Irish Monkey Cellars
2008 Lodi Cabernet Franc
What we say
SUPERIOR WINE ALERT:
Today’s Cabernet Franc is the best we’ve had the pleasure to try – all year! If you love this flavorful and flexible varietal, you’ll want to drink this wonderful example. Here at Wine Spies HQ, we’re stocking up.
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Mission Codename: The Luck of the Primate
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Investigate reports that Irish Monkey Cellars has crafted an outstanding and delicious Cabernet Franc, a growing favorite varietal among our Operatives. Secure an ample allocation.
Mission Status: Accomplished
Current Winery: Irish Monkey Cellars
Wine Subject: 2008 Cabernet Franc
Winemaker: Bob Lynch
Varietal Backgrounder: Cabernet Franc is one of Agent Red’s favorite red varietals. Perhaps this is because its flavors are often rich, layered, complex and elegant. Or, perhaps he loves Cabernet Franc so much because it pairs so exceptionally with many different foods. One of the most notable things about Cabernet Franc is the fact that finding excellent examples can be very difficult. This explains why we have not shown a Cab Franc here in some time.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Dark burgundy at its core. This darkly concentrated color falls off to brilliant magenta at the edges of the glass. Swirl the wine, and skinny, wine-stained tears fall from high on the glass wall.
Smell – Full on the nose and loaded with blackberry jam, dark blueberry, smoky plum and braised fig. These aromas gradually give way to berry brush, cocoa shavings, spice and toasted oak.
Feel – Plush and grippy with great structure and a rich medium body. After the wine coats the palate with flavors, it leaves behind a slowly spreading dryness that moves from the center of the palate, out to the lips and cheeks.
Taste – Dark and rich and packed with flavor, this wine leads with juicy dark blackberry and plum. As the wine opens, it introduces additional flavors of braised Mission fig, crushed violets, spice, minerals and a hint of anise.
Finish – Long and super dark, with bold dark fruit that slowly yields to earth, flowers and spice.
Conclusion – This 2008 Irish Monkey Cellars Cabernet Franc is a truly fantastic example of the varietal. We’ve long been enamored with Zinfandels from Amador County, and this is the first time we’ve showcased a Franc from the region. Rich, bold, and packed with flavor, this aromatic wine is so delicious on the palate. With absolutely none of the green character than can sometimes be found in the varietal, this wine is all fruit, earth and spice. We are very pleased with our find, today, and we really look forward to bringing you more offerings from this new favorite. If you love great Cabernet Franc, this is one wine that we encourage you to bring home!
AGENT RED: Greetings, Bob. We are thrilled to be showing your Cabernet Franc today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.
BOB LYNCH: Great to talk with you, “Red”. You know how the racks and racks of quietly ageing wine are pretty much incommunicative. We winemakers get lonesome for real conversation with higher life-forms than fruit flies.
RED: Thanks for the compliment, though I’m not sure I qualify! Tell me, was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?
BOB: Yep, beer. There are a lot of sayings about that here – there’s always a small keg on tap for the winemakers because “it takes a lot of good beer to make good wine”. No, actually, there were two experiences – my perpetually empty wallet ‘cuz of loving Bordeaux every night, and my underage determination to learn all I could about wine before I was 21.
RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?
BOB: There are 300,000 wines in the world, and you want me to pick one? Are you mad? Well, there is Chateau Petrus, of course, a life-changing wine. And there’s Dominus. And Yquem. And life changes palpably when we drink great old Cabernets from before the time when they all had to edge toward 19% alcohol. And there’s Portugal: the “other” reason I went into winemaking. Wisely, they simply don’t ship their awesome wine outside the country. I’ve learned to make it!
RED: Who do you make wine for?
BOB: Beef, Lamb and exotic chicken, that is why I make wine. Cheeses, artisanal breads, handmade salume, Spanish pinchon de Bilbao. I make wine for my winery’s wineclub, to amuse my friends, to wow critics, to win awards. I make it because its endlessly fascinating, goddamned challenging, exasperating and quixotic. It may well be the longest-lived foodstuff of Humanity, and through winemaking I connect to the ancients. PRE-Egyptians, baby. Sumaria! The Cro-Magnons undoubtedly made their sadly ill-recorded versions of Mastadon Bourguignon with whatever was Vintner Thunk’s finest. I grok that, you know?
