2021 Leo Steen, Cabernet Franc, Ascona Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Cab Franc fans will want to chase down this new offering from Leo Steen Wines, made by Danish ex-pat winemaker Leo Hansen, who’s winery is located in Healdsburg and who is widely known for his Loire inspired Chenin Blanc, with this Ascona Vineyard 2021 Cabernet Franc being an exceptional California example of this varietal. This stuff blew me away and while I have reviewed a host of Hansen’s excellent wines, this one is a stand out offering with loads of personality and varietal purity showing a deep purple/garnet color in the glass with beautiful floral aromatics in the glass, leading to a medium/full palate of rich dark berry fruits, spice, a light earthiness and mineral notes. The bright energy and moderate alcohol, at 13.2%, make for a compelling low SO2 (sulfur) Cabernet Franc that has impactful fruit density with revolving layers of vine picked berry, black cherry, currant and plum fruits, as well as a hint of bell pepper, crushed violets, licorice, herbal sage and very subtle cedary wood. Hansen’s Ascona plot is just an acre and a half and he produced just 200 cases of this lovely and complex wine, making a rare catch, which I highly recommend checking out while it is still available. Hansel is an ex-sommelier from Copenhagen and he crafts his wines to be enjoyed with food with a nod to the old world, while allowing his wine’s California soul to shine through.
The Leo Steen Cabernet Franc comes from the Ascona Vineyard, which Hansen notes, is located on a sloping plateau at an elevation of 2,400 feet in the Santa Cruz Mountains (reminding us it is home to such famed wineries as Ridge and Mt. Eden). The reason he is so excited by this site is that though Ascona gets abundant sunshine, its elevation keeps it cool, which allows for a balanced wine with concentration and good natural acidity. This, and the site’s well-draining decomposed sandstone and shale soils, provide ideal conditions for growing Cabernet Franc, with ripe flavors, but with a profile that takes its inspiration, like Hansen’s awesome Chenin Blancs, from the mentioned Loire Valley and examples from Saumur-Champigny and or Chinon. This wine (grapes) was 100% de-stemmed and 100% Cab Franc, it fermented in open-top tanks using native yeast, as Hansen explains, to underscore varietal’s herbal, savory side. He adds that after 12 days on the skins he drained and pressed to a combination of concrete egg and neutral French oak barrels. The wine was then aged for 9 months in 1/3 concrete egg to preserve freshness and 2/3 in neutral French oak barrels, for what I believe to give it a pleasing vinous texture, before blending it all into tank where it saw additional 4 weeks in the stainless steel before bottling. Cabernet Franc, as a solo varietal wine, is really making strides here in California and this is one that really shows you why!
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive