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January 26, 2010

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Been extremely impressed with 07 Cab Franc on multiple occasions now. I have one left in my cellar, think I need to get some more before they sell out.

CHeers bro

Could this become a catch-22?
For years and years (between your site and tasting room visits) I've heard winemakers and winery employees talk about their objection (dare I say disdain) for Left Coast and Australian reds that are ripe and high in alcohol (14%+).
It would seem odd to call 2007 the greatest vintage on LI when, from some early soundbites, it seems more Left Coast than North Fork based on the ripeness and descriptions ("plump", "dark chocolate", "mouth filling", "ripe", "dark", and "14.7% ABV.)
Intereting. Very interesting.
With all the fan-fare about this wine, I've been waiting for the ABV% to be published out of curiosity.

Dave: GREAT question and comment. It's something that I thought quite a bit about as I was writing this review (wait until you learn more about their Clarity and Grace blends from 07, which have even higher ABV).

The first thing I'd suggest is that, above all else, the most important thing in any wine -- regardless of alcohol level -- is balance. Can you actually taste/detect the alcohol level on the finish of the wine? I've tasted wines labeled at 12.5% that finished hot. In this case you absolutely cannot detect the high alcohol level.

Looking at your comment more closely, it is probably worth noting that not all of the descriptors you highlight are necessarily directly (or at all) related to ABV.

Some are the result of tannins, acidity, etc. along with alcohol (mouthfeel/plump) while dark chocolate is not, I don't think, a direct correlation to alcohol in any way.

It's possible that there will never be a year offering the ripeness (brix) levels that 2007 did. But it's also true that as local growers fine-tune their vineyard practices and take risks with hang time longer into the fall, ripeness levels are bound to increase. It's not just about brix/sugar though. High brix can give you high ABV, but without slower ripening like that in cooler climates, flavor development will lag behind, which can lead to wines that are out of balance.

David Page and Barbara Shinn are on vacation right now, but I'm sure they'll chime in when they return. It's an important topic to discuss.

And hey, it's not like this is some 16.5% monster zinfandel, right? ;)

Agree that balance is key, and there are exceptions to every rule.
I wrote this to some of my friends back in 2008 about ABV:

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Over the last few years I've come to the realization that all the high alcohol wines (those exceeding 14% for reds) flooding the market are robbing people of experiencing "old world" wine that was intended to be enjoyed with food. The 14% "plush", "ripe", "decadent", "fruit bombs" are better served as cocktails rather than a food accompaniment. When I can find them, I’ll scoop up most merlots, cabs, and pinots under 13.5% alcohol and zins and syrahs under 14%. (Most of the wines from California and Australia these days top 14% for their reds and even top 15% for some zins and syrahs.)
So the other night (June 2008) for dinner I popped a bottle of 2003 syrah from my cellar made by Clos Mimi in Paso Robles, CA (their “Petite Rousse” bottling) that I had bought 3 or 4 years earlier. I had this with a perfectly grilled burger (80% lean of course, nothing less). The first sip had remarkable flavor and freshness and was very smooth. The 3 or 4 years in my cellar seemed to do wonders for this bottle and it was drinking in its prime.
As I poured the last glass, I still couldn’t get over the wine’s balance, so I turned to the back label expecting to see something in the 13.2 – 13.8% alcohol range - - - yet much to my surprise I saw the following number: 16%
I had to read it again.
Never before had I seen, let alone drank, a bottle of 16% alcohol wine. The mid 15th percentile had been my previous high from some CA Zinfandels. This syrah was a bit of an eye opener, both by the number itself and the balance it exhibited in spite of the high alcohol content.
Most critics of high alcohol wines contend that they don’t age well because the acidity is too low and/or the alcohol too high. They also contend that the high alcohol permeates a heat-like sensation on the palette if drunk too young. They also contend that wines with high ABV are not balanced and do not pair well with foods (because they overpower the food).
Are they right?
Well yes - - - most of the time. But in the world of wine, there are always exceptions to the rule. I’ve seen everything from low alcohol wines that don’t have any fruit or freshness to high alcohol wines that carry perfect balance. This well-balanced 16% was yet another outstanding exception.
So while I still seek out and prefer wines with more acidity and less alcohol, this bottle of syrah from Clos Mimi reminds me not to discount every producer or bottle of high alcohol wines, for there are plenty of good exceptions out there waiting to be found.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -
I'm willing to give anything a try and let my taste senses make the final call.
But I do find it interesting that, when given the chance by mother nature, most winemakers will hang grapes longer and maximize ripeness to levels that blow past the 12 - 13% ABV levels that they normally extol in other years.

