2012 Cabernet Franc head to head tasting: Free Run vs. Brys Estate

A few months ago we invited my friends Pete and Amy over to taste two 2012 Late Harvest Rieslings (one from Lake Michigan Shore and one from Old Mission Peninsula) and I wrote it up for the blog. A couple weeks ago I noticed I had a few bottles of 2012 Michigan Cabernet Franc in my cellar and I thought it would be a great opportunity for another four-person wine tasting.

From those 2012 Cab Francs I picked two from two boutique-y wineries, one in Lake Michigan Shore and one on Old Mission Peninsula. Free Run is a sub-label of Round Barn specializing in estate grown and/or single vineyard wines run by Matt and Christian Moersch. Brys Estate is one of the most popular destinations on Old Mission with a dark, swanky tasting room and a beautiful deck that stretches out into the vineyards. It is known for its upscale reds and dry Riesling.

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Jessica and Brian

For this tasting we asked our bordeaux varietal-loving friends Jessica and Brian to join us. They suggested we make a dinner of it and so we and our kids gathered at their place for a delicious meal and hopefully delicious wines to go along with it! Big thanks to them for hosting! Now, on to the tasting.

FR= Free Run Cellars Cabernet Franc, Berrien Springs, Michigan USA (Round Barn)20180113_165641.jpg

BE= Brys Estate Cabernet Franc, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Grape: Cabernet Franc (at least 85%)

Place of origin

FR: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

BE: Brys Estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV

FR: 12%

BE: 13.5%

Price

FR: $25 (winery) At time of purchase I received a complimentary tour, tasting, lunch and discount.

BE: $50 (winery)

Appearance

FR: Dark ruby.

BE: Darker. Plum.

Nose

FR: A little reserved at first. Cherry, strawberry jam, oak.

BE: Big lavender, blackberry.

Palate

FR: Cherry juice, chewy tannins, raspberry, blackberry.

BE: Less fruity and less tannic. More reserved. French lavender, fig, mulberry, chocolate.

Finish

FR: Tart. A little cherry.

BE: Tight, clove, lavender again.

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The casserole

Pairing: Baby spinach salad, sausage and lentil casserole, chocolate tarts.

FR: The spinach salad clashed a bit with the tannins in FR, but FR was wonderful with everything else, especially the casserole. The earthiness of the lentils and spice of the sausage complemented FR’s fruit and tannin perfectly.

BE: While BE wasn’t unpleasant with the main dish, it did sort of stand aloof from it. When we got to the chocolate tarts it seemed to feel more at home. Its floral aroma was a great complement to the dark chocolate and sea salt.

Tasters other than me

Jessica: Liked both. Thought FR took a long time to open up, but once it did, she liked the fruit and tannins and thought it paired very well with the casserole (which she made after seeing lentils listed as a good pairing for Cab Franc). Thought BE was good, but not very food friendly, except as an accompaniment for the chocolate. She did not think either was a good value compared to the similar wines from Napa and France that she and Brian usually drink. On BE: “This is not a $50 wine.”

Brian: Wasn’t aware that Cab Franc was grown in Michigan before this tasting! He agreed with most of what Jessica said. He found BE to be easy drinking with almost no tannin. He found FR to be more aggressive but agreed that FR was more food-friendly.

Liz: Seemed to like everything and agreed with everyone else.

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The chocolate tarts

My parting words: I enjoyed both of these wines, but I do agree with the consensus opinion. FR was what I expect when I buy a Cabernet Franc: Food friendly, with fruit, tannin and some oak and spice. The food friendliness is not surprising given the “full culinary experience”-type tastings Free Run wines are made for.

BE was surprising. The lavender aroma dominates and makes it difficult to pair with a meal. There was also very little tannin. It was subtle and elegant, but almost too much so. Some chewiness would have brought things together a little better.

I think FR was worth the money, but BE was not. Brys wines are overpriced across the board. I’d probably pay $30 or $35 for BE Cab Franc, but at $50 I expect more going on. My final verdict: 2012 Free Run Cabernet Franc is recommended and 2012 Brys Estate Cabernet Franc is mildly recommended.

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Peninsula Cellars Merlot/Cabernet Franc, 2012 (The Hog’s Back)

Maker: Peninsula Cellars, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20171205_161540.jpg

Grapes: Merlot (75%), Cabernet Franc (25%).

Place of Origin: The Hog’s Back vineyard, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 13%

Notes: 230 cases produced, 13 months in French oak.

