Rick's Picks: 2007 St. Francis Claret (Elu Mini Me)

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One of my favorite wines at St. Supéry is the Elu Bordeaux style blend.  Some of the grapes you might find in Elu are Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cab Franc.  Why am I talking about Elu?  Because the St. Francis Claret reminds me very much of Elu, only more affordable.

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The St. Francis Claret is made with the same grapes, but is 1/3 the price.  It's the Mini Me version of Elu.  If tasted blind, you might be able to pick out the Elu but at $22 a bottle why bother?  2007 St. Francis Claret has a different blend of 26% Merlot, 25% Cabernet, 23% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc and 7% Petit Verdot.  Both are estate grown.  Both have a sweeter, jammy profile with vanilla oak.  The 2007 Claret gets a nod because the '07 vintage was incredible in California.  Winemakers were licking their chops when fruit came in 'cause the fruit was big, ripe and there was lots of it.

When we visited St. Francis in February, we had tasted through the lineup.  I hadn't tasted anything I was going to buy and take home, but overall their lineup was a solid representation of Sonoma wines.  They poured the Claret as an, "oh, by the way just try this" as we're getting ready to leave.

I had the "omigod" response and immediately bought 6 bottles.  Cashmere in a glass smoothness, plus sweet plum, black cherry, cedar and baking spices.  The Hungarian, French and American oak impart yummy vanilla, baking spice notes with a kiss of sweetness.  It's not just vanilla, it's french vanilla.  I picked the St. Francis Claret as a Rick's Pick because the quality for the price is awesome (QPR).  This is a great everyday drinking wine, especially if you like Bordeaux style blends like Elu.

A few food pairings you might like:

Southwest Skillet Steak

Filet with Blue Cheese Porcini Sauce

Vintage 2010 in Napa Valley: Sugar and Acidity

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Napa Valley
Image via Wikipedia

Two of the important things to look for in a wine are the fruit and the acidity.  There are a few easy ways to detect these markers in a wine.  You may have heard a wine described as "New World" or "Old World".  When you hear that, it's another way to say the wine is fruit-driven or acid-driven.

Basically, hot temperatures raise sugar content, and cold temperatures raise acidity.

But what do those things taste like?  Sugar content is perceived in New World wines via fruit-driven structure, and can describe wines from regions like the U.S., Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.  Acidity drives the structure in wines grown in colder climates like France, Germany and other European regions.  Many of those soils tend to be Limestone or gravel, rather than a volcanic soil like you might find in the U.S..  The way you sense acid is on the roof of your mouth towards the back.  If you swallow the wine and you get a lingering sensation in that area, you are picking up acidity.  Fruit driven wines tend to be sweeter and jammier, showing up on the front of the tongue (or palate).

In Napa Valley, there's a nice mix of temperatures that give the wines heat during the day, and cold temperatures at night.  The fruit and acidity live in concert with each other, but overall the wines are fruit driven.  This year, however, Napa is experiencing one of the coldest summers on record.  Know how you know that?  Well, besides the weatherman telling us so, Napa is usually starting harvest at this time of year.  But this year, grapes are still hanging on the vine because the fruit isn't ripe enough yet.  Harvest may not start for another three weeks  almost a month behind schedule!  That could be perceived as a bad thing, but it's not if you have the right wine maker.  What Napa may end up with is a rarity they don't have very often, which is higher than normal acid levels in the wines along with the higher sugar levels.  A winemaker who knows what they're doing may find their fruit has the best of both worlds.

Usually, Napa Valley gets a morning fog influence from the San Pablo bay that cools the grapes at night.  That blanket of fog is consistent almost every day in the summer months as the center of California heats up.  By mid day the fog burns off providing the right amount of heat and sunshine to increase sugar levels.  This is different than say, Walla Walla, Washtington where longer days at a higher latitude provide more sunshine for ripening, and cool temperatures at night.  At that latitude you're getting closer to Alaska, where summer days seem to last until midnight.  The sun is lower on the horizon, which means the heat isn't as intense.

So when you get to try any 2010 vintage wines from Napa, look for the acidity on the roof of your mouth toward the back.  The verdict on vintage 2010 will be out until the reds get released into the marketing some time in 2013.  Cheers!

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