Dave: Late-season hang time isn't just about sugar levels to "blow past" the typical ABV. Sugar is only one type of ripeness. Phenolic ripeness is just as important. (Perhaps Tom Mansell can jump in with a bit about that)

I think you might be being a bit hard on local wineries too when you say "they normally extol". 2007 wasn't the norm and the "average" Long Island wine is likely to stay in the 12-13% range, at least until climate change makes Long Island the new Napa.

A 14.7% alcohol wine might automatically disqualify itself as the "new benchmark" for CF on Long Island, for all of the reasons you recount here.

I tasted this wine yesterday from two different bottles and the alcohol was certainly noticable, especially on the finish, but not offensively so. It's still a totally remarkable achievement though - though nothing like any CF I've had recently, and therefore not a "benchmark" for the region.

I don't think the bar should be set at levels achieved only once a decade or more.

Jim: I don't think that ABV should disqualify any wine as a benchmark.

The definition of benchmark, more or less is:

"A standard of achievement, etc., against which similar things must be measured or judged"

A benchmark, to me, isn't something that should happen MORE often than "only once a decade or more." If something is happening 7 years out of ten, is it really a special achievement? I don't think so.

And isn't the point of a goal or benchmark that you are shooting for to create something that isn't like every other wine? Just playing devil's advocate with that question.

But if this were "like any CF" you've had recently, it wouldn't be a benchmark at all in my mind. It would be just another CF (and I don't mean that as any sort of negative, you know I dig CF)

Fair questions all, but if this is the new benchmark we should all be striveing harder to reach, I had better start picking my CF at 25 brix to get to those kinds of alcohols from now on.

Is that what we're shooting for now ?

I see a benchmark as an improvement, a betterment, a "new standard" let's say. I can't believe you would want 14.7% to be the new "standard".

No, a benchmark isn't "creating something that isn't like every other wine", IMO, that is an "anomaly".

This is a great wine, and a great achievement, but it is an anomaly. In a horizontal or vertical CF tasting it might seem out of place.

I think we're getting caught up on the ABV here. It's just ONE aspect of this wine, and it's not the aspect I was thinking about when I used the word "benchmark"

A wine isn't just ABV, it's the sum of a great many parts. Let's try to remember that here.

Congrats to the team at Shinn!
Just curious - is this 100% Franc or a partial blend?

Ok...here is a thought....

If this is a "benchmark" Cabernet Franc for Long Island, would you consider giving this a 100 point score; then judging all other Cabernet Franc's from Long Island against it?

IMO, when describing this as a benchmark, I really think it should go for the entire 2007 vintage from all of Long Island.

I do agree with Jim though, this is an anomaly, the whole 2007 Vintage is an anomaly...something that happens rarely...or as wiki says "An anomaly is any occurrence or object that is strange, unusual, or unique. It can also mean a discrepancy or deviation from an established rule or trend."

Continue....

Rich,
This wine is 100% Cabernet Franc. There are three clonal selections planted to 2000 vines per acre. Yields were high in 2007 at 3.25 tons per acre. The wine spent 18 months in barrel. Less than 20% of the barrels were new. Barbara Shinn's inspired viticulture and Anthony Nappa's vision in the winery combined with perfect weather conditions produced a wine we are all proud of. Let's hope we are all here in 20 years to taste it at full maturity.

And Jim, an Anamoly is a delicious white wine that Anthony produces from Pinot Noir grapes under his Anthony Nappa Wines label. :)

David Page
Shinn Estate Vineyards

A bit hard on winemakers? Maybe. That's because I'm a bit disappointed.
Lenn... here's a spoof from one of your April Fool's posts that pokes fun at covering wines that only exceed 13.5%:

the New York wine lovers who contribute to this blog will be without positions here at LENNDEVOURS. I consider them friends and feel badly about this situation, but at the end of the day, this is a business. They prefer wines under 13.5% abv and favor riesling and cabernet franc over boozy chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. There simply isn't room for them on a California wine blog's staff.