Purchased for $25 at Michigan by the Bottle, Royal Oak (another bottle purchased at winery for $30)

Appearance: Dark red.

Nose: Crushed sweet cherry, oak smoke, allspice, raspberries.

Palate: Juicy and slightly tart. Cherry juice, nutmeg, red currant, sautéed mushroom.

Finish: Chewy, then sweet, then tart.

Parting words: The Hog’s Back is a ridge in the central part of Old Mission Peninsula, just north of the unincorporated village of Mapleton (home to the Peninsula Grill). The Hog’s Back vineyard is on the western slope of the ridge. It’s one of the few vineyards on Old Mission to specialize in red varietals. It’s planted with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. While Cabernet Franc is common in all parts of Michigan, Merlot is more rare, especially in the north of the state. It evidently thrives on The Hog’s Back or at least it did in 2012.

This wine is wonderful from start to finish. It was one of my favorites when it was on the menu at MBTBRO, even at a relatively young age. Its structure, fruit and acid made it irresistable. It has gotten even better since then, and is probably the best northern Michigan red I’ve had or the best Bordeaux-variety blend at the very least. It tastes just as good with food as it does after dinner. It’s great now but I’m sure it will still be great in another five years. I’ll report back when I open my other bottle. Hopefully there will be a 2016 vintage of this wine or something like it! 2012 Peninsula Cellars Merlot/Cabernet Franc (The Hog’s Back) is highly recommended.

 

 

Arcturos Cabernet Franc, 2012

Maker: Black Star Farms, Sutton’s Bay/Traverse City, Michigan, USA20171107_164857.jpg

Grape: Cabernet Franc (at least 75%)

Place of origin: Michigan (56% Leelanau Co, 44% Grand Traverse Co), USA

ABV: 13%

Price: $28.50 (website, 2013 vintage)

Appearance: Dark burgundy. Opaque.

Nose: Roasted red pepper, sautéed mushrooms, raisins, crushed blueberry.

Palate: Medium-bodied and dry. Chicken jambalaya, oak.

Finish: Tangy and oaky.

Parting words: Chicken jambalaya is a weird tasting note, I know, but I think it’s apt for the combination of vegetal (bell pepper, celery), sweet (tomato, onion), tart (tomato), toasty (toasted rice) spicy (bell pepper, black pepper) and earthy (tomato, celery, chicken) flavors I got in this wine.

I reviewed the 2004 Arcturos Three Black Lot Old Mission Peninsula Cab Franc back in 2011 in the early, halcyon days of this blog. It was more subtle and refined than this wine, but it was also two years older. At the time I thought it was too old, but my palate has shifted toward lighter, fruitier reds so it sounds really good to me right now. The 2012 Cab Franc is good right now but I think it will continue to improve into the first couple years of the next decade. $28.50 is a fair price, especially if one holds on to it for a few more years. There are probably a few 2012s still kicking around, but 2016 and 2017 should be as delicious as this vintage and as age-worthy. Goes well with beef, pork, turkey and spicy Latin chicken dishes. 2012 Arcturos Cabernet Franc is recommended.

 

 

 

Tempesta, 2012

Maker: Bel Lago, Cedar, Michigan, USA.20170926_160931

Grapes: Cabernet Franc, others.

Place of origin: Michigan, USA.

Style: Red blend.

Note: Spent 32 months in French and American oak.

ABV: 13.2%

Price: $44 (Michigan By the Bottle Sipper Club)

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Wild blackberries, toasted oak, sautéed mushrooms.

Palate: Medium bodied and well-balanced. Blackberry jam, raspberry juice, light oak, seared steak.

Finish: Fruity and tart, then chewy and oaky.

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Il bel lago

Parting words: Bel Lago is located on the shores of Lake Leelanau, in the Leelanau peninsula. The view certainly lives up to the name! Owners Charlie Edson and Amy Iezzoni are known for their cherry wine (Amy practically invented the stuff), field blends and their committment to ripeness. That committment is clearest in the Bel Lago’s rich, rounded Pinot Noir and Auxerrois (Blanc) wines.

Tempesta is not estate grown and not a field blend, obviously, but it does have that trademark ripeness. Oak is present, but not used to cover up anything, just to enhance the savory quailities of Cabernet Franc. Fruit and earthy flavors are in the lead, yoked together by Tempesta’s mid-palate tartness.

$44 is a lot for a non-AVA Michigan red. One could find similar wines from California at a lower price. I still think Tempesta is worth the price in a good vintage like 2012 when cellared for at least four years. 2012s may be nearly impossible to find now, but 2016 was a stellar vintage and 2017 is looking like it may be as well. Bel Lago’s 2012 Tempesta is recommended.

