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by Fred McMillin
for November 10, 1998

 

A True Blue Franc


Prologue

Austria's Blue Franc grape enjoyed its greatest success in the days of Napoleon Bonepart. Today it is arguably the most obscure red wine in America.

...by Jeff Prather, et. al. in "Northwest Wines"

Washington's Columbia Valley has a virtual monopoly on the Blue Franc in America, where it is known as the Lemberger. It is hardier than any other red-wine variety in Washington's cold climate. It makes a fresh, fruity red when the winemaker holds the oak down to a dull roar.

...from Bob Thompson's "Wine Atlas"


The Rest of the Story

The wood in this Blue Franc is well below a roar. Ace winemaker Jed Steele gave it just a touch of French oak. The result is "a cross between Pinot Noir and Zinfandel." Others likened it to a heavy Beaujolais.


The Wine

Blue Franc 1996 Blue Franc, Washington State
Shooting Star (second label of Steele Wines)
Acres of Grapes in Washington—My last figures show only about 80 acres in the whole state. Synonyms—Napoleon knew the Blue Frank grape as the Blaufrankisch.
"Frankisch" is a medieval term indicating the grape originated with the Franks. As for "Lemberger," Leon Adams wrote that Washington State vintners originally resisted planting the grape because it was called "Limberger," by the Germans. However, the change to Lemberger was felt to avoid any association with the strong-smelling cheese.
Contact—Marie Steele, Ph. (707) 279-9475, Kelseyville, CA.
Price—We've saved the best for last. You can taste what Napoleon was talking about for no more than TEN DOLLARS. Go for it!
Rating—HIGHLY RECOMMENDED in its price range.


Postscript

About the label, Marie and Jed said: "It took us forever to get the label approved. The Feds were convinced that the use of a French franc note as the label indicated the French government endorsed this wine. That'll be the day!"

Why go to all that trouble? Notice that the hue is Blue. That is, the label is literally a Blue Franc!

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 

 

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