And let's not forget the great "parker's bitches" video:
http://lennthompson.typepad.com/lenndevours/2009/03/are-napa-winemakers-robert-parkers-bitches.html

I hate to generalize, but let's do so for the sake of conversation. I think there are a few underlying beliefs that winemakers on the East Coast hold:
1) they truly believe that red wines between 12.5% and 13.5% are the most balances, best suited for food and most capable for improving with age.
2) they preach wines between 12.5% and 13.5% as a "selling technique" because they can't achieve any more from mother nature.
3) they believe #1 above, but when a once in a lifetime vintage like 2007 presents itself, they decide to shun their own beliefs for a year and "have fun" in the basement working with grapes that mother nature has never provided before. I understand the allure to experiment with something new, even for curiosity sake alone.
I won't even mention possiblity #4 which is the production of high ABV wines for the sole purpose of appeasing the Parker/Laube palettes in hopes of achieving a high 90 rating which would likely translate to "press" and "sell outs". (Oops... I mentioned it.)

I personally belive in assumption #1 above based on everything I've tasted over the last 10 years.... and I probably taste about 10 - 15 bottles per week, every week. These seem to be the wines that stand out time after time. There are exceptions of course, but more often than not there is a direct correlation between ABV and the pleasure I attain from the wine and associated food pairing.
However, if winemakers truly believed in assumption #1 above as I do, I would assume they would have picked grapes at such a level that would retain ABV in the mid 13's or lower.
For those that took this opportunity to create wines above 14% (and 15%?), I HOPE that it is for assumption #3 and not #2.

Anyway... I can't wait for 2008. Really.

PS: Having said all that, I can't wait to try the '07 Shinn Cab Franc. I want to experience what all the fuss has been about since "taste campe east" broke this wine here on Lenndevours seveal months ago.

Dave, I really REALLY think that you're getting way too caught up on a single aspect of this wine -- ABV -- which is really doing yourself a disservice. It's not ABOUT the ABV. It's about the wine as a whole. Period.

You're point #1 is absolutely valid. I think that is true, though I never hear anyone talk about that ABV range as the best for aging.

#2 is a bit cynical. I'm not an expert in the science of fermentation, but I know that different yeast strains do different conversions from sugar to alcohol. Also, again, with improved vineyard practices (and luck), growers have been steadily harvesting riper fruit each year I think.

2009 is a fine example -- some wineries, Shinn among them, brought in fruit with much higher brix than the "norm" and 2009 was anything but a banner growing season in the 2007 sense.

#3 happend, in my opinion anyway, in 2005 more so than in 2007. That's why many 05 reds are a little lacking in structure and complexity and many 05 whites are downright flabby. Lessons learned and applied to 2007.

Balance is key. Taste this wine when you're down here next and report back. I'd be curious to hear what you think.

Granted.... I went to far with my comment that "I can't wait for 2008" as I am excited to come down in the Spring and try some of the '07s, but I still say the ABV numbers on paper "look" like a bad sign. I have to taste and make my judgement from there.

What I would LOVE to do is take the 04 Cab Franc and the 07 Cab Frac and taste them side by side when they were both exactly 5 years old. Of course, I'd need a time machine to pull that off.

My three favorite old time California wines: the 74 Heitz MV, the 74 Ridge Montebellow and the 74 BV GdL. All are alive and well and stunning to drink now. None are above 12.5% alc. One is below 12 actually.

With age, the high alcohol becomes the "sore thumb" as the fruit and tannin and acid recede into the background, oak and alcohol remain static, becoming dominant.

To be truly balanced, nothing can be out of whack from the beginning, not even when it tastes good young. That, in a nutshell, is everything that's wrong with CA wine today, and exactly the reason Zinfandel only gets older, without really improving (generally speaking.)

ABV may be just one of the factors, but it will likely be a big determining factor in this wine's evolution.

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