A visit to Franciscan Estate

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Most people have never tasted 100% of the same varietal.  It might sound strange but despite the label, MOST wines are really blends.  Take a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for instance, unless it says it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, it is not. When you see Cabernet Sauvignon on the label it means it has to be at least 75% of the blend, the rest is up to the winemaker.  If it says Napa Valley on the label then at least 75% of the grapes must come from the Napa Valley.

It’s laws like this that reminded me during a recent “Magnificat” blending session at Franciscan Estate in Oakville, that I’ve rarely tasted these varietals straight. The five Bordeaux varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Merlot.

Known for their “Magnificat” blend, Franciscan Estate is a popular winery on Napa’s Highway 29 that specializes in Bordeaux varietals. I knew I was in good hands as the wine educator, Fred explained how the winery became famous for its blends.

Giving me a little background, Fred explained that in 1985 the Franciscan “Magnificat” became one of the first blends in the Napa Valley.  It is considered a Meritage (made from the words Merit and Heritage) and pronounced Meritige (not Meritaage as the French word is).  In fact, it turns out that most wines produced in the Napa Valley are “Meritage” blends.

We sat down with samples of each of the five varietals.  I got to taste them all straight, then decide on two trial blends.  Fred went on to explain that 75 percent of taste is smell, and that everyone has a different vocabulary for the aromas that each have.  What a blending session like this one will do is give people confidence in describing what they like and why, and why they don’t.  You’ll make better buying decisions in the wine store.

Fred recommended two things that served as a good reminder, even for me:

  • Serve your wine in a proper Bordeaux glass to get the total experience (Getting a good whiff of the aroma will give you a better taste)
  • Letting the wine breathe is important, as is serving at the correct temperature. (The glass plays a role here, as does getting your bottle to just below room temperature before serving, 60-65 degrees F)

I did not walk away with a 750 ml bottle of my own blend this time, as I have after other blending experiences, (just a tiny one) but for $50 this is a great introduction to Cabernet in Napa Valley.  With a small group, and a patient, knowledgeable educator like Fred, you’ll gain a lot of knowledge in one session to set you up for the rest of your tastings.

Expert tips:

  • If you are doing multiple days of tastings, doing a blending experience on the first day will help you understand what you like, and give you greater insight into each of the varietals and how they play a role in the blend.

WineryCritic Ratings

9/10 Overall visitor experience

9/10 Knowledge of guide

9/10 Location

9/10 Architecture and design, landscaping

10/10 Other experiences:  Good selection of tastings and educational experiences.

8/10 Friendliness of staff

10/10 Signage & ease of access

8/10 Quality of the wines poured

Appointment required:  Not for tastings, but they are required for blending sessions.

Address: 1178 Galleron Rd, St Helena, CA 94574

www.franciscan.com

Tasting fees & experiences: 

Open daily 10:00 am – 5:00 pm

  • $15 per person – Franciscan Napa Valley Classic
  • $15 per person – Franciscan Napa Valley Limited Edition
  • $20 per person – Mount Veeder Flight
  • $15 per person – Courtyard Tasting (weekends in summer and fall)
  • $25-$50 per person – Personalized Private Wine Experience
  • $50 per person – Mastering Magnificat – The Art of the Blend
  • $50 per person – Sensory Evaluation
  • $125 per person – Reserve Three-Course Lunch (Fridays 12-2pm)

Good for:  Cabernet fans, Bordeaux lovers, First timers to Napa

Wines produced:  Magnificat blend, Cuvée Sauvage Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Equilibrium.

What’s nearby: Opus One Winery, Oakville Grocery, Far Niente, Nickel & Nickel, Cakebread Cellars.

District/Appellation: Oakville, Napa Valley

Contact for appointments: (707) 967-3993 or info@franciscan.com. Appointments can also be made on their website. Lunch requires RSVP 7 days in advance.

Date of visit: December 5, 2013

Email: mindy@winerycritic.com