Francis Coppola, California “Diamond Collection Black Label Claret” 2007 ($19): Francis Ford Coppola owns some of the finest and most pedigreed Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in California, namely, the Rubicon Estate land once owned by Gustave Niebaum and the neighboring land which was the source of the legendary Inglenook Cabernets of the 1940s made by John Daniel. Those vineyards make Rubicon ($145) and Rubicon Estate “Cask” Cabernet Sauvignon ($75), a wine named in tribute to those earlier Inglenook “Cask” Cabernets. Coppola also produces two moderate-priced Cabernet-based wines that deserve their own fifteen minutes of recognition.
One is the new “Director’s” Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($21), part of a line of four varietal wines (others include Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir, all from Sonoma County) that made its debut this year. The other is this “Claret,” which in 2007 is 82% Cabernet, blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot -- the classic five red varieties of Bordeaux. Both are very good wines, and which you prefer is a matter of personal taste. My favorite of the two is the Claret.
According to winemaker Corey Beck, the inspiration for the Claret was a very old bottle of Black Label Claret, made by Gustave Niebaum, that Coppola discovered in the cellars he had purchased. (In those days, and still to some extent today, the British used the word “claret” as a synonym for a red Bordeaux wine.) Coppola has produced his own Black Label Claret since 1995.
The 2007 Claret is full-bodied with rich texture, fairly pronounced fruity and mineral flavors, and a significant amount of tannin (both from oak and from the grapes) that gives the wine enormous, firm and lean structure. The wine combines ripe California fruit with a slightly rustic austerity that sets it apart from most of California’s other Cabernet-based wines and makes it original.
Ripe, dark berry and plum fruit is likely to be your first impression of the wine when you smell it, with spicy oak behind the fruit. In the mouth, the wine is dry and dry-textured but, when you focus on the raw material of the wine, richly velvety. Fairly high acidity gives the wine depth and a juiciness of flavor. Flavors of dark fruits, inky mineral notes and spices are concentrated and tight and carry to a long, expressive finish. The wine is young, and decanting it will help integrate the tannins.
Some of the grapes for this wine -- specifically the Merlot and Cabernet Franc -- come from Coppola’s Geyserville estate in Sonoma County. Most of the grapes come from vineyards the winery farms under contract in Napa, Sonoma and El Dorado counties.
If you were to compare the Claret with the 2007 Director’s Cabernet -- feasible at the wines’ reasonable prices -- you would find more fullness, refinement and suppleness in the Director’s Cab, along with more intensity of fruity flavor and more readiness to drink. You might find it a more typical California Cabernet, and you might prefer it. Whichever of the two that you choose, however, you will have a good, honest wine at a good, honest price.