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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.)



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