mellow fruit taste.”
Gearity led the tasting with help from wine club manager Brian Catlett and Marcos Garcia, wine educator.
The next wine we tasted was the 2017 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville. Calistoga is at the northern end of Napa Valley. Oakville is farther south, a little closer to the San Pablo Bay and is a cooler region.
“The dark plum fruit washes over your palate with every sip,” said Catlett. “There is some long term aging potential with this wine. It is the first new Cab we’ve had in 6, 7 or 8 years.”
I thought the wine clearly would be better with some aging. It had a great taste now, but was a little bit closed still.
“The Oakville would benefit from some decanting,” said Garcia. “It has great structure.”
For Frank Family most of the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were picked before the 2017 fires flared up. But they do have some grapes they get from Mt. Veeder, a higher elevation vineyard that also is closer to the bay. So those are some of the last grapes to ripen. They were ruined by smoke from the fires so the winery couldn’t make any Mt. Veeder Cab that year.
That gave winemaker Todd Graff an opportunity to make something new–an Oakville Cab.
“You’re smelling a lot more herbal/spice notes with this one,” said Gearity, “allspice, clove, sweet tobacco. It also brings a little more muscle. This is a wine that will show differently in a few years.”
Other great wines that are produced from Oakville include To Kalon, Screaming Eagle and Opus One, so this Frank Family version is in great company.
The third wine was the 2017 RHF Cabernet Sauvignon, named for founder and owner Richard Harvey Frank. This is only the second vintage of this wine.
“The RHF also stands for Rutherford Hill and Floor,” said Gearity, “because it includes fruit from hillside and valley floor grapes in Rutherford. RHF is the sweet spot between ripe fruit and herbal notes.”
It is a fantastic wine, one of the best cabs Frank Family makes.
Like the other two Cabs, the RHF also would benefit from a little breathing, said Garcia. He said sometimes they take home opened bottles from the tasting room. “It is great to see how these bottles taste when we try them at home,” he said.
A little bit of air is always good for big red wines. The air opens up the aromas and flavors, making them much more pleasant to drink.
The next wine we had was the 2018 Reserve Zinfandel from Chiles Valley, from the eastern side of Napa Valley. Garcia said a little Petite Sirah is added to the blend to smooth out the flavors.
“This Zin is great with pasta, pizza or barbecue,” said Catlett.
“Winemaker Todd Graff blends a bit of Petite Sirah in most of our Zins,” said Gearity. “It brings in some freshness and brightness and more color. It also keeps it from being too short on the finish.”
Gearity said the grapes come from the Nichelini family, growers Frank Family has been working with for a long time.
While Napa Valley is most famous for its Cabs, wine drinkers sometimes overlook the other grapes grown there, such as Zinfandel. I’m grateful Frank Family is using Napa Zinfandel grapes to make wine, and I’m glad the Nichelini family didn’t pull out those vines and plant Cabernet Sauvignon. Everybody looks for Napa Cabs, but they should check out the Napa Zins; they have great flavor.
Gearity compared Napa Zins to other regions known for Zinfandel.
“Napa Zins are a little fruitier,” he said. “Lodi fruit has more natural sugar and more alcohol. It’s a hotter region. You get more jammy Zins. Dry Creek (in Sonoma County) behaves differently because of different conditions there.”
Gearity said when people ask him when he drinks wine, he tells them he only drinks two times: “Either with food or without food.”
I told you they keep things light in these tastings.
The final wine of the evening was the 2016 Petite Sirah. The grapes are grown at the S&J Vineyard, named for two of Frank’s grandchildren, Stella and Jeremy. The grapes are used mostly for blending, but one year they had a bumper crop. After using all the grapes needed for blending, there was still some left over so they bottled a Petite Sirah.
The wine was so popular, they kept making it, but in limited amounts.
“The only place you’ll find it is in the club selection,” said Catlett.
“It’s a heavy hitter,” said Gearity. “It’s a big, intense wine, with more blue fruit than red or black fruit. Lots of earthy characteristics.”
“For my beer-drinking friends I would call this the stout of wine,” said Garcia. “Lots of coffee, plum, some richness, a dense wine.”
Gearity suggested you grab some salami when you drink this wine. “Get something with a lot of fat,” he said. “This wine has strong tannins, and tannins are working to break down oils. So wines with big tannins are better with food that has some oil or fat in it.“
The next Frank Family virtual tasting will be at 5 p.m. November 21 and will focus on wines for Thanksgiving.
Another tasting is set for December 5 to talk about holiday entertaining.
If you have questions about wine, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.