Thursday, February 4, 2010

The House Of Big Reds

In general, it seems that American wine drinkers have something against clarets or blended wines. That is one of the conclusions I can extract from the fact that so few blended wines are on retail shelves. It is as if they think that a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Merlot was not good enough to stand by itself as a varietal so the winemaker had to add other cultivars to improve the primary cultivar. Well yeah…that’s what it’s all about! Making it better! It is about getting the best out of the grapes. That’s what the French do when they blend their Bordeaux wines (almost all wines in Bordeaux are blended) and the Italians do when they blend Chiantis, etc.

Of course, demographics also play a part and it could be that where I usually buy my wine clarets just don’t sell well, hence the limited stocks.

A third possibility is that until 1988 most wines in America were labeled after the primary grape cultivar that it was made of, i.e. Zinfandel, Merlot, etc. Then The Meritage Association was created by a group of Californian winemakers who wanted to make wine in the old world Bordeaux style. For marketing purposes they could not use the word Bordeaux and selected Meritage that combines “merit” and “heritage” - reflecting the quality of the grapes and the ancient art of blending wine.

The Food

Outside a 5 inch layer of fresh snow has fallen through the night and now blankets the earth in a cuddly embrace. The perfect day, after some snow shoveling to clear the driveway, for a Daube de boeuf a la Provence (French beef stew with strong overtones of herbs from Provence). I didn’t use any specific recipe, but it had all the ingredients of a classic beef stew: onions, garlic, tomatoes, carrots, celery, mushrooms, potatoes and a good helping of herbs de Provence (savory, fennel seeds, basil, thyme, and lavender flowers.) However, instead of using red wine as is the custom, I used a bottle of Amstel Lager Light to provide the liquid. The beer makes the stew lighter in taste and the vegetables, especially the carrots, are slightly more prominent. Red wine usually overrides the total taste of a Proven├žal stew, and I wanted the herbs to be the stars of the dish. In the end I suppose it was a semi-Flemish beef stew infused with French herbs. Nevertheless, it was potjiekos and a perfect opportunity to open a recently purchased St. Francis 2005 Sonoma Claret.

The House of Big Reds

In the past 30 years St. Francis Winery has build up a reputation among the wine media as The House of Big Reds. Located in the heart of Sonoma County, California, it produces bold, full-bodied wines that over deliver on flavor while not hurting your pocket. Nearly all their wines retail for under $20 although it taste like $50 wines.

St. Francis Winery

In 1971 Joe Martin acquired the 100-acre Behler Ranch vineyard (with grapes original planted in 1910) in Sonoma County in the historic town of Kenwood, halfway between the towns of Santa Rosa and Sonoma on the Sonoma Highway/Highway 12. The winery is squeezed between the Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in the east and the Annadal State Park in the west, in the upper part of the Sonoma Valley, a region sometimes called the Valley of the Moon.

In 1972 Lloyd Canton joined Joe Martin in a partnership and they grew grapes and sold their fruit to local wineries. But in 1979 they established their own winery named after Saint Francis of Assisi. Since then they have steadily added more vineyards in the Sonoma and surrounding area and today the St. Francis winery have four vineyards: The original Behler Vineyard in the upper Sonoma Valley floor; the Wild Oak Vineyard in the Sonoma Valley; Nuns Canyon Vineyard in the Mayacamas Mountains, and Lagomarsino Vineyard just east of the Russian River Valley.


Over the years St. Francis has built up a solid reputation of producing wines of depth, complexity and elegance under the leadership of cellar master Tom Mackey. Accolades would follow: “Master of Merlot” (Wine Spectator), Tom Mackey as “International Red Winemaker of the Year” (at the 2001 London International Wine Challenge), “Number One Zinfandel in the World” (Wine Spectator), “California’s Hottest Winery” (Robert Parker), etc. Their wines are available in the best restaurants in America, and have been served at the White House by four American Presidents.

The Claret

The 2005 Claret is crafted from Cabernet Sauvignon (72%), Merlot (26%) and Cabernet Franc (2%). The color was a beautiful shiny dark red with light purple notes on top. Held against the light of the fading afternoon sun it looked like a dark ruby. On the nose the aroma was overwhelmingly fruity with faint hints of spiciness, oak, and a little smokiness from the Merlot. The taste did not disappoint. On the palate it started off smooth and fully flavored with lots of plum and berries and I also taste a little licorice. It is a medium-bodied wine with complex fruitiness, but well-balanced between the tannins and the oak. Initially the tannins were very bold with a dry-ish finish, but after a bit of air and a bit of warming up in the glass (it was stored at 55 degrees Fahrenheit) it smoothed out to a rich, semi-velvety finish with a hint of almonds in the after taste.

This is a true Bordeaux style wine and reminds me a lot of Nederburg Edelrood and the other well-blended reds from the Cape of Good Hope (among other the never-fail Chateau Libertas), but “the Rood” is usually a bit smoother and a full-bodied wine. Nevertheless, this is a classic Californian Meritage wine, which, as with many Californian wines, probably have a higher alcohol level than most Bordeaux wines and is made to drink immediately.

For the price ($17) St. Francis 2005 Claret is a well-crafted and excellent value for money wine. Highly recommended and I would also recommend to decanter 45 minutes before drinking.

BTW. I have noticed that St. Francis have a new claret on the market, simply and appropriately called RED. This wine is made in the “reverse” Bordeaux style with 48% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah, 3% Zinfandel and 6 % Mixed Blacks (Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Alicante, Malbec). I can already imagine the overload on fruit flavors and spicy aromas.

Happy tasting!

4 comments:

DateDiva said...

Delicious review

Anonymous said...

Very interesting.

Boer said...

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Boer said...

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