There are many ways to organize a tasting of wines. One can choose, say, five bottles of Riesling from different regions in Germany, or a few Chardonnays from Sonoma. Obscure the labels if you are going for a blind tasting, pour for your panel (friends, dinner guests, etc.), and taste and discuss.
Another option is to get a few bottles from a single producer and serve them at dinner, pairing them with each course or dish. This allows you to sample the output of a winemaker (or in some cases, winemakers) and compare and contrast a producer’s wares.
I followed this route recently, with unobscured labels. We started with a Chardonnay, and then poured a Zinfandel, both from Frank Family Vineyards, based in Calistoga, California.
A little background first on Frank Family, then we’ll get to the wines. Rich Frank, then the president of Disney Studios, purchased a home in Napa Valley’s Rutherford Valley AVA in 1990, a weekend getaway from his busy schedule in Los Angeles. The estate contained vineyards, the fruit of which was being sold to area producers.
“Right after moving into the house, my phone started ringing off the hook from wineries wanting our fruit, and I quickly realized we had something very special,” Frank says. In 1992, Rich made a bid on a winery, the Kornell Champagne Cellars, and his bid was accepted. Today, Todd Graff is the winemaker and general manager of Frank Family Vineyards, and Frank and his wife Leslie own the winery.
We began our tasting with the 2018 Carneros Chardonnay ($38), and the first thing to know about this wine is low yield. The grapes that go into this bottle come from Frank Family’s Lewis Vineyard, as well as from other Carneros vineyards, including Beckstoffer and Sangiacomo fruit. Lewis Vineryard soil is mainly comprised of clay loam soils, and the plot receives only about 20 inches of rain a year. This results in low yields, and fruit boasting a bold character and fine acidity.
I served this Chardonnay with shrimp, which I sautéed in olive oil and a few piquant spices. The pairing was nearly perfect; the bracing acidity played well with the chili pepper flakes and the apple and lemon notes of the wine brought out the sweetness of the shrimp.
The oak program here (a nine-month fermentation) is 34 percent new, 33 percent once-filled, and 33-percent twice-filled French barrels. The wine is aged on the lees and stirred by hand regularly.
The 2017 Napa Valley Zinfandel was up next. Also priced at $38, this bottle (as with the Chardonnay) is ideal for your dinner parties. The grapes are sourced from Frank Family vineyards in the Chiles Vally AVA and Rutherford, as well as vineyards in St. Helena and Calistoga. The wine spends 16 months in French oak (33 percent new and 67 percent once and twice filled) barrels and clocks in at 14.8-percent alcohol.
Zinfandel was once the most widely planted red grape planted in California, and this is one that you should have on your roster. It has the variety’s typical peppery notes, but it also has black fruit in abundance, and supple tannins.
We drank this with top sirloin steaks (salt, pepper, a bit of butter), and I recommend the same for you. The wine is 91 percent Zinfandel and 9 percent Petite Sirah, and it is rich and bold.
Both of these bottles are drinking well now, so go ahead an uncork them. And if you plan to be in Napa, contact the winery and book a tasting, because Frank Family is making some delicious wines and the tasting room and its surroundings are beautiful.