When I was teaching, I didn’t review the files of my students right away. I wanted to meet them, interact, observe with no preconceived notions about the individual. After a time, in preparation for a goal-setting conference, I would look at what previous teachers had found in their time with the student in order to best serve that child. Sometimes the notes were surprising; often they echoed my observations.
When reviewing a wine, I like to come to it with a clear palate and a clear mind. When I have had sufficient time with the wine, I like to go back and read the winemaker’s notes and the history of the vineyard. Each piece of information paints a picture and build my understanding of the industry, the winemaker, and the wine itself. It also serves as a means for self-examination. Did I pick up on that nuance? Did it remind me of another wine from the same AVA? Do I have a good understanding of how that variety typically shows? And did the pairing I chose work or not with all of this in mind? Then I go back to the wine with this knowledge and continue to learn.
When I tasted the 2011 Franciscan Chardonnay and the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, they both elicited the same response. These are very classic wines; these are very elegant wines. If I were to think of a well done California Chardonnay or Cabernet from Oakville, the flavor profile of these wines would come to mind.
Thanks to one of my favorite wine writers, Meg Houston Maker, I have learned how to best plan a meal to go with the wine. Taste, plan, then revisit. Sometimes I have the luxury of time to do that, most often I do not. The evening that I opened the Chardonnay, I did not have time to plan well, but happened to get lucky. I had family at my house for a short time and had to pull something together. I had bought a frozen Salmon filet so I quick thawed it, drizzled it with olive oil and dusted it with herbs and lemon zest. I made orzo with goat cheese and lemon and asparagus. I chilled the wine and dinner was on the table thirty minutes later.
The wine was round and supple, a very elegant mouth feel. The fruit was intense and the vanilla from the oak made it almost sweet and very creamy. It was sturdy enough to hold up to the hearty Salmon and the acid of the lemon. Each brought out the best in the other.
With the Cabernet I made a Roasted Pepper Goulash with caraway seeds and paprika. I had thought about pairing it with a peppery Syrah, but really wanted to try this Cab, so the Franciscan won. This is an instance where the pairing worked, but it may have not been the best. Either way, the wine was fabulous. Dark cherry, spice, and a hint of rich cocoa. Big enough to hold up to most anything, but not intimidating. Smooth and delightful. In the future, I would likely pair it with a grilled New York strip or something simpler. It is such a classic wine, that a more classic pairing would allow the wine more room to shine without competition from a powerful sauce.
When I sat down this morning to read more about the history and winemaking at Franciscan Estates, I felt as if I had passed an exam. The descriptions and philosophy were very much in line with my experiences with these wines. In the letter from Janet Myers, Director of Winemaking, she even states that, “they represent classic expressions of each variety.” My thoughts exactly. I say this, not to pat myself on the back, but to say that the process of learning about wine does not have to be intimidating. It is as simple as being mindful during your experience. Take note of all you smell, taste, see. What does it remind you of? Have you tasted a wine like this before? Do you like certain aspects more than others? Then read, learn, and reflect. Repeat as necessary. Or as desired.
Disclaimer: These wines were provided as samples from Folsom and Associates. The opinions are my own.