Cabernet Franc

Today’s post is about the 1999 Serafini & Vidotto “Il Rosso Dell’Abazia,” but begins with a long digression.

Only one wine has ever brought me to tears. It is unfortunately not eligible for this forum due to its extraordinary price ($350-400 retail), but I name it now to establish my benchmark for truly great wine: the 2004 “Astralis,” the flagship Syrah from the Clarenden Hills collection. At first whiff it was the wine that will always haunt me, setting the bar for every wine I’ve tasted since. Huge, dark, brooding, pungent, rich – but it was an infant! Even then, I knew that the 2004 Astralis was a wine that would not be ready to drink until 15-20 years later; it is still barely approachable now. L’Enfant terrible. Shockingly good.

Which brings me to the focus of today’s post: the 1999 Serafini & Vidotto “Il Rosso Dell’Abazia.” It has nothing in common with “Astralis,” not on the surface. “Astralis” is fermented from Syrah; this wine is made using Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, a Bordeaux blend. Clarendon Hills is located 25 miles south of Adelaide, and northeast from the McLaren Vale in southern Australia; Serafini & Vidotto have their vineyards in Montello, a hilly area on the right bank of the Piave river in Treviso, a sub-region within Veneto (see photo).

“Astralis” is an ultra-boutique wine, a world-class luxury item made in a truly New World style. “Il Rosso Dell’Abazia,” on the other hand, is an exemplar of Cabernet Sauvignon in its Italian expression, but following the vinification philosophy and techniques of the great French makers. What do these wines share, what intangible quality? Easy: greatness. Why wax eloquent? It is greatness.

I opened the “Il Rosso Dell’Abazia” to celebrate moving to Brooklyn. It was to be paired with prime rib, roasted potatoes, and sauteed mushrooms, the first meal made in our new kitchen. If wine and food pairing could be considered a tango, this wine was definitely the leader. Textbook blood orange fading to pale rose-brown at the rim in the glass. On the nose, the first pour offered devious aromas, almost all secondary: rose petals, waterlilies, tar, olives, hung meats, and hints of dark fruit. In the mouth, “Il Rosso Dell’Abazia” felt like velvet. Over a decade of bottle-aging softened the tannins beautifully, giving it one of the finest textures of any wine I have tasted since “Astralis.” More dark fruit in the mouth, along with tobacco and a definite touch of balsamic spice. Long finish, echoing the completely even and balanced experience this wine provides. It touches greatness.

Normally a bottle retails for $80, but I found some for $16 at wholesale. Buying another half-case today. I do not think it will last another year, having just peaked, so find this wine immediately. Pairs with roast game of any kind, simpler fare; let the wine lead you.

For a simple, straightforward wine that will please almost anybody you bring to dinner, try this 2005 Réserve des Vignerons Saumur Rouge, from the Cave des Vignerons in the Saumur region in the Loire Valley. It is made entirely with Cabernet Franc, the principle red grape of the Loire, although some Pinot Noir is grown here too.

The Cave des Vignerons was established in 1957 by a group of winemakers who wanted to band together to share knowledge and meet future challenges. Placed atop the Saint Cyr en Bourg hill at the center of a sprawling plot of vineyards, the site features two vertical shafts dug out of the local limestone, allowing the winemakers to take advantage of gravity flow in the winemaking process between the receiving area and the vats, located 25 meters below ground level.

Light to medium-bodied, the wine itself is red violet in the glass, showing strong dark berries on the nose; I found it highly aromatic. In the mouth, supple tannins back a fruity core of blueberries and cherries, with hints of iron mineral, green olive, and pepper. Strident acidity completes the package, with a medium finish. Pairs well with roast meats. $7.

Picture the scene: Wednesday night. You have friends over for dinner. Somebody decided that it was time for some Coq au vin, perhaps veal roasted in herbs. You want a Bordeaux or something like it, but cannot possibly shell out more than $10. Enter this wine, the 2006 Seigneurs de Bergerac, a Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from the Bergerac region in the southwest of France. It is brick red in the glass, simple and yet highly aromatic for the price, showing notes of cherries and other berries on the nose. The mouthfeel is a little rough, but remains supple due to the healthy amount of Merlot in the blend, and overall proves very quaffable, with the dark blackberry and plum fruit accented by stony notes, a hint of mineral, and slightly coarse tannins which bite into meat. For the money, I say go for it. $9.