RED: I also grok, accordingly. Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.
BOB: Well … its red of course. But you were probably hoping I’d get a bit more serious. OK, OK.
The lovely Cabernet Franc from 2008 was grown on the side of a hill deep in the Amador foothills, at a secret location that I’ve promised to keep quiet about. It was harvested a bit high-in-Brix (26), but that’s pretty normal for this vineyard. We brought it in only a couple hours after a 6 AM harvest, so it remained ice-cold on the trip. Crushed by hand, fermented in the very same pick-bins it arrived in, punched down by Igor The Monkey (me) twice a day. At the 10th day of fermentation, I tasted that the flavors were becoming quite banana like, so I stopped punching down for another few days to see how it would restructure. Yep, Banana gone. Monkey happy. The rest was straight winemaking: basket pressed it with firmness and constant tasting. Stainless for a couple days to settle out the heavier lees. A few more rackings while barrel-space was being freed up. Transfer to American primary barrels. Finished a year later by racking to French. You know, pretty much didn’t mess with what was becoming a good, good thing. Tasted it a month ago (yep, 3 years in barique!) and decided, “well garsh durn it, I think its ready”. And so the monkeys agreed. So we bottled it.
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
BOB: Oh, I don’t know. I’m usually pretty opinionated about this, but ‘tis hard with the Cab Franc. I’ve been blown away by pairings with Manchego cheeses, and small smoked trout bits. I’ve had it with a great kick-in-the-pants leg of lamb and plum-cab-franc reduction, and gone cross-eyed with happiness. Or maybe too much wine, but that’s never happened, you know? Then there was the afternoon we made 750 home-made raviolis … and went thru a whole case, and were found in the Library looking for more. I don’t know, Red. Savory! Complex! Long-cooked! Or cheesey. Take your pick.
RED: In your opinion, what makes the Amador Valleys so special?
BOB: Mmmm… trick question, right? ‘Cuz everyone knows … they’ve got the warm weather, but cooler nights. And everyone knows their soil [terroir] is red-red eroded volcanic rock, rich in Iron and the Leftovers bits from the 1849 Gold Rush. And I’m sure most everyone knows its pretty breezy, and that the very dry late-summer weather all but knocks out any possibility of mold or mildew setting in. Well, I’ve heard somewhere that 80% of a great bottle of wine is a great Grape. And 80% of a lousy bottle is a lousy winemaker. So … I’d be happy settling on “Bob the Monkey didn’t screw it up”.
RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?
BOB: Apparently, carrying on and on with interviews! No, really… making wine, dude. Making wine. Its March, and we’re racking, topping off, transferring. We’re having our debauches [ahem… blending round-tables], and we’re trying to figure out which of the barrels are rapidly ageing versus more slowing progressing in their matriculation. And keeping the tasting room open on weekends. You know … winemaking.
RED: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?
BOB: Grab the bottle by the neck. Use a knife to make a ring on the wax seal at the top. Insert corkscrew. Pull cork. Find a suitable vitreous vessel (glass), and pour some. Don’t tell anyone. Enjoy half the bottle before confessing, and then share with everyone else. That is how I would “address the wine”. Oh, I might – if I happened to have 4 or 5 bottles – I might caress them, and hide them from myself behind something less noble. They WILL keep. But that’s only if I had 4 or 5 bottles.
RED: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
BOB: Sure! Remember folks – wine is a BEVERAGE first and foremost. A big convoluted, partially fictional story of the wickedly unique characteristics of where a wine grows, or how it was rubbed on the thighs of virgins might make for great conversation over a fine repast, but what counts are the precious squeezings of nature’s most versatile fruit. And, contrary to what many often mistake, we winemakers don’t add any of the “cinnamon, cassis, dark vanilla and hints of elderberries” to the wine – they do these amazing things all by themselves. Open a wine, pour gracefully, hold it to the sun to see the beauty that sparkles within. Then drink it. And be happy.
RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!
