What You Should be Drinking — This California Cabernet Brings a Soft Touch

Storied Napa Estate is Full of Charming Wine Finds

BY // 03.07.19

Wines from the Loire Valley occupy a significant place in my life, stemming from the first journey I made through the region. Lots of Pinot Gris and Romorantin were consumed, and they were delicious and spoke of their terroir in profound ways. I recall a dinner of pork and apricots with which we paired a Romarantin, a memorable combination.

Above all, however, Cabernet Franc. One afternoon, a friend and I carried a bottle from Domaine de la Noblaie up to the royal fortress of Chinon (Château de Chinon), determined to drink it with the ghost of Joan of Arc. Its flavors on that day cemented my appreciation for Cabernet Franc, an admiration that has rewarded me handsomely.

While the Loire boasts a surfeit of excellent wines made from the grape, it’s cultivated in many places, including in California, the source of the bottle I sampled recently, the 2015 Cabernet Franc from Ehlers Estate, a storied Napa property located in St. Helena.

You won’t mistake this wine for something originating in the Loire, but you will, if you like cassis, blackberry, supple tannins, elegant spiciness, and abundant acidity, like this.

Here’s Jancis Robinson on Cabernet Franc:


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I’m not a huge enthusiast of the sexual stereotyping of wines but even I can see that Cabernet Franc might be described as the feminine side of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is subtly fragrant and gently flirtatious rather than massively muscular and tough in youth. Because Cabernet Sauvignon has so much more of everything – body, tannin, alcohol, colour – it is often supposed to be necessarily superior, but I have a very soft spot indeed for its more charming and more aromatic relative, Cabernet Franc. 

I have that same soft spot, and the people at Ehlers certainly satisfy it with this vintage. We uncorked it and poured immediately, admiring its bright color, a pale red that is noticeably lighter than its masculine friend. Cocoa, pepper, tobacco and graphite greet the nose, while the palate welcomes plum, blackberry, and cassis. This bottle is easy to drink and appreciate.

As I tend to drink wine with food, I prepared a pork tenderloin with, instead of apricots, figs, and we were happy with the decision. A sauce of shallot and cream played well with the Ehlers effort, and intensified the wine’s finish. You can also try lamb, a mushroom-centric dish and venison.

Alcohol here is 14.2 percent, and the pH clocks in at 3.58. The 2015 season, a drought year, produced a concentrated crop for Ehlers, resulting in a bracing intensity. Drink this now, or cellar for five years. It’s available for $65 from the winery, or ask your favorite merchant to get you a bottle (or case).

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