New Zealand's ocean-influenced climate--markedly cooler than that of its neighbor Australia--yields wines with admirable fruit intensity and crisp acidity. Fully two-thirds of New Zealand's wine production is white, and more than half of the wine it ships to America is Sauvignon Blanc. The U.S. market has developed a major thirst for these juicy, fresh New Zealand Sauvignons, which are mostly free of oak influence. But New Zealand Pinot Noir, too, is growing rapidly in popularity here, thanks in large part to the emergence of the Central Otago growing region, which has exploded onto the world wine scene in the past five or six years with some stunning, fruit-driven Pinots.
High labor costs, considerable recent investment in frost-protection measures and the strong New Zealand dollar are just three of the reasons why the average bottle of New Zealand wine is relatively high--significantly higher, for example, than the average bottle from Italy, Spain, Australia, Chile, and Argentina. There's virtually no dirt-cheap wine produced in New Zealand. On the other hand, very little New Zealand wine sells for more than $40--a handful of bottlings of Bordeaux varieties or Pinot Noir--and white wine prices are mostly moderate.
Cabernet Franc Facts
Less weight and more aromatic intensity than Cabernet Sauvignon
Stews and braised meats
The Loire Valley's most renowned red wines, Bourgueil and Chinon, are made from Cabernet Franc, as are the mostly lighter, friendlier wines of Anjou and the somewhat more serious wines of Saumur-Champigny. Until recently, the aroma and flavor profile of Cabernet Franc had been decidedly out of step with the tastes of modern wine drinkers: herbal and peppery, with notes of tobacco leaf, menthol, and licorice, and often rather dry-edged tannins. But thanks to a recent string of favorable growing seasons , and to considerable work in the vineyards to reduce vine yields and promote greater ripeness of the grapes, today's Loire Valley Cabernet Francs possess more flesh and sweetness of fruit than ever before. These Cabernet Francs are also wonderfully flexible at the table. (Incidentally, when it was discovered that a compound called resveratrol, which is found in the skins of many red grapes, offers cardiovascular and anticarcinogenic benefits, the Cabernet Franc variety was found to be particularly high in this substance.)
There are also ample plantings of Cabernet Franc in the New World where the grape is used as it is in Bordeaux, in blends with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In the Napa Valley, there are excellent examples, particularly in the cooler mountain settings where Cabernet Sauvignon struggles to reach optimum ripeness. Some worthwhile single varietal bottlings are being produced by Pride Mountain, Chappellet, and La Jota, among other producers.
Surprisingly, Cabernet Franc is also showing some success elsewhere in North America, including in Virginia, near Monticello, where Thomas Jefferson first attempted to produce fine wine. Pay attention to current efforts, as these are proving more successful than Jefferson's early endeavors.