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From the heart of Napa...

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Special vineyard: the Franciscan Estate is certified “Napa Green” and home to a “well executed” chardonnay, inset (Photograph supplied)

In keeping with California Wine Month, we feature a 240-acre estate located in Oakville, right in the heart of Napa Valley. Franciscan released their first Cabernet Sauvignon in 1975, the year I first became involved with the wonderful world of wine.

One normally expects temperatures to drop as we go north, but there is an exception here. Oakville is far enough south to be influenced by the morning fog from San Pablo Bay, but far enough north to bask in the warm afternoon sunshine.

On a typical July day Oakville will be three degrees cooler than St Helena five miles to the north and eight degrees cooler than Calistoga in the northernmost tip of the valley.

Founding winemaker Justin Meyer wanted to understand nuances of vineyard sites and how wine matured over time. He laid out the estate in small blocks to capture the unique microclimates and soil changes.

Today, as it was then, each block is separately fermented and cellared. Once blended the result is unmistakable character that highlights the nuances of every block and vintage.

Their vineyard practices are certified “Napa Green”, beneficial insects are attracted by special hedgerows and owl, raptor, bluebird and bat houses have been strategically placed throughout their vineyards as part of natural vermin control. All grapes are hand-picked.

I have always felt it wise not to suggest to anyone that their prices are so very reasonable, but in the case of Franciscan Estate I am somewhat amazed when I look at wines from their surrounding vintners. I checked the internet for 2012 Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux-styled blends in Oakville and here are a few: $71.98, $239.95, $475 and $2,249 (not a typo).

This is mostly a story about red wine but we do stock the 2014 Chardonnay that garnered the following review from wine.com: “90/100 if ever you wanted a super good and really typical, top-level and well executed Napa chardonnay, the 2014 Franciscan Estate is the one that you should wrap yourself around, you’ll be glad you did.

“Winemaker Janet Myers has made a wine that is rich in fruit and generous on the palate. This one drinks so well! Medium straw, yellow in colour; creamy aroma, with an appealing touch of peach skin, fine depth; medium bodied, richly textured, wood notes on the palate; dry, medium acidity, creamy and layered; ripe apple and peach with very appealing sweet oak flavours; complete in the finish. (Tasted: December 3, 2015, San Francisco, CA).”

Another rated it 93/100 and said: “Winemaker Janet Myers understands Napa Valley so well and this classic Chardonnay continues to evolve — the 2014 is more modern than its predecessors, in a clean, focused manner.” $26.10.

The 2012 Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 85 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 9 per cent merlot, 3 per cent malbec, 2 per cent petit verdot and 1 per cent cabernet franc.

As this is rather young I would decant it for an hour or so to let the air get to it and separate the layers of complexity. The usual suspects are there, dark fruits, violets along with whiffs of cigar box. S37.30.

The 2012 Merlot is a deep scarlet colour with aromas of plums and dark cherries. Deep cassis, dark berry, mocha, vanilla and sweet cherry intertwine to reveal a rich, fruit-forward palate. Supple, well built and textured with generous body, finely woven tannins, and a long finish of berries with notes of nutmeg, allspice, and dark chocolate. $32.60

Our top wine from Franciscan is called Magnificat and we stock the 2011 — 79 per cent is composed of cabernet sauvignon with the rest being merlot, petit verdot and malbec. This was one of the original “Meritage” blends from California and the stated guidelines of the Meritage Association, formed in Napa Valley in 1988, are for these wines to consist of only Bordeaux varieties in a blend that represents top quality. At this time there are more than 350 members.

True to Bordeaux style the backbone is usually cabernet sauvignon with other varietals adding roundness, structure and rich complexity.

Magnificat 2011 offers a complex mélange of cassis, plum and mocha and also peppercorn, black olive, sage and tobacco.

Flavours of elegant, rich cherry and blackberry fruit are followed by supple tannins and a velvety mouthfeel. There are notes of cocoa and black truffle that lead to a seamless finish. $62.90.

•This column is a paid for advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. Michael Robinson is Director of Wine at Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. He can be contacted at mrobinson@bll.bm or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn have stores in Hamilton (Front Street East. 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St. George’s (York Street, 297-0409). A selection of their wines, beers and spirits are available online at www.wineonline.bm