Friday, July 28, 2017

The Wines of Freemark Abbey

I'm not much of a fan of California Cabernet Sauvignon.

Maybe this is because I'm used to drinking lower priced Cabs, but it's probably because I can't afford the high prices the majority of Napa County demands. Earlier this Spring, I sampled a few Cabernet Sauvignons from neighbouring Sonoma County's Alexander Valley, but was left largely disappointed.

Then I tried Freemark Abbey's 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, and I was proven wrong.

Established in 1886, a widow named Josephine Tychson became the first recorded female winemaker in Napa Valley when she built the original cellar building and cleared the surrounding land to plant vines. In 1939, three businessmen changed the name of the estate from Lombarda Cellars by melding their names Freeman, Marquand Foster and Albert Ahern. This is when the name Freemark Abbey was born. Fun fact: Freemark Abbey was one of the 12 wineries that entered, and defeated French wines in the "Judgement of Paris" blind tasting in 1976!

The 2011 growing season was harsh on winemakers throughout Napa Valley. Consistent rain into harvest made rot an issue in many of the vineyards, generating extremely low yields. These conditions made the vinification process a real challenge, but rumour has it that some expressive, age-worthy wines were on the market. Freemark Abbey proved this to be true with their 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon.

A bouquet of dried red currant and ripe red cherries leads into a complex flavour profile that includes stewed green bell peppers and a hint of fennel on the finish. Silky tannins and bright acidity add finesse and body. This wine would be an excellent pairing with steak and roast beef, but I recommend using a higher end grade and cut to really blow your mind!

What amazes me most about this wine is the price point. Although Freemark Abbey still fetches a higher price for the 2011 Cab Sauv, their's is low compared to other Napa Valley wineries. The retail price in Canadian dollars is $54. I was so impressed that I decided to taste 2 more wines in their portfolio!

Freemark Abbey's 2011 Merlot shows a smoky side with notes of flint accompanying a palate of fresh cherries and herbs. The red fruit flavours last right into the long, rich finish, reflecting a more fresh style than the Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, I really enjoyed this wine on it's own!

Finally, the 2013 Chardonnay offers intoxicating aromas of ripe bananas with a hint of vanilla to reflect aging in oak. Lush in style, with a body that includes stewed pineapple and an intriguing tinge of guava. A creamy mouthfeel and soft, focused tannins round out the palate. This wine is incredibly food friendly and would marry well with poached salmon, or chicken in a mustard cream sauce. 

Sometimes the splurge on wine is worth it, and sometimes it can let you down. In this case, I wasn't disappointed once. I know the quality will be there if I bring a Freemark Abbey bottle to a dinner or gift it to a fellow winelover. So if you haven't tasted this gem in Napa Valley, make sure you do-you won't be disappointed either.


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