franciscan “There is no virtue like necessity.” (Shakespeare, Richard II)

When faced with no choice, the pretense that “it’s what we intended all along” makes life more bearable, if less honest. So perhaps we shouldn’t snicker too loudly when sipping some of the wines coming out of Napa these days.

Napa has the reputation for producing big, jammy fruit bombs with their Cabernet. There are exceptions—it’s a dominant trend, not an absolute—but the stereotype is deserved. They produce such wines for good reason—consumers like them.

So what’s with the softer, elegant styles that characterize the 2010 vintage? Is the public taste changing? Are winemakers returning to subtlety and finesse because their artistic sensibility is kicking in? It’s a pretty thought but if you’re a fan of elegance I wouldn’t get your hopes up (unless they make your life bearable).

2010 was a cold growing season in Napa, some say the coldest in memory. Cold weather means less ripeness in the vineyard, lower sugar levels, and lower alcohol levels. You can’t make a big, jammy wine with those grapes. The good winemakers recognize that and so they work with what they are given, crafting wines that are a little introverted, discreet, yet lively and graceful.

This Franciscan Cabernet is a great example. This winery always strives for an elegant mouth feel but with a lot of bold, upfront fruit to get your attention. The 2010 offers something different: more earth, more herbal notes, a softer, suppler texture. Black cherry and cedar anchor the nose but aromas of fresh mushrooms and baking spices add intrigue. On the svelte, medium-body palate herbal notes supported by racy acidity provide bursts of flavor giving way to a medium length finish. The tannins are a little sandy. A couple years in the cellar would round them off nicely, although I doubt this is a wine to lay down for 8-10 years. A very well-balanced, thoroughly enjoyable wine.

I’m a dirt hound when it comes to wine—I’ll take barnyard over fruit bomb any day. So this wine is in line with my preferences. But don’t expect big and bold.

Alc: 13.5%

Score: 89/100

Price: $23