2012 Cabernet Franc

Let’s start with a confession:  I have never much liked Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc.

The grape itself was not the issue.  No, the problem has always been the quality of the fruit and the winemaking.  Cabernet Franc, I believe, can “go wrong” in more ways than most other grapes.  It may be more difficult to make a truly excellent Cabernet Franc than an excellent Pinot Noir.  Isn’t that saying something?

There are so many possible false turns for Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc — overcropped dilute fruit, underripe fruit, overripe fruit (yes, in 2012 it happened),  excessive Pyrazines (those bell pepper, grass and tea notes), unruly tannins, and winemakers who use too much oak.  These are a few of my unfavorite things.

But something special happened in 2012.

In that year, growers were blessed with relatively dry and hot weather, allowing red Finger Lakes grapes to achieve full ripeness and flavor.

The best 2012 Finger Lakes Cabernet Francs are full of juicy raspberry fruit and can easily support a regimen of oak aging, which is often not the case in weaker vintages.  Some of the wines (Shalestone, Gold Seal) are so ripe and oaky they might even be mistaken for Californians.

So am I converted?

Not entirely.

There are still a few issues.

• Some of these wines, while tasty, are simply not very well balanced.  Winemakers continue to use excessive amounts of oak and to struggle with management of tannins.

• While the best of the 2012s are fruity and succulent, they are not distinctive like the region’s Rieslings.  On the whole, one cannot call these "wines of terroir."

• The pricing is fair.  But unlike many of the white wines of the region, there are few bargains.

• On the whole, Cabernet Franc from the Loire (Chinon, Bourgueil, Saumur-Champigny) is superior and comparably priced.  The French wines have the finesse and distinctive aromas and flavors (terroir, once again) that the Finger Lakes wines have not yet achieved.

Which brings us to a final point.  Will the Finger Lakes ever produce Cabernet Franc that is both excellent and distinctive?  Can Cabernet Franc become the “it” grape for the region?

Those with keen eyes will have noticed one 2010 in this roundup.  Bloomer Creek releases its Cabernet Franc four years after the vintage, versus the standard two years.  Since 2010 was also a warm and dry vintage, and the Bloomer Creek was released at the same time as these other wines, including it seemed appropriate.

It is an excellent wine.  More than any other bottle in this group, it shows that finesse, subtlety, harmony, beautiful perfume, and artfulness are possible in the region.

But will it happen?

Possibly, but Finger Lakes wineries still have a lot to learn about this grape.

© Douglas Hillstrom 2014