Franciscan Estate Equilibrium 2014, Napa Valley
D ifferent doesn’t always mean better, but it does in the case of Equilibrium.
Winemakers like to experiment with various blends and new techniques, many of which we consumers never see. The traditional varietals and blends stay popular because they taste so good.
This mix of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Muscat is unlike anything I had come across before. I first tasted this wine two years ago, and it is still a dazzler. The blend is 72 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 17 percent Chardonnay and 11 percent Muscat.
The predominance of the Sauvignon Blanc accounts for crispness and freshness while the Chardonnay adds body and smoothness. The Muscat adds just a touch of sweetness to take the edge off the Sauvignon Blanc.
In the glass it has a gorgeous pale straw color, with aromas of jasmine, citrus and honeysuckle. The first sip brings tastes of lime, honeysuckle, pear and stone fruits. There are subtle notes of grapefruit as the finish lingers. It has a rich, smooth mouthfeel that leaves a smile on your face.
The grapes come from the third straight great year for Napa, with ideal growing conditions. The weather brought flavor intensity to the grapes and allowed them to fully ripen. The wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks (83 percent) and barrels (17 percent).
The winery picked the name to describe the kind of wine it was trying to create. Equilibrium means “to come together in a state of harmonious balance,” and that describes the wine very well.
The balance of this wine is beautiful. I love Sauvignon Blanc, but some people find it a little too crisp or sharp. The addition of Chardonnay and Muscat perfectly rounds out that sharpness, while leaving the crispness that I love in Sauvignon Blanc. This is a difficult balance to achieve, because a little too much sweetness could ruin this wine.
I would serve this well chilled, letting it sit in the glass a few minutes to warm up and open the flavors. It is a perfect wine for summer sipping, with or without food.
Winery: The first vines for Franciscan Estate were planted in 1972, and the winery was created the next year. Justin Meyer and Raymond Duncan bought the property in 1975, the year the first wines were produced from Franciscan’s 240 acres in the heart of the famous Oakville District of Napa Valley.
The winery’s 1975 Cabernet Sauvignon attracted a lot of attention. Meyer crafted the wine in small lots and blended them to perfection. Franciscan became famous for small-lot production, and that continues today under winemaker Janet Myers.
Over the years the winery has been responsible for several innovations. In 1985 it 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 Cuvee Sauvage.
Recently, Franciscan has focused on sustainable farming and environmental issues, especially reducing energy use. They say their efforts have led to a 15 percent decline in water consumption, an energy reduction of 15 percent, and gas use reduction of 22 percent. 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.
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.
Their wines include Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Magnificat and Cuvee Sauvage. Franciscan also makes three special blends available only at the winery.
Goes with: Many of our summer meals are lighter, often seafood or large salads. For this wine my wife Teri and I chose lobster tails, a meal that’s not only healthy but economical.
We wait for one of the supermarkets to put lobster tails on sale, buy enough for 2-3 meals and freeze them. You can buy small tails for $4.99, and often slighter larger ones for $6 or $7. Usually with the smaller ones we can each eat two.
Lobster also is one of the easiest meals to prepare. Usually the lobsters are split down the top of the shell, but if they’re not it’s easy to take a pair of kitchen shears and cut from the blunt end of the tail back to the end of the meat cavity. Then carefully spread the shell and pull the meat up, leaving it attached on the end.
Place the meat on top of the shell, sprinkle with lemon juice and paprika and place in a broiling pan or any flat pan. Set the oven to broil, place the pan on the top shelf of the oven and broil for 5-7 minutes, or until the shell turns red and the meat turns white.
We also melt some butter in small bowls, so we can dunk each bite of lobster in the butter. It makes an incredible meal.
The Equilibrium was perfect with the lobster. The combination of crispness and citrus and fruit flavors in the wine brought out the best in the butter-soaked meat. We added a large wedge salad with tomatoes, carrots and bacon and wild rice. It made a special meal.
Growing up in the middle of the country our family didn’t see lobster very often. If we ever did, it was at a special restaurant dinner. So whenever I fix this meal, it feels like a celebration of some kind. The Franciscan Equilibrium made it even more so.
This wine also would pair well with a variety of foods from seafood to chicken to spicy foods such as barbecue or Thai or other Asian dishes.
Author Dennis Sodomka