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Bottle Rockets: Franciscan Estate wines from Napa are good values

todd ruback represents the franciscan estate winery (among others) in texas


Franciscan Estate is a Napa Valley icon. Now 35 years old, the California winery’s roots run deep, founded by Ray Duncan and Justin Meyer before they even dreamed of starting Napa fave Silver Oak. Even though Duncan and Meyer departed in 1985, Franciscan continued to make bold wines with soft tannins, a rarity in the big-is-better world of Napa reds.

Janet Meyers is now Franciscan’s winemaker. Last night, at Whiskey Cake Kitchen, I sipped and swirled through some of Franciscan’s current portfolio with wine expert Todd Ruback, who represents Franciscan’s wines in Texas.

The star of Franciscan’s line is their Magnificat (around $35), a Cabernet-based Bordeaux-style blend that usually rocks. A bottle of the 2006, though, wasn’t showing so well–it’s fruit seemed leaner and more muted than normal, while the firm tannins and medium acidity tasted right on the mark.

(Much better was the 2008 Franciscan Cabernet; the 2008  is a bargain around town for less than $20; if you can find the 2007, that’s even better.)

Ruback said winemaker Meyers likes to describe  her 2010  Sauvignon Blanc (under $15) as “Loire Valley meets New Zealand meets Napa.” I can see why. Her 2010 intermingled rocky minerality with the zing of NZ citrus plus soft, ripe Napa fruit.

seared black bass over creamy black-rice risotto then accessorized with brown butter-hazelnut vinaigrette and a drizzle of orange sabayon

(Stop if you don’t like food porn; if you do, WC’s chef, T.J. Lengnick, paired the Sauv Blanc with hamachi sashimi brightened with a scatter of Meyer lemeon cofit and a swirl of coriander-pear vinaigrette, but a second course of seared black bass over creamy black-rice risotto then accessorized with brown butter-hazelnut vinaigrette and a drizzle of orange sabayon was the showstopper. Of course, bar star Sean Connor’s take on a French 75, with Prosecoo for the bubbles, set the evening on fire.)





  1. Todd Ruback    2/23/2012

    Mike, great piece and you were spot on about the ’06 Magnificat. Unfortunately we were sold out of the ’07, our current vintage, which is showing amazing and we had to go with the ’06 last minute. Hopefully if you are able to make it to our portfolio tasting, you’ll be able to taste the ’07


  2. Mike Hiller    2/22/2012

    Shanken Daily News, a trade journal, reported this today:

    Constellation Finds Growth At Higher End With Franciscan

    Like most high-end wine brands, Constellation’s Franciscan label took a hit during the worst of the recession, falling by 10% in 2009. But the brand rebounded slightly in 2010, and last year grew by more than 28% to 295,000 cases.

    Franciscan’s consumer demographic comprises what brand manager Michelle Perry describes as the “luxury wine enthusiast who is 45 and over, and wine knowledgeable.”

    A key driver behind the brand’s recent success has been the Franciscan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($26.99 a 750-ml.), part of the brand’s core Napa Valley range. Franciscan’s Napa Valley tier also includes a Sauvignon Blanc ($16.99), Chardonnay ($17.99) and Merlot ($20.99).

    In addition to the core range, Franciscan also features Prestige offerings, which include the Cuvée Sauvage Chardonnay ($40) and Magnificat ($50), a Meritage. Sourced from the Carneros region, the Chardonnay is produced with traditional Burgundian techniques, while the Magnificat Meritage is a Cabernet-based wine sourced from over 200 small lots, designed to showcase the winery’s “finest Bordeaux blend.”

    Meanwhile, Franciscan has made significant inroads in the on-premise. “It has one of the stronger on-premise percentages in our portfolio,” says Perry, adding that the Napa Valley Cabernet, Chardonnay and Merlot are key labels for the on-premise. “While (Franciscan’s) off-premise business is currently outpacing its on-premise growth, the brand’s on-premise sales are growing by double digits as well,” Perry adds.

    Franciscan also hopes to expand its portfolio in the near future with a Napa Valley red and white blend, priced within the $20-$25 range.

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