2896 Langley, 2010

Maker: Bowers Harbor, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20170509_183841

Grapes: 60% Cabernet Franc, 39% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon

Place of Origin: Langley Vineyard, Bower’s Harbor estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

Style: Meritage

ABV: 13.5%

Price: $38 (original price on shelf. Purchased on sale with a discount from the owner)

Appearance: Inky dark purple.

Nose: Blueberry, cherry juice, oak.

Palate: Medium sweet. Cherry juice, blackberry, pepper, chewy leather on the back end.

Finish: Cherry and lightly fruity. Stays in the cheeks for a good bit of time.

Parting words: 2896 is Bowers Harbor’s big, flagship red. The 2013 vintage is currently selling on the BH website for $55 and the 2012 vintage (considered the best recent vintage for Michigan reds) for $100. I haven’t had either of those, so I don’t know if they’re worth the money, but they are both at the top end of red wine prices in this state.

As for this wine, it’s very good and worth the price that was on the shelf on which it sat. It is well balanced, but still has the laid back, fruity character of a cool season Bordeaux-style red. Enough oak and alcohol to keep it from becoming a fruit bomb but not aggressive or overly tannic. It goes well with beef and smoked or grilled meats. My only complaint is that the gold wax is very hard to get off and it looks corny. The bottle would be better off without it. At any rate, at around $40 or so, 2896 Langley 2010 is recommended.

 

2 Lads Cab Franc/Merlot

Maker: 2 Lads, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20161215_163704.jpg

Grapes: Cabernet Franc (90%), Merlot (10%).

Place of origin: Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

ABV: 13%

Price: Don’t remember. 2013 vintage is $32 at winery)

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Blackberry, blueberry, cherry, new oak.

Palate: Medium dry. Fruity but with backbone. Blueberry juice, roasted sweet red pepper, oak, vanilla.

Finish: Oak. A little chewy, then light vanilla.

Parting words: My wife and I bought this bottle several years ago when we made our first trip to 2 Lads. It was a part of the hallowed stash of bottles we brought with us from the old house.

I almost opened it a couple times after listening to the opinion of a couple folks in the “screw top wines don’t age” camp, but I’m glad I waited. This wine has aged into an elegant, harmonious example of what a cool climate Cab Franc can be. 2012 is generally the vintage to look for in Michigan reds, but 2 Lads Cab Franc/Merlot is proof that Michigan’s best winemakers still made good wines in cooler “white” vintages. We had this bottle with porterhouse steaks and it paired well, but given its character it could go just as well with BBQ or turkey. 2011 2 Lads Cab Franc/Merlot is recommended.

Chateau de Leelanau Cabernet Franc

Maker: Chateau de Leelanau, Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, USAwp-1472127765860.jpg

Place of origin: Leelanau Penninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 12%

Production: 210 cases

Price: $24 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting room Sipper Club selection)

Appearance: Dark plum

Nose: Wild blackberries, toasted oak.

Palate: Raspberry juice, black cherry, crimini mushrooms, oak, smoke.

Finish: Blackberry jam, oak.

Parting words: I wrote off Chateau de Leelanau for dead years ago after visiting the place and being unimpressed with everything, except the cherry wine which rose to the level of mediocre. I reviewed the wine back then, and got an annoyed comment from “Matt” who rattled off a long list of awards and an “interesting reaction” comment from MBTB’s Courtney Casey. I stand by that review, but after hearing that they’ve changed ownership since then I decided to give them another chance at a review.

Holy cats, am I glad I did. This is a fantastic wine, easily one of the top five Michigan Cab Francs I’ve had, maybe the best one. It’s earthy, fruity, oaky, perfectly balanced and delicious. Only two things about this wine disappointed me. First, that I only had one bottle. Second, that I didn’t wait for another year or two to open it. It’s only gonna get better kids. CDL’s 2012 Cab Franc is an example of the best that vintage has to offer. This is one to seek out. Highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

Chateau Aeronautique Cabernet Franc

Maker: Chateau Aeronautique, Jackson, Michigan, USA.wpid-2015-03-31-18.45.17.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Michigan (Pioneer wine trail)

Vintage: 2010

ABV: Unknown

Price: Unknown

Appearance: Light maroon with good sized, evenly spaced legs.

Nose: Oak, leather, black currant, blueberry, ground pink peppercorn, raspberry.

