Peter Franus is a man at ease, comfortable within his own grape skin. His Ontario chaperon, the still markedly too legit to quit Mark Coster of Profile Wine Group showed the California winemaker around town, stopping to taste through the vintner’s portfolio at Barque Smokehouse. Franus has quietly cemented an iconic legacy by crafting a diverse resumé of corporeal wines in Napa Valley for more than 25 years.
A native of Greenwich, CT, the affable Franus comes across as an über-gentleman. He rarely produces more than a 1000 cases of any of his wines, from Bordeaux varieties, Zinfandel, Rhônes, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and even Spanish Albariño. His wines may not be Frisky Zebra-priced or fashioned for everyman but his laid back demeanor and sentimental passion are quintessentially Californian, like that of a successful 1970′s singer-songwriter. If I had to make a comparison, I’d lean more Jackson Browne than Don Henley.
Of the 10 disparate yet maze connected wines in the Franus portfolio, the most impressive for me is likely the least talked about. I am admittedly a sucker for Rhône in the diaspora so there is no surprise what happy thoughts his SGM put in my brain. I would be remiss to not make mention of the Sauvignon Blanc, blessedly balmy and herbal, subtle and never over-assertive in blanched green vegetable, passion fruit and grassy, gooseberry notes. Three wines crested and stood out as the most compelling. Here are their tasting notes.
Red Wine, Red Hills Lake Country Red 2008 ($39.95) composed of Syrah (85 per cent), Grenache (10) and Mourvèdre (5) comes from Fore Family Vineyards fruit on the top of 3000 foot Cobb Mountain. A fiery paradox of climate met by altitude works a strange magic on the grapes. It’s no mistral but rather some sort of wine weather occult. This SGM is highly influenced by a very tempest of dramatic temperature changes, from solar radiation to cool, tempering Pacific breezes and at great heights. Exhibits the hills’ red earth, in colour, in fragrance and in rich berry flavour. I’m grateful for this SGM blend, cool and hot at the same time, “almost ablaze still you don’t feel the heat.” 93
Zinfandel Brandlin Vineyard 2010 ($46.95) from the slopes of Mt. Veeder gets a little 2+2+2 help from friends Charbono, Mourvèdre and Carignane and rested for 21 months in Burgundian Coopers. Anything but heavy-handed, it shows no signs of balsamic or toffee scars, despite the August heat spike, shriveled berries and low yield. This Brandlin “hits you over the head with pleasure,” says Franus, from a mountain that’s “as close to heaven as your going to get.” This PF Zin is PFG, if I do say so myself. 91
Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2008 ($54.95) holds out back to a time when every mancould savour this kind of wine. A Napa style made “in the warmth of the sun where sweet childhood still dances,” once again with finesse, restraint and an understanding of the place. Made in a style Franus calls “my signature of balance, harmony and elegance.” From a meticulous selection of grapes out of three vineyards, Truchard (muscle), Rancho Chimiles (acidity, florals) and Stewart (ties the room together). Yes Peter, this is delicious. 90
Good to go!