St. Francis produces top-flight Cali Cab at the right price

August 27, 2012

Michel Chapoutier is at it again, with top-flight Shiraz from a new vineyard designation,  Pyrenees. Best of all, it is around on sale under $25, if you buy a case.

RP awarded it 95 points: 2010 Domaine Tournon Shay's Flat Pyrenees Shiraz. Weird name for an Aussie Shiraz, since the Pyrenees are mostly associated with the border areas between France and Spain, and the hills in Australia don’t begin to compare to those mountains. The wine, though, is divine and a great buy under $300/case. Do not drink now. This is a way-too-early release and has some bitterness as a result. Money must be tight for them. Loads of blueberry, grape, a lot of tannin and maybe from young vines, I’m not certain. Worth ordering in. The time it takes will help, and the bitterness will ameliorate within the coming year.. Also get on the mailing list. Chapoutier is a star when it comes to Syrah and Rhone varietals. This vineyard is destined for greatness.

Try a little something ready to go now (I rate it 91 points) that should be findable under $200/case or $18/bottle. A lovely Cotes du Rhone Villages Mas de Boislauzon is one of the finest of the area in most vintages. Very dark garnet, opens to plum, balsamic, cassis and black cherry aromas with silky tannins, lovely texture and full body with a medium-long but clean finish.

St. Francis always surprises me with the quality of its Cabernet Sauvignon. Somehow these folks produce top-flight, Cali Cab priced under $20. The 2008 are on sale for $17. There are plenty of 2004 priced under $275/case, but you need to get your buyer busy. Both vintages are for those who enjoy great, affordable Sonoma Cabs. Try to find a half case each of 2004 and 2008. The 2004 still have lovely aromas of cassis and black fruit underlined by vanilla, cedar and tobacco. On the palate, intense berry fruit riding a firm, balanced frame with excellent depth and supple, generous tannins. The profile aromas and flavors flow through a long, complex finish with spicy oaken notes. Always check out St. Francis. I don’t write them up enough.

Sassicaia is a name to know for folks who want the very best from Italy and don’t let price deter them.. However, the price tag recently on the 2009 will make most of us gasp. I find it odd that the winery has gone to stainless fermentation and added 15 percent Cab Franc and does not cellar before release when it is ready, as was formerly the case, yet the prices have surged ever higher.

The history of Sassicaia dates back to 1944 when Marchese della Rocchetta from Tenuta San Guido estate in western Tuscany decided to grow Cabernet Sauvignon, rather than the Sangiovese typical to the region. Most said “it'llneverwork” but he believed the region's chalky soil resembled that of Bordeaux. He called his wine Sassicaia, "the place of many stones." The 2009 release was much ballyhooed, and James Suckling labeled it 98 points. The price rose into the stratosphere, even for a Bolgheri, or as “those in the know” name them, Super Tuscans.

At a recent sampling, I began wondering what all the fuss was about. The wine was a fairly typical rendition from Sassicaia, huge, powerful, tannin-laden, but in balance for very long-haul cellaring. You won’t enjoy it until 2017 at the minimum. So I did a little research, only to learn that Giacomo Tachis, longtime consultant to the winery, retired from his tenure. The confluence of an excellent wine, sentiment and the passing of the mantle drove the pricing to $175. Great for collectors but ridiculous for consumers. The 2008 was actually much better and is findable under $140/bottle, and the 2001, equally elegant and ready now, is findable at $165.

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