So here I am, this morning, recovering from my shift at the paper last night, deciding to hop on the Wine Blogging Wednesday bandwagon, for edition number 44, and I check out when in April it’s going to take place, and when I look at Gary Vay-Ner-Chuck’s Wine Library to get details, I find out that it’s supposed to be done on April 2nd. Oh Great. I’m late and I haven’t even started.
But hey, the theme was irresistible: French cabernet franc, which I’ve always loved. So I just flew to my neighborhood SAQ store and immediately looked for a bottle of Chinon, an appellation that is, to me, the epitome of cabernet franc in France and anywhere. Lucky me, I found the Cuvée Thélème 2003 from Alain Lorieux, imported by Rézin, one of the most original (and reliable) agencies in Québec. And since I’d already broken a rule of WBW, I decided to look for some other cabernet franc as a contrasting tool: and there was a cabernet franc from Stoney Ridge Estate Winery – the Wismer Vineyard 2003 reserve, to be exact. I’ve always liked Niagara cab francs, because they reflect the varietal character really well, and don’t suffer from the excessive ambition that the cabernet sauvignons from Niagara sometimes show. (Oh and this was an actual Canadian wine, unlike a pinot I’d had from Stoney Ridge months ago which was a “Cellared in Canada” disappointment I mentioned on my French-language blog).
Same vintage, both cool climate, varietally-faithful, and even sharing a reasonable 13% alcohol per volume. I was in for a great experiment, and gladly poured both bottles at dinner, over a great casserole of ground pork and beef and cabbage, sloooowly cooked in duck fat with a lively set of spices, and a side of pan-fried potatoes.
What my better half and I were struck by is how close the wines seemed at first. Very typical green pepper and peppercorn aromas, with a touch of red berry, and a nice round mouthfeel. Very pleasant, in both cases, with the smoothness and finesse you (or at least I) expect in a cabernet franc.
But then, as the wines opened up and we took more sips, differences emerged. The Thélème is unoaked, leading to a great purity of fruit and a fine balance and freshness, with aromas of fresh strawberries, a light touch of spice, around that basic core of green bell pepper and all, which a recent wine panel from the New York Times seemed to appreciate so much. The Wismer Vineyard, on the other hand, started showing more spicy flavors and strawberry jam, with a somewhat rougher mouthfeel than the Thélème, partly from oak, partly from what I suspect is stronger extraction. It’s not over the top or anything, but a slightly lighter hand on the winemaking would make the Stoney Ridge wine even finer and great. I’d had the same (very small) complaint about a 1998 cabernet franc reserve from Stoney Ridge that I’d opened last fall.
So the Chinon wins the day, in the end. By a nose.