by Fred McMillin
for March 23, 1999


This Franc Is a Steele


"Great through the mouth." "Wonderful fruit. Good balance. Even better in 2 to 5 years." "Nice Franc. I want some."

...Comments by my Scott's Panel, a mix of pros (a sommelier, a wine judge, a wine teacher, etc.) and some wannabes.

The Rest of the Story

California Cabernet Franc is just starting to gain recognition. Jack Mingo's recent Guide to Wine devotes these three words to it: "A minor varietal." Michael Bonadies' 1998 Sip By Sip lists California's major reds including varietals like Grenache; Cabernet Franc is omitted.

Steele Wines Now, there's no doubt about what the Franc can do in Bordeaux. "The 1947 Cheval Blanc is considered by some to be the greatest wine of all time; it was about two-thirds Cabernet Franc. " (Julie Bain in the Wine Enthusiast) Wine whiz Jed Steele is starting to remove any doubts about what the Franc can do in the Golden State. Here's how he makes it.

"Each year we select only 10 to 12 barrels of the best Cabernet Franc in the cellar. Usually four or five of them are new French oak. Thus, we produce less than 400 cases of Steele Franc, one of our smallest items."

My panel was tasting the latest release, the 1996. The grapes come from Floyd Silva's low-yield vineyard on a bench above Highland Springs. Highland Springs? Well, Jed says "the Mayacamus mountains push up to form a natural border between Lake and Mendocino counties" and that's the location of the vineyard. Here's the wine.

The Wine of the Day

1996 Cabernet Franc, Lake County
Steele Wines, Kelseyville, CA.
Phone—(707) 279-9475
Price—$16 range
Second Label—If the budget is a bit thin this month, try Jed's second-label Franc: Shooting Star Cabernet Franc, under $10.


California Cabernet Franc is in its infancy. Let's compare it with it's Bordeaux brother, Cabernet Sauvignon. My last figures show that for every basket of Franc harvested, pickers are filling over twenty baskets with the Sauvignon.


About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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