BOB: Had a great time, “Red”. Hopefully you have the space to include most of my maunderings. I do enjoy talking it up, but I also like drinking the product. Let’s give our customers a High Five for venturing into the land of fine Cabernet Franc.
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
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What the winery says
About This Wine:
Did you know that Cabernet Franc is one of the parent varieties that produce the much more famous Cabernet Sauvignon? (It was paired up with the white grape Sauvignon Blanc). For reasons that aren’t obvious, it was one of the many “grapes on the sidelines”, but is now having a renaissance of its own. The grape produces extraordinarily blue-black clusters, usually with high fruit acid and outrageous sugar, making for powerful wines – if produced by the same techniques as with other reds.
Mr. Lynch takes a very Old World detour in winemaking to produce the Cab Franc by allowing it to ferment spontaneously from what yeasts have become acclimated to the berries themselves. It takes longer and runs a risk of ruined wine (hence how Dr. Pasteur become so famous), but when it goes per plan, the results are profound. We age our Cabernet Franc in top-quality oak casks for no less than 16 months, sometimes more if the vintage warrants.
In one particular regard Cabernet Franc is like three other “heavy hitters”: Zinfandel (or Primitivo), Touriga Francesca and dry farmed Mouvedre, in that is displays a very strong “winey” flavor. The oenophiles are probably laughing, but Bob thinks that the word is actually better at describing the intense fruit/berry/cherry/peach/plum flavor (which it is none of, actually) than all those similar-but-incomplete descriptions. This wine also has the penchant for changing not only over the period of a few hours, but for days after being opened!
The foods that are complimented by Cabernet Franc must at the same time be relatively uncomplicated, relatively boldly flavored, and anything-but-dry. Hence, our Lodi Cabernet Franc goes superbly with Boeuf Borgonne, with roast Lamb, with Goose and Venison. It is perfect for accompanying a hearty fresh-greens salad having an orange-zest and sherry viniagrette. It is one of the few wines (like Port) that can be had all by itself after dinner and before dessert.
Note: There is a unique liason between Cabernet Franc and Blue Cheeses, that everyone should try at some point. Toast some freshly cracked walnuts in a 300F oven for about 15 minutes, serve warm with generous hunks of blue cheese, thinly sliced Anjou pears and the warm walnuts. I doubt there is a better combination of flavors that Cabernet Franc will compliment.
About The Winery:
Most everyone asks, “Why Irish Monkey?” Winemaker Bob Lynch (right) began monkeying around with the fruit of the vine in 1996, having successfully made dozens of competition-winning beers with friends. There was an appeal to making wine that benefits the patient soul: when wine is left to sit relatively undisturbed (yet attended to) for a length of time, it improves markedly. And so it was.
The first production was … “not bad”… Bob had read dozens of books, studied the worlds wine-making techniques, and determined that HIS way of making wine was going to be superior. It wasn’t. It also wasn’t the first lesson in humility taught to him by the venerable grape and the world’s mystic practitioners. Early on we learned that one can be too gentle as well as too aggressive in fermentation, in pressing, in racking, in treating the wine at each step. Truly, one can as easily err toward the timid as to the bold.
150 lbs of grapes were made into wine that first year. By 2002, we had grown to over 4,000 lbs. It was becoming obvious that we were well on our way to becoming a commercial family winery, if only we could figure out the subtleties necessary to make great wine. “Good” was becoming routine. “Very good” correlated to top-flight grapes and careful barreling plans. This may sound terribly obvious, but Bob and the team learned that good grapes and mediocre grapes look awfully much alike. There really is magic in the terrior and cepage of fine wine grapes that must be given its due.
Loreta and Bob coined the name Irish Monkey one evening with “the Wine Bunch” at the house. It seemed to fit, Bob’s Irish background, and our fondness for the unusual and excellent. Within a few days, the first logo was ready, and the mission was set.
The 2007 vintage saw over 55,000 lbs of grapes turned into wine, and the upcoming vintages look to be equally exciting. We very much hope that you like the style that we’ve honed: fruit forward, moderate oak, varietal character in abundance, and the good flinty and earthy aromas of hand-pressed grapes underlying the palate.