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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Born to Be Wild: Franciscan 2008 Cuvée Sauvage Chardonnay

Time for another spin in the wine-wagon, this time we are heading back to the comfy confines of the Napa Valley, cruising through the vineyard lands of Carneros on our way to one of my favorite wineries,  Franciscan Oakville Estate, winery which produces a wide range of wines and different price points.

Like the the movie "Easy Rider" inspired by the song, "Born to be Wild" the folks at Franciscan are following in the foot steps of [wild-man] Greg Upton who in the eighties created a stir  [oh-my] in Napa Valley by fermenting Chardonnay using only the wild, native yeasts naturally occurring in the vineyard, emulating the style of the great wines of Burgundy.

Speaking of Burgundy, that was my first thought as I had my nose stuck in the glass and took my first sip, I whipped my head back, thinking hmmm, is this California Chardonnay? But oh yes it is and wow what a fantastic representation, better yet expression of Carneros fruit putting terroir on a pedestal and paying homage to their cousins across the pond in Burgundy.

This style of winemaking used in the production of the Franciscan Estate Cuvée Sauvage could be what many refer to as "natural" winemaking, because of the use of native yeasts during fermentation, and the stingy use of sulfur [unlike cultured yeasts, wild yeast comes in many strains, reflective of the vineyard terroir]. One of the keys to producing "natural-wine" is minimal intervention throughout the winemaking process. For many folks it's their belief that this is the only way can that wine be considered a "true" expression of the terroir, that if it speaks of the place in which it originated without tom-foolery by the winemaker. 

In this winemaking style and approach it's believed each wine should reflect its own environment and that each vintage should have its own unique story. The Cuvée Sauvage is not your everyday cookie-cutter Chardonnay and I believe represents that ideal very well. If I was to characterize it, in terms of Burgundy, I'd say this wine falls somewhere between a a Latour Corton-Charlemagne and Aloxe-Corton Grand-Cru in style for more than half the price. It's not made to appeal in a monolithic fashion, in fact each barrel has a distinct aromas and flavor profiles. If you plan to grab a few of these wines [which I highly recommend that you do], prepare to take a walk on the wild-side.

Swirly-swirl, Sniffy-sniff, Slurp: In the glass a big beautiful-bodied warm hay colored core, fleeting to a watery rim. Drawing a few sniffs from the freshly churned glass, this wine is intensely Chardonnay displaying pure mineral, floral, citrus and stone fruit aromas. On the palate, a rich full wine elegant character and complexity, white fruit, crisp apples and a hint of honey, flowing with a mineral richness floating just above the sur-lie aging, although there's one hundred percent use of new French oak in its 14 months of aging, it's beautifully integrated near the point of transparency, segueing to the sumptuous finish.

Price and where to Purchase: You could purchase this wine directly from the the winery for $40 each or I've seen this wine it as low as $30 on a few other wine-store sites. A few other places claiming prices of $19 and under, but with none in stock. So as you can see there's a pretty wide range, but if you can grab this for wine for just under the "Jackson" price I would get as many as possible.

What's the Score: I gave this wine a score of 93 points and give my drinking nicely now, but will improve greatly recommendation. A well made wine, that will continue to evolve and improve, but really a solid performer at the moment as well. I would not drink this wine too cold or you will lose the multiple layers of complexity this wine shows.

Other Voices: Hmmm, looks like I'm the first to review this vintage year. I did find a few folks that rated the 2007 from 93 to 100 points. The guy who said it was buttery and gave it 90 points must have mixed up his tasting notes. No buttery anything, anywhere, this is not your typical California Classic Chardonnay.

Full Disclosure: This wine was sent as a media-sample for the review process.

That's it for today folks, I hope you will give this winetastic juice a swirl. Stay tuned as next time it's time for a fun trip down to Chile for a taste of the good life. Until next time, sip long and prosper cheers!


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