Palate: Medium bodied. Blackberries, leather, hint of roasted poblano pepper.

Finish: Light but long lasting. White pepper, oak, bell pepper.

Parting words: Chateau Aeronautique Winery is located in an air park near Jackson, close to Sandhill Crane Wineyards. Their stated aim is to produce Bordeaux-style wines but they also produce wines from a lot of the usual Michigan suspects like Reisling, Pino Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Their Bordeaux style blends, Aviatrix Rouge and Crimson (a “right bank” style blend), are probably their best. They also do a good Syrah, quite a rare bird in Michigan. Cab Franc is much more common here and it features prominently in the Rouge. They use Michigan grapes exclusively.

This is one that has been sitting in my cellar for a little while and I think that time paid off. We had it with a meal of cheese ravioli and tomato sauce and it paired perfectly. Meat-filled ravioli might pair even better. As it sat, it tended to lean more to the peppery notes, but it never went off the deep end. This is a lighter style Cab Franc, though, so don’t go in expecting a bruiser. Michigan producers who can make a quality red like this get me excited at this state’s potential for Bordeaux varietals. Chateau Aeronautique’s 2010 Cabernet Franc is recommended.

Dr. Konstantin Frank Cabernet Franc

Maker: Dr. Konstantin Frank, Hammondsport, New York, USADr Frank Cab Franc

Place of origin: Finger Lakes AVA, New York, USA

Vintage: 2007

ABV: 12%

Price: $20 on website (2011 vintage)

Thanks to Amy for use of her cellar for this bottle.

Appearance: Brick red with long broad legs.

Nose: Rich and structured. Blackberry jam, vanilla, oak, a slight herbaceous note.

Palate: Medium bodied, dry and slightly chewy. Fruity at first, a little tartness, then a little sweet red pepper followed by hit of oak and tannin on the back end.

Finish: Slightly bitter, but balanced out by fruit and ends in a big hit of oak.

Parting words: I got this wine many years ago. It may have been during our trip to the Finger Lakes (Keuka and Seneca lakes, specifically) but I think that was 2006, so it would not have been possible for us to purchase this bottle then. Anyway, my patience has been greatly rewarded.

Cabernet Franc is one of the few Bordeaux red wine grapes that does consistently well in the Eastern  U.S. The knock on Cab Franc, as we heard repeatedly in California, was that it can produce a bitter, vegetal “green pepper” taste. One winery we visited even apologized for a blend they poured for us that contained Cab Franc. “It’s mostly Cab Franc, but it’s pretty good.”

This is all Cab Franc and it’s pretty good. It is firm and dry with a slight bell pepper note but more sweet than green, as I noted above. It is kept well in check by tannin, fruit and acid. It drinks like Merlot or a mid-level red Bordeaux with some good age on it. Even approaching seven years old, this wine is still going strong.

We had it with flat iron steak tacos and it paired very well. Hamburgers, steaks or lamb chops would work nicely too. This wine is proof that the northeastern quadrant of the US can make very good red wines. Dr. Konstantin Frank 2007 Cabernet Franc is highly recommended.

Sassy Rosé

Maker: Sandhill Crane, Jackson, Michigan, USA (Moffatt family)Sassy Rose

Grape: Cabernet Franc

Region: Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2011

ABV: 12%

Online price: $17

Appearance: Pale pink with thick legs.

Nose: Subtle. A whiff of smoke, plum, black cherry, hint of cedar.

On the palate: Light bodied and delicately sweet. White mulberry, white pepper, slightly underripe blueberry.

Finish: Plum, ripe fig, then a delicate oaky flavor as it fades.

Parting words: Sassy Rosé is dedicated to the memory of the Moffats’ beloved Airedale Rosie (2003-2011), who I actually met on a couple occasions while stopping by the tasting room in Jackson. She was a friendly dog, but being an Airedale she could be, well, sassy.

I’m a big fan of dry rosés, especially those from the South of France, so I came into this wine with high hopes. I have had it before at the winery and it tasted good, but wines tend to taste better when sampled at the winery with friends. I was eager to get it home and write up a review.

When I first opened it, I was disappointed. It was much sweeter than I remembered and lacking in sass. After spending eighteen or so hours in the refrigerator, it has improved quite a bit. The profile is much closer to dry French rosés and much more enjoyable now. It gets a bit overwhelmed by spicy food, but does well with a light lunch of cheese and crackers or with holiday turkey. The price is on the high side but it’s fair for what it is and may be a little cheaper at the tasting room if I recall correctly. Sassy Rosé is recommended.